Coworking for the Gentry

A recent project for a corporate led us to a meeting at the Indus Club, a gated community and working space of which I’ve been a member. It was here that I noticed a marked change in the nature of our interaction. When meeting at our respective offices, the project discussions were restricted to regimental, dry queries such as pricing per square-foot etc etc. But here in the softer natural lighting and more relaxed setting of the Riviera Lounge, the clients seemed more relaxed. Once the formalities were shed, we were able to discuss key aspects of the design in a manner that felt more wholesome to all of us. This informally ‘formal’ meeting played a major role in the final output – a workspace built on the collaborative vision of our designers as well as the client.

This balance between informal and professional environments is something that coworking offices are good at providing. But many C-suite executives and industry leaders are still skeptical of such spaces, owing to the lack of privacy and exclusivity. ‘Business clubs’ such as the Indus Club have been addressing this specific need for decades. In India, the trend began with exclusive lounges such as Chambers at The Taj, The Belvedere at Oberoi , Equus at St Regis and The Club at The Four Seasons. The ability to provide top-class customised amenities is what makes it natural for five-star hotels to foray into this space. Places such as the A Club and Indus Club in Mumbai, meanwhile, operate exclusively as complete ecosystems with provisions that are just as upmarket.

These premium workplaces are ideal for business interactions where the need for privacy is paramount. For instance, talks about a merger or acquisition between two high profile company leaders cannot exactly be carried out in the open setting of a coffee shop. At the same time, a conference room could be too official an environment for the same. Premium business clubs therefore have a diverse menu of spaces for different needs – from private meeting rooms to exclusive lounges. This makes it easy for decision-makers to get together without the risk of disclosure until deals are made final.

Networking is another aspect of coworking that is simulated in these environments – but again, without compromising exclusivity. Most memberships to such spaces are by invite only, thus creating an ecosystem of high networth individuals from every industry. CEOs, sports stars, artists and entrepreneurs can mix with leaders from a variety of fields, leading to high quality cross-pollination of ideas. Moreover, these business clubs are also equipped with ballrooms and art galleries, allowing them to organise mixers and events for members.  

Courtesy: The Indus Club, Facebook

What attracts me about these places, especially ones like the A Club and Indus Club in Mumbai, are the unique design elements they have incorporated. Members can use these spaces for working, taking a break to watch a film or just meditating. Another great space is the ‘Spielberg Theatre’ at the Indus Club. With a big screen the size of a small multiplex chamber, the auditorium can be used for conducting elaborate presentations befitting product launches for a small but elite audience.

Courtesy: The A Club

These clubs can even entertain more bespoke requests for such events. I recently picked the Spielberg Theatre at the Indus Club to host a JTCPL Designs project review for a family-owned business client. My membership privileges allowed me to arrange a chef-crafted and customised menu. This added touch made the entire experience more sublime for the attendees, which included leadership from across the world. It’s in this regard that these places stand out in stark contrast to standard coworking spaces. While coworking offices operate on standardisation and communally shared amenities, these premium business clubs have made customisation and exclusivity their forte.

The attitude of these spaces can be gleaned from the difference in décor design as well. Where coworking offices thrive on colourful open areas lined with bean bags and communal tables, these premium spaces exude an aura of exclusivity. Timeless classics such as leather couches, high-end art and fawn carpeting dominate the interiors. I sometimes entertain my clients at the Equus, specifically for the gorgeous race course view and ambience – which features stunning art pieces by the likes of artists like S. H. Raza, Ram Kumar and Bose Krishnamachari.  Clubs like the A Club bridge the gap with a balance of modern, informal and luxury elements, considering their younger clientele. Even the members-only privileges here include slightly more laid back activities such as wine-tasting dinners and single malt events.

Courtesy: Equus, St. Regis, Mumbai

Most of us might look at this as a gated community that doesn’t encourage an inclusive culture. But I’d say it’s a space with an aspirational quality to it. It’s where the deals that could change the world are made – with a collaboration between the greatest minds. It’s still a community of diverse individuals from different fields, but with real decision-making powers at their disposal. It’s why I don’t quite find the term ‘business club’ appropriate. I’d look at it as ‘premium coworking’ – or coworking for the gentry. It’s not for everyone – but it’s something to aspire to.

