While Amazon and Apple are making much noise about their new headquarters, Microsoft is quietly revamping its Redmond headquarters to support its growth. Speaking of growth, I got to tour the tree houses that Microsoft opened for its employees last year, where they can meet, chat, or just generally catch some rays.
They're located right near the buildings where top Microsoft execs like CEO Satya Nadella have their offices, but any employee can use them.
They're WiFi equipped, with power outlets everywhere. And they're a very neat little employee perk.
Take a look.
If you don't know the tree houses are there, you might never notice them. This is the view when you leave one of the nearby office buildings.
But climb the wooden ramps...
...and you'll find the first of Microsoft's three semi-hidden tree houses.
The tree houses are actually gated off; you need a Microsoft keycard to access them. I got permission to go in on my visit, but they're normally off-limits to non-employees.
This first tree house is also the biggest, and has a large, wooded patio section to mill around or hang out.
The main attraction, though, is the tree house. This is the biggest one of all of them, and the only one you can book for a private meeting. The day of my visit, it didn't appear to be booked, and some Microsoft employees brought their families through to see.
The inside is all set up with power outlets, and WiFi blankets the entire Microsoft campus. It gets a little toasty in here, so it's no surprise that a fan was set up.
The tree house is cone-shaped on the top, supported by wooden beams — but the main attraction is the skylight. You can even see the canopy of the trees, from the right angle.
There are chairs and benches on the patio, too, in case you want to take your meeting outdoors.
From up here, you can sorta-kinda see the nearby outdoor cafeteria space. Mostly, though, it's nothing but you and the trees.
After you're done in the tree house, you can go back down to street level, or take another connecting pathway straight into the closest buildings.
Another walkway from ground level takes you to tree house number 2.
This one is even more secluded: You climb up a second spiral staircase to take you all the way to the top. I actually couldn't get much closer than this; a group of Microsoft engineers was having a spirited discussion at the top and I didn't want to disturb them.
From up here, though, you can see the third and final tree house, including its little balcony section. This guy was soaking in the summer sun, and enjoying the unusually warm Washington weather.
The third and final tree house is also the most accessible.
I mean that in a very literal way, too. It's the only one with an elevator, so you don't have to take the stairs.
This one also has a little patio, overlooking the trees.
And it has a more traditional construction than the others, in the sense that it looks like a small house. It also has a few balconies ringing it, as we saw with that guy who was busy photosynthesising.
Inside, though, it's L-shaped, making it awkward for a real meeting — though I could see myself popping in to answer some e-mail.
There's also a little bench area to sit in. It also feels like a good time to note that the tree houses all smell strongly of fresh cedar wood. It's a very woodsy scent.
A model of the Microsoft campus redevelopment plan.
It's all part of a broader, intensive Microsoft campus redevelopment programme that will be going on through 2023 and beyond. The tree houses are just one part of a massive plan to make the campuses better and more useful for employees. It's certainly a cool perk!
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