The Silicon Valley-style perks have evolved beyond free lunches. The next chapter is a vacation resort in the forest.
A few months ago, I wrote about the irreversible trend of remote work. Yes, it’s still happening and there are new developments.
The return to the office has been postponed again. Although the pandemic is coming to an end, no company is mandating employees to return to the office, nor have they announced a specific date to do so. Everyone is seeking solutions while observing market trends and how other companies are handling this hot potato.
Employee Vacation Resort in the Forest
Salesforce, headquartered in San Francisco, has taken the lead in upgrading Silicon Valley-style perks to a new level, making free lunches seem like a thing of the past. This is not just a perk, but a significant change in the post-pandemic work environment for tech companies, completely separating work from other functions and adding unprecedented perks.
In my previous article, I mentioned that the days of all employees sitting obediently in the office are gone forever. The most likely future development is that companies and employees will compromise, and work will take place at home or anywhere in the world. Socializing, learning, and collaborating will take place in the office, which are all functions that Zoom cannot replace.
Recently, our team had a virtual dinner party with over 100 people. In the past two years, every time we had a large virtual gathering like this, I was always surprised by how many people had left the company and how many new faces appeared on the screen. These used to be part of our daily lives, but now they have become news. New employees may have been with the company for two years, but have never met anyone on the team in person and wouldn’t recognize them if they passed by on the street. This is a terrifying “collaboration loss” crisis for management.
Although the company did its best and gave each employee a $50 Uber Eats voucher, I still ate dinner alone with headphones on while staring at the screen… so it was a “meal without gathering” dinner. This is the biggest drawback of working from home, and everyone will eventually become a mercenary.
In the past, “going to work” was actually a comprehensive term that included work, discussion, sharing, learning, socializing, and collaborating. I don’t believe there is any form of going to work in the world that only involves work. However, we have always equated going to work with work, thinking that as long as we have internet and can work, we have solved the problem of going to work.
In the future, the office does not have to be a place to perform work. Production and communication have different needs and should naturally be carried out in different environments.
Bringing Skyscrapers into the Forest
Salesforce announced last week that they will be partnering with 1440 Multiversity, a 75-acre resort in the forest between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz, to build a leisure center exclusively for Salesforce employees. This is just the first step, as the second step is to find a larger and more suitable location outside of California to build a complete and permanent employee leisure center. If the current 75-acre forest resort is only temporary, I can easily imagine that the future permanent employee leisure center may become a vacation kingdom.
While other major tech companies are still in the observation period, Salesforce has already announced that their employees can choose flexible working hours, and now they have taken the second step to push Silicon Valley-style benefits to the next chapter.
However, saying that this shocking next step is a major benefit is only half right. The more important half is to create a professional and alternative communication and leisure environment. To relax, communicate, share, and learn, professionalism is required to remove the traditional office from the equation. This is a great move because the term “office” has already made employees feel fearful. If employees have to go back to the meeting room to accomplish what needs to be done, they may feel that it is “unavoidable.” If the meeting room is moved to a forest resort, employees will be “overjoyed.”
Taiwanese readers may not be familiar with Salesforce, but they are one of the early cloud companies with 70,000 employees worldwide and a market value of $200 billion. The cloud startup I joined 22 years ago was once their biggest competitor, but the 9/11 terrorist attack destroyed our leading position. So I have always had a “itchy feeling” for this company. Every time I go to San Francisco and see the Salesforce Tower, I am amazed that a startup can become such a large-scale company.
Image by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash
No matter which direction you enter San Francisco from on the highway today, the first thing that catches your eye is the iconic building standing at over 360 meters tall. It is also the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco.
How to Unplug and Disconnect: A Guide
1440 Multiversity is a non-profit retreat center located in the redwood forest between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz, California. Its founder was once the CEO of a well-known tech company in Silicon Valley. The center’s facilities and programs are designed to teach tech professionals how to unplug and disconnect from work. It’s a place for learning, leisure, vacation, meditation, stress relief, and recharging. Everything here is meant to be separate from work and the office.
