It’s not often that you walk into an open-plan workspace and see a group of employees looking at their laptop screens while tapping feet to a loud Punjabi song, Ranjit Bawa’s Kinne Aye Kinne Gaye, to be specific. I’m inside a 130,000 sq.ft facility in Gurugram that belongs to Meta, known over a month ago as Facebook—and the mood is celebratory. For, 9 December marks Day 1 of entry to the physical office of Meta’s first standalone facility in Asia. As an employee playing billiards in the games room said, “God, it feels great to be in the (physical) office.“
Between last year and 9 December, Meta has seen a lot. It has faced criticism for spreading hate speech, misinformation and shaping unreal beauty standards. It has made money and added more users to all its apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, after the pandemic pushed people inside their homes, and now serves over three billion people globally.
One of the biggest developments the 17-year-old social network has seen is its rebranding, starting with the replacement of the long-recognised logo, the big white-and-blue F, by an infinity-shaped symbol to indicate founder Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to make a “metaverse company” that melds real, online, virtual and augmented worlds.
That’s what the Gurugram facility is all about, Meta’s India head Ajit Mohan tells me as we tour the six-storey building that looks like a ship from the outside.
“India is one of the priority countries for us. We wanted to build an office that mirrored Facebook ethos around the world and pays tribute to our startup-y roots,“ says the vice-president and managing director. It checks that box: the unfinished flooring, the exposed concrete pillars and wires, the cabin-less workspace are the standard design elements whether you are in the Menlo Park office, the London one or the Singapore counterpart.
It houses all what one would expect in a multinational tech office that started as a startup: functional, minimalist furniture; meeting rooms (with quirky, pop-culture-inspired names like Chellam Sir Will Know, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later and When Is The Next Long Weekend?); whiteboards to scribble ideas on; walls in bright colours; a big cafeteria that can fit in hundreds; and touchless coffee and water machines.
What separates this facility from others is the art. Whether it’s Rohini Devasher’s 65ft landscape-like work that resembles a growing forest or Pratap Morey’s blueprint-inspired interpretation of a city, the viewer finds a different take on India, one that leaves behind caricatures to show a contemporary country where urbanization and globalization rule.
The other interesting element is the Centre for Fueling India’s New Economy, essentially a space dedicated to shaping Digital India. Visitors can learn about different tools, like the Oculus headsets, to get a glimpse of how artificial intelligence and virtual reality will transform key aspects of our lives, such as education , tourism and healthcare. The space is also open to train people how to become content creators and business owners using the Facebook platform. Meta has an ambitious target of training one million small businesses and 250,000 creators in a span of three years.
“It’s a place where the outside world can come inside and engage with us and move ahead digitally,“ says Mohan.
Then why create a new physical space when digital is indeed the future? “Yes remote work is the future but while we are aggressively shaping a future where everyone will not be sitting in the office, we still believe in the power of teams to come together in a great office space that inspires them to collaborate and create something out of the ordinary,” he says.