While a whopping eight million people have already taken a total of one billion Uber rides in 425 cities around the world since the company was founded in 2009, very few know what goes on behind the scenes at the $66 billion San Francisco-based firm.
Uber, a network and app that connects riders with nearby drivers, currently employs 8,000 people (not including drivers, who are contractors). About 230 of those employees are based in Uber’s Manhattan office — which we recently visited to get a clearer picture of what the culture is really like.
Here’s what we saw and learned:
When we arrived at the W. 28th Street office in New York City's Chelsea neighbourhood, we found the building largely covered in scaffolding. Walking inside, we didn't know what to expect. Uber's Manhattan office is in an old freight warehouse and former nightclub. Sections of the brick building -- now called Chelsea Terminal Stores -- date back to 1891.
We were greeted by Uber consumer communications associate Lexi Levin. She explained that Uber moved into the building in 2014. She also pointed out repurposed decor elements dating back to the building's warehouse days, like this old metal door.
Levin took us up to the third floor of the building, where Uber occupies a 54,000-square-foot space. The Manhattan branch is a mixed office, incorporating teams like engineering, communications, IT, HR, business development, and operations and logistics for the New York metro area.
We arrived around 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, just as the team's weekly all-hands meeting was wrapping up. Every week, the entire office gathers to eat breakfast together and listen to presentations.
We caught the tail end of New York general manager Josh Mohrer's weekly Q&A session, during which he answers questions submitted by employees.
Mohrer's sassy dog Winston had a lot to say during the meeting. Uber's Manhattan office is dog friendly. However, on the day we visited, he was the only pup in the office.
Our next stop was the gym. Employees can blow off steam by working out during work hours for free. We visited in the morning, before most people were ready to start hitting the punching bag, ellipticals, treadmills, and Peloton bikes.
Employees receive a monthly Uber credit and some use the app to commute, Levin says. But others prefer to cycle to work. The walls of the office are fixed with plenty of bike racks made from the building's original white ceiling tiles.
Since the office is massive, employees sometimes use scooters and skateboards to get around. During our tour, Levin took one out for a spin.
Next, we swung by the kitchen, where free catered lunch is served every day. There's something for everyone. Options always include two salads, two sandwiches, two proteins, two side dishes, one carb, and a full salad bar.
Levin says that the most popular items are the 'brunch for lunch' options, which include scrambled egg whites with scallions, chicken apple sausage, and challah French toast.
The office also features kegs of beer, iced coffee, and a seasonal rotation of wines. This often leads to impromptu happy hours in the evening. 'At six o'clock, you can go in here and hang out,' Levin says. 'It's a really nice community vibe.'
Employees can also socialise -- and show off their competitive edges -- by joining in the office-wide ping pong tournament.
Levin says Uber's open office layout reflects the un-hierarchical nature of the company. 'I really like how everyone's out and about, connecting with each other. There really aren't many individual offices.'
Toward the end of our tour we met unofficial branch mascot 'Ubear,' who was sitting in one of the common spaces listening to the music playing overhead. Uber employees take turns serving as office DJ, Levin explained.
Depending on who has control of the music, you might hear anything from top 40 hits to rap to retro jazz on any given day. Levin told us that the music can really change the entire mood of the office: 'I'd say it's pretty chill and a little more high energy when we have the music on.'
However, if anyone needs to snag a quiet moment, they can slip into a break room or one of these futuristic booths.
Levin told us that all the perks are meant to reward hard work and foster a sense of community in the workplace, rather than simply exist for their own sake.
Before we left, we made sure to check out one final perk: Uber's beautiful view of the Hudson River.
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