My latest visit reminded me of Ryan Carson’s post that compared photos he’d seen from both offices. He wondered which approach was better, in terms of developing happy employees. Here are my thoughts, having spent an entire day at both companies.
Thought 1: a good workspace will reflect your core values
Both 37signals and Zappos have done a good job of publishing their core values. Here are a few:
You can see their values reflected in their workspaces: 37signals values working lean, focusing on the basics, and minimizing interruptions. Zappos celebrates fun, weirdness, having adventure and being open-minded.
Thought 2: having a strong culture is more important than having a nice office
Don’t mistake the forest for the trees. After visiting both 37signals and Zappos I can honestly say that they are both amazing companies. What makes them amazing is not their office design, but that they both have strong corporate cultures. These cultures are so strong that people outside these companies know their values. Both organizations could probably move into a rundown warehouse and be fine, because their values drive the business.
Where would you work?
I think your decision about which you would work at (37signals or Zappos) says something about you: do you like quiet, limitations and focus? 37signals puts a strong emphasis on those. Are you exuberant, social and a little wild? Zappos could be your cup of tea. There could also be a section of people, like myself, who could see themselves working at both places.
But it’s not the office design that we’d be responding to: it’s the presence of a strong culture. That’s the take-home. Great companies stand for something: they have a deeper purpose than making software, or selling shoes. People (both customers and potential employees) respond to culture.
Update: Feb 18, 2012
Jason Fried mentioned on Twitter:
Our office is a lot more lively these days than in those photos. Patina takes time.