Applying the Powers of Pre-Suasion to Life

Most of us are yet to fully grasp the impact of leaked personal data. It was while reading ‘Pre-Suasion’ by Robert Cialdini, that I further realised the importance of this information to corporations. The title of the book is a term Cialdini has coined for his method of prepping an audience – to get them to respond positively to the message they’re about to receive. Think of how easily we could be coerced by a brand once it’s armed with information that Facebook leaks about us. For instance, if you’ve perhaps just posted about your love for coffee, that moment is ripe for an e-seller to flood you with advertisements about coffee machines. Instead of having to set you up into being more receptive to the idea of purchasing the product, they’ve just waited for the precise moment to push that thought.

As a social psychologist researching influence for decades, Cialdini’s thoughts on persuasion are extremely relevant today. This is especially considering how our personal data online has become currency for corporations that want us to buy their ideas and products. While most would look at this development with a sense of foreboding, I would encourage you to read what Cialdini says about Pre-suading. Once you know of the techniques they’re using on you, you’re better prepared to combat it.

I like how Pre-Suasion has given me well-researched scientific backing for beliefs that I instinctively held. For instance, ‘priming’ is the art of putting a recipient in the right frame of mind to receive a message before delivering it. It’s why I focus a lot on how entrances to the spaces we work on are designed. It’s not just about creating a positive environment in advance. It’s also about putting the client or the team members in the right mode of thought. Even simple elements like a piece of art or furniture or even the colour scheme could be instrumental to impact.

   Courtesy: Prashant Bhat

Cialdini’s previous work also talked about Reciprocity, the method of rewarding an audience in advance to improve the possibility of a positive response. In Pre-Suasion, he adds timing to this equation, highlighting the importance of the right moment. The concept of ‘reverse hoteling’ – leaving a borrowed desk/cabin in an even better condition that you took charge of it in – originates from this cycle of gratitude. Modern workspaces have been implementing this instinctively too. At agile offices, which allow flexibility in working hours, work locations and even the scope of responsibility, team members would be more inclined to value the freedom they get and consequently more likely to give their best to the projects.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from Pre-Suasion is the seventh principle of influence that Cialdini added to the six listed in his first book – Unity. Workplaces now don’t just want you to look at your office as a place of work – they want to create a sense of belonging. Team members working towards a common objective is not just a line from a staid mission statement. It’s an idea that I see them putting into practice. I observe these shared workspaces trying to inculcate a shared culture and working to encourage inclusivity of diverse, unique abilities of different team members. It’s about striving to leverage everyone’s special traits to work with a unified mindset.

I suppose anyone who browses through these principles will have different situations to apply them to. Pre-Suasion is then a handy read for you – irrespective of what field or background you belong to. It’s not just about influence in business – but life, the universe and everything else.

 

The Changing Role of CRES in a Coworking Future

Photo: Photographix | Sebastian Zachariah

“Does this mean the end of CRES?”

This one query from a friend in response to a previous post on coworking environments got me thinking. It’s a given that coworking spaces like Regus, WeWork and CoWrks will directly impact team members. But the trend will be a major gamechanger for how Corporate Real Estate and Services (CRES) teams operate. Especially when we consider that more companies are expected to outsource the duties traditionally allocated to CRES teams. But as an optimist, I look at this as a new beginning for CRES rather than the end.

So far, the CRES team has been driving decisions regarding the running of the organisational facilities – the location of the office, the area allocated to each division, the management of amenities. They’re especially important to large corporations like financial institutions, IT and ITES companies – in short, organisations that together occupy millions and millions of square feet. With volumes like that, CRES is an entire company within a company. With valuable skills picked up over its entire existence, I’d predict that CRES would naturally adapt to its new environment.

The C in CRES is for Contracts

One new change in the way CRES operates would perhaps be enhanced flexibility in how they lease office spaces. With the dynamic nature of business, it’s sometimes futile to forecast more than three or four quarters into the future. This is why signing a long-term lease extending up to years tends to tie companies down. Coworking spaces, thus, have proved to be more suitable for certain businesses – wherein they can rent space or seats according to their requirements. And if there is a need to relocate, they simply have to shift to a coworking branch in another city. CRES too is departing from conventional lease agreements in favour of smarter, more creative contraction and expansion options. CRES sometimes also bridges the gap between coworking and corporate by having a range of shared office spaces on their repertoire.

The C in CRES is for Coworking

Corporate Real Estate in some large companies also operates as an in-house coworking agent. In this new arrangement, some companies allocate a section of their office space to smaller businesses and freelancers. The direct benefit of this system is the added diversity in the environment. A lot has been said about this practice in a previous article on this blog.

