An experiment in 2020s incentivizing the workplace as a dot-com-era adult playground where work also occurs has ended with a whimper in downtown SF. Tech company Expensify is shutting down its bar, which it opened earlier this year, after six months.
The bar, and the non-office-like office dubbed Expensify Lounge, was from the beginning "an experiment," as CEO David Barrett told the Chronicle in April. The company purchased a legit liquor license for a quarter million dollars, installed a proper U-shaped bar where laptops were welcome, and hired a full-time concierge/barista/mixologist to man the bar. And in a theatrical flourish, every workday ended with the sabering of a Champagne bottle, and bubbles all around for anyone who wanted some.
But now, as Barrett told employees in a Thursday blog post, they're nixing the lounge thing and just hoping people will still drop by the office to interact where they can. The focus, when it comes to team building, will be on trips that the company takes and encourages — like an all-hands trip to Spain last year, and its much-ballyhooed Offshore program, which the Chronicle wrote about in 2022, in which employees can take expenses-paid trips together to wherever they want, just to get work done.
Barrett makes some bold statements this week about the general push to repopulate offices, after noting that even a free cocktail bar and drinks and cappuccinos delivered to desks wasn't really enough to lure people back in any significant way.
"I think it's safe to say that anyone going to the office every day is likely going because they feel pressured to (either by their boss or their peers), not because it's actually their preferred place to be," Barrett writes. Which isn't to say there's no place for offices going forward... we're just never going back to a regular 9-5 office culture, a staple of not just our modern culture, but also the foundation of most urban planning."
"You heard it here folks: The office is dead," Barrett writes. "But that doesn’t mean collaboration is dead, or that community is dead. It just means it’s broken free from its stuffy, sterile confines, and is becoming something so much bigger, more dynamic, and more exciting. Cafes and beaches and airplanes and kitchen tables around the world are the new office, and as someone who works from one of those every day, I couldn’t personally be happier."
Expensify, which is based in Portland, is shutting down the SF lounge next week, on November 1. And the company's focus will now be on its "next bold experiment," Bartlett says, the Midtown Beer Garden in Portland. It features food carts, live entertainment, and a beer concession from Fracture Brewing.
Photo via Expensify