Amid the coronavirus pandemic and the shift of many tech firms to a hybrid of office work and work from home mode, employees at Microsoft have started populating the US tech firm’s new 46,000 square meter (495,000 square foot) campus in Herzliya.
The new offices will hold some 2,000 people, including sales staff and developers, engineers, researchers and employees from M12 – Microsoft’s venture funding arm.
At a cost of an estimated NIS 350 million ($105 million), the new campus is a “vote of confidence in the local talent and economy,” according to a statement released by the US tech firm.
The new campus is “another step in strengthening the strategic bond and commitment of Microsoft to the Israeli market,” said Ronit Atad, general manager of Microsoft Israel in a statement.
Microsoft has two main divisions operating locally: Microsoft Israel headed by Atad and its R&D arm led by general manager Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk.
Microsoft employs an estimated 2,300 people in Israel — 2,000 of them in R&D, working on projects including cybersecurity, AI technologies, big data and healthcare at development centers in in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth. Some 300 people work in sales and marketing.
The firm’s Israel R&D operations are among the tech giant’s biggest in the world alongside the ones it has in Silicon Valley and Boston, and were its first outside the US. Microsoft was one of the pioneers in setting up R&D operations in Israel in 1991.
Earlier this year Microsoft said it was setting up a new cloud data center, its first in Israel, that will offer services to local customers. It is expected to be operational in 2021.
In the post-pandemic period Microsoft will be working with a hybrid model, said Braverman-Blumenstyk by phone, whereby employees can decide how many days they will work from home or the office.
Even so, she said, coming to the office is “extremely important,” both to foster creativity and for social interaction. Productivity is not hurt working from home, she said. But “humans are social animals” and they need interaction for the “joy of living, creativity and support.”
The office building is the “greenest in Israel,” she said. It is the first one in Israel to carry the LEED V4 Gold certification for its internal and external design, an international standard for sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings.
The campus uses green technologies, many of them from the nation’s cleantech ecosystem, including water-from-air-moisture systems developed by Israeli startup WaterGen; water leakage detection technology developed by Israel’s Wint Water Intelligence, and a GreenWall platform that nurtures vegetation growth.
The building makes use of energy saving air filtration technologies developed by enVerid Systems. It also has 800 square meters of photovoltaic cells that will provide power to the building.
Including a garden of 3,500 square meters and 8,000 square meters of open space, “all parts of the center were designed to support innovation, sustainability, accessibility, diversity, inclusion, and employee wellbeing,” the statement said.
According to the annual Dun & Bradstreet ranking published last month, Microsoft is the best high-tech company to work for in Israel.
The new campus also features The Garage, an innovation lab to foster technologies in information security, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. It will offer employees free access to equipment to create prototypes of their ideas.
The campus is built with tactile strips and signs with sharp contrast and Braille for vision-impaired people. It also features special audio systems for the hard of hearing.
The workstations in the buildings are divided into “neighborhoods,” encouraging teamwork and creating opportunities for employees to meet with people outside their group. An abundance of natural light, ergonomic furniture and natural vegetation is integrated into the interior spaces.
To keep workers happy amid tough competition for top talent — there is a shortage of programmers and engineers — the building has two playrooms, one for kids and adults and the other for adults; nursing rooms; balconies to work on; a basketball and a volleyball court; a yoga room; a 1,000-square-meter gym; a music room; a dog park; and 315 meeting rooms. Additional amenities include postal service, laundry service, and a convenience store.
Microsoft has continued recruiting even as the pandemic has raged in Israel and globally, said Braverman-Blumenstyk. The fact that some firms have frozen new hiring and furloughed or fired employees might have made the process a “bit easier,” she said. But the firm still only seeks to hire the best talent available.
The firm expects to continue expanding its workforce locally, she said, and Microsoft is already seeking more office space in buildings near the new campus “to continue to grow.”
Chef Haim Cohen’s catering arm will be responsible for meals in the six dining zones and two cafes, also offering meal delivery and takeout.
For the employees’ commute, regular or folding bikes are available, along with a designated parking place that includes electrical charging spots. There are priority parking spaces for hybrid and carpool cars.
“At the same time as we are launching the new campus, we are expanding our development centers in Haifa, Nazareth, and Tel Aviv to make them accessible to everyone,” Braverman-Blumenstyk said.
Israel’s Yashar Architects designed the new campus.