Five Observations Working At An Incubator

I recently started a new job. Even though our headquarters is in a regular office building in California, all peripheral offices are set up in “business incubators,” including our office in DC. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept, an incubator is a company that provides affordable office space, equipment, conference rooms, internet, everything, to dozens or even hundreds of smaller start-up businesses. Because startup companies tend to be comprised of younger people, the incubator bolsters the appeal by offering a series of perks and amenities, such as a game room, pool hall, mini golf course, yoga classes, and weekly happy hours. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Here are some things I’ve observed in my first month of employment.

1. Dress code is not a thing.

Thus far in my professional career, I’ve been working strictly in law firm environments, where the attire is devastatingly professional. At the incubator, things are more . . . diverse. Here are the four genres of outfits:

  • Pajamas. Remember that scene in The Social Network when Jesse Eisenberg shows up to an investor’s meeting in a bathrobe and slippers? That’s real. Maybe not the robe, but definitely the drawstring PJ pants and the bedhead.

  • Club attire. I’ve seen some patently inappropriate outfits. Not just for work, but like, inappropriate for an errand at Walgreens. Red lace camisole paired with a red leather mini and 7-inch polka dot wedges? WHERE IS YOUR CARDIGAN, MA’AM?

  • Gym clothes. OK, so some of the startups are fitness-related, and they’re forgiven. But the rest of you need to leave the hot pink spandex at home and invest in some dry shampoo.

  • Totally normal adult clothing. I’m happy to report it’s not all tube tops and cargo shorts. There are plenty of people in the incubator who have actual adult wardrobes. You know, like pants. I’m thankful for the people who wear pants.

2. Shoes are optional.

I would say about half the people in my hallway wear shoes. That includes the people with standing desks. Some pad around the office in ankle socks, others go totally barefoot. I really don’t know how to react to this behavior other than with extremely raised, judgmental eyebrows.

3. (Almost) everyone is under 35.

Being in a workplace where everyone is in their twenties was an adjustment for me. As I mentioned, I come from a law firm background, where a lot of partners and assistants have been working at the same company since Jimmy Carter was in office. It’s actually so rare to see a non-twenty-something in the incubator that whenever I do, I immediately assume they’re lost.

4. People forget where they are.

Everything in my office is either enclosed in glass or not enclosed at all. There’s really no privacy. However, I have not seen this deter anyone from doing the weird shit they probably do absentmindedly in the comfort of their own homes. I’ve seen far too many people pick their noses. I’ve watched people fall asleep on the sectional in the lounge and start drooling on their open laptops at 8:15 am. And perhaps the worst offender is the gentleman who insists on taking all his phone calls with one hand down his pants. I know this because during these calls he paces back and forth in the glass-walled conference room directly across from my desk. This happens about 12 times a day.

5. Going to the bathroom is an experience.

The bathrooms in the incubator are a cross between upscale club restrooms and 4 star hotel bathrooms. Even the wallpaper is chic. Each stall is a private room with lockable floor-to-ceiling doors and Bose ceiling speakers, which play a pleasant mix of Ingrid Michaelson and Kendrick Lamar. Each restroom is restocked daily with fresh toothbrushes and mouthwash. It’s a good thing there’s not a couch in there, otherwise it might become a place of regular social gathering.

These are just preliminary field notes from my first 30 days in the incubator habitat. Check back next month for exciting new developments.

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