Inside Even

Anti-perks

What Even doesn’t want in its office

Last year I started managing our Oakland office, in addition to talking with our members and helping to grow our team. While getting started, I took some time to think about Even’s attitude toward perks, why it works for us, and how we can continue doing what’s working.

Silicon Valley startups are notorious for touting a laundry list of perks to entice potential employees or to accommodate existing ones. This could be dog-friendly offices, on-site fitness centers, or a company-wide happy hour.

Something that immediately stood out to me when I joined Even was how minimalist the office was. Aside from a small kitchen, the space was and is organized around the main thing we do here — work. And though I happily admit that a lot of the perks we’ve all heard about sound fun, when I think about the time I’ve spent in our office, I’ve never lamented the absence of a weight bench or the availability of draft beer.

Even’s company values emphasize a high level of autonomy and mutual trust in the workplace. This means that we trust every member of our team to do good work, but we don’t force them to do it in a particular way. I realized that our attitude toward our employees’ lives outside of work is the same: that they know what will best help them unwind. Throughout Even’s history, we’ve optimized for being a functional company — not for accommodating the needs of all of our employees in-house. Why should we leave decisions about non-work matters up to HR, Personnel, or People Ops, when we could simply give our team the power to relax in the ways they see fit?

Don’t get me wrong — Even has plenty of perks. Our team is offered paid vacation time (with a *minimum* number of days off), flexible schedules, a variety of comprehensive medical plans, equity, generous salaries, and stipends for health/wellness, education, and financial consulting. All of these perks are aimed at making people’s lives outside work easier — but specifically in ways that help them perform better when they’re at work, working.

According to that definition of what makes a good perk, many Silicon Valley fringe benefits feel a lot closer to “anti-perks.” Anti-perks are perks that seem like they could benefit your well-being or productivity, but actually have a lot of potential to harm them.

We recently put our philosophy of perks vs.anti-perks into practiceas we began a (now completed) overhaul and expansion of our Oakland office. In preparation for these changes, we gave a lot of thought to what would help encourage productivity, and polled our team for what they liked and didn’t like about our current space. Based on learning that people needed room for more styles of work and levels of collaboration, we added private rooms, shared offices, and flex spaces to our existing open layout. Just as importantly, we also elected not to add any elements that we felt belonged outside of work, such as a dedicated recreation area.

Since we made these changes to our space, it’s been a lot easier to work in the myriad ways we need to, without distracting others or being distracted. Based on this success, I think we’re onto something — that knowing what you want to exclude from your offices is just as important as knowing what you want to include in them.

Our list of anti-perks is published below — but it should be noted that it is built upon our company values. If you decide to develop anti-perks of your own, they should be built around the needs of your team and what you have agreed to be important to it.

Even’s anti-perks:

  • Regularly catered lunches: Our team tends to work long days, and if we don’t walk to lunch, we’ll likely be sitting in a chair for a minimum of eight hours a day. Even if we’re walking to grab a burger or pizza, that can be a lot different than having one delivered every day. The same goes for keeping unhealthy food or soda in our kitchen — we want to keep our team happy, but we try to draw the line somewhere before potato chips and candy.
  • TV or entertainment rooms: All of us work on our computers and phones, and that’s more than enough to keep us distracted.
  • Alcohol: I don’t know about you, but one drink puts me to sleep. Whether it’s at the end of the day or the middle, having a drink in the office doesn’t seem to do much good. The same goes for team events centered around drinking — the constant presence of alcohol places a huge burden on colleagues who may be struggling with addiction or merely choosing to abstain.
  • “Mandatory fun” office events: Hanging out with a few coworkers or the entire team is super important, but whether we’re celebrating or bonding, we try not to force it (especially when it’s outside of regular working hours). Conversely, we’ve found that a great way for our team to bond is over a weekday meal. We hold a team lunch every Friday, either in our office or in a park, and it’s done a great job of both encouraging interaction and refreshing us after a busy work week.
  • Pet-friendly offices: I’m sure having a pet visit the office once would be a treat, but every day quickly can become a burden on the team. To address this, we make it clear that we will compensate our employees for a dog-sitter (via a flexible health and wellness stipend), rather than run the risk of distracting the team with an adorable canine. Additionally, since our hours are flexible, I still have the time required to feed/walk/love my dog, Papa.

It’s reasonable to point out that our team is still very small (just 17 as of press time!), and to say that our size explains most of why we don’t have a ton of perks. But as we grow in size, we also plan to grow in the diversity of our perspectives and backgrounds — which is even more reason not to add a bunch of extraneous or overly specific perks. Especially as our team diversifies, we can’t (and shouldn’t) strive to have a one-size-fits-all office or benefits package.

One last note: We didn’t create this list to demean companies who aren’t like us. Instead, we made it out of our desire to avoid getting lost in the weeds of startup culture, so that we can focus on our real goal: making life easier for people who don’t have access to perks, anti- or otherwise. If you’re interested in helping us do this, you should get in touch.

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