x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Facebook HQ a buzzing hive of creativity

The Life: The Facebook HQ in California does not at first glance look like an inspiring place to work. But within its confines staff get to work, rest and play with free food laid on.

Facebook's main campus in Menlo Park, California is more akin to a playground rather than an office. Robyn Beck / AFP
Facebook's main campus in Menlo Park, California is more akin to a playground rather than an office. Robyn Beck / AFP

For a company at the forefront of social media technology, the dim, concrete exterior of Facebook's headquarters is a disappointment, instilling a sense of drab rather than excitement.

Once you've signed in with your Facebook account (those without an account have to sign a form) the bright colours, sunshine and snack stations help to lighten the spirits.

Situated on 1 Hacker Way in leafy Menlo Park, California, in the former site of Sun Microsystems, the social network's headquarters houses some 2,000 employees and a small family of California grey foxes which have set up camp on the site.

Not unlike some of the employees, they spend most of their days lazing in the sun and enjoying the free food. They even have their own Facebook Page, FB Fox, which has garnered 85,000 likes. One of the cubs made an appearance when The National visited for a tour, leading to a frenzy of photography among employees who hail from 70-plus different countries.

The vast 57-acre site, which Facebook moved into at the end of 2011, is more akin to a playground rather than an office. There are games rooms around the campus, cycle routes and lounge areas all installed to inspire new ideas.

Fancy a game of chess? Or a session of Guitar Heroes? Then head over to a games room. Need a new mouse or keyboard? There is a vending machine that pops out such gadgets. Want to clear your mind? There is a gym where yoga classes are available.

Creativity is one of the main pillars at the HQ. There is an artist in residence - art and graffiti adorns the walls -and the "Facebook Wall" invites guests and employees to scrawl their messages on the chalk and white boards.

To help fuel all this creativity is endless free food. From the vast range of dishes available at the main cafeteria to a pizzeria and a barbecue and even fresh ice-cream - employees never go hungry. Turn a corner around the office and there is probably a pantry, stocked with fruit, snacks, sweets and drinks to help the staff get through the day.

But it is not all just fun and games. In the highly competitive and fast-moving world of the internet, Facebook is looking for the next best thing, and some downtime is essential to generating new ideas.

There is still a link to the past, however.

The Sun Microsystems' logo remains on glass doors throughout the campus, a stark reminder that tech companies can easily come and go (Sun Microsystems sold computer software and parts and was acquired by Oracle in 2010). But the site has been gutted and transformed to reveal the skeleton of the original structure.

In keeping with its mission to make the world a more open place, this is in part to make way for the open-plan setting. Even Mark Zuckerberg does not have his own office.

There are, of course, meeting rooms, each named after amusing themes, such as "Avada Kedavra", the Killing Curse in Harry Potter and "Charlie bit my finger" - the popular YouTube video.

The exposed ceiling, pipes and graffitied walls give a sense of a company that is just trying too hard to be cool, the equivalent of a 1990s teenager with untucked shirt and greasy hair. But the style is said to reflect Mr Zuckerberg's claim that the company is only 1 per cent finished.

Considering 1 billion people are on the social network, its initial public offering raised $16 billion and it is one of the most visited websites in the world, it is difficult to fathom what Facebook would or will be like once it is 100 per cent complete.

To enable it to get there, the company is currently building a 22-acre extension with the help of the architect Frank Gehry. The eco-friendly Facebook West will be linked to the main campus via an underground tunnel. It will have a rooftop garden and will be able to accommodate more than 3,000 employees. No doubt it will be as colourful and recreational as the original site. We will just have to wait and see what new ideas will emerge from this campus.