One Tiny Detail at Companies like SpaceX, Google and Airbnb Speaks Volumes About Their Culture

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Certain elements of office design aim to inspire collaboration, innovation and happiness among employees.

Two weeks ago, in an act of somewhat desperate symbolism, Uber board member Arianna Huffington announced the ride-sharing service was renaming its “War Room” the “Peace Room” as part of a broader effort to reform its tarnished image. Name swaps alone won’t help Uber recover from allegations of widespread discrimination and harassment. But the change does highlight the way the names of conference rooms can reveal a lot about a company’s culture.

Sarah Brazaitis, an organizational psychologist and senior lecturer at Columbia’s Teachers College, says themed conference room names are tied to the rise of open-office layouts. Both elements of office design aim to inspire collaboration, innovation and happiness among employees.

“In contrast to cold, hierarchical, spaces where labor happens, village-like offices are designed to tie individuals closer to the organization’s identity,” Brazaitis says. “Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture to their employees, customers, clients and all who enter.”

Much like kitchen cleanliness and desk decor, conference room names are an easy way to gauge a company’s priorities—and an opportunity to assess whether the organization is actually living up to its aspirations. To that end, we took the opportunity to compile a list of the conference-room names at leading companies in tech, media and more—from Google and SpaceX to HBO, Yahoo and Goldman Sachs.

SpaceX

Room themes: John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Johannes Kepler, Hermann Julius, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev

At the headquarters of Elon Musk’s space travel company, conference rooms honor people who have left major marks on the history of celestial exploration.

“This includes famous astronauts such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It also includes scientists who have made groundbreaking discoveries in physics, most notably Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla,” says one SpaceX employee. As these SpaceX Facebook and Twitter posts reveal, each name plaque features a brief description of the innovator’s accomplishments.

Twitter

Room themes: Birds (Canary, Elapaio, Dove, Raven, Mallard, Falcon, Chick, Ostrich, Thrasher, Penguin, Peacock, Seagull, Lapwing, Nightingale, Bluebird); San Francisco monuments and venues (City Lights, Grant Ave, Golden Gate, Fort Point, Crissy Field, Coastal Trail, Bill Graham, Civic Center, Jones St, The Warfield, Van Ness Ave)

Beyond representing the social media behemoth’s fun, creative spirit, according to one Twitter employee, “with the San Francisco names, we want to pay homage to the city and culture that host our office, [and show] pride for our city. The birds are more of an homage to our logo and our beginnings as a company.”

Google

Room themes: New York City (City Hall, Radio City, Great Lawn, Washington Heights, George Washington Bridge); seasons (Snowball, Sandcastle, Lemonade Stand, Oktoberfest, Winterfell); Easter eggs (“It’s here,” “It’s there”)

One floor of Google’s New York office features rooms named after city landmarks and boroughs, such as City Hall, Washington Heights, and Central Park’s Great Lawn.

“The building is huge, so they try to come up with wayfinding hacks,” says one Google employee. “On my floor, rooms are organized from north to south, so if you have a meeting at ‘George Washington Bridge,’ you don’t have to look at a map, you just have to walk ‘uptown.'”

Similarly, their season-themed floor moves from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall, with room names like Snowball and Sand Castle.

“Again, you can tell if you should be heading in the ‘winter’ direction if your room sounds cold (like ‘Winterfell’ or ‘It’s too cold’),” she says.

The general mentality behind the names is to be both fun and—in the spirit of Google’s tech—useful. Decorations—a bucket of kinetic sand in Sand Castle, a big print-out mojito recipe in Mojito, and cotton ball snowballs to throw at colleagues in Snowball—enhance the rooms’ playfulness, she reports.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn Floor Plan
Dare you to figure out all the themes.

Room themes: Bay Area neighborhoods (Alamo Square, Corona Heights, Golden Gate, Glen Canyon, Twin Peaks) and coffee joints (Blue Bottle, Flywheel, Andytown, Capricorn); floor 6: SF bars (Elixer, Horshoe Tavern, Dogpatch, Bustop Saloon); San Francisco writers (Ginsberg, Castenada, Brown, Kerouac, Keysey); San Francisco events (Bay to Breakers, Cherry Blossom, How Weird, Jazz Festival, Pillow Fight, SantaCon, Sketchfest); Video games (Alcatraz: Prison Escape, Blur, Call of Duty: AW, Defiance, Godzilla: Unleashed, Tony Hawk’s pro skater)

LinkedIn’s 17-floor building, originally designed by Tishman Sperey, has numerous themed floors honoring San Francisco, the city where its headquarters is based. While alphabetically ordered, the unique names can be overwhelming and hard to keep track of, says one employee.

Airbnb

Room themes: Portici, Italy; Smiths Lake, New South Wales; Mexican Log Cabin; Brooklyn; Shanghai; Rio; Johannesburg; Mumbai

Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters is among the most unique offices in the world, with conference rooms and meeting spaces meticulously designed to mirror some of the site’s most impressive listings worldwide. The “culture-based listing rooms,” each named after the real-life listing’s city, “showcase Airbnb’s global expansion,” according to IDF Studio, the design company behind Airbnb’s office. (Photos of the “Portici, Italy” room, adorned with a moulded ceiling, chandelier and Roman marble bust, along with the Mexican-style log cabin and Mumbai coffee shop can be viewed here.)

