Comforts of home at the daily grind

Amenities: Tech companies are offering beds and games to keep quality workers, some of whom labor around the clock.

June 26, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | By Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

At Big Huge Games Inc. in Timonium, employees ride from office to office on scooters.

At Vocus Inc. in Lanham, the workers will get a steam room installed in the locker area if they meet sales goals for the year.

And at e.magination Network LLC in Baltimore, the bosses are turning two rooms in the office into "executive suites," where employees can crash if they work late one night and have to be in the office early the next morning.

"We have a lot of people that work crazy hours, so I think it'll get taken advantage of," said Brian Ocheltree, chief executive officer of e.magination.

Even after the rise and fall of the dot-coms, other types of local tech companies are still adorning their office space with amenities from basketball courts and video games to scooters and sleeping areas. The reasons behind it, local executives said, are to attract quality workers, to keep them happy during the long, laborious hours that the tech industry demands and to create open areas where workers can casually interact and exchange ideas.

"It's just very different-looking space," said Lewis Bolan, a real estate consultant for Bolan Smart Associates in Washington. "There's much more team space, rather than individual space."

An international office space study released last week by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., a real estate investment management group, said the new economy is beginning to change the way businesses use office space. "No longer are employees in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More than 25 percent of companies surveyed - a surprisingly large share - operate around the clock," the study said.

The new offices for e.magination at Tide Point in Locust Point take that idea to the limit. The company offers services including marketing, Web design, advertising and e-commerce. Its offices include a break room with a Ping Pong table and punching bag, a wall in the lobby with oversize computer monitors that link to a video camera overlooking the Inner Harbor, a balcony with places to plug in a laptop and the "executive suites."

While the suites will be used by clients who fly in for meetings, they are also a place for workers to nap - or even spend the night - during a long workweek.

"You get a lot of nights where you get out of here really late and you've got to be in here really early, and you've got two hours of driving in between," said Syd Rubin, e.magination's president. "It just doesn't make sense."

Ocheltree and Rubin are planning to put a bed, a credenza, a television set and a table and chairs in each suite. There's a closet in each suite, a blue tile bathroom sandwiched between them and a black and blue kitchen alongside one.

"It takes to the ultimate conclusion of work almost replacing home," said Bolan, the real estate consultant.

Other local tech companies are putting different twists into their office space. Key Technologies Inc., an engineering company at the Technology Development Center on Key Highway in Baltimore, is working on a deal to move into the old McHenry Theatre on Light Street in Federal Hill, said Scott Corey, a principal at the company.

The engineering company helps businesses technologically improve their existing products and design new ones. One client, for example, hired Key Technologies to improve the reliability of its heart pumps, Corey said.

"What we do requires a lot of creativity, so we wanted space that was quirky," Corey said.

At Big Huge Games, a Timonium company that designs computer games, workers travel to meetings on scooters.

"Maybe 15 of the 20 people have scooters," said Tim Train, a partner and vice president of development for Big Huge Games. "Everybody uses them all the time to get from office to office."

The scooter phenomenon at Big Huge Games started when an employee got one as a gift and brought it into the office. Workers began taking victory laps around the office after finishing a big job.

And so began something of a "Scooter War," with employees buying the toys in an effort to out-scooter their co-workers with the nicest piece of equipment. Today, Big Huge Games' office even has a battery-operated scooter that goes up to 20 mph, Train said.

The scooters, he said, also fall in line with Big Huge Games' corporate culture and its motto: You've got to have fun to make fun.

The Jones Lang LaSalle study, which surveyed more than 350 tech companies in 10 cities worldwide, found four factors that drove tech companies' decisions about office space: Internet infrastructure, proximity to public transportation, quality of the building's interior and flexibility of the lease and the office space.

"Buildings that would not have been considered for office space 10 years ago became not only usable but desirable," said Bill Maher director of North American research at Jones Lang LaSalle in Baltimore.

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