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Offices Supporting Management

TripAdvisor Japan

Interview conducted in February 2016

*This article is based on research conducted at an earlier date; some details may differ at the present time.

Creating a Leading-Edge Japanese Corporate Office that Meets the U.S. Head Office’s Global Standards

TripAdvisor Japan is the Japanese entity of TripAdvisor, Inc., a company based in Massachusetts, U.S., which runs a travel site that posts real reviews from hundreds of millions of travelers (“users”) worldwide along with a wide range of travel-related word-of-mouth information. It also ties up with hotel booking sites, helping travelers of all kinds to plan and book their ideal trip. In June 2015, the head office of TripAdvisor Japan relocated to a skyscraper in Ebisu, and we interviewed with one of the employees about the move.

 

Rika Hinata

Rika Hinata

TripAdvisor Japan
Office Manager

 

Break area

Break area

Brief Memo

  1. A location to match the company’s image and a building carefully chosen to ensure a work-friendly environment
  2. Designing an office that addresses employees’ preferences while also meeting international standards
  3. An entrance that evokes the idea of travel and an interior that is both functional and playful
  4. Introducing facilities and measures aimed at keeping employees healthy by addressing lack of exercise, etc.
  5. Establishing a welcoming office for customers that projects a positive image to people outside the company

A location to match the company’s image and a building carefully chosen to ensure a work-friendly environment

TripAdvisor, Inc. was launched in 2000 in Massachusetts, U.S. to help travelers plan the perfect trip in accordance to their individual personality and preferences by running a site that publishes word-of-mouth information from travelers. The site is adapted to 48 different countries and regions and accommodates 28 languages. It is the largest travel site in the world, visited by 350 million unique users per month and featuring over 320 million word-of-mouth information reviews of more than 6.2 million hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. TripAdvisor Japan was established in 2008, and in June 2015, it relocated to a skyscraper in Ebisu, Shibuya Ward.

“At TripAdvisor, we refer to travelers as ‘users’ and to airlines, hotels and other accommodations, tourist facilities, online travel agents (OTAs), and government organizations as ‘partners’,” explains Rika Hinata. “User submissions are screened based on our review guidelines, and as a rule, submitted reviews are posted without being edited at all, with the exception of content that contravenes the guidelines, such as malicious slander. At the Japan office, we have about 30 staff members, who are involved in managing and updating the website, developing advertising campaigns, checking the content of submitted reviews, etc.”

The company’s previous office was located on the west side of Ebisu Station. However, due to factors such as the cramping of space as the company expanded, it began searching for a new location in May 2014. Eventually, it moved to another building in the same area, but this was not necessarily because it was focused on Ebisu as a location.

“First and foremost, we searched for candidate buildings whose location would match the company’s image, and our choice was the result of our focus on offering a work-friendly environment,” says Hinata. “Originally, our preferred candidate was a building in front of Meguro Station, but unfortunately it took too long to negotiate the lease, and we were unable to move into that office. That said, I think relocating to our current building turned out to be the ideal choice in the end.”

Selecting a building and agreeing a lease took time because it was necessary to coordinate between the two countries, as the Global Product division located in the U.S. head office was also involved in the process. Timing-wise, the move happened to be during a period when the office rental market was heating up, vacancies were dwindling rapidly, and competition for popular buildings was becoming fierce. The company’s current building is now (February 2016) operating at full occupancy. The company began by creating a list of dozens of candidate buildings based on property data, then narrowed down the list and made multiple visits to view the actual locations first-hand.

“We also considered buildings in the vicinity of Shimbashi, Shiodome, and Roppongi, but in the end we concluded that they didn’t really suit the nature of the company. Due to the time difference between the head office and overseas branches, we continued to hold regular late-night meetings every Tuesday for half a year. We settled on this building in November 2014 and signed the lease in December. Soon after that, we started renovating the interior. For the interior design, we worked with a local design firm. There were various problems right up until the move in June 2015, but thanks to the collaboration of our numerous partner companies, including the design firm, we somehow managed to finish on time,” recalls Hinata.

Designing an office that addresses employees’ preferences while meeting international standards

One of the requirements for designing the new office was aligning it with the global standards of TripAdvisor Inc. set by the head office in the U.S. The old office had not met those standards.

“It’s certainly true that, even though we’re an IT-related company, the old office did not have a dedicated server room, and it fell well short of the head office’s standards when it came to security,” explains Hinata. “With only around 80 tsubo of floor space, it was cramped, plus there were only three conference rooms. Employees were complaining about it every day.”

