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Millennial Minded

A company that 'litter'-ally redefines the archaic office

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Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of TerraCycle.
Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of TerraCycle. - ()

The allusion came to me upon entering a room where soda bottles dangled from strings like bubbles, rising off Astroturf carpeting, dividing rows of vinyl record-made cubicles into translucent departments.

Touring TerraCycle’s Trenton office is something like stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if the décor were limited to discarded plastic candy wrappers and used lollipop sticks.

It’s a charm that has lured a great many of the primarily young 120 employees of this recycler of generally non-recyclable waste.

And that’s not to mention how much of an allure it is to college interns (dubious as that population may be of being compensated even less fairly than Oompa-Loompas).

TerraCycle knows how to create an environment with oomph; its avoidance of the drab-gray office purgatory, the kind that repels millennials like a dial-up connection, is something that ought to be kept in mind by any company with a desire to foster a young, enthusiastic workplace.

“It’s an embodiment of our culture,” said CEO Tom Szaky. “People come in and see our work literally around them. They’re engulfed in it. It spurs creativity.”

(RELATED) From trash to treasure: Szaky found business model to make it work

The company’s particular attention to building an office environment that’s both millennial-friendly and true to its mission has landed it a dedicated series on Pivot Network’s “Human Resources,” which is featuring the New Jersey office.

“(It’s) more than just about TerraCycle the business. It’s also about TerraCycle’s people,” Albe Zakes, a company spokesman, said in an interview about the show. “It’s not just a science show, it’s not just ‘how it’s made’ and it’s not just an eco-friendly show about trying to change the world. It’s a character-driven show. It’s about young, hip, cool, smart, passionate people.”

Obviously the company’s leaders aren’t apprehensive about showcasing a workplace in which a disagreement among co-workers might prompt a Nerf gun shootout.

Nor should they be.

Ask even the most austere millennials whether they’d prefer that or a rancorous email chain.

It also shouldn’t surprise that many of TerraCycle’s practices don’t fit within the purview of traditional standards of professionalism, considering employees are encouraged to walk around in the office’s verdant Astroturf in flip-flops.

Bear in mind, too, that the company has basically given free rein to graffiti artists for the past eight years, allowing a beautifully crude and shambolic collage of street art to form on the exteriors of its headquarters — a direct affront to the neat-and-tidy rectitude espoused by many companies.

“We also believe in an open office, as you can see,” Szaky said, gesturing toward the see-through bottle arrangement that segments off his office. “We believe in transparency; not just physical transparency, but everyone sees every report I see.”

So while all these measures may seem extreme, remember that Szaky, at 32, has a perspective on how offices should look and operate that’s only going to become more prevalent in the business world as more people his age take the helm at companies.

Remember, also, that he’s on a television show, setting expectations.

For those who buy the approach, he’s got the golden ticket to attracting young talent the way he does:

“We sell all the stuff in our office now,” he said. “People always ask about it on tours, so now other companies can make their own office out of this stuff.”

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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