Silicon Valley's newest startup trend? Shoeless office policies.

insider@insider.com (Katie Canales)
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Katie Canales/Business Insider

  • Silicon Valley startups are offering no-shoes office policies, allowing employees to spend the workday in house slippers, socks, or barefoot.
  • It's the latest trend that embodies the region's famous pared-down office culture.
  • Here's what it's like in the shoeless offices of Silicon Valley.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The tech world has become inextricably linked to a very specific work uniform: hoodie, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

That informality has permeated the office environment as well, with startups in Silicon Valley garnering a reputation for embracing out-of-the-norm office perks to compete for the best and brightest of the region's stock of tech talent. They've famously included free lunches, in-house nap rooms, free fitness classes and massages, and dog-friendly offices. 

But now some of those perks have come to include strutting around the office in house slippers or socks, or for some, bare feet.

Why? A simple reason: The CEOs grew up in households with no-shoe policies.

The offices of Gusto and Notion, both enterprise software startups, are a far cry from the American offices of old, where strict dress codes were enforced and meandering through the office in jeans, let alone barefoot, could have sent you packing.

But if shoeless workspaces are going to become a reality, it might as well be in tech country. After all, Silicon Valley was the epicenter of the business-casual dress movement in the 1990s. Since then, as Business Insider's Aine Cain writes, much of the corporate world — outside of finance and law — has taken on a results-oriented mindset. Employers don't care what you look like when you're working, as long as you're producing results.

And more than that, it's become a way for employers to lure freshly graduated tech workers — they're more likely to join you if they don't have to shed their hoodie for a suit jacket or swap their couch for a stiff desk chair.

As for the barefooted-ness, is it a health code violation? Turns out it's not, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"We are not aware of any health code violations in San Francisco for workers to be barefoot in a commercial space," a spokesperson told Business Insider in an email.

So march on, shoeless techies. March on.

Here's what it's like in the shoeless offices of Silicon Valley.

Shoe cubbies were once thought to be confined to the preschool classroom.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderNowadays, you'll find them in the Gusto office in San Francisco, where employees store their shoes while they navigate the workday barefoot or in socks.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderOffice culture is markedly lax in the West Coast tech hub, and there are a lot of reasons why.

Google logo HQ Mountain View

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesSome have called the region the birthplace of the business casual movement of the late 1980s and 1990s.

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François LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Eventually, it evolved into the inescapable t-shirt-and-sneaker combination we know today. You've seen the look embodied on the CEOs leading the region's tech giants.

Mark Zuckerberg

GettyThe Valley's schtick has always been "discarding norms and celebrating rule-breaking," as The Atlantic reports.

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John Chapple/Getty Images

Source: The Atlantic

And over time, that hallmark has bled into the work environment as well.

facebook office

Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesTech companies famously began instituting office perks like free lunch, nap rooms, and dog-friendly offices.

google lunches

MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty ImagesGusto and Notion are two startups in the past few years that have offered similar out-of-the-box office practices to workers.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderGusto CEO Joshua Reeves told Business Insider's Melia Russell in 2018 that he grew up in a shoeless household.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

And then when Reeves and a few other techies launched the company in 2011, it was out of a house in Palo Alto.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderThey all took their shoes off before ascending into the upstairs bedroom-turned-office.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider and Entrepreneur

When Gusto moved into a more stable office, the tradition stuck.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe company's employees sprawl out on living room furniture — as well as at desks — sporting slippers or socks. Some are barefoot in the Gusto office.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderOver at Notion, CEO Ivan Zhao had the same reasoning for implementing a no-shoes policy.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderZhao told Business Insider that he grew up in a shoeless household as well.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderAnd in lieu of a designated shoe cubby, Notion's office is even more pared-down — employees merely kick them off on the floor near the front door.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderEmployees saunter around in slippers and socks ...

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Katie Canales/Business Insider... and foot cushions are placed beneath their desks.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderBoth companies said their offices are outfitted with radiant heated floors to help keep their shoeless workers' feet toasty.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe shoeless practice is an example of startups crafting their own unique company culture.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: LinkedIn

There's a high turnover rate at tech companies, and singling your company out in one way or another can help not only recruit, but retain, techies.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: LinkedIn

On the other hand, some perks that companies offer, like beer on tap and yoga rooms, have been seen as "golden handcuffs" that persuade workers to stay at the office later and work overtime.

Zenefits door

Business Insider/Julie Bort

Source: Forbes and Quartz

Some critics have painted them as more harmful than beneficial to workers as it reinforces the Valley's "work hard/play hard" startup culture.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Quartz and The New York Times

In response, some tech companies are changing the way they implement startup culture for the better.

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Source: Forbes and Business Insider

And some made sure they embraced a healthy culture from the beginning. For Gusto, the company has managed to avoid the fratty company culture often associated with Silicon Valley startups, as Business Insider's Melia Russell writes.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

Fortune magazine has named Gusto one of the 100 best workplaces for millennials.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Fortune

The distinction is likely for a number of factors, but no doubt the cozy office environment and practices are among them.

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Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe company has also earned rave reviews by employees on Glassdoor, with some crediting the company for its "ridiculously generous benefits."

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

Eight years in and the company's growth is notable too. Gusto crossed over into the unicorn club in 2015, and now has a post-money valuation of $3.8 billion.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Crunchbase and Fortune

And Notion — besides attracting so much buzz in Silicon Valley's VC scene that investors were literally knocking on the door — has a tight-knit workforce in San Francisco's Mission District.

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

So maybe they're onto something with bringing the coziness of home into work.

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