Is this KL's coolest office?

PHOTO: Is this KL's coolest office?

After much speculation, Google Malaysia has announced its new home base in Kuala Lumpur. Since August, the tech giant's office has occupied about 10,000 sq ft of space on Level 20 of the Quill 7 building, next to the western entrance of KL Sentral train station and the Sooka Sentral F&B complex.

In the building, Google Malaysia has neighbours such as Axiata Group Bhd (its logo takes pride of place on top of the building), BP Asia Pacific (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, Nokia Siemens Network and private equity firm Navis Capital.

Completed in 2009, the 32-storey Quill 7 was reportedly sold by developer Quill Realty Sdn Bhd (60 per cent owned by the Quill Group and 40 per cent by a fund sponsored by Singapore's CapitaLand Group) to a company linked to the EPF. Today, the building is nearly fully occupied with published rental rates hovering at around RM7.50 per sq ft.

Airport to office in 30 minutes

Google first opened in Malaysia in January 2011, its second country in the region after Singapore in 2007.

"We very much were like a startup then because we were in a one-room windowless office at KLCC," said Sajith Sivanandan, Google Malaysia's country manager during a recent media visit.

"Then we moved to another very small serviced office in Menara Citibank where we kind of grew to the extent that we were literally sitting on one other."

It then took them a few months of design, feedback and development to move into this full-fledged Google office.

"We chose this location because it's very central, and if we get international visitors, they just need to take a train from the airport and then it's a 3 minute 33 second walk here. We also wanted an office which had minimal interference in the core, like an open plan space, with a lot of natural light."

Don't expect brainy software engineers coding here furiously however. The Google Malaysia office is mainly a marketing and sales office devoted to efforts such as the Google Display Network, which places ads on a variety of news sites and blogs.

It would still be the first place in Malaysia to get wind of cutting-edge products coming out of Google headquarters, however. Examples include the driverless car which was recently shown to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on his recent visit to Silicon Valley.

The wearable Google Glass computer, meanwhile, is not publicly available in the US or in Malaysia, but has been used by some Google KL staff.

"And before we can ever release it here, it would need to be approved by Sirim," said Google Malaysia, Pakistan & Bangladesh head of communications & public affairs, Zeffri Yusof.

"It just makes it sound more like illicit commodity, and reminds me of the days when only those who had been invited by existing Gmailers could get a Gmail account.

Let's go local

Another big part of the Malaysian office's work is localising the Google platform. This includes populating Google Maps with real-time traffic data, as well as the highly anticipated Malaysian version of Streetview, which drills down Google Maps into 360 degree street-level perspectives--perfect for scoping out property.

We have yet to see Google StreetView cars on the road with their idiosyncratic roof-mounted cameras (which prompted outrage in privacy-concerned UK communities), but they are apparently coming to a street near you.

"We are currently in the midst of data collection, and we should see some streets coming out within three to four months, and for most of the network to go live within a year or so," added Sajith.

Welcome to the playground

With movies and books which talk about and advise aspirants on getting work at Google, a job there is now considered as desirable as working in Vogue magazine or a top investment bank.

One thing intrinsically tied to the desirability of working there is its famously cool offices.

The KL office is no less brag-worthy. Previously the city's coolest offices have been advertising agency offices, with their atmospheric interiors, pool tables and espresso bars.

And while Google KL may not have a slide from the upper floor to the ground floor as in Google's Tel Aviv office, a meeting room populated by deck chairs as in Google London, or beach hammocks, as in Google Singapore, its Gerai Gugel cafe is beautifully decorated like a forest with swing chairs and colourfully upholstered kopitiam chairs. This is next to a mini amphitheatre with cushions for presentations, and a screen which shows what is trending real-time in terms of worldwide searches. "It feels like a playground," described one journalist at the event.

Like the Singapore office where a few hundred employees occupy three floors in the Asia Square building near Marina Bay, there is a big push towards displaying local character. The moment you step in, a Google logo clad in batik greets you, while a cosy cave-like meeting room is modelled after Sarawak's Niah caves. There's also a putting green, massage chairs and a games room with free arcade games (offering retro favourite, PacMan), Sony XBox terminal and dartboard. The workstations are arranged in clusters within a pillar-free space without partitions, and surrounded by glass windows. "We wanted to be as open as possible and didn't want too many cubicles or rooms," said Sajith.

Free food and drinks!

The trump card, however, is a daily catered lunch buffet, with fresh fruit and salad on ice, open for free to all staff and their guests. It complements several fridges of free sandwiches, drinks and ice-cream too. For these, it's not just Coke, Tiger, Cornetto and Pringles either. The company also stocks Vitagen, Belgian Hoegaarden beer, Magnum ice-cream and imported snacks such as kettle chips, which normally retail for RM13 a packet!

With such a merry and easy-to-access work environment, it's no surprise that the company's partners and clients are often happy to meet here, said Sajith. "This actually saves us money as it enables us to do more meetings in a day, and we don't have charge it outside, which keeps the costs in."

Sajith also emphasises less tangible benefits. Workers can come to work in casual clothes.

"You don't need a suit to make a difference," he said. New mothers get four months' paid maternity leave, as opposed to the statutory two, while new fathers get one month, as opposed to the usual three days. Also, each "Googler" gets 20 per cent of his or her work time to work on any pet project of interest. It's called "a licence to pursue dreams", said Sanjith, which is in fact how Gmail first came about.

There are also no hard and fast work hours. "Googlers are measured on their output, so if that means they leave the office at 3pm, that's fine. Keep in mind though that we are a high- performance company," he added.

The staff in the Malaysian office are predominantly young, aged between their early 20s to mid-30s, and local, except for three to four expats.

Originally from India, Sajith has been a Googler for nearly six years. "I worked in television in India, a consulting firm in Singapore, and a mobile startup in Singapore before I joined Google," said Sanjith. "In Google I've done various things like, managing travel vertical ad sales for South-East Asia, with customers such as airlines and hotels who use our services."

You can make money without being evil

Underpinning Google's cool office and work culture, said Sajith, is its utopian philosophy. "You can make money without being evil" is the company's almost child-like motto.

"We are a company that is very open, transparent, innovative and our workplace here hopefully represents that."

Make money, it certainly has. The year's second quarter alone saw the global company earning over US$14bil (RM45.18bil) in revenue, feeding over 40,000 staff in 129 offices within 57 countries. The company recorded US$3bil in net income.

Ironically, Sanjith was hesitant to share more local figures, such as the investment made into the local office, revenue targets and even current staff size. "I'd rather not get into the numbers," he said.

What he emphasised however is that the establishment of the new office, with room to grow, indicates the importance Google places on Malaysia. Indeed, beyond the colourful interior design and an cost, the office will hopefully bring creativity and an alternative means of productivity to the country's economic spaces. Make mine also one with free beer!