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Tech firms bumping up perks to recruit, retain

  • Google bicycles are shown at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

CUPERTINO — Apple's ring-shaped, gleaming "Spaceship Headquarters" will include a world class auditorium and an orchard for engineers to wander. Google's new Bay View campus will feature walkways angled to force accidental encounters. Facebook, while putting final touches on a Disney-inspired campus including a Main Street with a B-B-Q shack, sushi house and bike shop, is already planning an even larger, more exciting new campus.

More than ever before, Silicon Valley firms want their workers at work.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has gone so far as to ban working from home, and many more offer prodigious incentives for coming in to the office, such as free meals, massages and gyms.

This spring, as the tech industry is soaring out of the Great Recession, plans are in the works for a flurry of massive, perk-laden headquarters.

"We're seeing the mature technology companies trying to energize their work environments, getting rid of cube farms and investing in facilities to compete for talent," said Kevin Schaeffer, a principal at architecture and design firm Gensler in San Jose. "That's caused a huge transition in the way offices are laid out."

New Silicon Valley headquarters or expansions are under way at most of the area's major firms, including eBay, Intel, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Nvidia and Oracle. Many will be huge: Apple Corp.'s 176-acre campus will be one of the world's largest workplaces. On the outside, many of the new buildings boast striking architectural designs and will collectively be among the most environmentally friendly in the country. Inside, there are walls you can draw on, ping pong tables, Lego stations, gaming arcades and free haircuts.

Critics say that while some workplace perks and benefits are a good thing, the large, multibillion dollar corporate headquarters are colossal wastes of money that snub the pioneering technology these firms actually create.

"Companies led by older management tend to be very controlling, but when I look at people in the 20s or 30s, they're totally capable of working on their own and being productive," said Kevin Wheeler, whose Future of Talent Institute researches and consults on human resources for Silicon Valley businesses. "To have artificial structures that require everybody to be in the office at certain hours of the day is simply asinine."

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