Silicon Valley’s New Corporate Campuses Shed Dim Light on Workplace Stock

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NVIDIA campus Satna Clara The Registry real estate
Planned NVIDIA Campus

As the valley’s economic diversity has grown, so has the command for variable space, he agreed. But too much idiosyncracy can backfire for a landlord, a company and the community at large. “If you look back in time, the term ‘white elephant’ can come into play,” he said, citing Fairchild Semiconductor’s former Mountain View headquarters and manufacturing plant, which was demolished after the company could find no subsequent user.

“The term ‘exit strategy’ has to be in your lexicon,” he said April 25 at a San Jose symposium on Silicon Valley commercial real estate. “Some companies have so much cash that they don’t care, but they should because it is a lasting legacy and could be used by someone else.”

Yet, workplace experts like Lynda Ward and Uday Dandavate say the evolution hasn’t gone nearly far enough. Both see boundless potential improvement beyond what is being done today. By and large, habit, risk aversion and bureaucratic structure control how companies procure real estate, Ward said. “Contracts are about time, process and delivery. They don’t say: ‘How will we innovate together?’”

Perhaps there should be no dedicated workplace at all, Dandavate said. Rather, income-producing work—whatever it may be at any moment—should be seamlessly integrated into the work of daily life, functioning in and around personal demands. (See related story.)

Ward was the organizing force for the March meeting of the Northern California chapter of CoreNet Global, “Inspiring Innovation in the Workplace, or How to Get Out of the Way of Our Talent.” CoreNet is the professional organization for corporate real estate workers.

“What is the real purpose of these buildings? Everyone there all the time? What is the real attraction for why people come to the office? What is the office experience?” Ward asks. Answering these kinds of fundamental questions “is more than an observation study to test utilization,” she said.

Google, a now global company that incorporated in 1998, has relied overwhelmingly on existing properties to satisfy its needs and prefers to own so it can control, said Jay Bechtel, a Google real estate project executive speaking April 25 at a symposium at San Jose State University on the future of real estate for Bay Area technology companies. One of Google’s first signature buildings in hometown Mountain View was the former campus for Silicon Graphics Inc., a company founded by the legendary Jim Clark in 1982.

The Internet giant has committed to the Shoreline area of Mountain View, scouring the terrain east of U.S. 101 to lease and acquire as many of the buildings as it can. The company has worked diligently with the city to craft real estate that can be transformed to suit its long-term needs.

Now it is building its first campus at NASA Ames Research Center next door, with a million square feet, and has hopes of building a like-sized campus in Mountain View. The emphasis is on sustainability and healthful workplace environments. It is also on getting people to the campus and getting them to stay. “At the end of the day, we are competing for smart engineers with Twitter, Google, Apple and Facebook,” Bechtel said.

The company has large offices all over the world including New York and Paris in part so this elite talent can chose where it wants to be. Fifty to 60 percent of the company’s workers still are in Mountain View. “Everyone in our company still wants to sit right next to Larry,” he said.

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