Sat. Jan 25th, 2020

Silicon Valley’s newest startup trend? Shoeless office policies.


Silicon Valley’s newest startup trend? Shoeless office policies.

  • Silicon Valley startups are offering no-shoes office policies, allowing employees to spend the workday in house slippers, socks, or barefoot.
  • It’s the latest trend that embodies the region’s famous pared-down office culture.
  • Here’s what it’s like in the shoeless offices of Silicon Valley.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The tech world has become inextricably linked to a very specific work uniform: hoodie, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

That informality has permeated the office environment as well, with startups in Silicon Valley garnering a reputation for embracing out-of-the-norm office perks to compete for the best and brightest of the region’s stock of tech talent. They’ve famously included free lunches, in-house nap rooms, free fitness classes and massages, and dog-friendly offices. 

But now some of those perks have come to include strutting around the office in house slippers or socks, or for some, bare feet.

Why? A simple reason: The CEOs grew up in households with no-shoe policies.

The offices of Gusto and Notion, both enterprise software startups, are a far cry from the American offices of old, where strict dress codes were enforced and meandering through the office in jeans, let alone barefoot, could have sent you packing.

But if shoeless workspaces are going to become a reality, it might as well be in tech country. After all, Silicon Valley was the epicenter of the business-casual dress movement in the 1990s. Since then, as Business Insider’s Aine Cain writes, much of the corporate world — outside of finance and law — has taken on a results-oriented mindset. Employers don’t care what you look like when you’re working, as long as you’re producing results.

And more than that, it’s become a way for employers to lure freshly graduated tech workers — they’re more likely to join you if they don’t have to shed their hoodie for a suit jacket or swap their couch for a stiff desk chair.

As for the barefooted-ness, is it a health code violation? Turns out it’s not, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“We are not aware of any health code violations in San Francisco for workers to be barefoot in a commercial space,” a spokesperson told Business Insider in an email.

So march on, shoeless techies. March on.

Here’s what it’s like in the shoeless offices of Silicon Valley.

SEE ALSO: Inside dating app Tinder’s new San Francisco office, where teams are devoted to studying Gen Z and employees are served tasty local lunches through Caviar

Shoe cubbies were once thought to be confined to the preschool classroom.

Nowadays, you’ll find them in the Gusto office in San Francisco, where employees store their shoes while they navigate the workday barefoot or in socks.

Office culture is markedly lax in the West Coast tech hub, and there are a lot of reasons why.

Some have called the region the birthplace of the business casual movement of the late 1980s and 1990s.

Source: Business Insider

Eventually, it evolved into the inescapable t-shirt-and-sneaker combination we know today. You’ve seen the look embodied on the CEOs leading the region’s tech giants.

The Valley’s schtick has always been “discarding norms and celebrating rule-breaking,” as The Atlantic reports.

Source: The Atlantic

And over time, that hallmark has bled into the work environment as well.

Tech companies famously began instituting office perks like free lunch, nap rooms, and dog-friendly offices.

Gusto and Notion are two startups in the past few years that have offered similar out-of-the-box office practices to workers.

Gusto CEO Joshua Reeves told Business Insider’s Melia Russell in 2018 that he grew up in a shoeless household.

Source: Business Insider

And then when Reeves and a few other techies launched the company in 2011, it was out of a house in Palo Alto.

They all took their shoes off before ascending into the upstairs bedroom-turned-office.

Source: Business Insider and Entrepreneur

When Gusto moved into a more stable office, the tradition stuck.

The company’s employees sprawl out on living room furniture — as well as at desks — sporting slippers or socks. Some are barefoot in the Gusto office.

Over at Notion, CEO Ivan Zhao had the same reasoning for implementing a no-shoes policy.

Zhao told Business Insider that he grew up in a shoeless household as well.

And in lieu of a designated shoe cubby, Notion’s office is even more pared-down — employees merely kick them off on the floor near the front door.

Employees saunter around in slippers and socks …

… and foot cushions are placed beneath their desks.

Both companies said their offices are outfitted with radiant heated floors to help keep their shoeless workers’ feet toasty.

The shoeless practice is an example of startups crafting their own unique company culture.

Source: LinkedIn

There’s a high turnover rate at tech companies, and singling your company out in one way or another can help not only recruit, but retain, techies.

Source: LinkedIn

On the other hand, some perks that companies offer, like beer on tap and yoga rooms, have been seen as “golden handcuffs” that persuade workers to stay at the office later and work overtime.

Source: Forbes and Quartz

Some critics have painted them as more harmful than beneficial to workers as it reinforces the Valley’s “work hard/play hard” startup culture.

Source: Quartz and The New York Times

In response, some tech companies are changing the way they implement startup culture for the better.

Source: Forbes and Business Insider

And some made sure they embraced a healthy culture from the beginning. For Gusto, the company has managed to avoid the fratty company culture often associated with Silicon Valley startups, as Business Insider’s Melia Russell writes.

Source: Business Insider

Fortune magazine has named Gusto one of the 100 best workplaces for millennials.

Source: Fortune

The distinction is likely for a number of factors, but no doubt the cozy office environment and practices are among them.

The company has also earned rave reviews by employees on Glassdoor, with some crediting the company for its “ridiculously generous benefits.”

Source: Business Insider

Eight years in and the company’s growth is notable too. Gusto crossed over into the unicorn club in 2015, and now has a post-money valuation of $3.8 billion.

Source: Crunchbase and Fortune

And Notion — besides attracting so much buzz in Silicon Valley’s VC scene that investors were literally knocking on the door — has a tight-knit workforce in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Source: Business Insider

So maybe they’re onto something with bringing the coziness of home into work.