Tees Business columnist Harry Pearson ‘techs’ a humorous look at how the digital sector has led the field in office quirkiness.
Back when I was growing up on Teesside, tech was something posh people used to hold the carpet down. All that has changed.
These days there are upwards of 300 tech companies in the region, ranging from tiny spare bedroom start-ups to global players such as Cubic, Animmersion, Sock Monkey and Visualsoft.
The latter have created a bit of a stir locally by installing slides, a pool table and a wall of living moss in their Stockton HQ.
When I started out on my working life, if you wanted to play in the office you waited till the boss had gone for lunch and then rigged up a cricket field using wastepaper bins for wickets, rulers for bats and a ball made out of rubber bands (Now I think about it, maybe I should suggest that as a new format to the English Cricket Board – it couldn’t be worse than The 100). In the past few years, however, the sight of a table football and ping pong bats in an office is no longer the stuff of crazy dreams.
Maybe it all started with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who had a futon installed under his desk so he could take an afternoon nap. What was wrong with a mound of shredded paper in the stock cupboard? It worked for my Uncle Bob during his days at the Burton shirt factory. Or, at least, it did until an overhead water pipe burst during his post-lunch kip and he woke up encased in paper mache.
Certainly, the notion of creating a relaxed, fun environment for the workforce seems to have started across the Atlantic. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy have onsite tanning beds (Insert your own “Obviously hoping to recruit Geordies” joke here), while the offices of super hipster New York tech firm Chartbeat feature a puppytorium where workers can relax by playing with dogs from a local rescue centre.
JM Family Enterprises, a Florida automotive firm, meanwhile, offer employees free use of the company yachts, which are conveniently located at the office marina.
The most extreme example of the trend is to be found in Pittsburgh (more or less the USA’s answer to Middlesbrough), where George Davidson, the owner of ideas incubator Inventionland, sits during working hours surveying his workplace from a treehouse office.
“I never want to get stale or bored looking at a computer screen,” Davidson has said.
And how could he be, with a pirate ship, a giant robot, a cupcake the size of a small house and three running waterfalls amongst other things that fill his company office?
Zappos’s HQ in Las Vegas isn’t quite as extraordinary as Inventionland, merely featuring ball pools, billiard tables, massage chairs and a giant aquarium, but Zappos are innovators when it comes to organising wacky workers’ theme days, such as Tank Top Tuesday – though I’d like to point out that a tank top isn’t just for Tuesday, it’s for life.
However, nobody across the pond can quite match the efforts of Tyneside-based Onebestway, who took the idea of Dress Down Friday one stage further by apparently introducing an Office Nudist Day, which according to a spokesman quoted in the Daily Telegraph was designed to “Strip away inhibitions and encourage employees to talk to each other more openly.”
That, at least, would be one take on it, though since Onebestway is a marketing company and their ‘no clothes day’ got them worldwide publicity, the cynical amongst you might sniff a clever PR exercise. Worth thinking about anyway.
I’m currently typing this wearing a tinfoil leotard in honour of my newly introduced Flash Gordon Friday, if any media outlets want to get in touch.