The C in CRES is for Community

While earlier, CRES’ job was to simply provide and furnish an office, they are now becoming more aware of a new responsibility – to create a community, rather than just a physical space. This too is, I believe, a result of coworking culture seeping into large corporates. To simulate the ecosystem of diversity and opportunities to connect, CRES is emulating the coworking model of arranging community outreach programmes across different departments. They’re collaborating with HR to set up events, classes, training modules or even social occasions for teams. Replicating the trend from companies like WeWork, they even have online groups and apps for team members to interact and partake in team building activities.  

It’s therefore impractical to believe that companies will completely have to do away with CRES. After all, it’s the one team that holds all divisions of an organisation together. While coworking spaces offer their advantages, it’s the CRES team that knows the needs specific to their company in and out. The nature of their role now is not just cold and administrative – their new role would be to bring teams together through a more interactive ecosystem within the workspace.

One of the unique qualities of CRES teams across the board is how closely connected they are. They take learnings from other CRES teams while collaborating on projects. The network they share is definitely stronger than the interaction between architects and designers. I predict that if CRES teams belonging to even a few large companies combine forces – converging their procurement muscle and negotiation skills – the result would be stellar. They could create their own diverse coworking ecosystem – spanning astronomical scales, considering scales are what they specialise in. It’s this powerful connection and these time-tested abilities at their command that would take them into the coworking future.

Long live CRES, then!

Exploring Discovery’s Move to a Coworking Space

   Courtesy: WeWork

After my last article on coworking spaces, I was intrigued to learn that a company like Discovery Channel recently moved their entire headquarters to WeWork, a coworking space. I found this interesting because the last office they occupied was at Maker Maxity, the plush, conventional office complex in Bandra-Kurla Complex, Mumbai.

The Discovery team confirms that the 24/7 culture of a coworking office suits their ‘Agile Working’ policy. It’s a combination of flexible working hours, locations and improved autonomy on team projects. This is feasible in a coworking space since it provides a blend of hot desks, quiet zones and team tables. Over and above this, the meeting rooms are plentiful and can be booked for any immediate requirements – something that a traditional workspace would not make possible. As one Discovery team member says, “We can move around the space depending on our productivity. More importantly, companies can book any meeting room from any of the 16 floors available, through a special app.”

According to the folks from Discovery Channel, the greatest advantage from the move to a coworking space has been the surge in opportunities to connect with people of different unique abilities. Participating in the coworking space community activities allows team members to interact with other companies. Coworking space providers also strive to keep the ambience upbeat with a series of events and activations, to bring all the companies together. These events could range from something as simple as a community breakfast to a post-work stand-up comedy evening for the coworkers.

   Courtesy: WeWork

The shared ecosystem also has an impact on the work culture inside each team. Aside from young startups, Discovery now shares its workspace with companies ranging from Jaguar-Land Rover to channels run by YouTube comedians. Discovery Channel India thus gets an environment dynamic enough to be charged with the innovation of a car manufacturer as well as the diverse energy of creative writers. Coworking spaces also offer unique value additions to enrich the office experience. For instance, the music played across all WeWork branches globally is streamed from a central radio station. So the teams working out of the New York office would be listening to the same stream as the ones working out of the Mumbai office. It’s a small but noteworthy step taken to add a global touch.

Another thing that struck me as significant about Discovery’s move to a coworking space was the timing. Around the same time they relocated to WeWork, they also relaunched the channel in India. It is heartening to see the marriage between the administration and business goals of a company. Both sides now work to keep the network’s content young and vibrant, and to attract millennial team members as well. The charged ecosystem of a coworking culture would thus work in their favour. With new-age business gatherings like a community breakfast or Zumba classes – the workspace offers the cosy, modern and spirited atmosphere that most new entrants to the workforce seek.

   Courtesy: Shutterstock

Discovery Channel has thus emerged as a company that’s not only reinventing its product, but also the ethos of its workspace. They are willing to break away from the staid, structured methods of their predecessors and evolving into something new and unique. Since media companies in India are usually the early adopters of trends, I expect this trend would hit companies from other fields too. Satellite teams of finance companies and software giants have already made their way to coworking environments. It would be interesting to see other large companies setting up their entire core operations out of a coworking space.

