Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Behind the scenes at Twitter HQ: is this millennial workplace utopia?

From the office choir, to work anniversary assemblies, to free paleo food and Kombucha tea — Twitter's San Francisco HQ is any young professional's dream

The outdoor area means staff can work in the sunlight whenever they want. Courtesy Twitter. 
The outdoor area means staff can work in the sunlight whenever they want. Courtesy Twitter. 

The first thing I encountered walking into Twitter HQ was the cluster of people assembled neatly by the door. There was probably only about 10 or so of them, amassed in a semicircle, clutching pieces of paper.

And then they began to sing.

I walked past in a state of bewilderment, wondering what would prompt a group of grown humans to break into song in the middle of the workday.

"That's our choir," the woman accompanying me to a meeting room said, in response to my aghast expression.

My eyes grew continuously rounder as we encountered the canteen, passing by counters entitled vegetarian ("nice touch"), vegan ("wow, they really cater to everyone") and paleo ("what is this place?").

It was only then that I noted the number of sneans-clad staff in my near vicinity, the fridges stocked high with free refreshments and the plethora of non-desk seating arrangements.

I could only assume this was a play room for adults. That, or this was actual millennial workplace heaven.

The 1937 Art Deco building isn't exactly what you'd expect from an ultra modern start-up

My visit to Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco's yet-to-be-gentrified Tenderloin district began as any business meeting in this neck of the woods should; in that I arrived by Tesla Uber, after being offered a bite of my driver's Ceasar Salad.

Standing outside the soaring Art Deco building, I wondered if there had been a mistake in the address. It looked grimy and old – the furthest from what I'd expect the flagship outpost of a $27 billion Silicon Valley company to command. Who knew modern tech companies had such a penchant for pre-World War II architecture?

Wandering meekly inside, I asked for directions and was told by door staff to seek out the "woman standing in the lobby".

Feeling like I was in the initial stages of an escape room, but without any hints, I approached the only other person nearby – a young-ish woman wearing a puffer jacket and jeans, leaning against a pillar.

"Um, I'm looking for the Twitter office?" I almost whispered, as if I actually was asking for a secret code. She had my ID and was buzzing me up in two seconds flat.

The Twitter Songbirds are the company's choir. Courtesy Twitter. 
The Twitter Songbirds are the company's choir. Courtesy Twitter. 

Twitter has its own choir, and they compete against other start-ups at competitive concerts

From the moment you enter Twitter HQ, it's as if the company wants you to subliminally believing you are actually a small, white bird. Everything here has the Twitter logo, from the coffee mugs, to a stray wall, to the laptop skins, to the drinks machine.

But that kind of company pride could be typical of any office, right? Well, that's where the similarities end.

First, there's the choir. This is Twitter's very own a capella group, the Songbirds. These guys perform at regional and national events, and most recently took to the stage at Techapella 2018. What is Techapella, you ask? Well, only the informal, non-competitive concert to showcase a capella groups from around Silicon Valley. It's where you'll find the Pintunes (Pinterest), the Keynotes (Apple), Syncopation (DropBox), The Vocal Network (Facebook), Airbnbeats (guess) and InTune (LinkedIn). Duh.

As we leave the wafting melodies behind, we wander along plant-ridden halls until we're faced with the colossal canteen area: guaranteed to make you, your coffee machine and too-small work fridge situation look inferior since 2014.

The meal counters at Twitter HQ cater to everyone from vegetarians to vegans to those on a paleo diet. Courtesy Twitter. 
The meal counters at Twitter HQ cater to everyone from vegetarians to vegans to those on a paleo diet. Courtesy Twitter. 

There's an endless array of free food – and Kombucha on tap

Here we have a labyrinthine set of food counters designed for seemingly any type of food consumer. Menus change on a daily basis, and there's the likes of a four-course tasting menu, or other a la carte options, which offer options like gluten-free or "comfort".

Halal options are also available, and during Ramadan, staff who are fasting can take dinner home with them, which comes with an easy iftar meal.

And yes, as you look solemnly down at your brought-from-home sandwich, it is all completely free.

Nearby fridges are stocked high with juices and sodas, there's a seemingly endless array of coffee machines, and there's Kombucha tea on tap. Yes, that's right. A Kombucha tap. Did I mention the pick n' mix area, yet?

Food waste isn't a problem in this magical universe, because the company partners with a local organisation called Food Runners, which donates leftovers to the community.

Basking in the sunlight and working go hand-in-hand here

There doesn't seem to be an office dress code here either, rather, sneakers and jeans seem to be an implicit uniform. It's impossible to tell who's working and who's just popping into the office on their day off.

Standing desks and sofas abound, as do laptops and the seeming unwillingness for anyone to actually be stationed at one of the desks around the various rooms.

People are even seeing to their Vitamin D deficiencies AND working here, in the large outdoor space – resplendent with rattan chairs and barbecues and open invitations to bring a blanket and work on the grass. Utter madness.

I'd seen enough. Forget the meeting I'd come for, I now only had one burning question: how did one get any work done with all the Kombucha and free dried fruits and happiness flying around?

My meeting companion wasn't entirely sure why I was so impressed, such was her immersion in start-up culture. But I really shouldn't have asked any further questions, because the "initiatives" just keep coming.

Dubai's Twitter HQ is following in San Francisco's footsteps

Not content with just your typical wellness and sports teams (which Twitter also does have, might I add), the company also has volunteering clubs. There's one in Dubai's Twitter HQ – their latest event involved a visit to Dubai Centre For Special Needs on UAE National Day. They also recently hosted the first WomenHack event in the Arab region, to promote gender equality in the tech industry.

Lastly, their business resource groups, (including the Blackbirds (for African-Americans), Twitter Alas (for Latin Americans), Twitter Asians, Twitter Stripes (veterans and military), and Twitter Women) promote equality, and they're soon to be joined by a group representing people with disabilities.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my job. But throughout the course of this 45-minute meeting, it's become increasingly hard to even think about returning to my standard issue office chair in front of an actual desk, without bottomless healthy tea to aid my digestion or free oyster appetisers for lunch, as I wallow around in my restrictive non-denim pants.

Choir practise has disbanded by the time it's time for me to leave. But now, there's an event taking place of an entirely different kind – a presentation of some sort, as an assembled audience clap at regular intervals as a name is read out and a smiling face flashes across a screen.

Oh that? That's just another presentation of work anniversaries, the woman I'm meeting with says, ever so nonchalantly.

No big deal.

Updated: May 15, 2019 09:40 AM

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