Creative offices where staff may find it harder to leave for home

Creative offices where staff may find it harder to leave for home

While many employees head straight out the door at the end of the day, staff at Airbnb, Twitter and Facebook here may find it harder to leave their offices.

That is because their workplaces are creative open-concept designs with facilities and equipment that cater to the ways different people work. All three offices also boast impressive pantries.

The three multinationals have recently moved into their new - and bigger - digs in Singapore.

In January, holiday rental and accommodation site Airbnb moved into its three-storey Singapore office in Cecil Street from a shophouse space in Neil Road.

Last August, social media powerhouse Facebook set up its Singapore headquarters in South Beach Tower, the office component of the South Beach mixed-use development in Beach Road.

It is an ever-expanding space. When it first moved in, Facebook took up five floors. About three months ago, staff got their own cafeteria on Level 33, the topmost floor of South Beach Tower. The office will take over two more floors in the coming months.

Meanwhile, social networking service Twitter made its way from a serviced office in the Central Business District to a 22,000 sq ft single-level space in CapitaGreen in Market Street in June last year.

A look into Twitter's Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore

At all three offices, workstations cater to different work styles.

For example, standing desks that can be adjusted for height are a must, as are casual break-out spaces for group discussions. For those who want some downtime, there are cloistered booths for privacy.

The offices also have an enlightened, generous view of employee welfare. Think all-day pantries, game rooms with foosball tables, catered lunches and beer on tap.

All three companies decline to reveal costs, but their interiors reflect each brand's ethos and its youthful, fun vibe. These design elements are common to the companies' other offices around the world.

For example, just as some Airbnb's meeting rooms here are modelled after properties showcased on its website, its headquarters in San Francisco, Sydney and Seoul also boast replicas of its Instagram- worthy listings.

Facebook's building in California uses simple and raw materials such as concrete and glass. Designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, it has the world's largest open-plan office, where about 2,800 employees share one large room.

Facebook's Singapore office mirrors the same industrial open- concept design. To achieve consistency, designers here tasked to revamp these offices visited the American headquarters to get a sense of the original designs.

Ms Penny Sloane, 35, managing director of Siren Design Singapore, which did up Facebook and Twitter's offices here, says many companies are moving away from cookie-cutter layouts and "cubicles hidden away behind tall screens".

Spaces are multi-functional and designed for staff to collaborate and bond, instead of working alone. For instance, Twitter's Commons Area gets busy at meal times, but the furniture is rolled away during events to make room for more people to mingle easily.

Food also plays a big part in bringing people together, Ms Sloane notes. This is why pantries, sprawling kitchen islands and dining spaces are being incorporated into offices.

She adds: "Depending on your role in the office, you need a space that helps you perform well. For example, those who sit in on many meetings need comfortable furniture and good technical support. When you have happy employees, you get higher productivity."

Airbnb went a step further and involved employees in the design of the office. Their job was to decorate 18 meeting rooms. Of these, 13 were made to resemble chosen properties on the company website and they had free rein with the other five.

For example, game room Belo 6 was designed to look like the mission control centre of a spaceship. Belo is the name of Airbnb's logo.

Staff were split into groups and had to get accessories within a budget. Though they had to do this after office hours, the response to the open call was overwhelming, says an Airbnb spokesman.

Multi-disciplinary studio Farm, which was hired to design Airbnb Singapore's office, guided the staff.

Mr Selwyn Low, 37, a director at Farm who worked on Airbnb, calls it a "massive sourcing project" as they had to scour shops and search online for similar pieces that matched what they saw in the listings. Construction of the office started in October last year.

Mr Peter Sim, 41, a director at Farm who also worked on the project, adds: "Airbnb's way of designing fits its open work culture. It may not be a style that fits every company, but it works here. Getting employees involved also gives them ownership of their space in the office."

Ms Kelly Coldwell, 33, the regional recruitment manager for Airbnb's Asia-Pacific operations who is based here, agrees that a fun office can make it hard to go home. She says: "I like that Airbnb has a 'belong anywhere' approach, which extends to the spaces we work in. It encourages collaboration and with free seating, it creates an inclusive space that brings my colleagues and me together. We've worked hard to create a space where we can feel comfortable and inspired. We don't go to work every day - we come home."

