Face to Face with Facebook

Steven Parker, MD of Digital Allies took a trip to the Facebook London HQ. They do things differently there.

Behind the Scenes at Facebook London HQ

Facebook offices are places of myth when it comes to digital business, and it is not every day you get the chance to take a look around.

The opportunity to do so, and hear from one of their Directors, was organised by the Entrepreneurs Forum.

As I was heading to the capital on the train, my expectation was that I would be wowed and amazed by their offices, and feel slightly upstaged as a digital business owner. Would I ever be able to live up to what I was about to see?

However, the feeling on the return train journey was that Facebook is a strict taskmaster; a company that continuously drives staff hard.

Organisational Culture

A member of Facebook’s Learning and Development team accompanied us on our visit, and they were refreshingly candid about why they do things the way they do.

I was left personally challenged by their culture. A lot is written about organisational culture, and whatever it may be, they take it to the extreme.

The two key things I took away from the visit is that they measure everything by the ‘impact’ someone has, and that everything in Facebook is designed to keep peoples’ focus ‘laser-like’ so he or she can work harder.

Everything they do, from the way the organisation is set up and how they treat their staff, is designed to drive the workforce harder. To the outsider, the perception, mine included before this visit, is that it is a hip and cool place to work where you are free to come and go as you please, and a place that is entirely relaxed. While this may be the case to some extent, managers drive their staff hard to make a difference or ‘impact’ as they refer to it.

Organisational Structure

The company has a relatively flat structure where the manager status is a role only; it is not seen as a promotion and carries very little in the way of power. The team collectively sets the direction of travel; the manager’s role is to set the context, create the focus and then get out of the way. Facebook actively encourages the concept of ‘trying to break things and failing’, after all, they maintain, it is only when you do this that real learning occurs.

A ‘Typical’ Working Day

Regarding expectations of staff, there are no set hours of work and no minimum expected hours. What’s more, every liquid you’d ever want to drink is on tap (including alcohol) at any time of the day. Technology machines are located in and around the offices so that staff members do not have to worry about picking things up before or after work – these are also free of charge but subject to a fair usage policy.

Staff Perks

Regarding facilities, sleep-pods offer a quiet, relaxing area to catch up on sleep. Mini kitchens are located on every floor so that staff can get things quickly and get back to work. IT help desks that either fix things on the spot or replacements are issued immediately without even having to log a ticket!

It is every employee’s dream from the outside looking in. What more could you want? You could live in the place. The only thing that was missing from the office for me was a life and a soul. When I looked around the vast café, people were streaming in, eating, then streaming out.

When we were walking around the workspace, people were head down and in a hurry to get to where they were going. It just all felt a little wrong – were these people living to work, or working to live?

Staff ‘Impact’

That said, everyone has a voice, and if someone has an idea, a hackathon is arranged to things get done. After all, ‘done is better than perfect’, as one of the many inspirational posters that adorn the walls states.

An example of this was following the terrible events that unfolded at the Boston Marathon a few years back. A Facebook engineer was frustrated by the news that thousands of loved ones from around the globe of those affected by the terrorist attacks, were left wondering whether their friends and family members were safe. Long story short, they created Facebook Safety Check whereby Facebook sends a notification to all users within an affected location of a major crisis to let loved ones know they are safe. A fantastic update to the platform which I am sure everyone will welcome.

Facebook at Work is globally rolled out now too, and this means they are going to have the ability to understand the missing piece they have always wanted to increase their earnings, the B2B marketplace.

Currently, Facebook’s ability to target people with ads based on their job title is dependent on people in putting it into their profile. Now they will be able to understand every move people make from their home life and now, work life. This will continue to drive upwards their ad revenues which their shareholders demand.

On one side of the fence, this may seem a little ‘big brother’, on the other hand to us as marketers and business owners, they offer a fantastic platform by which to show tailored messages to custom audiences.

In Summary

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and eye-opening visit, and I am glad I went (especially for the free sweet shop). The food was excellent too, I had poached rainbow trout, braised red cabbage, steamed kale and polenta – far healthier than the full English I had on the way down!

However, I cannot help but question where the ‘culture’ ends, and where social engineering begins?


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