Make us your home page

Old-school tech companies imitate younger, hipper competitors

From employee perks to the color of their office walls, the old guard of Silicon Valley is taking cues from the new.

Google Inc. is famous for its free food and more, featured over the summer in the film The Internship. But tech companies that have been around much longer are evolving as they compete with younger, seemingly hipper companies for talent.

Since "Conan O'Brien did a bit on Intel's gray cubes and gray walls" in 2007, says Gail Dundas, a communications manager with the 45-year-old Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker, there has been a sea of changes at the company that includes getting rid of cubicles and infusing color into the workplace.

Cisco Systems Inc., another longtime Silicon Valley company, is also transforming its work spaces. Some departments are getting rid of assigned work spaces, tapping Cisco's own networking technology that enables employees to become more mobile. Elsewhere on the campus, some of the 56 buildings at the company's San Jose, Calif., headquarters are at various stages of a remodel, with new features including lounge areas with comfy couches, pool tables and cocoon-shaped chairs.

"We want people to come out for a minute, think outside the box," said Allan McGinty, director of workplace design and development. During a recent tour of Cisco's San Jose campus, McGinty spoke from Raleigh, N.C., using WebEx, the company's videoconferencing system.

Showing that its efforts are apparently paying off with young workers, Cisco's interns praise its culture.

Eric Pomeroy, a 21-year-old from the University of Michigan, recently finished his second straight summer internship at the company.

"The managers respect our input and ideas," he said. The mobile app he worked on last summer is now used by employees who need help navigating around Cisco's huge campus.

Sierra Parker, a University of Pennsylvania student who at the ripe old age of 20 has already interned at the White House, said she wanted to leave her internship there early because she worked alone and without adequate supervision.

This summer was different because she wanted to stay longer at Cisco, where as an IT intern she had a chance to work with people constantly. Telecommuting is another Cisco selling point, but Parker says "everyone likes to come into the office." And yes, she loved the free popcorn in the break room.

But even as the more established companies try to make their work spaces and culture more inviting, they're still grappling with challenges that can't help but affect morale. Cisco announced recently that it is laying off 4,000 people, about 5 percent of its global workforce. Intel Corp., too, is trying to expand its horizons amid a slump in its bread-and-butter PC business

While companies like Cisco and Intel are trying to catch up to newer firms like Google, there's a whole new wave of companies that are taking workplace culture in new directions.

As a startup, it's probably no surprise that Square, the San Francisco payments company founded in 2009, has "never had cubicles or offices," according to spokeswoman Lindsay Wiese. Square executives often work at stand-up tables, she said.

So even though the company's office is in an old-school building that houses an old-school product (the San Francisco Chronicle, although Square is moving a few blocks away into its new headquarters in the fall), its workplace was conceived in the age of open and collaborative offices.

But not only new companies are flocking to San Francisco. Having an office there is also a plus for Adobe Systems Inc., the San Jose software company that in December celebrated its 30th anniversary.

But don't call the company old. "We may be an established company," said Donna Morris, senior vice president, "but we're in an emerging area in terms of products and solutions," such as Adobe's new push to sell its software as a service.

The transformation in its products is seeping into the culture. Earlier this year, executives moved to one open floor in San Jose. It has no offices, not even for CEO Shantanu Narayen. Adobe's 11,500 employees around the world enjoy perks such as gyms, oil changes on site, game rooms. There's a rock-climbing wall at its Utah offices.

"Our culture is very different today," Morris said. "We continue to change."

Fringe benefits

Older tech companies are competing with Google, Facebook and young startups for talent. Here's what they're doing or offering at some or all of their offices:

Adobe Systems Inc.

Open workspaces; commute assistance; oil changes and services onsite; bike share and repair; free snacks; subsidized lunches; mobile hair stop; basketball courts; gyms; telecommuting; beer bashes; sabbatical program

Cisco Systems Inc.

Open, unassigned workspaces; bring your own devices; private listening rooms; collaborative spaces that include countertop workspaces, rolling tables in conference rooms; creativity rooms such as art studios or game centers; fitness centers; tuition assistance; onsite child care

Intel Corp.

Mobile workspaces; collaboration spaces; corporate jet; telecommuting; nonstandard hours; reimbursements; corporate shuttles; sponsors student tailgate parties or spa days, depending on target group

Yahoo Inc.

Free food; free smartphones; longer new-child leave; reimbursement of up to $500 for daily habits when taking home new child; eight weeks leave for every five years worked; adoption assistance; fitness centers or reimbursements

Sources: Companies' representatives and websites

Old-school tech companies imitate younger, hipper competitors 09/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 2:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes


    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community for the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  2. Claim: State pressured CFO, used secret recordings to shut down Universal Health Care


    ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of St. Petersburg's Universal Health Care alleges that Florida regulators conspired with the company's chief financial officer to drive the once high-flying Medicare insurer out of business.

    Federal agents raided the headquarters of Universal Health Care in 2013, ordering employees to leave the building. The insolvent St. Petersburg Medicare insurer was then in the process of being liquidated by state regulators.
[DIRK SHADD   |   Times file photo]

  3. Aramis Ayala defends stance against death penalty: 'I did what I believe was proper'

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala on Wednesday strongly defended her "absolute discretion" to never seek the death penalty in murder cases, as skeptical justices of the Florida Supreme Court bombarded her lawyer with pointed questions.

    Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala, far right, said she was "very well pleased" with her lawyer's case. "I violated no laws." [STEVE BOUSQUET | Times]
  4. Tampa Chamber of Commerce offers boost to black and Hispanic-owned businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — There's a disconnect in Hillsborough County's minority business community.

    Gaston Meredith of Gaston's Culinary Services listens to LaKendria Robinson, Director of Minority Business Accelerator & Economic Inclusion during an information session at the Robert W. Saunders Library in Tampa on Tuesday.
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  5. Wesley Chapel, Greater Pasco chambers of commerce merge


    LAND O'LAKES — Two chambers of commerce representing more than 850 business members from west Pasco to Wesley Chapel and New Tampa are merging into a single organization.

    Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Hope Allen will lead the combined chambers of commerce announced Wednesday. The yet-to-be-named chamber will represent more than 850 businesses that currenlty are members of the Greater Pasco and Greater Wesley Chapel chambers.
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]