x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Step inside Google's Dubai headquarters

The newly revamped and expanded Googleplex in Dubai is not quite your ordinary office and has all the hallmarks of its main California headquarters.

Google written in English and Arabic at the UAE’s very own Googleplex in Dubai.
Google written in English and Arabic at the UAE’s very own Googleplex in Dubai.

DUBAI // A table football game in reception and almost-life-size model of Spider-Man nearby lets visitors know right away that this is no ordinary office.

It is, in fact, the UAE's very own Googleplex, a scaled-down version of the internet giant's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The outpost in Dubai Internet City, which has just been expanded and extensively remodelled, is of course much smaller than the sprawling original, but it has all the hallmarks of Google's distinctive management style.

The laid-back workplace culture - summed up by the company in phrases such as "If you give people freedom, they will amaze you" - has been transplanted wholesale from the West Coast of the US to Dubai.

There are quiet rooms, for example, where staff can chill and escape the stresses and strains of the working day. One has a large, black massage chair and a sign on the wall saying: "This is a quiet zone" and banning phone calls and meetings.

In one of the open-plan spaces stands a huge white structure known as the Pearl - it has seating inside where staff can go if they want a break from their desks. And there are phone booths where they can shut themselves away to make a business or private call without being overheard.

Rooms have names inspired by characters from regional culture, such as Sindibad and Shahrayar from 1,001 Arabian Nights, and the nameplates beside the doors are spelt out in Scrabble letter tiles. The Google logo in Arabic and English is emblazoned across a wall.

"Google's culture is something that's very important for them to preserve," said Maha Abouelenein, Google's head of communications for Mena. "The office has to be fun, it has to be Googley. You come in here in the afternoon and you can't hear yourself because the guys are always playing table football."

More than 50 staff members work in Dubai, and others are based at a branch office in Cairo.

Among the perks they enjoy is a free breakfast and lunch in the canteen every day - another hallmark of the Google way of running an office. Free snacks and beverages are available in micro-kitchens around the clock.

"This is part of our culture, we offer our employees food and we make sure that we take care of them," said Ms Abouelenein. "We really focus on healthy and nutritious food."

There are massage and fitness benefits, paid paternity as well as maternity leave, and staff who adopt children have their expenses reimbursed.

Regional manager Mohamad Mourad said: "We take a holistic view on health, including the physical, emotional, financial and social health of Googlers. Investing in Googlers drives business outcomes that we care about: innovation and retention."

Tarek Abdalla, the head of marketing, said: "Google goes a long, long way to make sure that the environment in which people can create is as exciting and comfortable as possible. It's definitely a big plus to have these amazing perks."

Google was recently rated number one for the fourth time in a list of the 100 best companies to work for worldwide compiled by Fortune magazine. Globally the company receives two million job applications per year.

Another famous benefit is that staff can devote up to 20 per cent of the working week to their own projects or interests.

Ms Abouelenein: "It could be that you're developing an idea or a product for Google, or you're enriching yourself so you can be more productive in your job."

Mr Abdalla is one of those who has seized this opportunity. He said: "What excites me most about the 20 per cent is that no matter how many core things you've got to do, there's always cool stuff you can do outside that, and I've taken full advantage of it."

Suha Haroun, the human resources director of Bayt.com, the recruitment website, says a better employee experience results in more productivity. "Companies should focus on the employee experience," she said. "A happy employee is a motivated and productive team member. Employees need a good work/life balance."

csimpson@thenational.ae