Recently 37signals opened their new office. It’s beautiful and functional, with public spaces so you can chat and hang out, and private spaces when you really need some peace and quiet – all beautifully designed. Looks like the perfect office. The perfect culture. But is it really?
I just finished reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and I now believe Zappos’ chaotic and messy offices are much more effective at promoting happiness and innovation. Please keep reading to find out why. At the end, I’d love to hear your opinion.
First, let’s compare the offices of Zappos and 37signals visually …
Zappos Headquarters in Las Vegas
37signals Headquarters in Chicago
Two different approaches?
So what’s going on? How can two tremendously successful and passionate businesses manifest themselves in such dramatically different ways? And which one is better?
Giving control away
The primary thing that I took away from Delivering Happiness was this: If you want to have an amazing company culture, you have to give your team control of three things:
- Their career
- Their work
- Their surroundings
Happy employees need to be able to positively affect these things.
I’m focusing on ‘surroundings’ in this post, so let’s dive into that.
Zappos let their team do whatever the hell they want with their desks and environment. The goofier and weirder, the better. They actively encourage mischief and fun.
Something tells me that if someone at 37signals put up a huge green and blue tent around their desk, they wouldn’t get a high-five in the hallway. The unspoken message to 37signals employees is this: “Don’t touch. Don’t put your stamp on this office.”
The trouble with a perfectly designed office is that there’s little room for individuality or fun. Yes, they have blackboards at 37signals’ office, but that’s not enough. People need the freedom to customize their environment and express their personality on a permanent basis.
I’m with Jason when it comes to aesthetic, I value clean lines, gorgeous textures and tidiness. But that’s just me and I shouldn’t force that on my team.
Your office ≠ your product
We all need to break the myth that your company’s culture and office needs to match your end product.
Everyone knows that zappos.com provides insanely awesome customer service. Their site is also very usable and functional. Their product is amazing and well designed, but their office is a wreck. They’re a billion dollar company and their CEO’s office is a small cubicle with fake vines hanging from the ceiling and a blowup monkey hanging on the wall.
This is proof that you can promote weirdness and fun at your office, without compromising the integrity of your product or sacrificing profits.
Every founder dreams of designing and creating an office like 37signals have done, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for their Team.
Love to hear your thoughts!