As Phillip Hanhart wound through the offices of New Edge Networks for the first time last spring on his way to a job interview, he scanned the colorful surroundings. There were painted murals, chairs with cow motifs, and plants, so many plants. The job wasn't yet his, but Hanhart says he was intrigued by the atmosphere, which differed greatly from his previous corporate job. "I worked for the Man," he recalls. "I was Dilbert."
The cubicle decorations, some of them more tasteful than others, are the idea of New Edge's CEO, Dan Moffat. Not long after founding the Vancouver, Wash., high-speed Internet provider in 1999, Moffat decided against hiring a trendy design firm like Herman Miller for the company's new 50,000-square-foot open warehouse space. He thought it would be less expensive and more fun to let New Edge employees spruce up the space their own way. So every six months he grants a $250 decorating allowance to each of 12 department teams.
Account manager Taryn Leffler says she used her decorating allowance to add serenity and calm to her workspace. "My co-worker and I love plants, and we both love gardening, so we've created our own oasis," she says. That oasis includes palm trees, a peace lily, a corn plant, even a pachira plant -- a so-called money tree. Phillip Hanhart now sits among his fellow "Team Bling" members (a sales team) surrounded by symbols of excess. "It's all about making money, being No. 1," he says. Throughout the year, Moffat, whose own office is decorated in Ironman Triathlon memorabilia, hands out awards of distinction for varying feats of artistic expression and frugality. His only stipulation is that the designs not make anyone feel uncomfortable. "Outrageous taste," he says, "is perfectly acceptable."
Outrageous might be putting it lightly in some cases -- Moffat's favorite installation so far was "Moo Edge," an ambitious design by the IT group that included a 25-foot-long, five-foot-high cow mural. Naysayers might see the ongoing office makeover as a distraction, but they'll hear only endorsements from New Edge employees. "That creativity makes it into my work," Leffler says. Others claim the program builds team spirit and gives them a sense of company ownership. And that's reason enough for Moffat to take Team Bling over Herman Miller any day.