Why Are Tech Company Offices So Weird?

Why are tech offices so weird?. (Photo: By wongwk/Shutterstock)

We've suggested that the office of the future will be like a coffee shop, writing that "the major purpose of an office now is to interact, to get around a table and talk, to schmooze. Just what you do in a coffee shop." But for some companies, being like a coffee shop isn't enough.

Design writer and critic Chappell Ellison did a very funny series of tweets that show some of the more egregious and over-the-top examples of ridiculous office designs. But how did this become almost standard practice in the tech world? How did it come to this?

The trend started with Google, which according to a spokesperson quoted in the New York Times, wants nothing less than “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” Of course, every other tech startup had to follow the same pattern, because that's what they do when they're competing for the same nerds. They seem to try and outdo one another to see who can create sillier, more ridiculous spaces.

Back at Google, there's a method to this madness. The vice president of people development at Google says "It’s less about the aspiration to be No. 1 in the world, and more that we want our employees and future employees to love it here, because that’s what’s going to make us successful."

Unlike Apple, Google ignored the big architects and designed by data, and tried to maximize "casual collisions." Or as one designer noted, “You can’t schedule innovation. We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’” So they keep everyone close together with lots of breakout rooms and food stations no more than 150 feet away — because you have to keep these coders well-fed. They don't want their employees working from home; they want them essentially living at the office.

According to Cleverism,

The designs are done to serve several purposes including casual collisions for creative people and engineers to come together, idea generation and the triggering of maximum creativity while also ensuring employee happiness. Thus, rooms for Googlers include a meeting room that resembles a pub, in Dublin; ski gondolas in the Zurich office, and a sidewalk café in Istanbul.

There now seems to be a bit of a backlash from all of this silliness. Google's new offices are being designed by BIG and Thomas Heatherwick; they're very high tech but also very sophisticated. Other companies reject all this out of hand. Amazon is famously cheap about its offices, and the head of password company Dashlane tells Fast Company, "We’d rather spend our resources and money on things that are going to make us stronger as a team. More — maybe — than on things that would 'look cool' like a big slide, or a big whatever."

But I do want the nap net. That's not too silly.