Where would you rather work: 37signals or Zappos?

The 37signals office vs the Zappos office

I took both of these shots: the photo of 37signals was taken when I visited in 2010, and the picture at Zappos from my recent visit in early 2012.

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:

37signals core values Zappos core values
  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

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.

See my photo galleries: 37signals and Zappos.

Discuss this post on Hacker News!

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  1. 37Signals’ office looks like a morgue.

  2. 37Signals would be my clear choice. The Zappos office makes my stomach hurt – so much clutter that it even looks noisy.

  3. I’d lean towards 37signals with zappos on Friday. I think there’s really something to be said for discipline at work and getting stuff done. I wonder what the productivity is like at both places.

  4. Based on those 2 pictures only, 37signals by a mile. I enjoy having as few distractions as possible when sitting down to be productive.

  5. Overall I very much love the conclusion you came up with ( hence why I retweeted). A strong corporate culture and core values make the difference. As for me I’d probably go with the Zappos office as I need that sensory input to stay awake.

  6. I think that a really forward looking company (with enough room) would maybe have multiple environments and let the ‘workers’ choose to sit in whichever atmosphere they felt best for them. This could also apply to those principles (may be a better term than ‘core values’) – they all look workable, the question would be: which of these principles do you most believe/work to/aspire to? This would reflect that we are different from each other but can still have common aims/goals. Making ALL employees work in the same environment, no matter how it is designed, is just the same as making them work in a cube farm (that could be a third choice).