These days, it’s unusual to find a tech startup that doesn’t use an open office design to organize its workspace.
While some companies move away from the concept as they mature and expand, survey software firm Qualtrics is taking the notion of transparency to “radical” levels at its new 151,000-square-foot headquarters in Provo, Utah, which officially opened last week.
“Not many designers or architects understand what we’re trying to do,” said Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith, who was closely involved throughout the design process.
This is the fourth Utah site Qualtrics has used in its 14-year existence. Backed with more than $220 million in venture funding, the company’s valuation was pegged at more than $1 billion in 2015. Its survey software, which also includes features for gathering employee feedback, is used by more than 8,000 companies, including the likes of Boeing (BA), JetBlue (JBLU), and Pfizer (PFE).
Some of the things that Qualtrics is doing will seem familiar, such as creating temporary lounge areas scattered throughout the building, where employees can relocate for impromptu meetings or even just a change of scenery. But those spaces also spill outdoors into 17 acres of gardens that are blanketed with wireless connectivity, so employees can enjoy the spectacular Utah mountains.
Plus how many companies boast a basketball court in their lobby? A playroom that combines children’s play structures with workstations so that parents (or, for that matter, honorary aunts and uncles) can share part of their day with family?
“If you’re really going to get the very best out of people and get them to trust each other, you can’t make them leave their humanity at home,” said Kim Scott, a former Google executive and Qualtrics board member who writes frequently about how to coax the best out of teams. “It’s about work-life integration.”
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One of the more unusual features of the new Qualtrics campus is the massive, 10,000-square-foot meeting room the company where its holds its weekly all-hands meeting—it can accommodate the roughly 500 employees at the site, along with connections to Qualtrics’s nine regional offices.
“If you don’t give everyone the information to do their jobs and you’re not transparent, the issue is that people become very inward-focused,” Smith said. By the way, if you’re a new hire, you can expect to introduce yourself to all 1,200 people during one of those gatherings.
Perhaps the most radical concept Qualtrics is trying at its new site, however, are the “international watercoolers” that connect the new headquarters with remote locations via live video monitors.
Smith and Scott contend that some of the best ideas come from informal gatherings or casual chats away from a desk. Why not encourage that? He got the idea from world-renowned restauranteur Thomas Keller, who uses video to connect his kitchens and allow chefs to share ideas and techniques—even if they aren’t working on the same cuisine. In a similar vein, Qualtrics employees can head over to the watercooler if they want to converse “face to face.”
“It’s an ice breaker,” Smith said. “If someone wants to just chat about something, they can just do that.”