Beltsville’s Vocus Provides Its Employees With a “Village” Environment (Photos)

The tech company’s massive “campus” houses a basketball court, a post office, a radio station, and more.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

The trend of multipurpose, livable, and even fun office environments started in the Silicon Valley. Google’s “campus” in Mountain View, California, instantly became famous for its uncommon, colorful, and playful office plan. Other tech entrepreneurs tried to emulate Google, wanting to provide workers with an office culture that was innovative but also fun enough to distract them from the often ridiculously long hours. Seaside, on Florida’s Emerald Coast, is not an office complex but a planned community that was designed to replicate an old-fashioned beach town, complete with stores, restaurants, and white picket fences, which served all the needs of residents. Combine the Google concept and the Seaside concept and you’ll have a taste of what’s going on at Vocus in Beltsville, Maryland. “We’ve taken a 100,000-square-foot warehouse space and made a town out of it,” says CEO Rick Rudman. The space was designed by OTJ Architects, a firm with offices in downtown DC as well as Charleston, South Carolina and Los Angeles, California.

Rudman’s 1,100 employees don’t live at Vocus, but that’s about the only part that’s missing from the massive Disney-esque office design, which centers on its own Main Street and includes a spa, a gym with a basketball court, eateries, a post office, a candy store, a planned radio station, and lounges themed as a book and record store, a safari camp, and a tropical outpost. The conference rooms also have exterior themes that relate to small-village businesses—a barber shop and a community college, for instance. Unlike the Silicon Valley model, Vocus employees are not expected to perform 24/7. Rudman talks about a “work-life balance.” What he wants is for them to have everything they need during a typical 8:30 to 5:30 workday, because there’s not much else near them in their warehouse-dense section of Prince George’s County.

What is Vocus? It’s a marketing company that provides a menu of modern platform services through its software. Its online description states: “Vocus provides an integrated suite that combines social marketing, search marketing, e-mail marketing, and publicity into a comprehensive solution to help businesses attract, engage, and retain customers.” Rudman says the company is profitable enough to have hired 500 people since the beginning of the year and is now looking to add about 300 more before the end of this year and into 2013. “We’ll generate $15 million in free cash flow this year, and there will be more growth next year,” he says. Thursday night Vocus hosted an open house for prospective new hires, and, according to the company’s publicist, approximately 400 people showed up to meet executives and tour the facility.

Rudman, 51, is a former sergeant in the Air Force, where he received advanced training in electronics and computers. Before founding Vocus in 1992, he worked for two other software companies, where he was variously a computer programmer and an accountant.

Rudman says that from the first moments he and his partners began plotting Vocus, “we dreamed of building an office that was like a town. Seaside is a huge influence.” He even named the faux book and record store “Sundog” after Seaside’s popular funky independent bookstore. And there are details like bits of picket fence and a canopied interior piazza. The “flower shop,” which is actually a conference room, has artificial flowers in the window. Behind the facade of Main Street are more conventional offices. The executive suite looks like the executive suite in almost any corporation. Huge, light-flooded rooms of cubicles are scattered throughout the complex. In all, Rudman says, Vocus has 600 office spaces. Most of the employees work in sales. “We also have services people, finance, and R&D. The job openings we have are in every area of the company.” He’s thinking of providing shuttle bus service from Metro stops in College Park and Greenbelt. Currently, some of the staff members commute from as far away as Arlington. Parking is at a premium, a problem Rudman says he knows he has to remedy.

“We did this because we thought it would be cool,” he says of the village concept. “But by having these gathering spaces, we have found that workers interact, and there is increased productivity, a surprise benefit.”