Till recently, employees of software company Microsoft India in Gurgaon, adjoining the Capital, would budget an extra 10-20 minutes for all meetings. With the office spread across four different floors in two separate buildings, DLF Cyber Greens and DLF Infinity, they just had to.

In February, says Rohit Thakur, head, human resources, Microsoft India, the Gurgaon team shifted to a new, 70,000 sq. ft office in DLF Epitome—11km away—partly to fix this road bump in active collaboration. “We wanted to ensure that we work co-opt more, so we requested for all the staff to be located at one office," he says.

The new workspace, built along Microsoft’s global Workplace Advantage Program guidelines, is kitted out with 60 meeting rooms of varying sizes and specifications, from telephone rooms for one-on-one conversations, focus rooms that can accommodate four-six people at a time, to meeting rooms for larger consultations. For all-hands meetings, the retractable walls in the cafeteria can be pushed out to merge with the reception area and create a large hall. “Spontaneous collaboration, brainstorming and teamwork are key tenets of the new office," says Thakur.

Employee lockers have letter slots.

In 2005, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates too had touched on the question. He wrote in a white paper, titled “Digital Work Style: The New World Of Work", that the nature of work was changing and that office design and support services needed to keep pace. “Over the next decade, shared workspaces will become far more robust, with richer tools to automate workflow and connect all the people, data and resources it takes to get things done," Gates said.

So, free seating and flexitimings, high-speed wireless connectivity and plug points in all parts of the office, seating options ranging from sofas to stools and office chairs, and furniture—including tables—that can be moved around for impromptu meetings, are all ideas that emerged from the need for greater mobility and an “activity-oriented" office.

“People are coming to the Microsoft campus, but they’re only in their assigned workspace an average of 45% of the time," explains Ayres. The way he sees it, the rest of their work hours may be spent in “intra-campus mobile, touching down at hub counters to chat with a co-worker, working in cafés between meetings, travelling to other buildings to collaborate on projects", among other activities.

Plug points are tucked away all over the office.
Plug points are tucked away all over the office.

“The point here is that the current office does not have any assigned desk apart from the ones for the support teams, which means that workstations are shared between employees," says Jain. Only the “Tech Link" staff has a fixed location at the centre of the office, so employees always know where to go for technology support.

Jain adds: “The facility is designed with a sharing ratio of 2.4:1 (that is, with 2.4 seats on average per employee) and all the other spaces apart from workstations are also considered work seats. So all the collaboration spaces, café, lounge, focus and phone rooms are designed in such a way that people can work there for longer hours. Attention was given while choosing furniture for these areas, power and data/Wi-Fi points are provided in all such locations."

Even the leadership team doesn’t get fixed workstations. The bosses only get an earmarked section with thumbtacked notes on soft boards announcing the “leadership neighbourhood"—an interesting take on the open-door policy. This section is far from closed off to employees across ranks. On the summer day we visited the office, even the leadership team seemed to be shunning the neighbourhood, to avoid the direct blaze of the afternoon sun coming in through the large glass windows.

The windows, and a large part of the decor, are designed to “bring the outside inside". Meeting rooms are named after mountains and rivers, and employee lockers have clouds, birds and plants painted on them.

Also, collaboration is only one-half of the story. For individual, heads-down work at the office, there are quiet zones—the only areas with partitions between the workstations. The U-shaped workspace doesn’t have corner offices for the leadership team, but employees across ranks can use the telephone rooms as closed-door cabins for up to 2 hours.

There are break-out zones in all sections of the office.

To be sure, the office leaves some things to be desired. While employees report having brought their children and parents in to see their swanky new office on weekends, there is no crèche on the premises. The relaxation rooms have three Osim massage chairs, but there’s no gym for staffers yet. And the cafeteria depends on a caterer to bring in meals.

Still, snacking options abound. The 250 employees in the office, and their guests, go through 120 bottles of soft beverages, the small Maaza glass bottles being the most popular, and 900 cookies every day. In the evening, snacks served on the house are a great favourite. On the day we visited, troops converged from all parts of the office, and a team gave up its game of table tennis in the cafeteria just after 5pm, to snack on chowmein. After that, judging by the crowded lifts, it is time to go home—for most.

CHAIR UP

sofas, office chairs, stools- each seating option serves a different purpose

The Eames Elephant.

The Eames Elephant, in classic red and dark lime, is a playful addition to the office; it draws attention even among the tens of different types of seating arrangements there. The light stools—they were benignly looking out over the chaos of Gurgaon through large windows on the day we visited—aren’t comfortable to sit on for long periods, but they do meet the brief for offering mobility around the office.

The Zody Task office chair. Photo courtesy Haworth
The Zody Task office chair. Photo courtesy Haworth

On busy days, employees might spend 10-12 hours glued to their chairs. And while “nature made the human body for walking"—as Anil Arora, unit head, orthopaedics, at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Patparganj, New Delhi, puts it—the next best thing on such days is a chair with ample lower-back support. We found at least two chairs that fit this description at the Microsoft office—the Haworth Zody Task, with adjustable height and incline, and a soft but firm seat to make long hours of sitting as comfortable as possible; and the Steelcase SW 1 Lounge swivel chair in lime green with a mesh back.

The Hosu chair. Photo courtesy Coalesse

Besides these, there are also wicker chairs, bar stools and even sofa sets that would fit seamlessly into an American-style diner. Dr Arora says sitting cross-legged intermittently is a good idea, and the sofa seats may come in handy there. But no matter how great the chair, Dr Arora says, “do try and walk about at regular intervals".

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