Business as usual for Twitter in Singapore, but staff raise concerns over pay, stock options

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SINGAPORE – Projects and operations are proceeding as usual at Twitter’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, but pay-related issues weigh on the minds of some employees as the company prepares to go private.

Several Twitter employees said on Friday (April 29) they were not overly concerned with potential job cuts, but issues like compensation packages and stock options are still up in the air ahead of billionaire Elon Musk’s planned takeover.

The company on Tuesday announced that it had accepted the Tesla chief executive’s offer to buy it for US$44 billion (S$61 billion).

“When the company is delisted, those of us holding stock options will have to renegotiate our contracts and pay structure,” said one employee.

“We don’t really know much more than the public does right now, so many of us are in a wait-and-see mode.”

Reports by Bloomberg and The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources familiar with Mr Musk’s discussions with bankers while securing financing for the deal, suggested he had considered cuts to jobs and other costs to improve Twitter’s financials.

But Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal told employees in a recent town hall that there are no plans for layoffs, according to a Reuters report.

One employee who spoke to The Straits Times noted that Mr Musk had not yet taken on any official positions within Twitter and made his comments as a potential investor seeking financing.

“My interpretation of those reports was that he needed to offer some ideas about how to improve the company’s profits, which have been stagnant for some time,” said the employee.

“It is too early to speculate about retrenchments when the deal isn’t even finalised yet. I don’t expect to be retrenched, but if it happens, it happens. We can always find new jobs as our skills are in high demand.”

Staff members also said there had been no changes to their work priorities, processes or ongoing projects in the wake of Mr Musk’s takeover bid.

“The message was that it is business as usual until the deal closes,” said one employee.

On Thursday, The Business Times reported that Twitter had called off a planned event to officially open a new 22,000 sq ft extension to its headquarters in the CapitaGreen building in Market Street, which would nearly double the size of its office space.

The event had been scheduled to take place on Thursday, but was cancelled the day before.

Twitter declined comment when approached.

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo had been slated to deliver opening remarks at the event.

The minister visited the office on Thursday despite the cancellation and had a closed-door meeting with Twitter executives, as part of her ministry’s regular engagements with the industry, said the BT report.

One employee told ST that Twitter staff members held their own private celebrations to mark the opening and had been instructed not to take photos of Mrs Teo during her visit.

ST understands Twitter has nearly 400 staff in Singapore, including more than 50 in technical roles like software engineering.

In January, the company said it would double the number of engineers to over 100 by 2023. The additional hires would span engineering, data science, machine learning and product management.

The Singapore centre is led by Mr Silvanus Lee, co-founder of the artificial intelligence startup BasisAI, which was acquired by a Temasek company last year.

Aside from possible restructuring of the company, Mr Musk’s offer has also ignited debates over free speech and censorship, and the role social media platforms like Twitter play in democracies.

While Mr Musk has vowed to make changes that would turn Twitter into a “bastion of free speech”, his critics have expressed concerns that this would include allowing hate speech to proliferate and lead to more online abuse.

“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans,” Mr Musk said in a press release announcing the deal.

A local employee said the Singapore office and other Asia-Pacific locations are focused primarily on sales and operations, adding that most employees here are “removed from the main concerns and critiques” raised by commentators.

“The legal, policy and trust and safety teams globally are probably more concerned or affected,” the employee added.

“Ultimately, I think the company’s values are not so misaligned with what Elon values, like free speech, fighting spam and so on. We just differ on how to get it done.

“If he takes over, he might start to understand how difficult it is.”