Last week we showed you some of the startup world’s most creative office spaces. These colorful environments with airy floor plans and comfortable conference rooms put the cubicle to shame — but before you start shelling out for employee skate parks and rock climbing walls, consider that not all office luxuries will serve your workspace equally well.
Mashable spoke with several startup employees to find out what they loved about their unconventional office spaces, and the results were fairly unanimous: An open floor plan and quirky extras encourage communication, collaboration and general satisfaction far more than cramped cubicles.
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“The more comfortable our employees feel in the office environment, the more comfortable they are to speak up and share their opinions and insights with the team,” ZocDoc CFO Netta Samroengraja says in an e-mail.
Most startups have certain crucial design elements in common. These include employee lounge areas with cozy seating and colorful accents, snack-filled kitchens where employees can chat as they refuel and TV monitors used for everything from video-conferencing to gaming.
Startups with enough square footage also tend to shell out for recreational spaces — ZocDoc has a game room outfitted with beanbag chairs, a ping-pong table and an acoustic guitar — that contribute to a playful work environment that’s not just about punching the clock.
Some office add-ons will make sense for only a small segment of businesses; TastingTable, for instance, rents a test kitchen and dining room staffed with two full-time chefs near its SoHo offices. The extra kitchen space is a boon for the food-and-drink newsletter, but is probably a less prudent investment for a software firm.
At Zazzle’s sprawling Redwood City headquarters, everything from the communal desks to the wallpaper was custom-made to reflect the company’s design-it-yourself ethic, according to co-founder and CTO Bobby Beaver. Likewise, Etsy takes a DIY approach to office design with colorful knickknacks, quilts and plushies, all made by Etsy sellers. “My apartment is so boring compared to the office,” says Sarah Starpoli, Etsy’s Employment Experience Manager.
Quirky office additions such as HowAboutWe’s popcorn machine — which one employee assures us is regularly put to good use — or Zazzle’s ping-pong table may not rank as “strictly necessary” for your startup, but they undoubtedly contribute to a more welcoming work environment. “Go to your local IRS office to get a taste of the dark side of an office landscape,”Squarespace’s director of interface, Michael Heilemann, suggests.
There is, however, a fine line between a morale-boosting office perk and a misallocation of your startup’s precious funds. So, when you’re decorating that new exposed-brick loft space, go the more sensible route and avoid the 10 extravagant accessories in the gallery below — ball pits, bike repair shops and Bengal tigers are on the list — that only Google and Facebook can really afford, at least until you’ve made your first million.
“I’m not really sure whether my dog helped me become a Glass explorer,” Dr. William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, said. He was being serious. “In my pitch to Google to be part of its Glass Explorer program, I said I would share the social global classroom. But I also said I’d bring my dog — Ty the Wonder Dog — into it.”
Ward is making good on that pitch to Google and teaching two classes this semester, Social Media for Communicators and Social Media Theory and Practice, in which Google Glass doesn’t just augment learning — it’s the focus of the curriculum.
The class involves one semester-long assignment: Try out Google Glass, dream up ideas for useful apps, develop those ideas in teams and use social media to garner votes for the best concepts. The winning ideas will be developed into actual Google Glass app prototypes.
Last week, students had 10 minutes each to pitch their Glass app ideas before a panel of expert judges, comprised of startup founders and professors, who offer constructive feedback. One app promised to help children with autism learn through videos; another would interface with restaurants to find out accurate wait times; yet another would allow “time travel,” to show what an area looked like 50 years ago (“Ancestry.com meets real life,” the student developers called it).
Now, students are refining their concepts and preparing to launch them on a slew of social networks to see which ideas gain traction and which ones flop.
“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,”
“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,” Ward said. Glass is expected to be a $3 billion-plus market. “Hopefully, that experience helps them prepare to jump into a company grappling with those issues — or start their own business.”
The class then rallies around the “winning” apps — the ones that receive the most positive feedback, Likes and shares on social platforms — and helps to build them into prototypes, perhaps eventually launching them on Kickstarter. (At that point, Ward said, they’ll reach out to alumni to help with funding.) App development takes up the rest of the semester; a developer at the university will provide coding assistance.
But this doesn’t mean a ton of tweets equals an A for the semester. Grades aren’t based on the final product; students’ projects are scored along the way.
“They’re rated on how well they tell [their app’s] story,” Ward said. “If you can’t convince people of your idea’s merits, you’ll never get it off the ground.”