Here’s a look at the new headquarters of Tencent, China’s gaming-to-social media giant

Technology companies from Google to Facebook have redefined the way corporate offices should look, with open-plan collaborative spaces, entertainment and leisure options blurring the lines between work and play

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 5:38pm

Summer has come early to the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen and, even by mid-morning, this day in May was baking hot.

But that has not deterred the busload of tourists who were posing in front of Tencent Holdings’ new corporate headquarters.

They arrange themselves before the metallic sign set in a rectangular pool, shouting instructions in excited chatter. Nearby, security guards sought refuge under the shade provided by an awning.

The South China Morning Post was invited to tour Tencent’s new digs, the first overseas media outlet to tour the building, we were told. We beat a grateful retreat into the cool confines of the air-conditioned lobby, to be greeted by a carefully manicured bonsai and rock garden, and huge bamboo blinds that cascade down three sides of interior of the building.

Visitors were encouraged to shake their smartphones, an action that would be familiar to the 1 billion users of Tencent’s flagship WeChat platform. The action is used to, among other things, search for fellow users looking to have a chat with a random stranger.

We were shown to the South Tower, where a security guard let us in by a side gate.

Employees badge themselves in at turnstiles, as with other modern office buildings, but soon they will be able to use an app to tell the building of their intended destination so they are automatically taken to their desired floor by pre-programmed lifts once they pass through the gates.

Our first stop of the tour was the 13th floor, ready but as yet unoccupied, and which our guide said is a standard layout for other floors.

To get in, she first had to scan her face at a reader installed beside the door using facial recognition software developed by Tencent. Once satisfied that she is who she is supposed to be, the glass doors open to let in our entourage.

As is typical of most tech companies worldwide, Tencent has adopted open-plan seating. Each desk comes with a side table that can be raised or lowered for employees who want the option of a standing desk.

Tencent founder and chief executive Pony Ma Huateng himself chose the Herman Miller chairs for the rank-and-file. Senior management, however, have the option for other specifications such as, for example, leather chairs.

For now, Ma and other senior leaders of the company still work at the old HQ 20 minutes away across town. Both buildings have a direct line of sight to Shenzhen University, Ma’s alma mater, and for which he has a deep affinity, we were told.

Once the renovations are completed, Ma, among China’s richest men, will work out of the 50th floor of the South Tower, where he will have a commanding view of much of Shenzhen and also of Hong Kong, where the company is listed. Senior management will work out of the 48th to 50th floors.

Already housing 3,000 employees, an additional 5,000 staff will move into the building over the coming two months.

Tencent is renting another six buildings in Shenzhen, plus the old headquarters, to accommodate its growing workforce.

Back on our lower, unoccupied floor, there is the obligatory breakout space for impromptu meetings, space-capsule-style quiet chairs for a private phone conversation or catnap, and an auditorium-like space for lectures, meetings, or even a film screening. And, in true Silicon Valley fashion, there is a double wooden swing by the floor-to-ceiling window.

Technology companies have redefined the way corporate offices look, tearing down cubicles and adopting open-plan collaborative spaces. There are also a lot of facilities that would be considered out of place for buttoned-down “old economy” companies, things like arcade games, pool tables, free yoga lessons and meditation spaces.

At Tencent, the highlight could arguably be the recreation floor – where health-conscious employees can choose from the usual free weights and exercise machines to yoga sessions coached by professional in-house trainers.

There are table tennis tables, pool tables, a badminton court and a full-sized basketball court with NBA-style giant screen. A few of the senior Tencent managers are serious basketball fans and aspiring players, we were told.

A 300-metre indoor track encircles the floor, one of three including the lobby that connects the North and South towers. There’s also an indoor rock-climbing wall that, our guide said jokingly, could see Pony Ma seated at the top dangling red packets as rewards and prize money for those who ascend the fastest.

We spied one trainer working on his pecs on an exercise machine, but otherwise the impressive facilities were practically deserted while the Post was there, no doubt because of the pre-lunch hour.

One minor disappointment was that we were not allowed to visit the staff canteen, which was “not open for touring”.

We would have loved to see the food options at Tencent. Silicon Valley, after all, is legendary for its food perks and haute cuisine at their staff cafeterias.

Consolation came in the form of a staff cafe on ground level, where we were allowed to sip on iced coffees and peruse the Tencent merchandise on offer.

Called Image, Tencent employees have taken to calling the space “Ai-Ma-Ge”, which in Mandarin translates to “Love Big Brother Ma”.

Among the most popular items on sale is a Year-of-the-Dog cuddly toy that is a hybrid of a dog and the Penguin mascot of QQ, Tencent’s other main social media property.