How The Coworking Culture Will Influence Large Companies

Photo: Prashant Bhat

Coworking spaces have suddenly begun to absorb more and more companies into their ecosystem. At a recent conference, I was asked if this development worries me – as a professional in the business of space. The brief answer is – no. I look at the evolution of workspace design more as a new opportunity than a challenge. As the needs of the teams evolve, so will our approach to design. The work we recently put into creating the Regus office has further cemented this belief.

The Regus project was the first time we designed an environment simultaneously housing tech firms, consultancies and creative agencies. In these environments, the cubicle culture is ditched in favour of shared tables in open spaces. These are punctuated with quieter zones, some enclosed spaces and even “phone rooms”. Team members from different companies can switch between these sections depending on the kind of work they’re doing. This sense of flexibility of movement allows the right balance of community and autonomy.

Most people believe that these spaces are only home to fresh start-ups and small companies. But now coworking spaces have evolved beyond their initial years as incubators for new businesses. Large corporations are rapidly flocking to coworking brands like Regus, WeWork, CoWrks and Awfis. According to a 2018 Confederation of Indian Industries survey, large companies make up for a whopping 10.3 million seats out of the estimated 12-16 million in the county’s coworking industry.

Networking opportunities are a key ingredient that make coworking offices a unique proposition for companies. The ecosystem of different teams operating within the same space simulates that of a high-end business school campus. Individuals with different unique abilities interact, leading up to opportunities for collaborations. Thus, it is not just the sharing of facilities that makes up a coworking space. It is actually the sharing of an environment charged with the energies, unique abilities and DNA of diverse organisations.

Large companies sometimes even use the infectious positive culture of a coworking space to boost fresh ideas for smaller teams. For instance, a team working on a project that requires more focus on innovation is moved to coworking spaces, instead of the whole company at once.

Companies also spend a great deal of time and money into team building exercises to help members develop a good working chemistry. This sense of community and synergy, however, is automatically integrated into the very fabric of coworking culture.

While the human advantage of a coworking environment is evident, large companies are taking note of the administrative advantages. For instance, the sprawl includes plenty of lounge areas with couches, and multiple conference rooms. This makes it easier to arrange meetings anywhere within the complex or the building. Plus, the peripherals and housekeeping are outsourced to facilities experts.  This allows a company to concentrate on its core strengths – producing the product or the service they’re meant to deliver. Coworking spaces also have a battery of training and skill development sessions running throughout the month. That is another peripheral responsibility that corporations can hand over to the coworking brand.

Moving completely to a coworking environment, however, may not be feasible for a lot of firms – especially those where confidentiality and privacy in conference rooms is paramount. There is also the issue of customised design. A lot of companies need their décor to reflect their aesthetic, and that’s harder to achieve in a communal setting. But there are some steps that a company can take to mimic the good things from a coworking ecosystem, within their own organisation. Globally, companies are temporarily renting out unused desks or conference rooms to other smaller businesses to work out of. This creates a semblance of a coworking environment – with ample opportunities for cross-pollination, community and partnerships.

Elements of the coworking culture will thus be inevitably seeping into traditional offices. It is the next trend I’ll be watching out for. It would lead to offices becoming more inclusive environments that inspire innovation. The resulting space design would act as a catalyst for leveraging everyone’s unique ability. It would also be the end of everything that makes a workplace staid and uninspiring. In the words of Leo Burnett of the eponymous Leo Burnett Advertising Company, “Creative ideas flourish best in a shop which preserves some spirit of fun.”

The Future of the Commute: Science fact, not fiction

In the 2011 film ‘In Time’, in the dystopian future, the currency humans will hold in high value won’t be money – it would be time. And humans would be able to determine how much of it they’ve got left by just looking at the digital time stamp embedded into their forearms. It occurred to me that in this fictional universe, we won’t be spending all our time being hurled into the middle of a fast-paced action scene. We’d most likely be spending a great deal of it in traffic, during our daily commute. Imagine living in this constant state of urgency – watching the countdown to your life, as you’re helplessly stuck at a signal. Several studies today have established that there is a connection between mental health, productivity at work and the time we spend commuting. All of this distress would be further amplified with a clock ticking away at you. It wouldn’t just impact the quantity of life lost, but also the quality of it. There is no amount of coffee and good lighting in the office that can make up for this loss.

