Duke’s Diary - Parties and perks are so passe

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Remember when Prince - the artist also known as being very strange - urged us all to “party like it was 1999” and we all sort of agreed to because that’s the sort of thing we did?

Don’t worry too much if you don’t recall it because, alarmingly, that was way back in 1983 (re-released two years later as well pop pickers) and 1999 seemed as far into the future then as it now does into the past.

Those were the days when company cars, pensions and private healthcare plans were used to lure bright young things into dull office careers. They were also more than likely the days of parties.

Being a journalist I wouldn’t know anything about perks or parties being offered as recruitment drives. And as more and more of us are discovering, even pensions are becoming a thing of the past rather than a promise for the future.

Here we all get quite excited when a new coffee machine is installed and the price of beverages doesn’t go up, so imagine my surprise when I read that a new generation of companies is luring talented people away from their existing jobs and into new ones in rather different ways.

In my day the best carrot to dangle was a few extra pounds in the pocket. But now it’s skating ramps, tents for napping, indoor tree houses, chocolate fountains, gourmet meals and Yoga Tuesdays which are amongst the examples of the “perk bubble” as emerging tech companies compete for the hottest kids on the block.

I’ve got to the stage where it’s a plus, even a perk, to start the next week so what I’d do if I worked for airbnb.com (a website where people rent their homes or rooms directly to holidaymakers). At the centre of their San Francisco (where else?) offices is a two storey treehouse as well as an eastern mysticism theme “peace room” and a section of an out of service jet.

Staff regularly work late into the night or at weekends so playtime is taken seriously. There are regular Moustache Mondays (yes, you wear a false moustache for the day) and Yoga Tuesdays, held before a company lunch. Thursday is recess day and last month this included a rooftop barbecue, an air guitar contest and a visit by rapper MC Hammer.

Now I’m not that fussed about the air guitar playing or even the rapping but it would be fun here seeing who tried to get the barbecue going and whether it disturbed the little bus shelter full of smokers who already look furtive enough.

Yelp.com, a user review site passing verdict on everything from rock concerts to supermarket pies, has a permanent three beer kegs in its break room with inbuilt iPads informing the staff what brew is inside. Chances are any one of them tastes better than our Lucozade and Seven Up dispenser.

Online storage site Dropbox has a rock room where employees play guitars and drums. Another is used to play dance arcade games.

At Google’s Zurich office staff descend to the canteen down metal slides. Bad for the digestion but probably good for morale.

Even the UK is catching on. Music streaming website Last.fm, a British company only founded in 2002 but sold five years later to CBS for £140 million, often throws parties in the giant ballpit in its east London office.

Even the iPhone app Color which has languished since its launch in March still has staff sitting on beanbag chairs, allowed to have nap times in special tents and taking turns on a hand built half pipe skateboard ramp in the middle of their office.

Now where’s that 25p for my perk cup of coffee?