Facebook’s head office at Palo Alto, California, US, is the stuff of modern legend. It’s the cubicle-free, board game-filled throne room for the Internet’s most keenly discussed start-up. The office, not surprisingly, is also the crucible for the company’s flat, open, dynamic corporate culture. Facebook clearly knew it was on to something good. In each of its offices outside Palo Alto, it sends a group from the head office called the “landing team” first, laying the groundwork to make sure this culture is transmitted to all of Facebook’s satellite operations.
Facebook’s first office in India, in Hyderabad, was no different. It’s close to completing a year (it opened in September), and the members of the landing team are central to the company’s India operations. In a phone interview, landing team member Joanna Lee, a manager in Facebook’s platform operations team, spoke about being a carrier of culture, and the inescapable presence of Bollywood in any Indian office. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How is the “landing team” structured? How many people are in it, and is there a hierarchy within it?
The first landing team was sent to Dublin in October 2008 when we opened an office there. We’ve mimicked that practice elsewhere. The objective was a transfer of knowledge and of culture to make sure we’re spreading our own unique Facebook culture in different offices around the world. So the India landing team had seven members across three different teams in operations—advertisers, developers and testers. In general, at Facebook, the hierarchy is flat. So in general, your position or title isn’t really important.
The site has landed: The Facebook office in Hyderabad.
What do you do once a new office location has been decided?
There’s an application process for the positions that open up when a new office is set up, and these are pretty competitive in all the different operations teams. Also, that means we choose this assignment for ourselves, and it’s not something thrust upon us.
In terms of training and preparation, we get together once we find out where we’re headed to do as much cultural preparation (and reading up) and pre-transfer work as we can, so the transition is as smooth as possible. We wanted to come to India and make an immediate impact and build a new branch of our organization.
What are the elements of this “culture” that you hope to keep constant across Facebook offices?
One of our main goals was to make sure that every Facebook office you walk into—you know immediately that you’re at Facebook. We wanted to bring over that vibe and feel in the workplace—the transparency, the emphasis on fun, and a place where people are happy to go to work. So we have no cubicles, we have an open space where everyone can sit and chat. One of the things we did right off the bat was painting the walls ourselves. We put in the Facebook values (which include “focus on impact”, “be bold”, “move fast” and “break things”) and anything else we wanted (in Hyderabad, this included a watercolour of the Charminar). This sort of demonstrates the free flow of ideas we encourage, and you get a sense that you’ve had a hand in building your office from the ground up.
Do you allow for local idiosyncrasies to creep in?
Yes. While we do bring over some traditions from the head office, we add some local flavour to it. For example, in Palo Alto, we name our conference rooms after funny things, like Internet memes. In Hyderabad, they’re named after Hindi films—there’s Dostana and Umrao Jaan.
Another tradition we brought over was the Friday “all-hands” meeting, where everyone in the office assembles and we all give each other team updates, so everyone’s on the same page and we’re keeping all communication channels open (“all-hands” is from the expression “all hands on deck”, used often in nautical and sci-fi films). In India, the team decided to call it the gupshup (chit-chat) meeting.
What are the methods you use to assimilate, so to speak, new employees into this culture?
In Palo Alto, we have what we call “hackathons”. These are informal gatherings that are used to tackle problems and projects that people are passionate about, but don’t necessarily have the time to do with their daily jobs. These sometimes go on throughout the night, and feel like parties.
Is being part of the landing team a full-time responsibility, or is it in addition to your everyday set of responsibilities?
The landing team member assignment is an additional set of responsibilities within your departmental work. We stay within the general bounds of what we specialize in, so it’s not a separate job in itself, but the nature of your job may change because you’re in the landing team.
Do landing team members sometimes choose to stay on?
Yes. I’m back in Palo Alto now after completing nine months, but a lot of times people choose to stay on. In Hyderabad, two out of seven people decided to hang around for a little longer.