Now, if this is the world of the future, the way we’d get to work would also be drastically different. That space-age commute we dreamt of in sci-fi novels isn’t too far into the future. As of today, with just a few swipes on a touchscreen, you can conjure a cab right at your doorstep. Unfortunately, ride-sharing apps don’t solve everything. During the recent Ola and Uber strikes, the roads suddenly opened up, allowing for quicker travelling. It wasn’t just because of a drop in the number of cars on the road. There was also a larger ratio of experienced, better-trained drivers, leading to improved traffic discipline. And that’s the kind of gettable future I picture – seamless movement with minimal scope for human error. If you remove the human element out of the equation, then traffic would just flow according to precise mathematical algorithms – a very valid possibility, considering Google’s driverless car project is already underway. Car makers like Ford, Volvo and Toyota have also been testing their own autonomous vehicle prototypes.

Some companies are even taking the next time in self-driving car technology – combining the convenience of ride-sharing apps with an intelligent autopilot system. For instance, NuTonomy, a software firm in Singapore, recently tested a fleet of autonomous taxis. These are kitted up with LiDAR sensors and dash-cams, to detect pedestrians and other road users out of its way. Besides safety, it eliminates another cause of distress – finding a parking spot. To paint you a clearer picture, the future is an electric-fuelled smart car, shuttling between offices – on a route optimised for the quickest commutes. Or even the air taxi, which Uber is already experimenting with in some markets.

Speed, however, will not be the only advantage of this new world. Since you’d be travelling on autopilot, your work could begin as soon as you get out of your driveway. You could already get started on your tablet, access WiFi from the car, or remotely carry out video conferences. You could even conduct a physical conference – a high possibility, since driverless cars would not need a steering wheel, eliminating the front seat/back seat configuration, in favour of a configuration that allows all passengers to face each other. Your ride to work could be your remote, mobile workspace. The quality of your day at work is bound to improve when you have already reduced the time you spend commuting and the stress levels involved.

(Futuristic traffic from Luc Bresson’s ‘The Fifth Element’)
(Futuristic traffic from Luc Bresson’s ‘The Fifth Element’)

The trends on the road will dictate the way we’d design our offices too. Some concepts which we consider indispensable right now, might become obsolete – the parking space, for instance. All office buildings in large cities are built over a basement parking. Some futuristic articles predict that the basement parking may be converted to an underground tunnel connecting all offices – for the shuttles to move more efficiently, without disrupting other commuters above ground. Another consideration that designers will have to take into account is the fuel of the future. We are slowly moving from carbon-based fuels to electric and hybrid energy. Charging stations for plug-in cars will become a mandate for most offices.

Data sharing tech has also spawned another possibility – the exit of the 9 to 5 work culture. That’s the basis of the rush-hour traffic. Since anyone with a security pass will be able to procure documents from any location, work can begin and end at one’s own convenience. This means that an office building would have to operate at all hours of the day too – since team members could be given access to the building in small batches. This would allow a company owner to expand the manpower without having to expand office space. Here, time would work as a dimension – where you literally make the most of the hours in a day, rather than just stretching the space. The number of resources needed to support a team that works in shifts would also reduce – leading to less investment on behalf of the company. This is an environment that would allow smaller businesses to thrive.

The leaps in technology are not just here to turn us into a sedentary species. Electric-assisted bicycles have made pedalling to work easy too. This aspect of technology would allow us to use our commute to get more active and adopt a healthier routine. Workspaces would, of course, have to change to accommodate this lifestyle as well. Some offices today have already started offering gym facilities in the building. This cycling trend would eliminate the need to allocate large areas to heavy fitness equipment. Instead, shower cubicles would suffice, for team members to freshen up in, before they head to their desk.

An overall raise in the standard of living is a dream that technology has made possible. But what I look at is an improved quality of one’s life. Better work-life balance, fitter and thus happier people, fewer hours in the office with each minute spent more productively – these are the factors that make me think that the future world may not be a dystopia. These sci-fi films have perhaps got it all wrong. While the machines carry out our everyday tasks, humans will still be doing human things – emoting, creating and surviving. But not just barely – we’d be able to unlock the full extent of our human potential, using the machines as just an aid, not a replacement for us. So even if my currency in the future is time – I’d spend less time staring at the countdown on my arm, and more time doing things.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in the years.”

