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Bike desks have been strategically placed throughout this office to encourage employees to workout while working. Lighting is automatically sensitive to the levels of sunlight coming through the windows, using lux sensors. Oxygen levels inside the office are optimized with the use of air purifiers and there are sensors to monitor levels of carbon dioxide.

These are just some of the measures a 155-year-old financial services company has taken to stay relevant. Multinational Sun Life’s Asia Service Centre (ASC) in Gurugram is a 160,000 sq. ft facility, housing 1,800 employees. A captive unit, it provides business processing, information technology (IT) and investment-research related services to Sun Life’s global businesses.

“Sun Life is a Fortune 500 company. We’ve seen World War I, World War II, India’s Independence, the 2008 meltdown crisis. This service centre was set up as a kind of a corporate utility to provide services to other Sun Life geographies, to Canada, the US and Asia," says Chandan Barve, 44, chief administrative officer, enterprise services Asia, and site head ASC India. “We started with 50-60 people back in 2006, and today, we are 1,800."

Bike desks spread across the space encourage people to workout and work.
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Bike desks spread across the space encourage people to workout and work.
Bike desks spread across the space encourage people to workout and work.
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Bike desks spread across the space encourage people to workout and work.

STAYING VIBRANT

When it came to designing the new facility, Barve and his team turned to design thinking to help them understand what their employees really wanted.

Design thinking is a creative, human-centred, problem-solving approach, which places empathy for the user at the heart of any situation. Barve recognized with “a 90% millennial workforce and an average age of 25", it was important to understand their needs. “From a pure design thinking standpoint, we put together a group of 25 millennials. We invited them to a day-long workshop to understand what they are missing from our existing offices," Barve explains.

They met several architects, consultants and “looked at the offices of Facebooks and the Googles. But we also had our own thinking. This was not a brick and mortar story for us. It was more of defining the culture, transforming the way we want to work. We wanted to move away from the conventional ways of working, to a more informal, to a more vibrant, to a more sustainable one," he says, adding the company chose to work with DSP Design Associates to design and execute the fit-out.

The workshop threw up four specific insights, which the organization designated as pillars for the facility’s design: innovation, collaboration and agility, wellness and sustainability. These are quite standard requirements but most organizations struggle to simultaneously meet all of them.

At the Sun Life ASC, innovation labs and scribbling walls enable employees to brainstorm. A variety of work settings, including cocoon seats, a dining-table setting and plenty of arm chairs encourage impromptu huddles, while phone booths provide privacy. An agile policy—1,300 desks for 1,800 people—leaves employees free to find their own spots across the facility. Wellness measures promote indoor air quality, as well as providing enough opportunity for sports and recreation, including a pool table. A centrally placed staircase keeps employees physically active. Single-use plastic has been eliminated from the facility.

Employees testify to the improved amenities. “We always had meeting rooms, but their adoption was less. You required a remote to connect to a display in the meeting rooms earlier. Here, you can seamlessly use this equipment. I just connect my laptop, I get connected over Zoom, I can use that for almost 15 persons’ meeting. My team and I have started adopting it. These things look small but they impact collaboration a lot," says Rajiv Thakkar 43, director (enterprise infrastructure).

Supriya Dhiman, 36, senior manager, HR business partner, who’s part of the Asia business partner team, appreciates the wellness measures. “Things like the lighting system that we have. It’s a small thing but it has definitely helped me improve the way I work. There have been days when I walk into the office and feel I’ve got a migraine attack. I have got a quiet room to go to, use the massage chair, sit there for 15-20 minutes and then I’m back to work. Earlier, I used to return home," she says.

She’s also started walking more. “It’s helping me manage my weight better. On average, I am doing about 4.5-5km just walking from one floor to the other," she says.

Harsh Nagpal 36, senior manager (business planning and execution, digital and data analytics), says, “As a millennial, an important thing for me is to be open. If someone in my senior leadership requires me to do a particular job, I would want them to just come and talk to me. And that happens. The entire organization is sitting in one building; it gives an opportunity for people to just climb upstairs, go to the ninth floor, or I will go down and speak with them. That really works because that allows me to have that frankness, that clarity. And it saves everyone’s time and from replying to 10 emails," he says.

We are happy to see that our people consider their workplace as their “second home", says Barve. “It has made us more agile, collaborative and introduced new ways of working."

The Sun Life office is not just about what millennials want. It is about what everyone wants.

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