In a short video interview with the founder of the retreat center, he spoke words that resonate with all of us: technology connects everything, but it also disconnects us from ourselves. When you come here, all you need to do is let go of everything and give yourself time. That’s why it’s called 1440, representing the 1,440 minutes in a day, each of which belongs to you.
Salesforce has named this employee vacation center “Pioneer Ridge.” Here, employees can unplug completely, slow down, look up at the forest and surroundings, and live in the organic nature. They can learn yoga, meditation, cooking, crafts, take guided tours of the gardens, hike in the mountains, take a forest bath, get a massage, or soak in an infinity pool. Companies can hold offline meetings here, build teamwork, and individuals can regain their long-lost social life… all in a relaxed, fun, and organic forest environment, rather than in a bleak and intimidating meeting room.
The facilities here are also fantastic. The retreat center has 150 suites without televisions or phones, but with fireplaces. All three meals are creative cuisine prepared by chefs who are also professors, using ingredients from local farms. There are twenty natural venues in the forest for outdoor education and gatherings, as well as a semi-circular outdoor amphitheater. Of course, there will also be outdoor concerts here in the future.
The first batch of Salesforce employees to go on vacation here will be new hires for future training. Before the end of 2022, they will send 10,000 employees here to unplug for at least three days and two nights, and build relationships with each other. In the future, they will also open it up for employees to bring their families to completely disconnect from work.
What is driving Salesforce to make such a big move? Is it an attempt to offer a bolder benefit to retain talent? Or is it to adapt to the new relationship between employers, employees, work, and life in the post-pandemic era? I believe it’s both.
Silicon Valley-style Benefits in the Post-Pandemic Era
After two years of working from home, we have gradually become “lone soldiers” and “mercenaries”. Traditional teams are constantly being eroded by the overwhelming presence of Zoom, and are gradually fading away before our eyes. Computer screens and headphones are not my team. If every time you finish a Zoom meeting, you feel a sense of relief… then this sense of loss and exhaustion should be the top concern of Silicon Valley tech company executives. During the pandemic, new employees at every company have never met their team members in person. So what is lost is not just the connection between people, but also the sense of belonging and identity with the company… Silicon Valley can’t afford to lose that.
After staring at computer screens and wearing headphones for two years, everyone is really tired. Flexible work is the only choice for the future, and companies should rethink how to build a new corporate culture that balances flexible work and cohesion.
When Salesforce CEO announced the vacation villa plan to employees, he also mentioned that the biggest challenge in the past two years was not just work, but the loss of connections between people. So he wants to find a way to bring all of that back in the most natural and joyful way.
I often go hiking and mountain biking alone in the forest near the villa, which is my private place to unplug. I often walk all day in the lush redwood forest without seeing a single person. There is no signal in that place, but that’s exactly what I want – that quiet and offline time is very important to me. During the pandemic, I went to these places more than 20 times, and it was like relying on this kind of offline time in nature that I could regularly reboot and keep going.
So I’m not surprised that someone came up with the idea of building a vacation villa here; and I think it’s a smart move for tech companies to use this as their latest Silicon Valley-style benefit, as it is a problem that all Silicon Valley companies face. The bold adjustments made by Salesforce will also have a trend-setting effect. In the post-pandemic era, in order to retain talent, more creative approaches must be taken. As long as Google rolls up its sleeves, the big names on the stage will follow suit. Permanent work from home is the trump card for today’s startups to attract talent, but they can only admit defeat to the vacation villa strategy. So the battle for talent in Silicon Valley may have just begun.
In the future, inviting someone to the company for a meal might become outdated and only used to entertain friends you don’t really like. If you want to be cool, invite them to a vacation resort, stay in a fireplace suite, enjoy creative organic cuisine, listen to a forest concert, and then chat in an infinity pool… This day may not be far away.
Don’t be surprised if a company’s “vacation resort” appears on Maui Island in Hawaii in the future, as it was the first idea proposed by Salesforce CEO.