A Window Into the Office Culture at Square, From SFO to Tokyo

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This is the third installment of Street Fight’s new Street Culture series. Every two weeks, Street Fight will take a look at the inventive ways that some of the fastest growing companies in local create the kind of unique company culture that attracts the best and brightest.

An employee rolls down the corridor toward another employee’s working space, and no, he’s not in a wheelchair. He’s thousands of miles away, and is using one of Square’s telepresence robots to say hello to a coworker and friend.

A growing company often means thousands of employees in offices around the world. Keeping those employees connected was a priority for Square, the small business software company headed up by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

“The robots allow people to ‘beam’ into any location to explore a space and attend meetings ‘in-person,’” said Chris Gorman, Square’s head of office experience. “I’ve seen [Square employees] use robots to roll over to a colleague’s desk and surprise them. It always turns into a catch-up session.”

Square also uses technology-enhanced conference rooms to help workers collaborate across locations, and monitors throughout the workspaces live-stream what’s happening at other offices.

“The monitors make it feel as if you have a window into life at Square,” Gorman said. “We’re focused on keeping our culture open and transparent, so the company still feels small. When it comes to sharing information, notes from every meeting are emailed to the entire company. We hope the information will inspire new ideas, but also remind employees that they’re owners of this company.”

The number of those company owners has increased exponentially in the past in just six years. In 2009, just 10 people were working for Square. By the end of 2012, that number had increased to more than 400 and the company had facilitated more than $300 million in commerce in the San Francisco area.

Last year, when the San Francisco headquarters moved into a new office, the company employed 800 people. In November 2014, Square tweeted that the company had hit the 1,000 employee milestone, many of whom work in the new San Francisco office. Gorman said that the new space was designed specifically to encourage collaboration and transparency.

“In a city, spaces are designed for people to come together and share things in a quick and easy way,” he said. “Our office takes up an entire city block and has a main ‘boulevard’ running from end to end with a coffee bar in the middle and a library at the end to act like public meeting spaces. And there are cabanas, stand up tables and couches throughout the office that allow people to step into the busy city life or take time away from it.”

Gorman said that the local independent businesses of San Francisco and other office locations are what inspire Square’s growth. Photos of local business owners are found on the walls and Square often invites pop-up stores and local sellers to come by the offices to visit.

“Every few months we also invite sellers to participate in our Let’s Talk event,” Gorman said. “This is a company-wide event where we learn from local sellers about running a business. We hear everything from their pain points to strategies to managing employees and marketing.”

Balancing employee satisfaction with company productivity is another issue that can increase in severity as a company scales. Square aims to ensure that new products and features are created and made available as fast as possible and that each employee has an impact.

“We’ve been able to do both by keeping teams small and full-stack, meaning the team consists of engineers, designers and product managers,” Gorman said. “Designers and engineers sit side-by-side and work together on design and engineering decisions. That way, they never need to wait on another team to build something; they have ownership over decisions and can move quickly.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.