The real legacy of the '60s is not Woodstock (or even Greenwich Village in its halcyon hippie days), it's Silicon Valley's style of free-spirited, laid-back, blurred-boundaries, around-the-clock work.
Now, Google 's new downtown campus is bringing the no-collar workplace to the veritable belly of finance capitalism, New York City, whose high-rise towers filled with those men in gray-flannel suits defined the epicenter of '50s-style organization man corporate culture. According to the New York Times:
"The campus-like workspace is antithetical to the office culture of most New York businesses. It is a vision of a workplace utopia as conceived by rich, young, single engineers in Silicon Valley, transplanted to Manhattan. The New York tradition of leaving the office to network over lunch or an evening cocktail party has no place at Google, where employees are encouraged to socialize among themselves. There are groups of Gayglers, Newglers and Bikeglers (who bike to work together) ...For a Thank God It’s Almost Friday gathering on Dec. 14, Laura Garrett, a sales operations specialist, organized an art show. “Being a Googler and being part of Chelsea, I wanted to do something that was more downtownish than a typical Google event,” said Ms. Garrett, a blonde wearing Marc Jacobs heels. Williamsburg artists created the work on display, for prices from $225 to $8,000 ...The Empire State Building glowed red and green in the background as if color-coordinated to the Googleplex’s interiors rather than Christmas. By 6:30 p.m., Steve Saviano, 22, a software engineer, was hanging out with his fellow Googlers at a table littered with empty beer and wine bottles. "This is academic life all over again,” Mr. Saviano said. “But I’m getting paid. This is a 100 percent better option than graduate school.”
The rest is here (Hat tip: Rana/ Tim Gulden).
Three things crossed my mind as I read the story and scanned its pictures, which interestingly enough appeared in the fashion and style section and not the business section.
- (1) You can't pump creative work out of people, assembly-line style. Motivating this kind of mental work requires a new kind of workplace, one that appears to be nurturing, attuned to individuality, and "fun"- a trend I dubbed "soft-control" in Rise.
- (2) It's a mistake to see this stuff as all frills and perks. Companies are doing it because it is increasingly required to attract top talent. Offering a stimulating environment, flexible work hours, and the ability to be "yourself" is an effective and relatively "cheap" way of competing against, say, investment banks and hedge-funds.
- (3) Scanning the photos, I was struck by the similarity between these new work-spaces and college dorm rooms, where so many of these high-tech companies come from, or even the play-spaces of middle age teenagers. Could it be that the demographic trends toward postponed marriage, extended single years and what Ethan Watters dubbed the "urban tribe" are being projected into the work-place?
Question: What does this re-framing of work as part "play" mean for the way we define our work and ourselves, and for our society? Your thoughts.