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Forget ping pong and free beer: The latest perk for tech workers is doing good

In the cutthroat technology industry where companies go to great lengths to attract and retain talent, employers have offered workers high salaries, company stock and unlimited vacation time. They’ve done free breakfasts, free lunches, free dinners and free booze. There’s kombucha on tap, ping pong and pool, nap rooms, yoga rooms and on-site gyms.

Once considered lavish perks, they have now become the norm. Which is why tech firms eager to keep their employees engaged are turning to Loqules (pronounced “locals”), a Playa Vista startup with $200,000 in angel funding, to offer what a growing number of young employees crave: ways to have fun and do good.

“Millennials make up around 45% of the workforce, and they’d rather spend their money doing something cool and having an experience than buying or having material things,” said Jai Al-Attas, the 33-year-old founder of Loqules. “They’re a lot more socially aware, and they want to be part of companies or groups that give back to the community in some way.”

Nobody cares about free food or free beer. They’re more interested in making a difference.

Karen Ross, CEO of Sharp Decisions

Some of the perks offered by Loqules’ five-person team are just that, perks. Think: a cooking class with Louis Tikaram, the chef at E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood. Or a day of surfing with pro surfer Taylor Knox. Or a master class in mural making with local street artist KidWiseman.

Loqules charges anywhere from $80 per person for basic experiences, such as a night out with a local musician, to $10,000 for a small team to have an intimate recording tutorial with music producer John Feldmann, who has produced for the likes of Avicii, Good Charlotte and Ashlee Simpson. The median cost of an experience is $200 to $500 per person, and options span categories such as art, music, surfing, skating, food, fitness and fashion. A portion of the fee goes to the person offering the experience; Loqules keeps the rest.

But companies also have the option of sharing the experience with people in need by partnering with a local nonprofit such as Safe Place for Youth, a homeless youth organization; A New Way of Life, which works with formerly incarcerated women; or the Salvation Army.

Through these partnerships, companies often foot the bill so those in need can participate in workshops and experiences alongside employees.

Of the dozen or so experiences Loqules has done with firms such as Salesforce, Uber, AdColony, Citibank and Facebook, nearly every company has chosen to partner with a nonprofit, and most have used Loqules more than once.

This comes as little surprise to researchers and human resource experts, who in recent years have noticed a shift in how employees want to be engaged and rewarded at work. Research from the Brookings Institution estimates that by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. (It defines the generation as those born in 1982 to 2003.) And it says that as this demographic of workers continues to grow, “millennial values,” which Brookings describes as an emphasis on corporate social responsibility, a higher worth placed on experiences over material things, and community building, will come to shape the workplace.

“Years ago you never had a 25-year-old kid making $150,000,” said Karen Ross, chief executive of tech firm Sharp Decisions, who has seen her own employees increasingly express interest in doing more for the communities in which they operate. “Now they’re making good money. Nobody cares about free food or free beer. They’re more interested in making a difference.”

Companies are responding in kind. In 2014, Airbnb started offering employees four hours of paid time off every month to volunteer for local causes. Last year, it launched a dedicated volunteering week to allow employees to devote a larger chunk of time to local projects. Dropbox offers employees 32 paid hours a year to volunteer at nonprofits of their choosing, and it regularly hosts company-sponsored events where employees can serve meals at local charities. NetApp, a data management company in Silicon Valley, offers employees paid time off to volunteer, and it also works with nonprofit Rise Against Hunger to package meals.

“The response from employees has been extraordinarily positive,” said Matt Fawcett, general counsel at NetApp. “We sent a note to my team in Sunnyvale asking who wanted to get involved, and within 60 seconds there was a flood of replies.”

For a segment of the workforce who have the means to buy anything they want, an experiential perk gives them something money can’t necessarily buy, according to corporate culture experts.

“When you give someone an award, it’s a short-term thing — you have it, you enjoy it at the time, but there’s no memory beyond that,” said Tina Figueroa, the vice president of human resources at AdColony, which has used Loqules twice to reward high performers and plans to offer its experiences as a perk every quarter. “An experience is emotional. You can relive it over and over again. It’s really good for retention because people feel good when they tell those stories. It adds stickiness and it bonds people.”

Uber’s Los Angeles management teams have used Loqules’ service three times in partnership with local charities.

“It’s not your off-the-shelf team-building exercises,” said Chris Ballard, Uber’s Southern California general manager.

Last year, instead of relying on team dinners and happy hours to bring together its Los Angeles managers, Uber used Loqules to organize a cooking class with Tikaram, the chef; arranged a photography lesson with skateboard photographer Atiba Jefferson; and did a DJing workshop with DJ Ducky. By partnering with nonprofits, Uber sent extra food from the cooking class to A New Way of Life and invited teens from Safe Place for Youth to join them during the workshops.

Skateboard photographer Atiba Jefferson shares his story with a group of Uber employees and homeless youth from Safe Place for Youth.
Skateboard photographer Atiba Jefferson shares his story with a group of Uber employees and homeless youth from Safe Place for Youth. (Taylor Curran)

“These are experiences our youth would never have the opportunity to do if it weren't for this relationship with Loqules,” said Rachel Stich, the deputy director of development and administration at A Safe Place for Youth.

Although many nonprofits need money more than they need one-off volunteers, Stich said partnerships like the ones Loqules is fostering are still valuable because they help build relationships between nonprofits and neighboring corporations. Independent of Loqules, Uber now gives a Safe Place for Youth 32 free rides a month to help transport users of the service to doctor appointments and job interviews. Employees who have experienced a Loqules perk have expressed interest in getting more involved in their communities. And companies are putting their money where their employees want them to, with Dropbox matching up to $1,000 of each employee’s charity donation.

The closest thing Loqules has to a competitor is Airbnb, which launched “social impact experiences” on its platform in November. Unlike Loqules, which caters to businesses, Airbnb’s offering is consumer-focused, and the company has not signaled intentions to create a version specifically for businesses.

But even if it did, that would just be validation for Loqules, Al-Attas said.

“People want to feel like they’ve had an impact,” he said. “We’re not just saying, ‘Hey, we gave some money to a charity’ and then everyone pats themselves on the back. We get people from the charity into a room with employees so they can share stories and change their perspectives. That's where this is going."

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