Success Needs A Sense of Purpose… And This Book Book Name: Catalyst, Author: Chandramouli Venkatesan

When I first met Chandramouli Venkatesan a few years ago over a cup of tea, I had high expectations, because he had a reputation for depth and wisdom. He did not disappoint. His extensive experience as business leader, together with his natural inclination for teaching and mentorship gave him a remarkable vantage point that led to fascinating insight. He mentioned that he had developed a program that could help corporate folks maximise their career potential. It was a three hour session called ‘Tee Off with Mouli’ which he has taken to scores of organisations, with some stellar feedback and outcomes.

Some time later, I discovered that he had developed this session into a book, called ‘Catalyst’. This immediately made it a must-read. Then a video popped up on my timeline. It featured the venerable D. Shivakumar, former CEO of Pepsi and Nokia and someone I have looked up to, giving some stellar career advice. It turned out the video was part of the clever promotion of Mouli’s book. Now I knew I had to drop everything and get my hands on it.

I promptly did just that. I finished reading the book cover to cover in one sitting, which I don’t recall having done for any book in a long while. At that point, it came as no surprise that ’Catalyst’ is a bestseller. I may have contributed a teensy bit to that, because I made sure to get every member of my team their own copy of the book.

The theme of the book is built around the thought that although most of us are presented with the ingredients that lead to a successful career, these ingredients are not sufficient by themselves. Mouli underlines the importance of certain ‘catalysts’ – organized actions and behaviours, that help in converting the available ingredients into ‘real’ individual growth, ultimately leading to the desired career growth.

The book lays out the structure and principles of career growth, the various moving parts of this structure illustrated with examples and anecdotes and then a behavioural recipe that brings all of these into sustainable action. Most management books tend to offer either high strategy or utilitarian advice, in mutually exclusive ways. Mouli’s mix of motivation, action framework and pragmatic to-dos make this an excellent guide to build and strengthen a career, and one that is equally suited for leaders as it is for team members that are fresh into their careers.

A few ideological choices that the book makes resonated very deeply with me. The idea that how you live your life impacts work rather than vice versa, the concept of learning cycles, the fundamental need for pristine honesty and humility as catalysts to leadership, the important role that bosses and mentors play in shaping not just your foundational years but enduring success as well, among many others. I could validate much of all this from my own experiences, and Mouli’s articulate exposition crystallizes these beliefs very effectively.

Perhaps, the most striking thought in the book is Mouli’s concept of the TMRR module, which stands for ‘target, measure, review, and reflect’. Most of us stop after the first three steps, but the book emphasises that a small amount of effort invested into mulling over   “what could I have done better?” is what may extract the most learning from an initiative or project. In fact, Mouli goes one step further to exhort us to reflect on each day’s activities, to build a continuous process. He even has a cool trick, the idea of ‘anchoring’ the habit of reflection in a daily routine to make it an automated act.

Each chapter ends with an actionable summary under the “Unleash the Catalyst” This act of repetition, rather than being a drag, actually helps change gears and get the reader into an  implementation mindset. In fact, as Mouli rightly says in the last chapter, the more you read a book, the better it will build conviction. In that vein, I’m going to read Catalyst again.

Evolution of Workspaces – Part II

The innovation in technology has led to a sort of renaissance in the office landscape (and culture).

In less than three decades, the authoritative, monochrome, rigid workspace that allowed minimum interaction has evolved into an aesthetically appealing, open, responsive, flexible one.

Anyone from the ‘80s and ‘90s will not recognise an office, as we know it, today. That was a  time when most offices would have the same format as either a maze of cubicles or huge desks lined in rows. Work was mostly a somber affair with people crammed into cubicles. Modes of documentation were typewriters, and of communication were typed letters and landlines. Then there were fax machines and other bulky equipment that ensured one was chained to the desk. And recreation? That was catching up on the grapevine by the water cooler.

Third Bridge - copyright JTCPL Designs
Third Bridge – copyright JTCPL Designs

Workspaces have evolved like computer processors have over the years. Earlier (in the ‘50s), a single computer would fill up an entire room. Now, an average workspace in corporate India has more IT / Telecom processing power than the Pentagon had 30 years ago.

We owe a great deal of what we see today to the IT revolution that changed the way we work and exist in an office environment. Global IT giants like Microsoft and GE introduced the office spaces that at that time felt otherworldly. They brought in their global architects that changed the way workspaces looked, inside, and out.

