Cultish isolation: the most harmful side-effect of all those Silicon Valley office perks?

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Google campus

San Francisco is rapidly polarizing against its tech workers as protests mount about shuttle bus use, and a huge rise in rents and evictions.

There would be less of a problem if tech workers were known in their communities but they aren’t. I know only one Google worker outside of my work circle and I have a large social circle of non-techies built over two decades.

Here are the many ways Silicon Valley tech workers are deliberately kept isolated:

  • The tech workers are scooped up in shuttle buses early in the morning and dropped off late in the evening. No time to socialize locally.
  • During the day tens of thousands are inside guarded campus enclaves. No one goes out to local stores and restaurants and around Google’s HQ, there’s a struggle to stay in business.
  • Tech companies provide free food, hair cuts, dental appointments, gym, laundry, dry cleaning, even apartment cleaning. No need to shop local or interact locally.
  • Mealtimes are important social events and here, tech workers are encouraged to eat in company facilities. Yet another interface with local people is removed.
  • There’s very little time during the week to make friends outside of work.

Company cult…

Building a company culture is the same as building a cult and the practices are well known, studied and very effective at controlling people. They are used by many mainstream organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, not just Google.

  • They tell their members to use anonymity and secrecy. Google, for example, discourages staff from identifying themselves as employees.
  • Cults keep their members in groups and indoctrinate them daily with an ideology that is designed to separate them psychologically, not just physically. Group dynamics indoctrinate faster than can be done individually.
  • Members are repeatedly told they are not like the rest of the world. Cult members often travel with a minder (bus driver) that makes sure they don’t stray along the way.
  • When criticized by outsiders, a cult’s hold on its members is strengthened, it emphasizes the ‘us and them’ isolation.

All cults are bad because they isolate and continually indoctrinate people with a self-serving ideology that promotes its agenda above all others. Integration, and broad access to ideas and conversations builds relationships between neighbors, and creates strong communities.

Unnecessary perks

Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing, at Google says the free perks aren’t necessary. He said no one ever turned down a job at Google because there was no free lunch.

Astonishingly, he also said that Google analysed all its data and found absolutely no difference in productivity between office and home-based workers.

So why does it insist on bussing its workers?

It must be because it helps build a strong company culture — it binds its people closer together. They are less likely to leave.

Pop the bubble…

If I were in charge I would shutter the canteens and garage the shuttle buses for one day a week, and turn off the spigot of free services. And see if my staff can figure out how to get to work on time, and how to feed themselves, and maybe even figure out how to use a laundromat.

They might even come back with some new ideas.

Original ideas require original experiences. You won’t get them from inside a bubble.


This article by Tom Foremski originally appeared on Silicon Valley Watcher, a Burn Media publishing partner.

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