‘Open’ offices are the in-thing with corporates!

Embracing a culture that defies hierarchy and promotes equality among co-workers, open offices seem to be the way forward with the Indian corporate.

Open office structures, and collaborative workspaces are not exactly new in India, but it only existed in bits and parts. Incidentally one of the first and few people to adopt this global phenomenon was Shantanu Khosla, the ex-CEO and MD of Procter & Gamble. No cabin, no special workstation and meetings, he would hold in places like the cafeteria. Cut to 2015, and Mukesh Ambani, CMD of Reliance Industries made it to the news when he gave up his plush corner office and embraced an open workstation surrounded by other employees.

“In India, the realisation is setting in that we can and should make better workplaces for people. The focus on openness as part of their workplace strategy is for various reasons – employee retention, workplace satisfaction, wellness, energy saving and so on,” says Vivek Kharia, director at Designtude, an architecture firm that has designed the offices of many global MNCs in Bengaluru apart from big start-ups such as Myntra, Flipkart, and Urban Ladder.

The latest one to join the bandwagon is Diageo group’s United Spirits Limited (USL) in UB Towers at Vittal Mallya Road. It’s a sign that since the company’s takeover by the British alcohol giant, its global policies are slowly and steadily seeping into the India office as well, which for so long was following what most Indian companies follow best – the so-called ‘sir’ culture! So an office that once used to be about cabins and enclosed spaces for top management, almost three quarters of it, is now being transformed into one that has open cubicles that look alike for everyone except the CEO.

“Our focus was to display integration of USL and Diageo, which have since their establishment followed different cultural ethos. With the integration, USL has set out to create a future-ready organisation. So we have created a dynamic environment, with a direct view to enhance employee productivity by making it more open and enabling, breaking down hierarchy and silos through more collaborative and cross-functional working,” elaborates Steve Correa, EVP and head of Human Resources, United Spirits Limited.

Fostering collaboration and transparency does seem to be the driver when it comes to open office plans. And increasingly, more organisations, big and small, are happily making the move. Take IT giant VMware that opened a new office in Bengaluru last year; the multi-storied office reflects the open culture throughout. There are multiple breakout zones, informal meeting spaces and a host of recreational elements thrown in to allow for creative thinking and stress free workdays. When the California-based company entered India a decade ago, they were still more traditional in their approach, though even they realised that to “attract the best talent and produce a happier and more productive workforce”, an open office is the need of the hour. Renuka Rajagopal, VMware’s director of Real Estate & Workplace further says, “In 2015, when we inaugurated our brand new campus, we ensured that the facilities incorporated were designed and built keeping the work culture in mind.”

In USL’s case, the new culture seems to have given the employees a fresh breath of air. While many may have been displaced from their comfort zones and suddenly been swept off their ‘we have arrived’ status – the general notion attached to being a cabin holder, others including some of the senior members seem to be taking it well. “I like being able to hear people around, being able to put my head up and talk to people. It’s a message in the whole democratising journey. I don’t think authority comes from having a cabin or a dedicated parking – so for me, I love this change,” says Mamta Sundara, the legal head of USL who has always worked in open offices and found it rather difficult when she was suddenly put into a cabin when she moved to USL India from Diageo, New York.

And it’s interesting that a trend that’s now catching up with big businesses, start-ups have been early adopters of the trend and seem to be leading the way. Walk into most start-up’s office, and there is an immediate sense of openness cum playfulness; and they are into getting some serious work done with all the foosball games and Playstation sessions. “Many start-ups have focused on workplace design as an important element. I am happy that workplace design is gaining importance in the overall scheme of things and offices are no longer dreary and boring,” says Kharia.

Credits Bangalore Mirror

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