Accordingly, the company surveyed the entire staff ahead of the move and asked them to indicate what they wanted and needed for the new office. Many employees raised the lack of conference rooms as an issue they wished to be addressed, and this was treated as a priority. Other specific preferences were reviewed one by one to determine what was possible and what was not possible in regard to the building’s conditions for carrying out renovation work.

“We designed the office to have a large pantry, and there were some people who said they wanted to have a kitchen. If possible, we would have liked to actually do that, but unfortunately, we realized that it was impossible for reasons relating to the building’s structure and reluctantly gave up on the idea,” says Hinata.

A pantry normally means a room for storing food and tableware, but in the case of TripAdvisor Japan, it refers to a simple kitchen with no permanently installed stove or similar equipment. The company’s pantry also adjoins a break area that can hold up to about 50 people, and along with the entrance, it is a symbol of the new office. Every Monday, an all-hands meeting is held here, after which lunch is provided by a catering service.

“Since there aren’t many cafes conveniently located nearby, it’s important to provide sufficient food and beverages for employees, which is also one of the head office’s policies. In the past, we held about one event a month at which food was provided, but since the move, we’ve begun offering a weekly catered lunch. We’ve also been holding regular small office events with a different theme each month, and we plan to continue these in the future. The pantry provides employees with new opportunities to communicate with each other and a place for them to relax, so I think it’s a good system,” remarks Hinata.

An entrance that evokes the idea of travel and an interior that is both functional and playful

Entrance

Entrance

The most striking visual feature of the new office is its entrance, which houses a Subaru 360 (a classic Japanese light car that was developed by Fuji Heavy Industries and produced from 1958 to 1970). Originally off-white, the body has been repainted yellow to match the company colors. A well-traveled trunk with a vintage design sits atop the roof. It was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film The Castle of Cagliostro.

“It was a senior employee at the U.S. head office who came up with the idea of putting a car in the entrance! You can open and close the doors, and there are a lot of people who get into the driver’s seat and have a souvenir photo taken. Many TripAdvisor offices in other countries place objects that evoke travel in their entrance. For example, at the London office, a replica of an airplane wing has been placed in the entrance. And at the Singapore office, the entrance is designed so that the face of Ollie the owl, the company mascot, is reflected in 3-D in a wall of glass,” notes Hinata.

Three arrows, like those found on a highway, are painted on the floor of the entrance, with the words “WORKSPACE,” “RECEPTION,” and “MEETING” at the end of each. Straight ahead is the reception area, which is partitioned by a transparent glass wall with the company’s logo on it. An antique gas pump has been placed beside the door, with an iPad-based reception system integrated into it.

Reception system

Reception system

“The iPad-based reception system was introduced at the Japanese office ahead of other countries,” explains Hinata. “You can search on the screen for the name of the person who made the appointment and call them directly. At first, we were planning for it to be used only with iPads, but since some customers are not familiar with using them, we later decided to install a telephone receiver as well.”

iPad terminals have been included in all the conference rooms; in addition to responding to calls from reception, they can be used for other purposes such as checking a conference room’s reservation status and making a reservation. There are conference rooms to the left and right of the entrance. The conference rooms along the right-hand side have been given names that evoke Japan: Fuji, Yuzu, Sakura, and Wasabi. Since they were designed before being given names, they were named according to the interior décor: the pale blue room was named Fuji, the pale orange room Yuzu, the pale pink room Sakura, and the pale green room Wasabi.

“These four conference rooms are equipped with video conferencing equipment,” notes Hinata. “Other global offices in our company have conference rooms that are bigger than those in Japan, but they have no more than three rooms with video conferencing equipment. I think the fact that our office has 30 people and was given four rooms equipped with video conferencing equipment shows the higher expectations for the Japanese market.”

Large conference room

Large conference room

Small conference room

Small conference room

Meeting room

Meeting room

Meanwhile, taking a somewhat different approach, the small conference rooms set up beside the work area to the left of the entrance have been named after characters of Japanese origin: Kitty and Pokemon. Again, these are familiar Japanese names that are well known overseas. These conference rooms feature designs that combine functionality and playfulness.

“The new office is equipped with seven conference rooms in total, including both large and small rooms,” says Hinata. “There were three rooms in the old office, so the number has more than doubled. The floor space has more than tripled, from around 80 tsubo to around 250 tsubo. When it came to the conference rooms, we determined the minimum number and functions that we needed ahead of time, and made that our first priority; after that, we decided on the office flow based on the overall layout, and decided where to put the work area, pantry, etc.”

One week before the new office opened, the employees were given a tour. Their initial reaction when laying eyes upon it for the first time was “It’s big!” followed by exclamations of delight such as “Amazing!” and “Wow!” Many employees also remarked that the view was great and went over to the window to take photos of it.

 
 
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