In November 2019 a group of almost 30 FM Directors from major Dutch corporates travelled to San Francisco to be inspired by the best practices applied by Silicon Valley’s leading companies, as well as companies established in San Francisco. This fact-finding trip took us to a dozen tech companies, ranging from scale-ups like Asana, to unicorns like Google, from architectural firms like HOK and Gensler, to Stanford University. Before setting out, five focus themes were defined: Well-being, Sustainability, Attracting Talent, Proptech and Collaboration. This article describes our experiences and the knowledge we acquired.
Innovation Demands Top Talent
Silicon Valley is known as the “Innovation Hub”. It essentially means that it’s a social community that fosters the development of technological trends and innovation. This Innovation Hub is essential for the growth of the tech industry as it brings together some of the largest companies, pairing them with small start-ups, allowing for collaboration and growth. To stay ahead of competition in the innovation race, every company in Silicon Valley continuously searches for top talent, which, even in this part of the globe, is scarce.
To attract talent, the tech companies offer these techies top-tier work environments and unprecedented services. To keep up with the competition, Silicon Valley’s tech giants have taken workplace dining to the next level. Talent is offered dining in themed restaurants, gourmet menus, vegan dishes, chai lattes and stunning design elements – and it’s all free. The provision of free meals is the bare minimum the techies expect from their employers.
In addition to top-notch dining experiences and magnificent campuses, the tech companies offer excellent employee services on-site, such as dental care, medical care, hair-styling services, transportation, a broad range of sport and fitness facilities, as well as music and entertainment. It’s the Workplace Department, as FM is widely known in Silicon Valley, that can make the difference to ensuring that a company offers the very best of the above-mentioned employee facilities. Workplace is responsible for both the campuses and services offered, and sometimes even for employee housing. But some companies have even taken it a step beyond. In a recent article in “Wired”, some incredible Silicon Valley employee benefits were listed:
- Zillow will fund overnight shipping of breast milk for mothers who have to travel for work
- At Airbnb you can bring your pets into work, so that employees never have to be separated from their pups
- Square keeps employees feeling their best with on-site massage specialists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists
- VMware offers 2 days of bereavement leave for the loss of a pet
- Netflix is one of the best places to work if you have kids; it grants an entire year of leave for new parents
- Facebook provides $4,000 in “baby cash” to new parents, plus reimbursement for adoption or egg-freezing
It’s not just the excessive services or stunning campuses that attract new talent. Also purpose and corporate values play an important role in the potential employees’ decision-making process. Principles and ethics matter. It’s becoming increasingly important for employees to resonate with the purpose and corporate values of an organization. Next to attracting talent, corporate values play an essential role in the on-boarding process. In companies where often more than 50% of the employees are employed for less than a year, and where hundreds or thousands of new employees are hired each year, the corporate values in Silicon Valley are used to ensure that the on-boarding process runs smoothly. A value such as “think and act as if you’re an owner” is used not only to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit, but also to impress upon employees that a business class flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles is unnecessary. This is why corporate values are shared everywhere in the offices; pasted above the coffee machines, in elevators and above restaurant counters.
Corporate identity is visible everywhere
In order to retain talent, the tech companies are aware that their workforce needs to feel a strong sense of belonging within various company groups, and within the corporate community. In addition to a sense of purpose and corporate values, corporate identity also plays a major role. The physical work environment is the perfect place to express corporate identity. Tech companies are masters of the game. At Airbnb, the meeting rooms are copies of the interiors of houses available for rent via Airbnb. On the Google campus, bicycles in the Google colours are available for riding around from building to building. The various teams have their own gardens, where they grow vegetables and herbs. At Nvidia, the entire design of the building embodies “tech”, in terms of colour schemes and the materials used. At Asana, which office is an industrial old beer brewery, the raw concrete was kept in its original state. The brand is brilliantly translated into the interior design of the building.
Silicon Valley is notorious for its working hours, 6 days a week, 12 hours per day, is the norm. However, some changes to working hours are now evident. The younger tech companies, like Asana, compete for talent by offering an improved work-life balance.
Having a sense of purpose is becoming increasingly important in the decision-making process of techies on the job market.
They offer staff mindfulness sessions, as well as opportunities for social engagement and voluntary work. As having a sense of purpose is becoming increasingly important in the decision-making process of techies on the job market, the companies are offering these benefits.
Collaboration is Key for innovation
After top talent, a collaborative approach to work is a key factor for successful innovation. Collaboration in Silicon Valley is twofold: collaboration between organisations and collaboration within organisations. Both are important to achieving success in the tech world. Collaboration between organisations is probably the reason why Silicon Valley is so successful. It’s a global hotspot. Tech companies, venture capitalists, universities and talent are concentrated in large numbers.
