BlackBuck’s contemporary, open-plan office in a Bengaluru suburb aims to bring together its diverse staff while encouraging exchange of ideas and promoting innovation
In the startup world, scaling is an axiom, young millennial workforce, a reality, and finding talent, a challenge. So how does a startup with a young workforce maintain its entrepreneurial spirit as it scales? Workplace design offers some clues. Take the office of BlackBuck, a Bengaluru-based startup that claims to be India’s largest trucking platform. Its digital platforms for trucking freight and service aspire to bring efficiency into a largely unorganized sector.
Started in 2015 by three founders, including Rajesh Yabaji, the chief executive, BlackBuck has scaled from 200 employees to 2,500 in five years. Real estate expansion has had to keep pace. “We are a growing organization, so we keep on taking more space in a staggered fashion, we didn’t plan all buildings together. Now we have different floors in three buildings, including the one we’re in now," says Shilpi Pandey, chief people officer, showing me around the corporate headquarters in a bland commercial building in Kadubeesanahalli suburb.
Building a space that encouraged camaraderie was essential, given the office’s demographic, says Pandey. “We wanted a friendly neighbourhood, not really a formal office." Specific design elements thus came into being.
Design for scale
First, the team whiteboards. Rows of whiteboards line the office, one board for each cluster of workstations. They can be used by any member of a particular team to ideate. A deceptively simple idea, they allow space for team meetings without having to provide a dedicated meeting room.
“We can just walk up to these open discussion boards, and each team member can draw their point of view, their flow of thinking, and how it will be effective and better than the other design or flow we have," says Arpit Sethi, a software developer.
“If you draw, you explain things better. We keep brainstorming and the way the office is built helps us do that," says Vicky Dodani, director (supply).
Second, common areas. The open-plan office is punctuated with areas for informal discussions, such as free seating area like the mini-amphitheatre, and most prominently, an AstroTurf-lined circular cafeteria with an adjoining terrace and views of the city. At 5,000 sq. ft, the café is a large chunk of the 21,450 sq. ft office.
For Dodani, the spaces are vital for intellectual spontaneity. “We have a lot of informal gathering areas, where we can have more casual discussions. This is usually how the new things come up. When you’re discussing something with someone and if you’ve hit on something you might otherwise have kept the idea to yourself. That way I think the informal space also invigorates us to open up."
Third, branding. Corridors of the office are paved with road markings. Meeting rooms have highway signage. Truck memorabilia is at placed at the entrance to the office. Perhaps a bit gimmicky, but they convey the company’s brand values and mission.
“I am sure not more than 1% of my employees would have ever sat inside a truck. We thought how do we give the people a feel of what this industry is all about. They should be connected to the industry. There is a facet of transportation and logistics that needs to be brought to life," explains Pandey.
Fourth, the open-plan office itself. All employees have an open-plan desk. Meetings rooms are glass-walled. The blinds on the conference room are usually reserved for board meetings. The office is densely packed and as a result, it is noisy. But Dodani says it makes sharing of information easier. “I sit right across the table from my manager, one of the founders of the company. If I have to ask him anything, I just ask him. He too can ask me anything, anytime."
Inputs and outputs
The workplace design was not accidental. It reflected an intentional “co-creation" between BlackBuck and its architects, Arth Design Build, who designed and executed the project. A group of BlackBuck employees were asked to share their views on the new space. Focus group discussions were conducted to understand needs. “We said who’s better to co-create than our own employees who will eventually occupy the space? Inputs started coming, such as we don’t want many boundaries or tall partitions, we want a more unstructured space, which is not visually monotonous," says Pandey.
Workplace design matters because of the nature of talent in the industry. Talent management is a challenge for every startup, and particularly in the trucking industry, not known for high-calibre talent.
A contemporary workplace is then a strategic calling card. “The company has diverse staffing, and I believe in ensuring that everybody, irrespective who they are in the company, are able to connect with what’s happening. The unifying thing is what they are doing. That’s core to people staffing," says Yabaji, the co-founder.
Fostering teamwork, encouraging idea exchange and innovation and establishing a consistent set of brand values across the organization are just some of the ways workplace design has enabled BlackBuck to grow in line with its strategic goals.
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