Amazon is betting that jungle-like terrariums filled with exotic plants may be a better employee perk than free lunch or a foosball table.
In an odd instance of a company almost literally embodying its own name, the tech giant has built three conjoined spherical structures as part of its new $4 billion headquarters intended to serve as an oasis of nature in the heart of downtown Seattle.
When the buildings open in 2018, they’ll be filled with some 3,000 species of plants currently being grown at a one-acre greenhouse outside of Seattle. There, the company’s chief horticulturist ― Amazon may be the first major tech company to employ one ― tends to carnivorous pitcher plants and Ecuadorian orchids that The New York Times recently likened to “the menacing flora from ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’”
“I’m a plant curator by heart,” Ron Gagliardo, Amazon’s horticulturist, said in a profile published in the Times on Sunday. “So different plant families, amassing a collection of plants, is totally what I geek out on and go crazy about.”
Amazon declined to comment to The Huffington Post on Monday.
Over the past decade, many tech companies have gone to incredible lengths to keep their white-collar employees happy, fit and well-fed, in the hopes of eliminating anything that might stand in the way of creativity. (Blue-collar workers, such as those in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, often face a very different reality.) Google famously does its employees’ laundry. Twitter provides a CrossFit gym. The snacks at Facebook’s New York City headquarters include nearly every kind of jerky imaginable, from beef to tempeh, as well as a full bar and waffle makers.
But having 65,000 square feet of tropical greenery on campus just might jump-start the productivity of Amazon workers in a whole new way.
“It’s a retreat, a cathedral away from the hubbub of the city,” Margaret O’Mara, an associate professor of history at the University of Washington, told the Times.
Workspaces enhanced with office plants have been found to boost employees’ well-being by 47 percent, their creativity by 45 percent and their productivity by 38 percent, according to a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Exeter. The following year, research from Australia’s University of Queensland concluded that offices decorated with plants can increase workers’ productivity by up to 15 percent.
“It appears that... a green office communicates to employees that their employer cares about them and their welfare,” Alex Haslam, a University of Queensland professor who co-authored the UQ study, said in a 2014 statement. “Employees were more satisfied with their workplace and reported increased concentration levels and better perceived air quality in an office with plants.”
Adding the spheres, which look like something out of the 1996 comedy “Bio-Dome,” might also help establish Amazon’s outdoorsy bona fides in a city better known for its kayaking and hiking culture than, say, urban congestion or rapidly climbing rents.
The new headquarter complex will include 30 buildings in Seattle. Some have already been built and are in use, while others are under construction. The final product is expected to eschew many of the norms associated with tech firms.
Facebook and Google bus their employees from San Francisco, the urban center where workers live and send rents skyrocketing, to their suburban campuses in Silicon Valley. Amazon, by contrast, is building its complex in Denny Regrade, a triangular section of Seattle’s sky-scraping downtown, allowing about 20 percent of its 20,000 or so Seattle workers to walk to the office.
Free lunches have long been a common perk of working at a tech company ― that is, of course, if a worker hasn’t already swapped out all solid food for Soylent, or something. At the famously frugal Amazon, though, free lunches are unheard of. That may be a boon to Seattle’s abundant food scene.
“We have an unbelievable food truck scene around our headquarters,” Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said in 2014. “It’s out of control, actually.”
The 45-foot fig tree Amazon plans to install in one of the spheres sometime in the coming weeks may prove a welcome, if stationary, addition to that scene.
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