TWITTER

CapitaGreen, 138 Market Street, Level 22

It is not a Twitter office without a bird motif.

Aside from the social media brand's famed bird icon called Larry - after Larry Bird, an NBA basketball legend in the 1980s - that dots its stylish office, all 20 meeting rooms are also named after a range of birds, from actual species such as the emu and hornbill to mythological ones such as the phoenix.

Birdcage decorations hang from the ceiling in the Commons Area, an expansive hall-like space which doubles as a lunch area and an event hall. A serene spot called The Library is wallpapered with a glossy print of birds.

Continuing the avian theme is an art installation by Lasalle College of the Arts students, which fronts the Real Time Lab. This is Twitter's high-tech social media centre where live Twitter campaigns, analytics and data visualisations are carried out.

Using blue yarn, an outline of Larry is pinned to a world map and tagged with first tweets from each of the official Asia-Pacific country accounts.

This is Twitter's Asia-Pacific headquarters. Staff, who worked out of a serviced office when the brand arrived here in 2013, launched the new space officially in June last year.

The 22,000 sq ft office houses about 80 employees, though it can take up to 200. It is an upgrade from its smaller, no-frills office at Samsung Hub, an office building nearby.

Thanks to the help of Siren Design Singapore, Singapore and Asian influences are apparent in the new space.

Behind the reception desk, there is a screen fashioned from Malaysia- made concrete breezeway blocks in different patterns. This is a feature in old houses here that improves ventilation and keeps out the sun.

Peranakan-inspired floor tiles, laced with Twitter's official blue shade, are the eye-catching feature in the Commons Area.

With two marble-top kitchen islands and well-stocked fridges and shelves with snacks such as chips and granola bars, this multi-functional space can be used as a lunch area. The tables and seats can be removed to host more people when needed.

And instead of plain walls, black-and-white "window walls" inspired by traditional shophouse windows have been put in.

Metal window grilles, commonly found in old housing estates here, are installed throughout the open- concept office and used as screens to delineate spaces. Pocket wall planters on the grilles add greenery.

Those with gadget problems can head to the IT Helpdesk. Set up like a bar, those who need technological help can perch on high stools while waiting for technical kinks to be ironed out.

Other quirky features include a vending machine that dispenses free Twitter merchandise such as T-shirts during some events and a small pantry with a pancake-maker.

Ms Aliza Knox, 56, Twitter's vice-president of online sales for Asia-Pacific and emerging markets, says the new space follows Twitter's #Home4good philosophy, which the company sticks to when designing its offices. This follows a natural theme, which is why elements such as the colour blue, birds, wood and plants are used often in the decor.

She says: "The decor makes it a brighter and happier place. While there are no concrete statistics to relate interior design to an improvement in productivity, we've had only positive comments since we moved in, both internally and externally, which help to boost employee morale overall."

AIRBNB

158 Cecil Street, levels 12 to 14

Every time staff at Airbnb head to a meeting, they get to have a glimpse of the world without having to hop on a plane.

Of its 18 meeting rooms, 13 are decorated in the likeness of homes found on the property rental website, which was started in San Francisco in 2008. Today, Airbnb has more than two million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

A roomy bathtub takes centre stage in the Byron Bay meeting room. But while guests can soak in the tub when they stay at The Boat Shed in the Australian beachside town, the one in this meeting room has been converted into a table. It has a glass top so staff can work on it.

Other cool listings that made the cut include an Andy Warhol- inspired art loft in Bangkok, Thailand; and a cottage in Auckland, New Zealand, that brings the outdoors inside as the meeting room is decorated with props such as a faux fireplace.

To help Singapore design firm Farm achieve Airbnb's eclectic decor, staff worked together in small teams and sourced for decorations and furniture pieces that were similar to the property they picked.

Airbnb's new Singapore office offers "trip around the world in minutes"

Airbnb started its Singapore office in 2012 with 20 people working in a shophouse in Neil Road. It has since grown - it declines to give headcount numbers - and has taken over the former premises of Facebook, a three-storey, 30,000 sq ft office in Cecil Road.

Farm worked hints of Singapore flavour into the space. For example, the industrial-looking central staircase - coloured in the brand's signature coral-like shade - is encased by perforated concrete cubes reminiscent of traditional ventilation blocks in housing projects here.

