If 31-year-old Arshad Chowdhary has his way, we won’t be forced to doze off at our desks anymore. Instead, employees will take 20 minutes away from their desktops inside the drowsy womb of an EnergyPod. “There is nothing like a 25-minute nap to ensure wellness, focus and increased productivity,” says Chowdhary. He should know. As an investment banker in New York, he saw many of his colleagues hit the desk or retreat to the bathroom to catch up on sleep.
After years of thinking that there must be a better way to rejuvenate, the Carnegie Mellon business school graduate went back to school and designed the futuristic 7ft recliner with temperature control, a hood for privacy, lights with dimmers and soothing music that lulls users to sleep. “I started with the idea of napping centres where people could come in for a short nap, maybe at lunch time,” says Chowdhary, whose company, MetroNaps,’ office at the Empire State Building still has its first napping centre.
Stressed-out executives in Manhattan’s business district don’t think too much about forking out $14 (Rs574) for a 25-minute nap in the pod, with the option of having lunch ready when they wake up.
Studies conducted by researchers all over the world, including one by Harvard University, have shown a direct co-relation between a short nap in the middle of the workday and increased alertness, mental performance and better mood, all of which lead to increased productivity. “Our employee survey results on the MetroNaps service have been very positive. Improving employee energy and well-being through power napping is a real and important opportunity,” says Dr Steffen Hitzeroth, medical director, Procter & Gamble Services GmbH, Schwalbach, Germany. The group’s employees in Switzerland and Germany now use EnergyPods.
MetroNaps, positioned as a sleep-solutions provider, is determined “to become in the area of sleep what Nike is in the world of sport”. They provide nap strategies to multinationals such as P&G and HSBC, and Chowdhary says the future will be about specialized pods for gyms, classrooms and construction sites. Over 100 pods are already in operation (corporates can either rent one for $795/month or buy it for $12,000) in spots as varied as the Miami International Airport, Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, and XX’s Savannah College of Art and Design.
Going forward, Chowdhary is focused on Asia, especially India and China, to fuel growth. “India and China represent a fantastic opportunity as the population works overtime to meet deadlines,” says Chowdhary.
With thousands of Indian youngsters taking up jobs in business process outsourcing (BPO) units and call centres, studies have shown the growing incidence of ailments stemming from sleep deprivation. “As more wealth is created in India and China, I see a growing market for health and wellness products,” he says.
Indian employers such as Infosys Technologies provide a range of employee-friendly services and facilities to reduce stress. The company’s Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment (HALE) programme offers its 72,000 employees worldwide, among other things, online health chats where doctors address the health concerns of Infoscions around the world. In addition to seminars and free individual consultations with specialist doctors on campus, the company also has nutrition, ergonomics, fitness and exercise lecture sessions as an ongoing feature.
“Infosys has always believed that a caring and supportive approach towards Infoscions will benefit both the individual and the company,” says Infosys Technologies vice-president and head, HR, Bikramjit Maitra. But will Indian employers warm up to the idea of allowing employees to nap at work? “I think people are always open to look at it,” says Infosys director, human resources, Mohandas Pai.
Chowdhary, meanwhile, has bigger plans up his sleeve to ensure that MetroNaps retains its leadership in the field of sleep, which he points out, is brand new in terms of commercial opportunities. “I will make the MetroNaps EngeryPods as common in the workplace as the photocopy machine,” he signs off.