Recently I visited the Golden Bear State for a combination of meetings and a little R&R up in the wonderful Sonoma area. Fun, sun and wine are a good recipe for a sanity check, I can report.

The Road to High Tech Nirvana

The Road to High Tech Nirvana

Some of my Buddies from The Harvey Team Dan and Tori. Wine Cats Indeed.

Some of my Buddies from The Harvey Team Dan and Tori. Wine Cats Indeed.

Thanks to my friends and wonderful hosts at The Harvey Team, I did get a chance to tour several “high tech” office spaces in and near San Francisco and saw some of the most cutting edge offices one can imagine. I’ll hand it to the good folks of Northern California, they know how to make most everything better including…work. Tech in San Francisco is more than an industry. It is indeed a way of life.

One can feel the excitement in your bones when you walk into a NoCal tech office space. It’s like that feeling when someone drives buy with an amped up bass in their car. Everyone participates in the song whether it was directed at you or not. I got a broad smile on my face just feeling the capitalism reverberating around me. Ahhh.

Baubles, Benji, More

I felt like a kid at Christmas as we went from space to space. What would I find in the next offices. The spaces had all the things you’d image from stand up desks to dogs happily prancing around. One space had a sign that said “days since Benji’s (the dog) last accident-2.” Ooops.

Benji in between accidents

Benji in between accidents

Bright colors, lots of glass and daylight permeated the spaces. People sat in “benching” configurations which consists of long tables like a Delta Crown Room with people gazing intently at very large monitors. Those operating in such an open environment had “focus chops” in that they kept working even though are crowd was wandering around. Maybe the earbuds pumping Maroon 5 help block out our intrusion.

White boards were everywhere as was “soft” furniture like recliners and large bean bag chairs. One space had an area all set for the office band to play at any time. The finest food and beverage were omnipresent. At one large company (I signed an NDA so can’t tell you exactly which one, but it’s a well known name out of Mountain View) they offer not only dry cleaning but also laundry for free.

Ready for the band at Mattermark's offices.

Ready for the band at Mattermark’s offices.

Yup, bring your undies in by 9 and they’ll be neatly folded by 5. The benefits also include transportation on tricked out “tour bus” like set ups with yet more food and the best wifi on the planet. They will give you a car too, if you agree to commute with 2 other people every day. If you need to Uber home to meet the repair man, no problem. The company will cover the tab. Salesforce.com has a series of vending machines in its offices with headsets of every kind, keyboards, and every imaginable tech accoutrement. Scan your badge and out drops your the latest Beats headgear.

Benching at Mattermark HQ

Benching at Mattermark HQ

If you can dream a semi-legitimate need, your employer will do everything possible to make it reality in this tech mecca.

Storm Clouds

While I do believe there is a certain enlightened attitude in San Francisco tech executives, there is also self-interest at work. Companies such as Google, Apple and others are growing very, very quickly and the most sought after employees have tremendous leverage both in terms of pay and perks. What many high value employees want is money (of course), significance in the workplace, and lifestyle. They realize that they will be spending much of their waking hours at very demanding jobs, so why not enjoy wheat grass drinks and a little hot yoga during breaks. Plus fresh organic fruit smoothies really boost afternoon productivity.

Put another way, employers in the Bay Area are caught in a war of workspace that is escalating quickly. I know you’ve read articles about over the top workplaces in the past, but look out, because attraction and retention of employees is THE issue. This will be fascinating to watch and learn from.

Think Like You Are an Owner Because You Are

One of my great take aways is a seemingly simple concept that we’ve talked about in Corporate America for years: Think Like an Owner. The unidentified large tech company that I toured has this as a mantra. If you want to travel somewhere for your job and stay at a W Hotel because your body needs the rest – go ahead. No one needs to sign off and no one approves – you are empowered to spend the company’s dollars in the way you see fit.

This was refreshing and reports from inside the company indicate that if you treat people like adults, they are very likely to in fact act that way. I’m sure there are exceptions and poor choices made, but the big anonymous company is willing to deal with the exceptions and not make so many rules for everyone else. People talked about this concept internally with great pride. I’ve read a million HBR articles on this concept, but rarely have seen it work in real life.

I feel like I spotted Nessie.

I acknowledge that this thinking works when one has stock options and even administrative staff cash out big when IPO’s happen. But it’s still a good reminder that over management by finance and procurement staffs can drive us back to high school type behavior. I sure hope the idea of fewer rules and higher assumed trust spreads from NoCal.

Back in the real world, I’m not sure we’ll be giving too many rock concerts in our office spaces, and you’ll have to wash you own skivvies, but maybe your office will upgrade the quality of the coffee. And hey, at least you won’t have to clean up after Benji.