Corporate offices often reflect a company’s culture and values. In a tour of Bytedance’s headquarters in Beijing last week, we saw some interesting details that may provide a clearer picture of the world’s most valuable startup—one that is known for avoiding the spotlight.

Zhang Yiming, the founder and CEO of Bytedance, has said that young people should not live on the margins, so he based his company in the very center of Beijing.

Meanwhile, the headquarters of other tech giants such as Baidu, Xiaomi, and Didi Chuxing are located in the northern outskirts of Beijing.

Last week, TechNode visited Bytedance HQ, located along Beijing’s North Third Ring Road. The headquarters consist of a tall building and a lower building; the latter—where company executives’ offices are located—is considered the heart of Bytedance.

While its digs are not as fancy as Apple’s “spaceship” campus or Google’s luxurious “Googleplex” complex, it’s apparent that Bytedance is trying to emulate the style of its Silicon Valley counterparts.

In focus / ByteDance #14

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TechNode’s ByteDance newsletter, one of the first in-depth looks in English at the now-giant upstart startup, was published from March 13 to Oct. 23, 2019.

Originally an aircraft storage facility, the main building has since been transformed into a two-story building; the ground floor functions as a reception area and space for meeting rooms, while the second floor is a huge, open workspace. Alongside the building we visited was a much larger, multi-story office structure that houses Bytedance’s wealth of human resources.

Silicon Valley firms were among the first to embrace open workspaces, and Bytedance is pretty much the same: Hundreds of employees sit shoulder-to-shoulder at communal desks rather than cubicles.

Zhang is known as an advocate of the Silicon Valley work culture. One example is the company’s famously flat corporate structure, which distinguishes it from many other Chinese firms—both inside and outside tech. The structure enables its many product managers to report directly to Zhang, and positions such as chief marketing or chief technology officer are absent from the company.

The structure also allows the project managers a high degree of discretion. They are encouraged to try new projects without weighing the pros and cons ahead of launch. The apps are then judged on their market performance. High-performing apps receive more resources from the company while poor performers are quickly discarded.

The work schedule at Bytedance, however, may not be as flexible as those of Silicon Valley tech firms. According to the description of a Bytedance employee who posted on Zhihu, the Chinese Quora-like Q&A platform, Bytedance implements a so-called “big and small week” work schedule, meaning that employees are required to work six days one week and five days the next week. Sources at Bytedance have told us they regularly work long hours—up to 12 a day in some cases. But the system is less rigid than the infamous “996” work schedule that is “encouraged” at many other Chinese tech companies.

Apart from the work environment, Bytedance is also more ethnically diverse than its Chinese peers. A number of foreigners work at the Beijing headquarters, a reflection of the company’s overseas markets in Southeast Asia, India, Europe, and North America. It has established offices in more than 40 cities around the world, according to a timeline displayed in the lobby of the building.

Near the staff canteen in the basement, Bytedance even provides prayer rooms for employees, a rarity among Chinese companies. There is also a photo booth inside the building, which a company spokesperson told us was for the convenience of personnel who travel abroad frequently and often require photos for visa purposes.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. He writes a monthly newsletter tracking...

Tony Xu

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com