The San Francisco Chronicle tells us about an unusual work style introduced by the software company Expensify that is poised to become the trend that small and large companies outside of California would follow and with which they would experiment their employees’ productivity.
Moments before the end of the workday arrives, the only thing employees are dreaming about is slowly closing their laptops and walking to the elevator to finally get home.
The newly remodeled offices of software company Expensify in San Francisco represent a different way of working, proving that it may not be so boring and making employees look forward to the day they will start working again.
At the end of the working day it is in these offices that something unseen elsewhere happens. The bartender, whom employees like to call “the concierge”, uses a large cutlass to open the cap of a champagne bottle. Blowing the drink onto the beautiful blue carpet, the employees begin to cheer and clap.
Why is there a bartender in the office of a tech company?
The company’s newly renovated downtown space has a sleek bar on the 16th floor with premium liquor and a list of specialty cocktails. It seems like the perfect place where employees can work on their laptops, sip a Moscow mule or draft beer and keep working. Sounds like a dream come true, right?
The cocktail list includes standard drinks like martinis and negronis, as well as the most popular liqueurs, and also CEO David Barrett’s favorite: an old-fashioned with a branded ice cube depicting the first letter that begins the company’s name: “E.”
Compilation for productivity
Expensify’s head of public relations James Dean defines the bar as a kind of experiment, a combination between a social club and a place that predisposes people to be super productive.
The idea of creating this bar has been around since before the pandemic, which totally messed up everyone’s plans as people started working from their homes and remotely.
Video game rooms, foosball tables and more
San Francisco seems to boast other companies that are breaking the classic and, for some employees, boring work pattern by remodeling their offices, albeit after a brief pandemic-induced hiatus, with tech goodies like video game rooms and foosball tables (and a bar). And increasingly, many are also incorporating restaurant-style cubicles and more communal spaces to satisfy employees’ thirst for casual workplace interaction, the lack of which has caused telecommuting.
Expensify’s space, which the company calls a lounge, has no separate offices, but includes many meeting rooms located around the perimeter where employees can slip away to have a conversation or work in peace. There are meeting rooms with fresh and colorful couches, fluffy cushions that point to the streets of downtown. There are tropical plants, photos of exotic places and copper inlays everywhere.
Sabrage – Productivity lies in the unconventional?
The long table just behind the bar is where most employees choose to work, chat and write on their laptops before being interrupted by the afternoon “sabrage” ceremony known as opening a bottle of champagne with a sabre.
This roundtable style of working has been a hallmark of the company since it first moved into the building in 2015, before Expensify moved its headquarters to Portland, Ore. A much smaller table is set up in a side room, around which employees used to gather during work hours when they only had part of the 16th floor.
Since many bars and restaurants have closed since the pandemic began, the company has been licensed to sell about a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of liquor – far less than the $500,000 it was making before the pandemic, according to saloon operations manager Nikki Walroth, due to the massive closures.
As you read about this bar, you might be wondering if it is currently operating? The lounge is available for Expensify employees and for events, but will officially open to customers and guests on April 24.
Weddings, engagements and work
The original idea for the entertainment venue was to not only have a venue that offered free alcohol for employees, but also to create a perk for Expensify cardholders and customers.
And that’s still the case. But how the space will be used depends largely on the people who have access to it.
“My wedding reception was here”,
says Expensify employee Nick Tucker, sitting at the bar with an open laptop, sipping a Moscow mule as the sun illuminated the mahogany and crystal tones of the bottles in front of him.
The idea to share his most special moment at this place came from a colleague and employee of his who also had an engagement here.
The company has five offices, including its Portland headquarters, as well as offices in London, New York and Ironwood, Michigan. But because it is still sticking to its plans for remote work access while many other companies mandate a return to the office, the purpose of those offices has changed significantly.
Though it has invested heavily in office renovations – the Portland headquarters is located in an old bank building with soaring columns and a vault – Expensify doesn’t call on employees to fill desks. Rather, the current purpose of these offices are focused on the social aspects of the job that can’t happen while employees are confined to their homes.
“I’ll go home, but I’ll also work.”
says public relations manager Dean, who is an Ironwood native and plans to reunite employees at that office in August.
About 30 people from the company signed up to spend some time in the small Upper Peninsula Michigan town.
The desire to recapture the social aspects of work that the pandemic and telecommuting erased is even leading to new ventures. Social co-working clubs have sprung up in San Francisco and the Bay Area, attracting members supportive of socializing with people in a casual work atmosphere supported by an afternoon cocktail or glass of wine.
Expensify’s office is just one example. But even with the complimentary cocktails and social atmosphere, the lounge is still a place to work quietly and at the same time, a place to spend leisure time.
And that was obvious even before the champagne popped. There were about three employees at the bar, their eyes fixed on the screens of their laptops, cocktail in hand, while the rest worked quietly at the large central table.
Adding to the pleasant atmosphere was the music playing in the background, the afternoon sunlight gently creeping through the large windows, creating a beautiful glow on the leaves of the abundant greenery.