Relatient’s offices near The Factory in Franklin have gigantic windows and high ceilings. / Photo Matt Blois
By MATT BLOIS
The offices at Rustici Software in Franklin have pretty much everything an employee could want.
The company built a bocce ball court in front of a spacious outdoor deck. A ping pong table — frequently used by employees — occupies the lion’s share of the main common area. The company provides a kitchen, showers, workout equipment and a meditation room.
CEO TJ Seabrooks said when the weather’s nice, employees often set up a disc golf course on a patch of grass near the parking lot. Despite the enticing opportunities to play, he confirmed employees actually do work.
“It’s creating an opportunity for people to rest their brain for 15 minutes. Go outside and get some vitamin D,” he said. “Rest your brain and go back to work refreshed because people work better when they like the place they’re in.”
New office buildings are going up all over Williamson County. Developers are planning to build more than 1.6 million square feet of office space in the Cool Springs area.
Building an office can be a major capital investment for a company, and the design can affect the kinds of employees a company can attract and retain. However, business leaders in Williamson County say it’s not everything, and it’s important to find out what employees want before building.
Seabrooks said the real purpose of building a cool office is sending a signal. He said Rustici is trying to use its building to tell employees the company cares about their well-being.
“(The office) is not actually the reason they come work here, and it’s not the reason they stay,” he said. “If you can look at someone and say we did this in our office space because we want to protect this part of our employees’ time … You’re signaling with the building the things you value.”
Seabrooks said the company has added the workout equipment and meditation room because employees asked for it.
Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen said the physical office space matters a lot, but said companies should pay attention to what employees value.
If employees really want a fitness center, it might make sense to invest in that, but they might give more value to vacation time or a flexible work schedule.
“What matters for a company is making sure the employees are connected to the mission and understand the role they have to play to fulfill the mission,” he said. “I don’t think the number of ping pong tables make up for a disconnected work force.”
Largen said the amenities offered at Silicon Valley campuses are impressive, but companies in Williamson County should think about the kind of culture they want to create before investing in those perks.
“Google has everything you could want. They have a doctor on site. You can get an oil change for your car,” he said. “But Google wants engineers walking the halls at 2 a.m.”
Michele Perry, the CEO of the Franklin based health care technology company Relatient, said the people in an office are much more important than the physical space itself.
“I’d rather have good people in a bad office than a bad environment in a good office,” Perry said. “I’ve been in both in my career.”
Still, her company’s office is impressive. The roughly 5,000 square foot space located across the street from The Factory has an industrial feel and gigantic windows that let in lots of natural light.
The conference room has a coffee bar built on top of an antique car. An old bicycle hangs above a kitchen and lunch area for employees. CFO Patrick Block said it was important for the office to have high ceilings.
“It opens everything up, and gives you more head space to think more lofty thoughts, to be metaphorical about where your head is,” he said.
Both Seabrooks and Perry said building these office spaces is part of a strategy to attract and retain good employees, and they think it has a positive effect. However, Seabrooks said the office space has to be part of a bigger plan.
“We have very low turnover, but I don’t think it’s because of the building,” Seabrooks said. “I think the building is a symptom or a side effect of the thing that really keeps people here.”