Adidas’ Gurugram office: where work meets play
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There are many reasons to love or hate a workplace, but an in-house company gym is not usually one of them—it is usually irrelevant to most office-goers. Often just a token effort to promote healthy living, the company gym is frequently inadequately equipped, pumped with stale air, underutilized and a matter of indifference for the majority of employees.
Not so at the new corporate headquarters of the Indian arm of multinational sports apparel company adidas. Spread across 5,000 sq. ft, the company gym occupies a hefty chunk of the top floor of the company’s office building in Gurugram, adjacent to Delhi—it moved to this space from another office building in the same city in January. The wide range of exercise equipment—cardio machines, weight- training equipment, specialist fitness gear from partner-brand CrossFit and plenty of yoga mats—makes it a serious rival to any commercial gym or exercise studio.
“My day starts by coming to the gym in the morning; I love it. It’s really huge, there are many machines,” says Rashi Agrawal, manager, range management of Reebok, a sporting brand acquired globally by adidas in 2006 (in India, the brands merged in 2011).
Agrawal is not alone in her enthusiasm. “Over 100-125 people use the gym daily. We first thought everybody wants to hit the gym because of their New Year resolutions, but the usage is continuing and increasing, almost every one in two people (of the staff headcount of 265) is using the gym every day,” says Arijit Sengupta, senior director of human resources.
“Sports and fitness bring a lot of discipline into your life. I feel that my 1-hour workout in the morning helps me focus better at work. And my boss (Jatin Kharb, senior manager, brand Reebok) and I work out together. When you talk about team building and collaboration, it starts here. We are able to interact better. It just makes the whole place a lot more dynamic. Sports is a way of being,” says Agrawal.
Team work and collaboration
For an adrenalin-fuelled sports brand such as adidas, a well-utilized gym captures its energetic brand values better than any advertising slogan. “Sports is fun, and if you are having fun in your work, the work doesn’t feel like work, and that’s what this environment encourages,” says Sharad Singla, senior manager for adidas brand marketing.
Providing employees enough elbow room to interact with each other also reinforces the company’s commitment to teamwork and collaboration. The office’s generous square-foot-per-person ratio of about 232 sq. ft meets global standards, enabling employees to cluster wherever they happen to be without having to move into meeting rooms for discussions.
“You see a lot of open spaces. Between desks you will see space. Between rows you will see space. Between one wing and another wing you will see space. Every floor has a nice breakout area. The overall theme is a very open, transparent office where people can connect,” says Sengupta.
But too much openness can also become bland and uninspiring, especially when each floor spans as much as 20,000 sq. ft. Intelligent spatial design was warranted to prevent the open-plan office from turning into visually monotonous rows of identical desks.
Boston-based Alfred Byun, senior designer at Gensler, adidas’ global architecture firm, approached “the floor plan like an urban planning exercise”, by creating avenues for mobility as well as moments of pause and respite. “There is a main street and central artery. This is the primary circulation that flows through the workplaces and connects the entire floor. Then there are special moments, collaborative zones and conference areas, which are more celebratory,” he says over the phone. These “special moments”, including sports-themed cafés and breakout spaces, with punching bags or swings, introduce humour and playfulness into the work environment.
Too much transparency is ring-fenced by a series of cabins, interspersed at regular intervals between the rows of desks. Contrary to the growing trend in India of a cabin-free work culture, the adidas management decided to retain some cabins. “Only 14 of us, who are in the senior management team, have cabins,” says Sengupta, adding that cabins can also be used for team meetings when their primary occupant is away, easing the pressure on other meeting spaces.
New York-based Brian Berry, design director, Gensler, who worked on the project, says over the phone: “Many projects, especially in the tech world, do away with all privacy, and everyone is thrown into the open plan. It proves problematic. The key is to make sure that the right kinds of choices are available to clients, such as being able to have phone conversations in phone booths, and discussions in enclosed meeting spaces.”
His views echo the findings from contemporary workplace design research, primarily from the West, which cautions against too much openness and recommends providing an adequate number of enclosed spaces to ensure privacy and promote productivity.
The language of design
The design team’s use of graphics to illustrate adidas’ personality is equally calibrated. Sports brands tend to unleash the imagination of designers. Other sports-led workplaces featured in this series so far have brought their brands to life with elements such as an indoor running track, a branded slide and a rock-climbing wall.
By contrast, the design language at adidas is muted, emphasizing carefully crafted typography over colourful imagery or artwork. Words, not pictures, decorate the glass walls of cabins and meeting rooms, and the metallic doors of the elevators. The brand’s world-famous ambassadors, such as Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi, are kept in their place, strategically confined to images in select corners and on walls. Each floor has a lively sporty installation, which livens up the entrance but does not extend further.
For Byun, this strategy reflects core brand values. “Adidas, culturally, is marketed ‘from the street’, it has a sense of grittiness, it’s not slick-polished. So there are smaller moments of delight, more surprising, more about texture, colour and graphics, not just about taking the marketing materials and plastering the brands all over. That’s more true to where the brand adidas came from,” he says.
Adidas’ street-style quotient might be a matter of interpretation, and relative to some of its more flamboyant competitors, rather than an absolute fact (its stores and apparel are certainly stylish and polished). But another prominent office feature reinforces the brand’s inherent pragmatism: a line of storage units that run parallel to the main row of workstations, across the length of the workspace.
Most branded retailers struggle with storing their samples, at best an afterthought. They often end up in a rising pile in a random meeting room, season after season. The design team tackled this problem head on by giving storage pole position in the new office, locating it alongside the main artery, adjacent to where teams work, rather than a distant storeroom. “This storage is easy to use, and it keeps teams aware of what they have. It also adds interest, because people can see changing seasons, see colours and fabrics,” says Berry.
Elsewhere in the building, purpose-built showrooms have been constructed to host season launches for trade associates, eliminating the need to book external venues. Both facilities, the storage space and the dedicated showrooms, reflect the operational business realities of sports retail rather than its glamour.
So what is most interesting about the new headquarters, then, is not simply what the company did but what it chose not to do. Workplace design, just like business strategy, is composed of options that are exercised, as well as those that are not. Not too open, not too loud; less talk, more walk, even more workout: The design boundaries define what the brand stands for. Just like in the sporting field, the new adidas headquarters will attract fans, and, inevitably, rivals.