If you think of hi-tech office furniture as a waste of time—not to mention precious money—think again. Steelcase Inc., the Chicago-based company specializing in workplace furniture and products, has concluded the Generation Y in the Workplace study which correlates workplace ambience to employee behaviour and efficiency. The study, released on 7 July, was a three-part series conducted across companies in India, China and the US. Sudhakar Lahade, senior design researcher at Steelcase headquarters, was recently in the Capital and he explains why Indian firms should invest more in office design. Edited excerpts:
How do you make a workspace more attractive in terms of design?
A couple of things make a place attractive to the youth of today, especially an environment that allows them opportunities to connect with their peers and co-workers. This isn’t just at the level of work, but also socially. That’s how they learn and grow from each other. When we’re designing, therefore, we plan to keep such spaces to facilitate such interactions.
Download link here To listen to Sudhakar Lahade, senior design researcher, Steelcase Chicago, who tells us why companies should invest in better workplace design
What are the common problems in India as far as office space is concerned?
One of the common problems in India is how organizations look at the issue of workspace design: They look at it as an expense instead of an investment.
Your study notes changes in the Indian work environment in the last decade. The culture of working in shifts, for instance, with one chair being occupied by two-three people at different times of the day. How would you design such a chair?
In India, with the rise of the service industry, it is common to have such a situation where one chair gets used by two-three different people. We, therefore, need a product that suits all of them. We have, for instance, a “Think Chair” that understands the weight of the person and what it needs to do with regard to adjustment. Every time you sit on it, it knows that this is a different person and changes settings accordingly.
You mention a culture of collaboration in recent times in the office space. What happens to the aspect of privacy and how do you ensure it?
When it comes to privacy, there are two types. One is for strictly confidential matters like a supervisor taking a critical review of their subordinate. This needs private space. Second is a perceived or psychological privacy. Most of the work in offices requires a perceived level of privacy.
What are the few key tips you would offer a workplace designer?
First, that the generation of today is driven by social connection. If you put such people in separate office cubicles, they will run away from such a place. Create as many social opportunities for young people to come together as possible. The youth is also attracted to technology, and this should be harnessed in a constructive way. Workstations could be more personalized and there can be different colour schemes for people in different departments. Rather than a floor of 1,000 people with the same desk colour and lighting, companies can help workers build a separate identity and just support their personal needs.
How do you customize designs according to (a) culture difference and (b) work type?
In an Indian workspace, it is common for people to bring their personal belongings to their desks as opposed to the US, where they leave their things in their car. In India, you will find things like umbrellas, lunch boxes, helmets, bags, etc. For such an environment, we should ideally have a common space near the entrance where they can park some of these items. There should also be space to accommodate items like diyas or other handicrafts that a typical workstation is not designed for.
When it comes to customizing according to work-type, for instance, between someone in a creative field like a designer versus an engineer, we’ll try and create space for visual stimuli for the designer.
Changing times, changing workplace
In the 1950s and 1960s
The chance of a private office, maybe even in a corner location, helps attract and motivate the man in the grey flannel suit.
1970s and 1980s
Signature buildings with big atriums, dramatic lobbies and assigned cubicles for everyone are the icons of successful, desirable employers.
1990s and 2000
Dot-com companies popularize foosball and pool tables, casual dress codes and more informal work environments.
Workers seek flexible, anywhere/anytime workspace, technology and customization.
Source: ‘Generation Y in the Workplace’.