Located from the eighth to 26th floors of Tower 730 in southeastern Seoul, the new headquarters of e-commerce firm Coupang are a far cry from the drab cubicle farms often associated with Korean companies.
There are no partitions between the wide open desks, and employees freely roam about the building with laptops in hand, looking for a plush couch or window seat where they can work more effectively.
Few office chairs were actually occupied although there were coats and bags draped over their backs.
“They're all probably working at the cafe or in one of the meeting rooms,” a Coupang official told The Korea Herald on a tour of the building the company moved to in April. The new offices are more than double the size of the previous headquarters in Gangnam-gu, Seoul.
Employees chat at one of the company‘s meeting spaces at Coupang headquarters in Songpa-gu, Seoul. (Coupang)
For employees, there are plenty of places to go: In addition to the 40-some meeting rooms on the 18th floor used for meetings, interviews and presentations, each floor is filled with tables and benches where employees can sit and chat. On the northern side of the building, floor-to-ceiling windows offer a spectacular view of the Han River.
Next to the elevator on each floor is an open lounge with sofas, tables and TVs constantly flashing Coupang’s mottos such as “Wow the Customer.”
“The open lounges are placed next to the elevators because everyone has to walk by here to get to their desks,” the Coupang official said. “It's almost coercive, how the layout of the offices pushes employees together for impromptu chats.”
And such space is essential for the company’s open ideas, which have been at the core of its business strength.
There’s good reason behind the emphasis on employee interaction. Some of Coupang's most popular services, such as one-touch payment solution Rocket Pay and Coupang’s brutally honest product review system, were born from these unplanned conversations.
These innovative approaches to Korea's saturated e-commerce market are what has helped Coupang continue to grow in revenue. The firm, which was established as a startup by CEO Bom Kim in 2010 and made headlines by receiving large-scale investments from Sequoia Capital, BlackRock and SoftBank, reached 1.92 trillion won in revenues in 2016.
Although the company saw over 500 billion won in operating losses last year, it is continuing to invest aggressively in its logistics centers and next-day Rocket Delivery service, as well as its new private brand Tamsa launched in July this year.
The company directly and indirectly employs about 10,000 people, with offices in Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Seattle and Silicon Valley.
Taking a cue from Silicon Valley, Coupang's offices have adopted the idea that great ideas can strike at any time. Nearly all of the walls double as whiteboards, with markers and erasers strategically placed throughout the offices.
To facilitate conversations between employees at all levels, Coupang does not use the typical system of addressing colleagues according to their rank. Instead, employees use their English names or nicknames.
“Since we use nicknames, there is a lot less pressure to agree to ideas proposed by more senior employees,” said the official. “We recognize that the best ideas can come from anywhere, and our organization does what it can in order to make sure none of those ideas are lost.”
By Won Ho-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)