Do Office Perks At Facebook And Google Stifle Creativity?

Despite the mammoth success of Google and Facebook, both companies have been slow to develop mobile sites and smartphone apps that live up to their names. Google unveiled a major new design earlier this month, but didn’t upgrade its mobile site at all. Facebook’s mobile site is painfully slow and buggy. Here’s one theory about why: Its employees are so spoiled they never have to rely on their smartphones the way the rest of us do. They don’t focus on mobile experience because they never rely on it. Can a luxury office stifle its employees’ creativity?

That’s the theory put forward by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton, who describes a cushy day in the life of a Silicon Valley employee, which includes on-campus day-care, dry cleaning, coffee, car rentals, and other office perks. He compares these office to an all-inclusive cruise ship:

An employee’s day often begins with a comfy shuttle bus whisking him or her to work in Silicon Valley. The buses have Wi-Fi, so laptops are put to work before anyone arrives on the sprawling campuses.

Once there, dozens of free breakfast options await. Free buffet lunches break the monotony of the day. There is free dinner, too. There are free snacks for those peckish between meals. (The stuff that’s bad for you is on the hard-to-reach lower shelves.)

All of this is wonderful for the employees — and of course well deserved — but these perks could be stultifying. At some of these Silicon Valley businesses, there is no reason to leave the office.

By contrast, the mere mortals who rely on Facebook and Google to get through their days must bumble around in the real world, using our smartphones to find food, news, dry cleaning, car rentals, and snacks. We peer at our tiny screens, instead of the 30-inch monitors Bilton says are common at Facebook HQ. And a few people, while going about that daily drudgery, will have an aha! moment where they realize what the world really needs is an app that automatically lets you know when your dry cleaning is ready. (Or possibly something else? There’s a reason I’m not an app developer…)

“The bold start-up grows, gets comfortable and misses the next big thing, which the newest hungry start-up spots while working among the rest of us,” Bilton concludes. In other words, the best way to find out what regular people want is to live like a regular person. The cushy digs at Facebook and Google get in the way of that.

Photo: Yuri Arcurs /

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