Brookfield, copyright JTCPL Designs
Brookfield, copyright JTCPL Designs

The transformation of the workplace has been a direct result of how technology reduced and practically eliminated bulk from the office desk. The desktop PC replaced typewriters and fax machines. E-mail and chat messengers reduced paperwork, and calls. Soon, the bulky desktop became a laptop, and then a pad. Landline telephones were made redundant by the onset of mobile phones. The mobile phone only became smarter replacing the computer altogether. With video-call, WhatsApp, e-mail, and a suite of office apps at the press of a button, one could be accessible anywhere, everywhere, and work remotely from a café, or even at home. The shackles attached to the desk have now been completely shattered.

ICBC, copyright JTCPL Designs
ICBC, copyright JTCPL Designs

The challenge for the leadership now is to bring the team member back to the workspace. Only good coffee and WiFi doesn’t make the cut. The office is now designed keeping the needs of the modern workforce in mind.  The office now needs to be a place where unbound occupants feel comfortable, can hang out with like-minded people, and where all their needs are met. It inspires and gets their creative juices flowing, an office they would love to keep coming back to, and even boast about. Additionally, it proves to be a great USP for recruits looking for ‘cool places to work’, on job search portals.

Deutsche Bank, copyright JTCPL Designs
Deutsche Bank, copyright JTCPL Designs

The contemporary office space often reflects not only the industry, but also the mood of the current workforce through bold colours and graphic elements, ample glass walls, and hip décor. It doesn’t stop there. The workspace and meeting rooms can resemble a whole different world made to recreate the outdoors, the inside of a subway metro, or a cool café, or even that of a spaceship.

Deutsche Bank, copyright JTCPL Designs
Deutsche Bank, copyright JTCPL Designs

Offices like Google, Swatch, Skype, Facebook, have ensured that their culture is immediately made apparent through their interiors. Google has a slide instead of a stairway. One of the biggest draws is the recreation or breakaway space. Here team members get to interact and mingle with co-workers over something other than work.  Some have game consoles, to pool tables, to ones like Infosys that has an actual bowling alley on the premises. With ‘perks’ like these, why would anyone want to go home?

Picture Courtesy: Glassdoor.com
Picture Courtesy: Glassdoor.com

And what makes the interiors more fun? Furniture that is as evolved as the interiors leading to an aesthetically inviting space. Breaking away from the traditional seating arrangement, many offices have an open plan where people can sit wherever they want to, or even huddle together, in working corners.

KBS House, copyright JTCPL Designs
KBS House, copyright JTCPL Designs

Some offices have replaced chairs with swings. Often, the chairs and tables are not just a work of art, but modular, multi-functional, and most importantly, ergonomic incorporating an element of wellness to it. Heard of the standing desk? It has proved to be beneficial for those who use them and studies have shown that excessive sitting is the new smoking.

The Future is Here

Picture courtesy: Wired.com
Picture courtesy: Wired.com

Why carry your laptop, when your meeting table can be the Microsoft touchscreen tablet table?

Picture courtesy: Bondstreet.com
Picture courtesy: Bondstreet.com

Kinetic Furniture – This is the future of modular furniture. It is a technological innovation that involves robotics in the design of furniture. Kinetic furniture is responsive and reactive. They are fully automated and can adjust their positions in the most optimal manner, and strikingly gorgeous to look at.  

Picture courtesy: Bondstreet.com
Picture courtesy: Bondstreet.com

The levitating coffee table, that looks like an oversized Rubik’s cube is a marvel in kinetic furniture where science meets luxury.

 

Creating a Co-working Community

A black and white television, a typewriter and closed-door cabins; the one thing these three have in common is that they’re all outdated. Young India is all about latest gadgets, coolest apps and an unconventional way of thinking. It is not just one’s lifestyle; the Indian economy is also facing a substantial change in its structure, owing to the spike in start-ups. This start-up generation has also influenced the new working environment of co-working spaces. With the rising cost of the commercial estate, co-working spaces such as WeWork, Awfis Space Solutions, The Playce, Mumbai Coworking, Bombay Connect, The Hive, etc, come as a breath of relief to the ones high on passion and expertise but low on business capital.

