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While celebrating “Home Library Week" in April, furniture and décor retailer Urban Ladder posted an Instagram story detailing what their team was reading. The book titles were as diverse as the team member profiles. Marketing, brand, customer experience and design employees recommending Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and more.

On closer reading, this promotional activity revealed much more—notably, a group of employees who truly love books. It seems inevitable that such a company would eventually gravitate towards a formal book club, and, on 20 April, Urban Ladder officially launched one at their Bengaluru headquarters.

Thirty-two of the 200-odd employees have already signed up for the monthly meets, which will take place after work hours. “While informally, we as a team have always formed connections over our love for reading, as an organization, we felt the need to drive this formally to build more inter-team conversations and bonding. The UL Book Club is now a part of several other in-house engagement activities such as ULympics, MusicUL nights, etc," says Rajiv Srivatsa, chief product and technology officer, Urban Ladder co-founder and head of PeopUL function (HR).

In the past, one-off book discussion sessions have been eye-openers. Sonia Parandekar, vice-president, engineering, hosted a group meet to discuss Sheryl Sandberg’s seminal work Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead. Participants had two months to read the book, and copies were shared with anyone who expressed interest. “I’ve been working for 15 years, but there were people who are just starting out. It was interesting to see how different people’s perceptions are at different stages of their career," Parandekar says, adding that Lean In was an important book for her.

Urban Ladder founder Ashish Goel counts Neil Gaiman among his favourite authors. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
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Urban Ladder founder Ashish Goel counts Neil Gaiman among his favourite authors. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Creating a reading culture

Ashish Goel, CEO and co-founder of Urban Ladder, believes that a passion for books that cuts across teams, is unusual. “One of the important things in our hiring process, at a core DNA level, is whether we can relate to the person. Everybody reads different kinds of things, and most people are, how should I put this, at least interesting."

Goel’s own love for books has definitely helped shape company culture. He says, “My locker always has 30-40 books, and I’ve been running a personal book club for years. Now we have a company book club."

He and other in-house book enthusiasts have managed to convert a few non-readers into readers. Bhupesh Pangti, director, operations, is one. “I’d be amazed at the insights colleagues would share during discussions. When I asked where they had learnt about it, they’d point to a book," says Pangti, who has now set himself a personal goal of reading at least 12 books a year.

In the company of books 

From increasing the ability to absorb information, to embracing solitude, there are several ways reading can improve productivity. Organizations made up of ardent readers, like Urban Ladder, have found other rewards. Often, books that stay with you long after you have finished reading them can inform your work. Goel gives the example of how Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History Of Private Life, a book chronicling the history of the modern home, mirrors the transformation houses in India are undergoing today. “I read the book years back, but some passages stayed with me," he says.

Encouraging employees to cultivate a reading habit—or keeping up the hobby—has also helped Urban Ladder create memorable brand experiences. “When we set up our first store, the team spent a great deal of effort deciding on the book titles to stock on our bookshelves. Customers were amazed to see how close the selection was to their own libraries at home. Our furniture may be mass-produced, but this made the experience more meaningful," says Pangti.

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