NVIDIA’s New Headquarters: Picking a Great Place to Work

Thursday Feb 21st 2013 by Rob Enderle

Where you work can have as large an impact on your quality of life as your salary and benefits do.

Back in the 1980s when I first entered the technology market, I researched every firm I could find. I’d made a poor career choice and missed being an early Microsoft employee. And I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

I chose ROLM Systems because it had something that was unique: a "Great Place to Work" department. That group created an environment that many other firms emulated, and for a while, it truly was a great place to work.

I am intrigued by NVIDIA’s new headquarters and the value proposition inherent to it — that people and collaboration are important enough to design around. I saw something similar when I visited Plantronics (which arguably has one of the best offices in California).

As you consider career choices, perhaps one of the criteria should be whether you’ll actually like going to work.

Cubicle Farms and Windowless Offices

I’ve never liked cubical farms, they seem so impersonal and loud, and being in one made me feel too much like a cow in a milking station.

But as bad as those are, offices without windows seem even worse. I once toured a jail in California that had private cells and thought that they were actually more inviting than the windowless office I had for a couple of years. Although it measured about 10' x 15', it felt like a closet or cell, and I hated every hour I was in it.

What really got me thinking about how I hated cubicle farms was when Intel had Conan O’Brien come to their headquarters and do a show. When he saw Intel’s cubicle farm, he turned white (well whiter) and compared it to hell. That got a lot of folks' attention, and Intel, to their credit, redesigned many of the floors to be more open, more inviting and far more comfortable as a result.

I resolved to never work at a company that would put me in a cubicle farm or a windowless office. Since then, I’ve either worked from home, had a big cubicle with a huge window or enjoyed an office with a view. And I think I’ve been far happier and healthier as a result.

NVIDIA’s Design

While we haven’t gotten to the ideal of an arcology, a combination of ecology and building design that creates a blended work/living environment, (although apparently there are some being built), the NVIDIA design is actually pretty employee friendly. It appears to use natural light to illuminate much of the structure (I truly think working under florescent is punishment). And it has an open internal design that fosters movement and collaboration, and is both warm and friendly.

Getting people to work together is often difficult — particularly since it unfortunately became popular to use forced ranking and rating to measure employees. NVIDIA's headquarters is designed to help with that.

It has an almost organic look as well clearly standing out from the rigid cost-optimized designs more common in offices. This makes the result more pleasing to the eye and more likely to create pride within the employees and executives.

Wrapping Up: You Have a Choice

There are a lot of things that go into deciding to work for a new company: salary, location, management, job expectations, co-workers and benefits. But I think one other aspect that is under considered is the environment where you will be working. Given that we spend much of our life in our office and that our life is a finite resource, I think the quality of the work environment should play a bigger role in our choice than it currently does. It can make the difference between whether we are happy or sad, and can certainly favorably or adversely impact our relationships and family.

I’d like to see more companies design for the future like NVIDIA is. And I still hope to see a completed arcology someday.

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