KVUE – Inside Austin’s Coolest Workplaces

by ANDREW HORANSKY / KVUE News and Photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

February 27, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — Office space in Austin has changed a great deal since Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic of the same name. Today workers wear what they want, bring their pets, and even have a beer on the job.

KVUE News recently explored some of the city’s coolest spaces. The first stop included the Internet company Vast, where the theme is “rock and roll.”

“We just wanted to give it that kind of a feel,” said Kellie O’Malley of Vast.

Waterloo Records supplied the posters, and conference rooms are named after musicians. A look in the refrigerator showed ice cream on one side and ice cold beer on the other. Workers can help themselves to both at any time.

Vast shares a historic building along East 6th Street with another cool company — Boundless.

Just a few floors up, employees at Boundless have added old personal pictures to a mural. Outdoor decks hold concerts during South by Southwest. Named one of the city’s best places to work, CEO Jason Black said turnover is rare.

“We very seldom lose an employee, both with our sales force nationally, and with our employees here in Austin,” Black said.

For something perhaps a little higher-octane, KVUE checked out Tabbed Out. The smartphone app continues to grow.

There is a built-in bar, DJ booth, and a pro-pet policy that lets workers bring their dogs.

“It really is a neat feature,” employee Lily Ta said. “It’s something that a lot of places don’t allow, so we are fortunate to do that.”

In the meantime, just a few blocks away, a chef at uShip prepares meals daily. There is also a 75-inch TV and video game arcade.

uShip’s founders are University of Texas business school graduates who wanted a place for work and play.
“We try to create an environment where you can be yourself,” said Shawn Bose. “We think that when you’re yourself, you do your best work.”

Then, of course, there is Facebook. Boardrooms resemble popular Austin area restaurants such as Uchi and The Salt Lick.

Facebook employees also enjoy unlimited sick days, free laundry, and meals which are on the house.

“The food is amazing,” manager Sarah Smith said. “We actually use a local caterer, because we really believe in supporting local business.”

Just a few blocks away, GSD&M may have a corner on creativity. There is a courtyard fit for a palace and original art popping out from behind corners. A movie theater and Texas-styled bar only add to the flair.

“I think from that you get a lot of cross-communication that you normally would get via e-mail or on the phone,” said David Rockwood of GSD&M.

At the same time, HomeAway may best reflect what it sells. Hallways are lined with kitschy souvenirs of travel. Key chains, shot glasses, postcards, and even a shelf of rotating snow globes line the halls.

“I think that adds to a kind of relaxing atmosphere and being creative within your job and being comfortable with where you’re at,” employee Ronda Stahl said.

If employees are looking for a place to rest at HomeAway, there is even a hammock.

For a retro look, there is North Austin’s Red Method. Décor is old and new at the same time.

“We really try to bring in all these ‘old school’ incandescent filament lights that are still eco-friendly,” owner Matt Walton said.

Last but not least, there is Link Coworking — a company that redefines what it means to work in an office.

From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, members share a 3,000-square-foot space, which has everything from paper lanterns to an English phone booth.

“You’re not really distracted by the environment,” founder Liz Elam said. “You’re invigorated by it.”

Elam said that six companies have launched from there.

It may all be evidence, perhaps, that the days of the cubicle are gone, and that employers are investing more in environment.

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