Microsoft has built tree houses for its employees
Microsoft’s new meeting spaces are in the trees. The maker of Windows, Xbox and Clippy has built some wooden treehouses for its workers, including a timber platform on a Pacific Northwest Douglas fir and a structure with charred-wood walls and a round skylight.
The company says its three treehouses are “more Hobbit than HQ, with cinnamon-coloured shingles and a gingerbread-house feel”. Designed by master treehouse builder Pete Nelson, they encompass a number of open platforms and closed spaces, including meeting rooms and a lounge area that’s due to be completed later in the year.
“Aloft, the usual corporate sounds of clicking doors, conference calls, and heels on concrete melt away,” a blogpost describes. “A fall wind sweeps through emerald branches. Every once in a while, a pinecone drops to the deck with a soft thud. A sudden ruckus breaks the gentle morning hush: a squirrel scrambling for breakfast charges across the arms of nearby hemlock and western red cedar.”
Sounds pretty idyllic, no? Utopian, even. Silicon Valley culture was, at least in part, born out of the Bay Area acid counterculture of the 1960s, which made much of reconnecting with nature. There’s also a note of fetishised infantalisation, with the nostalgic timbre of a treehouse ringing at a similar resonance as Google’s tube slides and playhouses. All-in-all, it’s very Silicon Valley.
That said, working outside is something many office employees would slather at the thought of. Microsoft says its new workspaces were developed after an internal survey asked what employees cared most about. “People said, given the opportunity, they would work more outside,” said Bret Boulter, who works in real estate and facilities on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.
The treehouses are part of Microsoft’s larger push towards technology-enabled outdoor “districts”, equipped with Wi-Fi and ample power sockets. The company also emphasises the lack of some tech, including AV systems and climate control. Certainly, in the blog, it paints a picture of high-power meetings interlaced with the all-natural, stress-free smell of pine:
“On a recent sunny day, an employee perched, legs crossed, on a soft grassy knoll below a treehouse. For several minutes, she sat with her hands on her knees, eyes closed, head tilted toward the sky, breathing deeply. Then she grabbed her laptop and typed furiously. After a spate of work, she set her computer aside, rested her palms on her knees, gazed up, and then closed her eyes again.”
Isn’t working for a corporation just dreamy?