HBO

For such a creative company, one would think their room names are more unique than numbers (4-003, 4-001, 5-49)—but, as an HBO employee reports, they aren’t.

BuzzFeed

Room themes: Food (Empanada, Cold Brew, Waffle Fries, Grilled Cheese); Classic toys (Game Boy, Moon Shoes, Blockbuster, Koosh Ball); Celebrities (Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray); Emojis; New York City (Statue of Liberty, streets where the company previously had offices)

“BuzzFeed is loud—it’s not subtle,” Chris Rushing, the company’s senior art director, told Fast Company in an article about its zany, colorful new NYC office. In addition to each floor’s uniquely-themed meeting room names, a BuzzFeed employee says its large conference rooms have massive wall decals—like OOO, SFW, NSFW, LOL, ROFL, TY and TTYL—all of which are removable, so they can be replaced with next gen’s abbrevs.

Food Network

Room themes: Fruit (Kiwi, Apple, Strawberry, Banana)

Meeting rooms are named after fruit in the digital division of Food Network’s NYC office.

“Food Network is all about accessibility to the average American,” says a former employee. “They really focus on the building blocks of food, so rather than naming the rooms after crazy dishes, they went with stable fruits.”

Politico

Room themes: Washington, D.C., and American politics (K Street, New Deal, Filibuster, Recess, State of the Union)

It’s no surprise the D.C.-based political news outlet has room names related to American history, congressional procedures and other traditions of life in the capitol.

Yahoo!

Room themes: TV shows (All in the Family, Brooklyn 99, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, SNL, NYPD Blue, Mad Men, Project Runway, Seinfeld, Sopranos, Weekend Update, The Daily Show); Plays (Rock of Ages, West Side Story, Wicked, Avenue Q); and Movies (American Hustle, Black Swan, Do The Right Thing, Saturday Night Fever, Devil Wears Prada, Great Gatsby, Wall Street, Watchmen)

The media giant names its rooms after TV shows, movies and plays based and/or produced in NYC, their headquarters’ home city.

New York Times

The global news organization isn’t devoting a lot of creative resources to its conference room names, says a former employee.

“The [NYC] board room is sometimes called the ‘Churchill room,’ because there’s a bust of [former British prime minister Winston Churchill] in it… and there’s the ‘Page One room,’ where [the editors] used to meet to decide on what stories go on page one,” he explains. Otherwise, conference rooms are labeled with plain old numbers and letters.

CNET

Room themes: Nature

The world’s leading tech-product review site has a fittingly logical room-naming system. The lower level is named after minerals, the ground floor after plants, the second floor after trees, the third floor after weather formations, the fourth floor after stars, and the fifth floor after galaxies.

“Get it, bottom up? Very helpful for knowing which floor you should go to based on the name alone,” says a former employee.

CBS

Room themes: Subterranean Earth (Magma); Ground-level Earth (sequoia, river); Sky (Lightning, Storm, Rain, Sunset); Space (Stars, Sun)

Similar to CNET, the San Francisco office of CBS employs science-oriented logic when it comes to naming rooms, with floors themes ascending from subterranean Earth (floor 1) to space (floor 4).

Glossier

Room themes: Celebrities (Beyonce, Kate Moss)

Glossier, the multimillion-dollar millennial makeup company, names its NYC office rooms after famous beauty icons, including Beyonce and Kate Moss.

Casper

Room themes: Coffee (Espresso, Cortado); Eggs (Scrambled, Sunnyside)

Casper names all its rooms after breakfast foods (coffee, eggs and a big conference room named “Continental”). The online mattress company notably identifies as a lifestyle brand, with marketing that playfully depicts at hitting the snooze button, brunching and staying in bed. Thus, the room names are in keeping with its goal of being more than a simple furniture company, according to one employee.

“But they also demonstrate a playfulness both in terms of our company image and the work culture,” she says. “There’s something hilarious about scheduling a meeting with my boss in a room called ‘Pancakes,’ and that definitely is consistent with a very laid-back office culture.”

The leading U.S. sexual health care nonprofit

Room names: Morning After, Happy Endings, Sexual Fantasy

While the notable organization chose to remain anonymous, its room names were too delightful to pass up.

Fullstack Academy

Room themes: Coding languages (JavaScript, C++, Ruby); Famous programers and computer pioneers (Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Alan Turing)

The coding bootcamp, with locations in New York City and Chicago, aims to prepare students for careers in software development.

“The ABCs of our school is Always Be Coding, so having our rooms named after coding languages helps refocus students to that effect,” explains one employee. “I love that we have rooms named after famous pioneering women in programming because it reminds me that we’re striving to bridge the gender gap in the tech world,” she says. “We have a program for all women that has a deferred tuition option so women don’t pay until they get a job.”

Goldman Sachs

Room themes: Numbers

The top-tier investment firm sticks with the classic numbered system, but one employee says it’s possible to read more into it.

“It makes sense because that’s what we want to be,” she says. “Making numbers — $$$.” Its competition, Bank of America, takes a slightly more creative approach, naming executive floor rooms after cities, and some meeting rooms after New York City parks.

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