The Return Of The Traditional Workplace?

Traditional office elements are returning to workspaces that were recently filled with Ping-Pong tables and beer on tap.

The Boston Globe identified a “growing up” trend in the culture of tech workplaces, driven by factors such as the high cost of renting and owning offices, finding the best use for given areas, and a workforce that is beginning to prioritize health, life balance, and professionalism over college-style fun.

“For hiring and recruiting talent, there’s much more of an interest now in what they actually can accomplish and who they’re going to work with than how cool the office looks,” said Matt Lock, managing director at the design firm Unispace.

Playful office spaces emerged from Silicon Valley workplaces, famous not just for tech innovation, but a workplace culture that sometimes included hammocks, ball pits, and slides for adults. This mentality did make it to east coast workplaces, though to a less dramatic degree.

“As tech has grown up, there’s been a recognition that this is not an extension of a college dorm for everyone,” said Amy Spurling, the 40-year-old Chief Executive for Compt, a Boston startup that offers management solutions for workplace perks. “We need to have a work environment that makes more than just one group of people happy.”

In addition, certain amenities create concerns of which a young workforce may not be aware. “Hey, if you’re 40, getting out of a beanbag chair hurts!” Spurling said.

The tech company HubSpot exemplifies the shift well. HubSpot facilities director Kenneth Papa said the message from tech companies a decade ago was reasonably clear: they were expected to be on the job constantly.

“It’s murky ground. It’s very much a gray area where you build something to get people to never want to leave versus building something that people want, could use, and will give them a better quality of life,” Papa said.

Now in addition to popular features like tennis table and naprooms, Papa said recent additions include maternity wards with walls decked out with quotes from female writers, a meditation room with soothing lighting, and a quiet area. The shift has included smaller changes, like candy dispensers now filled with nuts and granola.

Practicality drives many office decisions for smaller companies. For many employers, proximity to transit is crucial, but being close to public transport comes at a price. For the software company Janeiro, moving offices near Boston’s North Station meant a shuffleboard table could not come with them. They kept a video game system and a tabletop foosball game. These can be moved when clients visit, or gatherings are held.

“The ability to come in and have everything you need to do your job well, that’s a company’s first priority. It shouldn’t be your second,” Janeiro Chief Executive Jonathan Bingham said. “If you’re going to set a culture for everybody to come in and have a good time, and then do your job really well, that’s probably a mistake.”