Google in Singapore

May 20, 2010

IT did not bode well for Google's trendy upstart image at first, finding out that its Singapore office is located in the steel cuboid jungle of Shenton Way - a sprint away from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, no less.

Spend half a day at Google Singapore like BT did, however, and it is almost possible to forget that Google is no longer an upstart firm but an empire that raked in US$23.7 billion in revenue last year.

A sliver of that almost US$24 billion is found scattered across the sunny and spacious two-level Singapore office during an exclusive tour hosted by Google Singapore's head of communications, Therese Lim. As the government here shines its spotlight on productivity and 'working smarter' - and experts point to happier workers being more efficient - this seems an appropriate place to search for the concept.

For starters, there is the breakfast nook for Googlers (that's what Google employees call themselves) and on this particular day, it holds an eye-crossing variety of gourmet spreads like herb chive cream cheese and blueberry cream cheese.

'Thursday is bagel day,' a Googler offers by way of explanation. 'And Friday is Old Chang Kee day,' she adds, with a touch of glee.

Two steps away, the 'micro- kitchen' holds a snack rack with Japanese ramen vying with Kit Kats and Tae Kae Noi seaweed for attention, a reflection of the mixed-bag nature of employees' ethnicities.

'We have a facilities team, and they keep track of what we run low on and restock it. It's all about data at Google,' says Ms Lim.

The same facilities team peels carrots and cuts them into snack-sized portions for health-conscious employees, stored in a refrigerator alongside several kinds of cereal and an array of milk large enough to cater to the lactose-intolerant.

It's just as well that Google is at heart an engineering firm; the coffee machine in the micro-kitchen rivals that of Starbucks' in operating complexity.

The diversity of the Google office, with over 100 people in headcount, is apparent as the tour wends its way around the office filled with Googlers seated side-by- side in low-partitioned cubicles, dotting the full range of the colour spectrum.

'It's like the United Nations in here. We have maybe six or seven different languages going on,' says Sarah Robb, head of human resources at Google Southeast Asia. 'It's pretty humbling.'

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