Office

New HQ of tech firms in Silicon Valley

2017.11

Technology firms disrupt Silicon Valley with another eye catcher: New HQ
Office
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I. Traditional corporate offices vs. new headquarters of top Silicon Valley tech firms

The recent flood of images online of futuristic new headquarter designs from the top tech firms in Silicon Valley shows offices that look nothing like traditional corporate buildings people are used to seeing.

  • Traditional corporate office buildings
    • They are high rise buildings, with employees and teams scattered across multiple floors.
    • Each team works in its designated work area where everyone has their own cubicle, while the upper management works where they can watch over all of the employees. Upper management gets their own “corner office”, a setup where employees cannot see what the executive is doing, but he or she can always open the door and check on the workers. The setup is very one-way.
    • Employees are mostly stationary and do not move very much during their workday, staying put in their private workstations. It is rare to see an employee freely working in a café or an outdoor bench, given the environment.
    • Moreover, interactions with co-workers outside of the team are very limited. Employees only see them for meetings with set-agendas and return to their respective workstations once the meeting is over. The office is usually very quiet.
    • Headquarters are only comprised of workspaces and lack facilities (such as communal eating areas/ cafeteria /gym) which pushs employees out of the office for lunch breaks and work breaks.
    • From the outside, these corporate headquarters may have their own distinctive look and lavish styles, but inside, dry work environments (as described above) [1]are the norm.
  • Silicon Valley Tech Firm Headquarters
    • They are spacious buildings constructed low to the ground, which house all of their employees.
    • The open workspace is reflective of their horizontal working culture, which flips the traditional isolated “corner office” setup on its head.
    • Employees each have their own workspaces, but prefer to work freely in whichever space they want – cafeterias, parks, meeting rooms, sofas, or individual seats. Employees are comfortable with communicating with coworkers and members outside of their own team, not at a fixed location.
    • Employees can access restaurants, fitness centers, and cafes which are all available inside the headquarters so that they do not have to leave during breaks or lunch hours.
    • The outer appearance is fairly simple, but inside offices have high tech systems that regulate light, temperature, and humidity. Their interior designs convey their brand identity to their employees and visitors.

Now recently, Silicon Valley tech firms have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the construction and design of “new headquarters” to change their offices to be even more innovative than they already are.

  • Top Silicon Valley tech firms like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Nvidia are constructing “spaces where workers can innovatively and creatively collaborate with one another” pushing forward with new large scale construction projects.
  • Apple invested $6 BN in the design and construction of “Apple Park” and Nvidia has poured in $500 MN to a new triangular shaped headquarters called “Endeavor.”

What do the new campuses of top Silicon Valley tech firms look like inside?
Why are these firms pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into constructing new and sprawling office parks?
What does a workspace mean to these firms?
What does your workspace mean to you?


II. Headquarters of top Silicon Valley tech firms

Facebook’s new campus is the world’s largest “open plan office with a rooftop garden”, purposefully designed to encourage employees to bump into one another in open spaces.

  • The core values that characterize Facebook’s new campus are “flexibility”, “transparency”, “communication” and “interaction with Silicon Valley”
  • Facebook’s new campus spans 430,000 square feet and is constructed low to the ground. The internal layout consists of open plan offices with no partitions, walls, or doors, so as to maximize the chances of employees bumping into each other.
  • The office is 7m tall (twice the height of traditional offices), and there are 4.6m high large windows that flood the entire office with natural light. Every part of the office design is intentional, and light, temperature, and humidity are tightly managed to create a healthy working environment.
  • The office features a rooftop garden where employees can rest their minds and get fresh air. It also has a track that circles the rooftop garden, which can be used for walking meetings.
  • Headquarters house facilities like cafeterias, game rooms, and cafes, encouraging Facebook employees to stay inside the office where all their needs are provided.
  • CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg sits side-by-side on a plain white desk with the rest of the employees, which reflects the horizontal and open working culture he wishes to foster. Zuckerberg is famously wary of barriers to communication between employees, the main reason why he prefers his office to be low to the ground. He firmly believes that having multiple floors in the office serves as communication barriers and a [2] slippery slope that could lead to poor communication in the office.
  • He prefers productive discussions huddled around whiteboards and walking meetings with nature as the backdrop. Hence, the office is filled with whiteboards, and the entire office rooftop is a garden.

