Most offices can feel more institutional than welcoming with their gray cubicles, gray carpets and gray walls. But some companies have a different take on how the work environment impacts employees and productivity. These businesses take a different, often fun-loving approach to workplace amenities and design. (To learn more, see What Makes A Great Workplace?)

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Google
It's not an office; it's a Googleplex. The Mountain View, Calif., headquarters of the world's most popular search engine emphasizes two elements: sustainability and community. Google's environmentally conscious approach to its offices is reflected in the durable quartz carpeting that lines the floors, LEED-certified furniture, bicycles and plug-in hybrid cars for employees to use to get to meetings. An organic garden on the premises produces some of the food used in the 19 cafes in the Googleplex (some of which offer three meals each day). Community and engagement across departments and levels is encouraged through lunchtime beach volleyball games, four gyms, foosball tables, pool tables, video games and ping pong tables.

Red Bull Headquarters
The Austrian energy drink maker's London headquarters has a slick design with plenty of movement, which, according to designer Jump Studios, reflects the brand itself. The office brings employees and clients together with plenty of communal work and break spaces dotted throughout the building. Jump's challenge was to meld two separate office spaces together while creating a coherent design.

The result? A dynamic workplace with the blue, silver and red space-age coloring of the drink's cans, a shiny white slide that leads employees from the second floor to the first and a floating staircase that joins the two floors. Slick meeting rooms and a high number of communal meeting places ensure that work will be done in non-traditional spaces.

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Pixar Headquarters
Pixar Studios, the animation studio that brought audiences the "Toy Story" series, "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo", got a facelift from architect and interior designer Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Although the Emeryville, Calif., headquarters houses 600 employees at this time, the new design can accommodate more than 1,000 workers - the number that former CEO Steve Jobs anticipated will be working there in the future. A 200,000 square-foot atrium, made of glass and steel, serves as a community hub for the offices that surround it.

Since they're in the business of making movies, the architecture firm ensured employees could critique their own work in one of three theaters - one 600-seater with THX sound, and two 40-seat screening rooms. There's both a gym and a cafe in the atrium, an outdoor amphitheater that seats 600 and a soccer field. Landscape architects Peter Walker Partners also took great pains with the outdoor design of Pixar's HQ to create natural nooks for employees for meetings or lunch, an organic veggie garden and a meadow filled with wild flowers. (Want to learn how to cash-in on Pixar's success? Check out Analyzing Show Biz Stocks.)

Bahnhof - White Mountain Office
Looking more like Batman's bat cave or Dr. Evil's lair, the Bahnhof, White Mountain Office in Sweden is a jaw-dropping architectural feat. Designed by Albert France-Lanord Architects, the challenge was to take a former anti-atomic shelter and turn it into a data center or host server for Swedish ISP Bahnhof. The space, located deep beneath Stockholm's streets, is essentially a cave where rough, granite walls meet modern glass and steel designs. Though the space is underground, colorful lights highlight elements from its bomb-shelter days, as well as green foliage that makes the space more inviting. A glass meeting room hovers above the main atrium of the 1,200 sq-meter office space, with a flat-screen television and shiny glass office furniture. Bahnhof, White Mountain may not be the dream workplace for all, but it's definitely cool.

ING House
Meyer en Van Schooten designed the headquarters for financial services company ING Group, based in Amsterdam. The building looks as if it came down from space and landed on the stilts it rests on (designed so that the building can be seen from the highway). The design is innovative from an environmental standpoint as well, with a natural ventilation system that also prevents the sound of traffic from permeating the glass facade of the building. The company self-describes its headquarters as being reflective of the image of the business itself: "innovative and transparent, dynamic and sustainable". On the interior, employees enjoy access to a library, a restaurant, 800 square meters of conference rooms and an auditorium that can seat 250 people. The building design also encourages employees to make themselves comfortable in what are called "flexible workstations", that allow workers to set up shop in a variety of locales within the building. There are also six gardens on the interior of this futuristic design. (For more, check out The Globalization Of Financial Services.)

The Bottom Line
Beyond the fun element, there are good business reasons to create a dramatic or welcoming workplace. A place that offers added comforts like good food, natural light and cozy workspaces could add that extra edge to attract high-quality staff. Plus, current employees may enjoy higher productivity levels in their cushy digs. (Not lucky enough to be in an office so "liberating"? Check out 10 Office Exercises To Combat Stress And Weight Gain.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Lions And Diapers And Dows, Oh My!

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