Like many tech enthusiasts, I have a bit of a fascination with Silicon Valley and the global internet behemoths that originated there. So I was excited by the prospect of visiting and learning more about the people, the culture, the perks and the salubrious work environments at these phenomenally successful ‘startups’.
First up was Linkedin (I’ll talk about Google in a separate post). Whilst originally a Silicon Valley business, they have recently built a brand new, and very well appointed, headquarters building in downtown San Francisco.
Recognising that most employees want to live in San Francisco, many tech companies are now establishing premises in the heart of the city so that they don’t have to make the hour-long commute to Silicon Valley and back. In a city where the war for talent is intense, a city work location is a key perk that helps to attract and retain the very best people.
My travelling companion Geoff and I drove the short journey from our Financial District hotel to the new Linkedin building in the SOMA neighbourhood. Geoff drove and I navigated – a not uncomplicated task in an unfamiliar city in peak hour for two Australians who drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and the ‘wrong’ side of the car.
We parked at one of those very-American car parking lots with the small booth in the centre, the valet who parks your car, and the astronomical price to match, and made our way to the Linkedin building on the corner of Howard and 2nd Streets.
Ten minutes early for our scheduled tour, we strolled around the huge public lobby at the base of the building. San Francisco planning laws require that newly constructed buildings have open spaces that are freely open to the public. Linkedin has built a very impressive public space with contemporary art pieces (apparently worth millions of dollars), hardwood finishes, funky furniture and, of course, free wi-fi.
At 9am, we rolled up to the Linkedin reception desk and met our guide, Ryan F, who most graciously gave up an hour of his time to show us around. Ryan had previously spent time working at Linkedin’s Sydney office, so was very welcoming to a pair of wide-eyed Antipodeans.
First up, a spot of breakfast in the cafeteria. The place was busy with employees who had just arrived at work, feasting on a huge assortment of organically-farmed breakfast options. All food that is served in the cafeteria is procured from local providers that are identified on a prominently-displayed ‘Know Your Farms’ and ‘Know Your Food’ wall.
No-one goes hungry at Linkedin. Three meals a day are provided free of charge, as well as snacks and drinks (including alcoholic beverages) at any time of day.
Whilst tucking into my cooked breakfast, Ryan spotted some Aussie Linkedin employees and introduced them to us. Being Adelaideans, naturally a conversation about our AFL team preferences followed – Crows or Port, asked the Swans fan? There are plenty of Aussies working for Linkedin in the US and it’s good to know that you can still talk footy on the other side of the world.
On with the tour. I grabbed a freshly brewed free cappuccino from the barista – another perk – and off we went down this corridor with a very clear message for employees…
We stepped into the lift and had a quick conversation with one of the engineers who works in the building. He had exactly the same vaguely-sarcastic drawl as Gilfoyle from the Silicon Valley television series! According to several people that we spoke to, the television series is so close to reality that it is scary – apparently everybody knows someone who resembles Richard, Erlich, Gilfoyle, Big Head, Jared and Dinesh.
Upstairs, there was another casual dining/meeting area. Here we were introduced to a favourite Linkedin beverage, kombucha. According to Wikipedia, it’s a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened tea drinks with significant health benefits. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast” (it even has it’s own acronym: SCOBY). An interesting flavour. Think I’ll stick to beer myself.
Out on to the balcony to take a look over the San Francisco skyline. This balcony has hosted some great after-work drinks parties.
There’s a fully equipped corporate gym with regular group fitness classes. Ryan mentioned that he regularly attended lunchtime fitness classes.
After you’ve finished your workout, there’s a masseuse, meditation rooms and wellness programs to get your mind and body back into balance. All free.
Need a new keyboard or USB stick? Get it from the tech vending machine for free.
Need to take some time out? There are some cool little sideshows throughout the building that help to keep you engaged. A silent disco and an oversized backgammon game, for example…
I ducked into one of the unisex toilets and noticed that all manner of hygiene products are provided free of charge – a small perk that would represent quite a big financial saving for employees.
But perhaps the most amazing employee perk is ‘unlimited leave’. There’s no formal leave system in place at Linkedin – if you want to go on leave, you just go on leave. There’s no limit to the leave you take – that’s entirely up to you!
What a fantastic place to work. With all of the perks, it makes you wonder whether the staff ever have any time to actually do any work. But clearly Linkedin is doing something right – it is indisputably the world’s leading online professional network and it goes from strength to strength.
Not all employers can provide the perks that Linkedin do, but organisations can certainly learn a few things about staff attraction and retention from them. They only hire the very best people and their staff turnover is extremely low, and this is a key part of their success.
A shout out to Ryan for the great tour and Jorn for arranging it – thanks! If there are any jobs going, let me know – as long as I can work from Adelaide.
Note: some of the images in this article are from Tony Chung, Linkedin and appeared on Business Insider (being a very poor photographer, some of my photos didn’t look so good).