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Branded co-working spaces have seen an impressive hike in 2017 with a 40%-50% increase in such facilities to reach a million square feet in India. These co-working spaces are expected to grow four-fold by 2020. The leasing model of co-working spaces allows a provider to rent out desks/conference rooms on an hourly basis. The low rates make it an easy option for startups trying to keep the operational costs low.
Source: mumbaicoworking.co

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Not just branded co-working spaces, multiple restaurants have also now started renting out space to professionals during the day with redeemable offers and a nominal fee. Starbucks has been providing it for a while now but other brands are catching up and with better-renting options too. These restaurants and cafes are also focusing on providing a semblance of privacy and personal space. Founders Tashi Dorjee and Robert Walker launched TwoSpace in Australia late last year with one simple goal: to make use of already available empty spaces. For instance, in India, the ‘Social’ circuit in Mumbai has enabled the millennial crowd to work where they chill and work while they chill too.

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Most of the Co-working spaces offer options of hot desk, dedicated desk or a team box for 5 to 50 people. The key lies in making a layout which is flexible and can be reconfigured based on the market demand.  Also, what really attracts startups and young entrepreneurs to a space such as this is the ample networking opportunities that it presents. Hence, the design needs to incorporate multiple collaborative and huddle spaces which would help in bringing people together. 

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With branded co-working spaces catering to a wide range of businesses across industries, it is imperative that a deeper understanding is applied to designing them. The generation that is driven by innovation & invention and demands a working environment that represents just that.

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My team and I have recently completed the latest Regus project & it was unique in its own way. With projects such as this, while the brief about the structure remains unchanged, there are multiple variables that no one can account for in advance. How a team reacts to these variables is what makes all the difference in the outcome. On this project, like most others, we were racing against time & it is only our disciplined approach that helped us deliver within time and beyond expectations.

 

Evolution of Workspaces – Part 1

Architecture has been a crucial part and an indicator of the evolution of civilisations through time. If history is any proof, right from the start, architecture has remained well-woven with both, cultural and industrial growth in and around human life. This has also led to a monumental growth in workspace design.

Workspace design has the potential for exponential growth and advancement. And, while we’re celebrating new milestones in the field every day, it is important for us to look back and appreciate where it comes from and how tremendously it has grown. As a perpetual student of architecture, there are certain ancient architectural practices that caught my attention and interest, Roman architecture being one of them.

What intrigued me the most about ancient Roman architecture was its adaptable nature and how it catered to the requirements of a well-functioning workspace. It is no secret that Roman architecture was heavily inspired by the Greeks whom they regarded as their superiors in all visual arts. However, the Romans pursued a utilitarian approach in every piece of work. What made their creations stand out was their in-depth attention to practical applications of the buildings that were fortified by their flair for engineering and construction. Speaking of fortifying, it wasn’t just engineering that the Romans aced, innovation and invention favoured them as well. For instance, the Roman invention of concrete, in the 3rd century BCE encouraged architects to be bolder in their design. It didn’t just change the way buildings were designed then, but also helped expedite Rome’s role in inspiring engineering and architecture for centuries to come.

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The Romans built many commendable structures but the ‘Forum’ or more famously known as ‘Forum Romanum’ has the most significance for me and anyone trying to learn more about and bring dynamic innovation in workspace designs. The Forum was the centre of everything in Rome, probably the first ever co-working space the world has seen. It was a place for social gatherings, religious ceremonies, but more than anything it became the centre of trade in Rome. This open-space architecture that amalgamated the social, political and business needs of the people in ancient Rome is only ancient by its time of creation. The relevance of it is still evident as most offices that we see today follow the open-floor designs combining the practical needs of a business with the social needs of its team.

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When I think about the interiors of the Roman workspaces, the ‘Basilica’ immediately comes to mind. The large public building was utilised for all business and legal matters. A public basilica formed a part of settlements that were categorised as a city. There was a huge similarity between this and the medieval covered market houses of northern Europe; where the meeting rooms were set above the arcades to derive optimal utilisation of the urban space. Basilicas varied in forms but usually contained space-dividing interior colonnades providing aisles and arcaded spaces on both sides and an arch at one end. The surrounding sides were lower as compared to the wide aisle in the centre which allowed light to enter through the clerestory windows. The space optimisation techniques used in that era hold prominence even in today’s time with new startups and businesses growing faster than ever. The best contemporary example of this would be the growing co-working spaces that are expected to receive up to $400 million in investment and set to reach over 1 million sq. ft. of leased ‘alternative’ workspaces in India, by the end of 2018.
Source: en.wikipedia.org
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While we may have just started adapting our work cultures to open and co-working spaces, there’s still a lot to explore, try and implement in this area. It will take time as all great things do but remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.