No more cubicles...you are not alone at open offices!

The all-are-equal open office architecture has quietly made inroads in India. Despite a few dissenting voices, the enthusiasm of young adapters means

No more cubicles...you are not alone at open offices!
Imagine a workplace without cubicles that separate you from your boss. Instead of knocking on his/her cabin door every time, you can just walk across, since the boss may be sitting right in front of you. There is no need to minimise or hastily close the social networking sites or your favourite game whenever the boss crosses your desk! At some startups, founders do not mind if their employees are on Facebook or LinkedIn. Welcome to the open office layouts, where people work with minimal or non-existent partitions.

Though this concept of open office is quite a rage in the West, with the startup boom it is slowly catching up in India, especially among the millennials. Apart from a spacious cafeteria, libraries and shower rooms, workplaces now have phone booths and collaborate zones too!

Right from the beginning, founders of startups demand architects to create a friendly environment with no barricades in the form of cubicles. Food ordering app company TinyOwl has created an open office environment since its commencement in March 2014 as it believes having an open office can energise employees. Tanuj Khandelwal, co-founder of TinyOwl, says the open office architecture helps it to track issues quickly and resolve them. The company has more than 500 employees, and it is in an expansion mode.

“Harsh (Harshvardan Mandad, CEO and co-founder, TinyOwl) and me feel that work can happen anywhere and at anytime. The most productive output comes when the employee believes in the work that he/she is doing. Hence flexible working hours give employees the space to work and think freely. We have brainstorming sessions (everyone’s favourite bean bag room), indoor garden area, and sleeping room to rest whenever needed,” says Tanuj.

Enter the Amagi office on Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, and you would realise the new office culture is here to stay. Amagi, a media technology firm, enables targeted advertising and content delivery for television networks. The office boasts of   shower rooms, standing workstations and phone booths. K A Srinivasan, co-founder of Amagi, said the company moved to the new office two months ago. With over 100 employees working in the Bengaluru office, Amagi believes in open office culture.
“Amagi means liberty and the boss is no different from employees. Everybody is equal and has talents. We can see each other and interact with each other in such a set-up. If somebody wants to attend calls — either official or personal — that person can make use of phone booths (Amagi has three). We do have people commuting in bicycles to office, and so we told architects that we need shower rooms. They can freshen up there,” says Srinivasan.
The AstraZeneca India office includes lots of open spaces with zones, plenty of natural light, wireless connectivity, and is paperless. Sanjay Murdeshwar, MD of AstraZeneca Pharma India, says there are quiet rooms, social spaces, breakout areas, meeting facilities, connected spaces, indoor and outdoor cafeteria.

“It targets ecological consciousness within the design framework to promote energy savings and water recycling. The open spaces and workstations have helped in creating an open culture, provide easy access to leadership, and encourage cross-functional collaboration and speed of action. A variety of formal and informal spaces, including quiet meeting rooms and breakout areas, have encouraged collaboration and integrated social spaces have encouraged social cohesion among employees,” he says. He added that post-occupancy survey findings have been encouraging, with most employees agreeing that it enables a positive and productive workplace. “Most have also agreed that it allows them to concentrate without distraction. Increasingly, organisations that are removing boundaries around how, where, and when work gets done, are better equipped to respond to any rapid change,” he says.
Work anywhere, but deliver
Employees make use of work-from-home option if they want some private zone, or move to meeting rooms or cafeteria inside the office to complete their tasks. “People do ping me saying they want to finish particular tasks today, and they will do it from home,” says HackerRank co-founder Harishankaran K.
HackerRank is a programming platform for both technical assessments and programming challenges around the globe. Headquartered in the US, it was founded by college mates Hari and Vivek Ravishankar. While Vivek manages the US office, Hari takes care of the Bengaluru office, which has over 40 employees. “Ours is a platform where hackers come to solve interesting challenges and companies use the product to find out the best-skilled aspirant,” say Nimesh Mathur and Alfred Alexander of HackerRank.
In their view, the open office set-up makes them more comfortable. “Cubicles do not make sense and open office is a productive environment where people work together. We give headphones as part of our welcome kit. So when some team members are seen with their headphones on, it means ‘Don’t disturb. I am working on some important tasks’,” says Hari. Srinivasan says just because you have an open office set-up it does not mean you are flexible, one has to create an environment where interaction is possible, besides making people feel comfortable and more at home at the workplace.

Corporates seek help for the shift
Shrinivas Rao, founding member/CEO, Asia Pacific, for Vestian — a workplace solutions firm — says workplaces have evolved over the years. “People are no longer bound to their desktops and they also work from the cafeteria, and there are task zones and collaboration zones, where people sit down and talk. There has been a change in the workplace, especially in the last 12 to 18 months. One can come in the morning, assign oneself; log in and start working. But we need to change the mindset of people,” he says.
“Corporates engage companies like us for change management. We select people from a team and discuss with them about the changes, who in turn talk to other team members about the agile workplace,” he adds.
People who are used to having their personal photographs and souvenirs on tables are hesitant about such a change. While it may go well with the new generation, it might be difficult for people who are used to cubicles for decades, says Rao.
“Some tell me their work is so confidential that they like to have their own zones,” says Rao, adding that while at present only five to seven per cent of the industry is going for this kind of change, it will be between 22 and 25 per cent in the next 24-36 months. “Corporates actually benefit from this set-up and this concept is here to stay in India,” he feels.
With real estate prices booming, some companies do think such open office set-ups are wallet-friendly. With one huge open office layout, one can save on space and cubicle costs, goes the thinking.

But architect Bharath Jadhav of Dsync Architects says it is a myth. “Companies do approach us thinking the open office set-up is cheaper. Though it could decrease the cost by 15 to 20 per cent, it is labour-intensive,” says Bharath. He said that while clients and architects are open and are motivated, it is interior contractors who hesitate to work on such projects as they are time-consuming.

How did a cabin matter?

In his book Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management, Devdutt Pattanaik points out the interesting case of Shridhar. “The head office prepared a design and insisted that every office of the company around the world be designed accordingly. They were essentially open offices, with no cabins for individuals, but with rooms for meetings and teleconferences. The point was to express the organisational value of transparency and equality. Instead of energising the workplace, the new design demotivated many.

Shridhar suddenly found himself without a cabin. All his life he had worked to become worthy of a cabin and now the policy had changed. He felt angry and humiliated. He felt he had been denied his Durga. He did not matter. He was a nobody like everyone else. As soon as he got a job in a rival firm, with the assurance of a cabin, he left. At the exit interview, the human resource manager felt that he was being immature: how did a cabin matter?”

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