The “Apple Park,” which resembles a large spaceship, embodies Steve Jobs’ philosophy that “the greatest inspiration comes from nature and that endless brainstorming is the key to creative innovative products”

  • Core themes of Apple’s new headquarters are “Creative Inspiration” and “Endless Brainstorming”, values that Steve Jobs held dear and worked to build into the design of the new office.
  • Steve Jobs believed that “the best work and thinking is done when you go out into nature” and envisioned an office nestled in the natural environment. He saw in Stanford - a university surrounded by a sprawling forest and thousands of trees where some of the brightest minds work together to make the world a better place - hope for creating “an organization that embraces and interacts with nature.” Jobs worked with the world’s top architects to design the Apple Park, a huge circular shaped headquarters with 9,000 trees, and pledged to invest $6BN for its construction.
  • Jobs insisted on “a building that breathes the outside air while maintaining optimal temperature and humidity.” His vision led to the creation of a high-tech natural ventilation system that allows the office to circulate outside air while maintaining optimal temperature and humidity inside.
  • To maximize brainstorming and collaboration, Jobs created modular sections known as pods. Jobs’ idea was to repeat those pods over and over (a pod for office work, a pod for teamwork, a pod for socializing, etc) so that the office would be a “workplace where people can be open to each other and share thoughts more freely.” Also, to create a more fluid working environment that allows for more chance encounters through meals and physical activities (which could spark new ideas and collaborations), Jobs had a huge restaurant and “Wellness Center” built into the office.
  • He firmly believed that the ideal creative and collaborative office [3] is at the intersection of highly advanced architecture and vast greenery. With this belief, he then [4] channeled all of his energy into constructing a workspace that was active, creative, and healthy.

Nvidia’s polygon “Endeavor” headquarters aims to be “a sprawling campus for collaboratively developing world-class, state of the art technology”

  • Nvidia’s new headquarters was designed with the values of “collaboration” “communication” and “work.”
  • The office was designed in a large triangular shape with six sides (a geometric choice that is the symbol of the company) and on a vast scale similar to that of Facebook’s new headquarters (7 soccer fields and 46,400㎡) with four floors. The finished office stands two stories high to minimize barriers between teams, in accordance with Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang’s message that “the moment the workspace is compartmentalized and divided into many floors, the company becomes irrelevant.”
  • The corners of the new office act as private workstations to promote focused work while the central lobby (called the “Heart”) is intentionally designed as an activity-filled space that serves as a critical location where all employees can come together to collaborate and communicate. The headquarters are designed such that employees must pass through the “Heart” to get anywhere to enable chance encounters and for employees to bump into each other. The lobby area also has many staircases such that people may mobilize efficiently. At the same time, Nvidia has used its own technology to develop a system that regulates the temperature, humidity, and light inside the office to optimize productivity and cooperation.
  • Nvidia’s new headquarters has been dubbed the “Massive Collaboration Stadium”

Google, with its collection of 65 low-rise office buildings that comprise the Googleplex, has introduced its new headquarters design which looks like a giant high-tech translucent canopy. The designs reflect the company’s desire to be more nature friendly and open and also promote more intuitive thinking.

  • The core values that shape Google’s new headquarter designs are “interaction with nature” and “community engagement”
  • The current Googleplex is a collection of 65 low-rise office buildings which are spread out to resemble a college campus. The name “Google Campus” is derived from how much the Googleplex resembles a university setting and its collegial working environment. The 65 buildings are of low height, and the complex sprawls out over a large area of land. The layout reduces the many stresses of working in a big office building (constantly running into people, distance between point A to point B, and outside scenery blocked from view) and fosters team focus and cohesion. Additionally, the mostly one story buildings eliminate the communication barriers that exist in offices with multiple floors. All around the Googleplex are hundreds of free bikes for employees to ride, which makes moving around the complex more fun and convenient. There are private workstations, coworking spaces, and cafes in each of the Google Campus buildings which boost productivity. There are many tables and chairs outside buildings, which promote outdoor meetings and communication. The design of the Googleplex allows for a collegial and nature friendly working environment, which is key to purity and creativity.
  • Recently, Google unveiled designs of its new headquarters, a sprawling workspace housed in a futuristic translucent canopy. The new headquarters are two stories high, with the first floor open to members of the local community in order to improve engagement and urge Google’s products and services to be more accommodating to the general public. The second floor is a dedicated workspace for employees (maintaining the single-story office) and is housed in a highly specialized translucent dome, which gives employees a panoramic view of the outdoor view and optimizes the balance of light, temperature, and humidity inside the complex.