Silicon Valley companies foster collaboration between individuals and teams. The workplace plays an important role in the facilitation of collaboration. Employees are expected to work in the office, so working from home is strongly discouraged. This is the reason why tech companies invest heavily in their offices and campuses. The office layout and design foster collaboration. Individual work booths are limited in space, especially in comparison with European companies (see picture above from Facebook with individual booths). On the other hand, there is an abundance of collaborative meeting and breakout spaces (see picture below from Airbnb), ranging from formal meeting rooms to espresso bars.
Collaboration is also encouraged by the offering workplace services, such as the best corporate restaurants we’ve ever seen. Restaurants, espresso bars, music rooms and sports facilities focus on social cohesion and stimulate collaboration and community-building. Cooking workshops, in addition to contributing to well-being, is another example of how the tech companies stimulate a sense of community.
Of course, collaboration is about more than coffee bars and ping-pong tables. It’s about creating a culture where teams self-organize, and people from various disciplines come together to work on specific projects. It’s about fostering the habit of collaboration, and not a culture where collaboration is an exception.
Well-being is Serious Business in Silicon Valley
Nowadays, well-being is much more than health and vitality (physical well-being). It’s also about emotional well-being, a sense of security and (self) confidence. And social well-being, which is creating an environment in which everyone feels that they are treated equally, regardless of sexual preference, marital status, religious beliefs, colour, race, nationality or ethnicity.
Silicon Valley breathes health and vitality. At Googleplex, on-campus gyms offer all-day fitness classes, beach volleyball courts, and they even have decent swimming pool. Without leaving the grounds, Googlers can access health-care via on-site physicians. For hands-on healing, masseurs, chiropractors, and physical therapists are just a step away. Googleplex features over 30 eateries serving local, healthy, seasonal cuisine, as well as copious amounts of fresh fruit and healthy juices.
Google, like Stanford, has its own “teaching kitchens”, offering employees the opportunity to take cooking classes. This is meant to encourage employees to prepare healthy food at home, instead of ordering unhealthy pizza.
Google, like Stanford, has its own “teaching kitchens”, offering employees the opportunity to take cooking classes.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Asana – dedicated to improving workflow – takes the well-being of its employees very seriously. The founders, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, approach the office culture as if it were an Asana product, which is to be as rigorously designed and refined, just like the rest of their digital products. To keep staffers happy, Asana offers one-on-one life coaching, organic meals, Kombucha on tap, treadmills overlooking the valley, and midday yoga classes. To foster interpersonal wellness and holistic company well-being, Asana created the position of Head of Diversity and Inclusion, to spearhead a campaign to attract a talent pool which represents real diversity within the company. Before new hires start working, they participate in a mindfulness course which teaches self-healing tools and facilitates conversations around gender, race, and privilege.
The question we asked ourselves was why well-being is so big in Silicon Valley. Is it because it helps the tech companies boost their employees’ productivity? Or, because it’s a seriously effective way to attract talent? Or, is it simply because they have the available funds to provide these amazing services? Well, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a little bit of everything. (Picture at the right: Well-Being department at Adobe HQ in San Jose)
We had a great week in Silicon Valley and San Francisco; dozens of interesting visits and some very inspirational talks.
We’ve seen what work is like in this part of the world and have taken home more than one best practice. But you can’t just copy the solutions from Silicon Valley and transpose it to our own companies. Silicon Valley has its own challenges, and these are different to our challenges. Silicon Valley is way ahead in offering employee benefits to attract and retain talent, and they are leaders in the field of well-being at the workplace. The learnings and best practices regarding smart-offices, data-driven FM and sustainability, on the other hand, were limited.
However, this inspirational trip, together with 30 professionals from the same discipline, stimulated valuable conversations. We also had loads of fun. Doing all this in this part of the world was unprecedented, and certainly an experience we’ll all remember for a long time to come. Thank you to Bart-Jan Lijnkamp, Bastiaan van Riet, Desiree Dongelmans, Edward van Tuinen, Ernst-Willem van Drumpt, Gilbert Mattu, Hans Voermans, Henk van de Weitgraven, Ineke Yska, Jan Klein Goldewijk, John Dommerholt, Jolanda Heij, Lieke Hermsen, Marco Meetz, Mariska Plomp, Mathijs Schaft, Maurice Verwer, Michèl van Wissen, Mirjam van den Brand, Ricco Groeneveld, Ruud Peters, Sandy Brouwer, Toine Bakker, Tom Jochems, Ton Bernts and Walther Huyzen, for your enthusiasm and willingness to learn, discuss and share. The learnings in this article are based upon our collective efforts and ambitions to create more value with Facility Management within the companies which employ us.