Kopitiam chairs, ubiquitous in Singapore, are used in the cafeteria, while products such as porcelain plates by Singapore design outfit Supermama and a dragon-shaped rocker by Singapore-based furniture label Hinika are used as decorations.

Like many modern offices, the workspaces cater to a variety of working styles.

Employees can sit at any desk on any level and have their own lockers. Those who want to get off their seats once in a while can head to standing desks, which can be adjusted for height.

For quiet moments, there are work booths that keep chatty colleagues away or a library hidden behind a concealed door where conversation is not encouraged.

Ms Grace Auyong, 30, a social media associate with the company, likes the free seating. "It is refreshing to have no seating restrictions. I can be sitting by the pantry with a colleague from marketing in the morning and spend the rest of the afternoon working at the private standing desks. Our assigned tasks dictate how we use the spaces and this creates a more productive environment."

Other creature comforts include kitchen pantries on every level which are stocked with items such as cereals. The staff also get free meals from food start-ups such as sandwiches from Park Bench Deli.

To bolster office camaraderie, staff can head to the Giraffe Stand on Level 13, where shelves of cards, markers and stickers are available for them to pen messages to colleagues.

FACEBOOK

South Beach Tower, 38 Beach Road, Levels 22 to 26 and Level 33

Employees will find it hard to be bored at Facebook's new Asia- Pacific headquarters here.

The office is spread across the 22nd to 26th floors in South Beach Tower, a new mixed-development property in the Beach Road area. Staff can eat for free at a cafeteria on Level 33.

Its design reflects the hip, feel- good, millennial ethos of the American social media company. After all, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room in 2004, when he was just 20.

As any teenager lying in bed with a laptop doing homework will tell you, there is a thin line between work and play.

From the design, Facebook seems to believe that recreation and relaxation are key ingredients in creativity and productivity.

On Level 23, a mahjong table, complete with tiles, invites staff to have an impromptu game.

Each floor is kitted out with a Micro Kitchen stocked with free goodies such as juices, granola and chips.

There is also the famed Facebook Wall, a staple in every Facebook office around the world, and everyone is offered markers to "Write Something".

Siren Design Singapore was the interior designer of Facebook Singapore's office. Facebook, which has been in Singapore since 2010, declines to reveal staff headcount.

The decor is young and urban. Generally, Facebook offices have a trendy, industrial look, with cement floors and exposed ceiling pipes. The raw, unfinished look reflects its philosophy that "(their) journey is only 1 per cent finished".

But there are spots of colour too.

Artworks by a variety of artists adorn the hallways of Facebook's office here. A must-see work: Multi- disciplinary Singaporean artist Dawn Ng covers the internal staircase with acrylic pink strips, making it seem as if the stairs are covered in post-party confetti.

Besides providing a photogenic workplace, Facebook also takes employee welfare seriously.

All staff get adjustable standing desks. More active workers can head to the Treadmill Room for a workout on the exercise machine attached to a workstation - they can type on their laptops while walking. The bonus is the view of Singapore's cityscape through a floor-to-ceiling window.

When staff need to post their work-related mail, they head to the Ship Happens Mail Room, where they can also collect laundry that they have dropped off.

To cut the hassle of waiting for gadgets, there are vending machines that dispense free technological necessities such as keyboards.

Occasionally, one can see number-shaped helium balloons bobbing at employees' tables. Anyone celebrating a work anniversary at Facebook - known as a Faceversary to staff - is sent a shiny balloon marking his time there.

The piece de resistance is the cafeteria on Level 33, the highest floor in the building.

There, a team of professional chefs - including a pastry chef - mans five food stations that include international, Indian and local cuisine, available free to employees for three meals of the day. Some dishes use premium ingredients such as wagyu beef and foie gras.

Here, there is also a salad bar and fridges stocked with sparkling and still water.

Ms Eriko Talley, Facebook's head of human resources for the Asia- Pacific region, describes the open vibe as being part of Facebook's culture.

Ms Talley, who declines to give her age, says: "Each office is designed to embody the Facebook culture and reflect our headquarters at Menlo Park, while incorporating flavours of the city and country that we're in.

"Everything at Facebook, including the facilities, office design and collaboration tools, is designed to help us make an impact on our work."


This article was first published on April 9, 2016.
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