III. Similarities between the headquarters of top Silicon Valley tech firms

The similarities between the new offices of the top technology firms are outlined below:

  • A preference for low rise and spacious single story buildings over high rise clustered office buildings: Founders of top Silicon Valley firms believe that compartmentalized working environments with multiple floors impede communication between employees.
  • A strong preference for open offices: Instead of dividing teams by partitions and employees by cubicles, tech firms do away with all physical barriers. The traditional “corner office” is swapped out for a CEO who sits side-by-side with the rest of the employees. Aside from classified projects, everyone works in an open working space.
  • An abundance of private-coworking and social spaces: Since working all-day in one’s own private work station harms productivity, firms have set up meeting rooms, cafes, outdoor benches, and private booths all over the office.
  • Workspaces open to nature: Workspaces are located and designed to be very much a part of nature, which reflects the belief that “nature affords employees the peace of mind and freedom that leads to creative thinking.” Collaborative work that happens out in nature guides employees to think more perceptively and come up with more intuitive solutions to users’ needs.
  • An optimal balance of light, temperature, and humidity indoors: Firms design office buildings that are able to “breathe” as to make employees feel as though they are a part of nature.
  • A variety of facilities: Various facilities including cafes, restaurants, fitness centers, and daycare centers are located inside the headquarters so that employees are encouraged to stay in the office. There is a strong belief that maximizing employee time within the office will mean heightened productivity and collaboration.

→ Through the design and construction of innovative new headquarters, top Silicon Valley tech firms are improving communication between workers, optimizing the level of focus and efficiency of every employee, and creating an organization that stays true to its core principles and culture.


IV. Conclusion: A first hand account of Stanford University’s campus buildings which inspired Steve Jobs’ design of “Apple Park”

During my 2 years at the Stanford University MBA program, I saw that “Stanford MBA buildings have been designed and constructed with the very values that the top Silicon Valley firms hold dear.”

  • Students rarely go up to the second floor of the building. More than 90% of the classes take place in the first floor classrooms, not to mention the cafes, the dining halls, and lounges (all located on the first floor).
  • The Stanford GSB building (the MBA building) is designed to direct student traffic to the central courtyard, as to promote chance encounters and spark conversations. Behind the courtyard is the main library, to the right are the labs where professors work, to the left is the main dining hall, and in the front are the lecture halls. To get anywhere, students must go through the main courtyard where there is always a flurry of activity and interaction.
  • The temperature and humidity inside the lecture halls and libraries were always maintained at the right levels. Whenever I walked inside, I felt “great and positively energized.”
  • All of the buildings were tall and had high ceilings, despite having less floors. For example, the main library was as tall as a 7-8 story building, but was only four floors high. The dining hall was as tall as a 4 story building, but there was only one floor. Windows were built into every side of the building, which looked out into the outside greenery. In the classroom I could always look out the window and rest my eyes on the green trees outside, which helped me gain comfort and peace of mind.
  • The campus is filled with trees. Signature palm trees line the walk between buildings, and a huge growth of trees surrounds the entire campus. The tall blue sky was always there for me to rest my eyes. In the evenings, lamps and nice music created an environment where students could come outside, sit around and talk freely about big questions like “what matters most to me.”

During my two years at Stanford University and Silicon Valley, I was able to understand why founders of top Silicon Valley tech firms emphasize the importance of nature and honest communication between employees.

  • Takeaway 1: When people are in nature, people find greater peace of mind and are urged to think about what is most important in life, as opposed to when they are in a dense city. Moreover, conversations that take place outdoors in nature tend to be more honest, pure, and have more perspective. They allow problem solvers to see the core issues and inspire great solutions. Also, being in nature fosters focus and health. Nature has the power to give people peace of mind and purity of thought, I t induces honest conversation and inspires real solutions.
  • Takeaway 2: Creative solutions to big issues of modern life require both wisdom of the crowd and organized independent thinking. This is why spaces intentionally designed to be comfortable and conducive to both communication and focus are necessary for workers in the 21st century.
  • Takeaway 3: The working environment affects productivity and a consistent environment is conducive to high levels of focus. For example, hot and humid weather leads to fatigue whereas cold and dry weather makes people inflexible and rigid. A working environment that fluctuates from hot and cold, humid to dry, negatively impacts the condition of the employees inside of it. I have observed that maintaining ideal conditions of the workplace is crucial for enhancing focus and reducing energy loss.

I believe that the core of the phenomenon (of top tech firms erecting new headquarters) is their drive to bring out and optimize the potential of their employees as efficiently as possible.

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