The last time I went to do a photo story of a Grab office, I walked away satisfied, but by no means overwhelmed. Grab’s Singapore headquarters at 138 Cecil Street had all the trappings of a tech startup environment; common spaces with bean bags, couches, musical instruments and long tables — all designed for employees to knit closer bonds.
But such accessories have become all too commonplace in the startup world, so if you have seen one, you have pretty much seen them all.
There are exceptions, though, just a take a look at Airbnb’s APAC headquarters, for example. One gets the feeling that the designers were not just trying to ‘check off’ the list of deco and furniture that will make it look like a startup, but rather inject a strong and unique identity that is irreplaceable (of course, Airbnb has two advantages in this regard, one being it’s kind of a real estate company and two, having a ton of cash to spare).
So when Grab invited reporters to check out its new two-storied 80,000 sq ft R&D centre high up in a glassy office tower in the swanky new Marina One complex, I was a little sceptical. After all, how much effort would the company spend on sprucing up an R&D centre?
Boy, was I wrong.
Grab has managed to outdo itself, and I don’t mean that it is more opulent. Instead, Grab appears to have given more thought in embracing its Southeast Asian identity, holistically. From its floor tiles to its meeting rooms, and other office ornaments, everything is designed to remind its employees of Grab’s unyielding vision to transform Southeast Asian cities — and how it will improve the lives of each individual.
Also, Grab had the fortune of nailing a really prime location — the 22nd and 23rd floor — so employees can a nice clear view of the bay (that is until more skyscrapers shoot up in front of the complex), even while they are exercising.
Check out the pictures and descriptions below:
After a long day at work, this wall, which is adorned with a series of photos depicting a diverse selection of Grab drivers and riders, help to anchor the company’s team to the reality that their projects have a real impact on millions of people in not just one country, but from across the region.
In this waiting area, visitors to Grab, such as prospective partners or employees, can get well-acquainted with Grab’s mission and vision via videos showcasing its drivers’ testimonials and other promotional materials.
As stated before, the tiles are layered with a distinctive Southeast Asian design.
The walls feature the same Southeast Asian patterns, too. And check out the snacks at the pantry. Those golden biscuit tins on the right are classic Singaporean snacks that date back many decades. In recent years, these guys have seen a bit of a resurgence thanks to the ‘hipster’ culture (who invariably adopt anything that is ‘old school’).
Thanks to the office’s floor-to-ceiling glass panels, Grab’s employees can chew their snacks while enjoying an unblemished view of the bay and the now disused Tanjong Pagar Terminal.
Here’s the view. Jealous yet?
In the past six months, Grab has been opening up its GrabPay service to various external commercial services and merchants. One of its key objectives is to help food hawkers — who traditionally rely on just cash — adopt cashless payments using GrabPay. This life-size replica of a traditional street food hawker stall integrated with GrabPay certainly drives home the importance of this goal.
Just yesterday, I read an old article about how living near an ocean or sea can improve your mental health because of its blue hue. So with a gym overseeing the sea, Grab employees can now not only boost their mental wellness, they can tone their muscles and burn off those belly flabs at the same time.
Ok, granted, the sea surrounding Singapore isn’t very blue, but it’s a whole lot better than staring at office buildings.
Fun fact: Grab’s Co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan is a huge exercise buff; he’s also literally buff. He actually planks while conducting conference calls. Now that is dedication.
The office’s eating area is structured like a canteen. Wide open spaces with long tables so employees can interact freely.
The main workspaces feature small phone booths so employees can make calls privately without getting disturbed or disturbing anyone. Alternatively, the green path that runs around the office floor allows employees to chat with each other, or think through their problems, while having a little walk.
The meeting rooms are named after iconic places or landmarks in Southeast Asia.
Right after Grab’s acquisition of Uber, Anthony Tan was said to have spent hours sitting in this armchair, in deep contemplation, while wearing a full suit and smoking a Cuban cigar. I’m just kidding of course (you can’t smoke inside, duh!). But it is a pretty sight and it allows one to clear their mind. Does this remind you of any movie? (Hint: it’s a certain cult film starring a young Brad Pitt).
Information leakages are a big problem for all companies, and Grab takes this very seriously. Its employees are reminded to lock or shut down their laptops/desktops when they are away. Those who don’t are rewarded with a picture of a half-naked Justin Bieber (or some other dubious pop star).