5 Innovative and Inspiring Workplaces

It’s no secret that engaging, creative, and flexible work environments can increase employee loyalty and productivity. During the dot com boom when the job market was flush with opportunities, but short on qualified candidates, companies began to concentrate on their work environments and perks to keep existing employees happy – and to win new ones.

Fast forward 15 years and that torch has dimmed a bit, but is still being carried by some innovative companies that continue to focus on flexible work arrangements, fun and creative atmospheres, and benefits that bring out the best in their employees.

In today’s slightly more sober work world, it’s still possible to find companies that are hitting all the right notes with work/life balance and creating innovative environments that help employees thrive. Let’s explore five of the best.

1. Google

This search and technology company is renowned for its long laundry list of perks. Free food at any of its 11 on-site gourmet cafeterias, free laundry, on-site oil changes and car-washes make this company’s Mountain View, California campus truly full-service.

But beyond the creature comforts, Google’s innovation also puts money in your pocket. Referring a friend that gets hired by Google scores you $2000.Associates can also award each other “spot bonuses” of $175 each. In 2010, more than two-thirds of them did so. But that’s just the start. Come up with a truly game-changing idea for a new Google service or technology and become eligible for a founder’s award that can sometimes be in the seven figures.

2. Dreamworks Animation SKG

The creative minds behind Kung Fu Panda thrive on Dreamworks’ culture of collaboration and creativity. Employees are treated to free breakfast and lunch, on-site movie screenings, plus yoga and art classes. What’s more, any employee – from janitor to VP – can pitch a movie idea to the executive team. Employees enroll in the company’s “Life’s A Pitch” workshop to learn how.

3. Pixar Animation Studios

Free film screenings and a cereal bar featuring more than 20 choices are just the beginning of what sets our next animation studio apart from other employers.

By popular consensus, Pixar may have the coolest work environment on earth. The Emeryville, California campus features a lap pool, offices with mood lighting, and small cabanas or huts where employees can sequester themselves for dynamic meetings or quiet inspiration.

4. Nike

The sportswear giant’s 177 acre headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two gymnasiums, indoor and outdoor tracks, a soccer field, and walking trails. Nike has partnered with the local transit authority to provide subsidized passes that cost commuters only $25 annually, as compared to the regular rate of $600. Add that to other benefits like on-site dry cleaning, a full-service hair and nail salon, floral shops and gifts shops, and Nike seems to have thought of everything.

5. Zappos

Even though online shoe retailer Zappos is now owned by Amazon.com, Zappos still retains its quirky, happy culture. Among the perks are free lunches, no-charge vending machines, and access to full-time life coaches. Zappos’ creative approach to work is driven by guiding principles that include such gems as:

  • Create fun and a little weirdness;
  • Build a positive team and family spirit;
  • Pursue growth and learning.

Perhaps the oddest benefit to existing employees is Zappos’ approach to the newly-hired. After their initial training, new employees are offered $2000 to quit. This counter-intuitive method ensures that those who stay truly want to be there and are committed to the company’s continued success.

Employers that foster innovative, engaging, and rewarding work environments understand the intrinsic value of retaining a well-trained workforce familiar with company culture and loyal to its mission. Regardless of the vagaries of the job market, innovation will always attract the best minds and challenge average employees to become great. Lap pools and day spas may not be in the budget for many small businesses, but plenty of other innovative ideas certainly are.

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