By Laura Lorek
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

BigCommerce photos courtesy of the company.

BigCommerce photos courtesy of the company.

Back in the highflying dot com days, the perks at high tech companies flowed as freely as the beer from onsite kegs on Fridays.

Today, the competitive landscape for tech workers has meant another resurgence of perks to lure employees and keep them happy. And whiskey Fridays and beer bashes are back.

The perks have gone as high-tech as the companies. Last year, Apple and Facebook added egg freezing to its employee benefits package.

An informal survey of tech workers in Austin, shows some of the popular local perks include flexible work hours, comprehensive healthcare benefits programs, free lunches, fully stocked refrigerators and pantries full of snacks, telecommuting, gym memberships, pets in the workplace, standing desks, free parking and liberal vacation policies.

With more companies setting up shop in Central Texas every year, the demand for high-tech talent continues to grow.

In Austin, high tech workers make up 9 percent of the workforce or about 100,000 jobs, but the tech industry supports more than one third of all jobs in the economy, according to the Austin Technology Council. The ATC reports the tech sector contributes $21 billion annually to the local economy and tech workers, with average salaries of $155,000, are a big part of that.

BigCommerce, which provides websites and services to more than 55,000 stores, has been growing like gangbusters in Austin. It now has 280 employees

Anna Thoni, manager of enterprise accounts, joined BigCommerce two months ago from Rackspace.

One of her favorite perks is breakfast in the company kitchen. She bonds with her co-workers over oatmeal and coffee.

“It’s like being at home and being productive,” she said.

Throughout the day, she’ll pop into the snack room for Topo Chico water, nuts, fruit, cheese and little things that keep her going.

And when she needs to de-stress, she goes to the “Chillax,” relaxation room equipped with a massage chair, noise cancellation machine and dim lighting.
When she wants a little more activity, she might hop on one of the swings suspended from the ceiling near the game room.

The employees decide what kind of perks BigCommerce offers, said Steven Donnelly, its human resources director. And perks do help attract talent, he said.

“If you look at any high tech company in Austin they are touting perks on their website,” he said. Employees expect them, he said.

Yet not all wishes get granted. When BigCommerce raised its latest funding round, some employees suggested the company get a helicopter, but that didn’t seem like a good use of investor money, Donnelly said.

Bigcommerce team play (1)BigCommerce also offers good medical insurance coverage, an open vacation policy that lets people take as much time off as they wish, maternity and paternity policies, Tuesday catered lunches, scooters and skateboards to get around the office and happy hour on Fridays and the swings.

“We wanted to bring the playground into the office,” Donnelly said. “It’s OK to have a little fun when you’re at work.”

At its headquarters in San Antonio, Rackspace has a two-story spiral slide that’s quite popular with employees. It also has four Gondolas from Breckenridge Park that workers use for meeting places. The company also has food truck days in which employees can dine outside at picnic tables.

One of the popular perks at SpareFoot in downtown Austin is bring your pet to work day, said Cathy Guthrie, the company’s human resource director.

“Perks absolutely play a big role in how we are able to recruit in a hot market,” Guthrie said.

And another popular perk is its food. Everyday, the company has a chef prepare a hot meal. Recently, the chef prepared Italian sausage; herb roasted chicken, roasted new potatoes and a squash casserole for vegetarians.

SpareFoot also pays 100 percent of its employees’ health insurance premiums and offers an overall competitive benefits package and gym membership. And every employee is a stockholder.

“We have a no vacation policy, policy – you take what you need and schedule it as an adult – you self-manage,” Guthrie said. “We believe that you can balance your real life and your work life in a harmonious way.”

SpareFoot is also active in the Austin Startup Games, which it has won several years in a row. It hosts game nights and has more than 30 social and service events on its calendar for employees to participate in outside of work.

The company is hiring and expects to have 280 employees by the end of the year, Guthrie said. In the face of tremendous growth, SpareFoot also strives to maintain its fun-loving company culture, she said. Its CEO Chuck Gordon has fireside chats with employees about every six weeks.

At Capital Factory, the downtown incubator, accelerator and coworking space, employees get four weeks of paid vacation, a parking spot and a benefits package. But the real attraction is the opportunity to meet people like Peter Thiel, Slash from Guns & Roses and President Barack Obama, said Josh Baer, Capital Factory’s founder.

Capital Factory has 25 employees. But many more employees work at its startups based there. And they all get Capital Factory’s premiere downtown location, inspiring space and great views along with a stocked kitchen and catered meals twice a week, Baer said.

Perks are important in attracting talent, but companies ultimately don’t compete on perks, he said.

If a company doesn’t have a great workplace and culture, it will be hard to attract and retain employees in Austin’s hot tech market, Baer said.

“The big attraction of working at Capital Factory is you are plugged into this energy and all of this stuff going on,” he said.

Correction: the original version of this story misspelled Cathy Guthrie’s name