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Astroturf lines the floors and walls of the conference room. In a meeting room next door, a table full of neatly stacked tennis balls greets visitors. A running track encircles long rows of open-plan workstations. A table-tennis table dominates the reception; a punching bag dangles to the side of the running track. Sports memorabilia, including athlete jerseys, team flags, photographs and sports equipment, adorns every available square inch of this 12,500 sq. ft workspace.
Welcome to Sportz Interactive, a digital content and technology solutions firm started in 2002 by sports enthusiast Naveen Aranha, who subsequently sold a controlling stake in the business to the Chicago-based sports information services company, Stats Global Network. Located in Mumbai’s western suburb of Goregaon, the business-to-business company offers digital services to sports media, including TV broadcasters such as Star Sports and Sony Six, and sports leagues in India and abroad, including football’s Indian Super League and the Pro Kabaddi League. The services offered comprise data analytics and visualization, Web and mobile products, gaming and social media services, etc. In other words, the firm generates data-driven experiential content that sports enthusiasts consume via television or mobile.
Intense yet fun
The firm’s mission statement is “to revolutionize the sports fan experience across consumption points by creating best-in-class, kickass products!” Little surprise then that the customized office interiors are designed to reflect and shape the company’s sporting spirit.
“One of the things that’s really special about Sportz Interactive is the culture of the place. Everyone is truly excited and passionate about sports. And the office is a big enabler to make sure that happens,” says Arvind Iyengar, the company’s 32-year-old chief executive officer.
The new office, inaugurated in May, represents an opportunity to improve teamwork in more than metaphorical ways. Having operated previously from different offices, scattered across several floors of another building in the same neighbourhood, the company is relieved that its 270 employees are finally batting on the same pitch.
“The vision was to have everybody in an open-office environment across one floor,” says 39-year-old Aranha, the company’s founder and head of global partnerships, who conceptualized the design of the new workplace along with some co-workers.
Most of the employees are housed in the central open-plan area to facilitate greater collaboration. “The energy is palpable in this environment, and I find communication far easier. My boss sits behind me now so I just tap on his shoulder,” says 27-year-old Victor Tarapore, a senior associate in the data and analytics team.
The benefits of proximity, however, are inevitably accompanied by the ensuing challenge of mounting noise levels. “I think that’s the one piece that we haven’t fully addressed yet and are still working on, but again, hopefully, it’s getting better after we started making public announcements to control noise and people became more self-aware,” says Iyengar.
The length of the rectangular space is flanked by different work areas on either side. To one side are the common areas—different-sized meeting rooms, the foyer and cafeteria. On the other side, towards the windows, are a series of rooms dedicated to data capture and scoring—the pulse of the company’s core business of compiling and interpreting real-time information for its customers. Not surprisingly, these rooms have been given pole position—they are on the periphery of the office, with maximum sunlight and sound insulation.
“Sports is real time. Sports is reactive, sports really needs to capture that passion in 140 characters,” says Iyengar. “We need speed, accuracy, quality, depth of data, and then the technology layers on top that we are adding,” says Aranha, underlining the intense nature of the work.
There is a sense of humour, nonetheless. Opposing walls in each of the data-capture rooms bear images of famous sporting rivalries, such as the Indian and Australian cricket teams, or the Chelsea and Manchester United football teams.
Living A sporty life
Some might find the office props gimmicky, but for the employees of Sportz Interactive, these represent a way of life. “My identity was always sports, even when I was doing my engineering. I always said I want to be a sports presenter. We truly understand the sports fan experience. I think understanding the sports fan and building solutions that he or she will like is what makes a big difference,” Iyengar says, explaining why employees must fully immerse themselves in the company’s sporting culture.
The joining ritual for new employees is illustrative of how the company seeks to blend workspaces with work practices. All employee names are publicly displayed in a mock-team roster, in the office reception, with a unique number against each name, just like in a sporting team. Each new recruit is allowed to pick a number, and he or she is given a sports jersey with that number. On being promoted, each employee’s number goes up, with the oldest employees having earned the highest numbers. There are also medals for tenure—gold for 10 years, silver for five and bronze for three, says Aranha.
Several start-ups are now investing in stylish workplaces to attract and retain talent. In terms of being able to align workplace design with corporate values, business functionality and brand spirit, however, the compact, youthful office of Sportz Interactive hits the ball out of the stadium.
Aparna Piramal Raje is the author of Working Out Of The Box: 40 Stories Of Leading CEOs, a compilation of Head Office columns, published as part of the Mint Business Series.