A Truly Radical View From the Office

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The 10-story North San Jose Samsung campus is designed to overcome the barriers to human connection inherent in vertical space to foster the creative environment the company wants, Wyatt said. The solution is a “donut-shaped” two-tower complex with glass exteriors to allow clear sightlines between and across floors. Every third floor is an outdoor terrace. Internal staircases connect every set of two office floors, creating another point of potential worker meeting and interaction.

[contextly_sidebar id=”07c2c012f4e29cd8772883150f208d44″]“When you have thousands of people to get together and to cross over serendipitously, it is hard to do when you are building vertically. It is out of sight, out of mind, literally. How do you break that? A donut-shaped building with clear glass,” Wyatt said.

But whether the rising corporate campuses in Silicon Valley will really create and maintain desired collaboration and innovation was debated. All but Wyatt expressed skepticism, and he defended the practice in part by citing the need to balance free flowing thought with intellectual property protection, a big worry in the IP-rich South Bay.

Wittenberg said as a native urbanite—he hails from New York City—he tends to favor the-city-as-a-campus approach for the workplace over the purpose-built corporate campus: “It is internally maybe innovative [to have a large corporate campus], but it is harder to get outside ideas. The whole wisdom of the crowd is gone.”

In downtown Palo Alto, the city’s streets, restaurants and businesses themselves have become one great porous workplace, Gorbis said. The desirability of the setting to startups and others is self-evident in the soaring office rents and new office development. “We open our office and invite anyone who signs up to come and work with us, and the transfer of ideas and serendipity—you miss it with a large campus,” she said.

Access to the Palo Alto ecosystem comes at a steeper and steeper cost, however, as rents in downtown rise until they are “unaffordable for anyone,” she said.

San Francisco’s rising costs drive its workers from the Bay Area, too, said GitHub’s Chacon. But instead of seeing departures as a loss, the company is watching worker movements to cities perceived as having character and a less expensive cost of living such as Portland, Ore., Boulder, Colo., and New Orleans, La. Silicon Valley cities are typically not on the list, he said. GitHub is following its workers’ lead and opening offices in cities behind them, seeking to create new centers of gravity to try to attract other workers.

Company perks include renting a home through Airbnb Inc. in places such as “Tuscany and Uruguay,” he said, “where people always wanted to go.”

“They can go there and live for a month and work. There are interesting side effects of not forcing people to live in a certain place,” he said.

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