Peter VanRysdam / Digital Strategy / September 30th, 2009

Microsoft's "Commons" is a Case Study in Employee Retention…and Efficiency!

I spent today on Microsoft’s Redmond, WA campus for the first day of the MSVP Vendor Summit.  I haven’t been here in a couple of months, and hadn’t seen the “Commons,” Microsoft’s newest cluster of buildings on campus.  I had a few minutes of down time to take a walk through it, and wow.  Just wow.

One of the things I try to do at our company is to make it a fun place to be.  In a service industry, where our people are our product, we need them at work and happy.  So we have things like a pool table/conference table, a Zen room with massage chair, a basketball court, and a Wii.  We have a masseuse come in periodically, and offer free snacks and drinks.  The goal is that when an employee needs a break, they take it at the office.  If they go home, they’re staying there.  If they can unwind at work, then they’ll go back to work.  Overall, I think it’s worked (especially on days with a pancake breakfast…bacon makes everyone work harder). 

So back to the Commons.  This place is special.  I’ve seen a bunch of offices with a nice cafeteria, even some with convenience stores and day care on site.  But this place takes the cake.  It’s like a shopping mall in the office.  Forget that, it is a shopping mall!  It has everything from a diner to fast food and everything in between.  Looked like upwards of 10 food options.  Then there’s a day spa, bike shop, the company store, a bank, several ball fields, and some great places to just relax…and work!

I walked through at about 2 o’clock, presumably after the lunch rush, and the place was still packed.  But I’d say half the people were actually working.  Whether they were alone on a couch with a latte and their laptop or having a quick meeting over cheese fries, it was clear that people were at work.  And that’s the point.  The naysayers will tell you how it’s a distraction.  Well they’re not looking at the long term.  Sure it will be packed with people that could be at their desks, but look at the bigger picture.  

How many people didn’t take a long lunch off campus to get a haircut or run errands?  How many people came back to work after grabbing dinner?  A bunch, I’d guess.  That would explain the kids in strollers sitting with their parents on the patio.  That’s right…it’s so nice that your wife and kid would rather come there than make you come home for a pb&j. 

Now we all know the grass is always greener and stuff.  At the end of the day, we’d all rather be at home with our families or out doing whatever it is that makes us happy.  But if you can bring a little more of that to the office, then you blur the lines. 

Anyhow, I was impressed.