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Jazz up that workplace!
Sangeeta Singh
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April 22, 2006

There's been a drastic change in the definition of plush offices. Heavy antique furniture, overbearing chandeliers, bright Iranian carpets, false ceilings lined with gold and silver lines are passe. Instead, bright colours, clean lines, sleek furniture and walking into workstations that is free of clutter is what's very much in vogue.

That's what we discovered once we stepped into innumerable offices in Gurgaon. From MNCs to IT offices such as Microsoft, Sapient, Motorola, Nokia, HP, Genpact, WNS... offices are no longer dull or drab, they are now a riot of colours done up artistically, boasting of natural light, good acoustics, lots of open space, chic cafeterias, coffee bars and what have you.

Shift the gaze from Gurgaon to Hyderabad's hi-tech city or move towards Pune's IT Park to gaze in wonder at offices like Cognizant Technology and Xansa offices (and these are just a couple of examples) and it won't be hard to understand the gradual transformation of a boring office space into a lively, interactive, fun place.

Which is why a majority of offices are going in for what experts call "the westernised look". Of course, some corporate honchos like DLF's K P Singh might prefer to show off an M F Husain, or better still, some like Mohit Burman may showcase varied combinations of jade vases, exquisite antique furniture and paintings by some of the leading artists in Dabur's [Get Quote] office in New Delhi.

While it isn't always easy to break away from traditional looks, architect Debashish Majumdar of Line & Form agrees that "nonfussy, straightlined, sparse interiors with minimality are the order of the day".

Majumdar has recently wrapped up sprucing the interiors of two French companies, including one that deals with defence equipment and another that deals with biotechnology.

"Almost all MNCs want their transnational identity to be reflected in their companies. And though they want to blend Indianness into the interiors, one finds that their own identity seems to dominate the space," he says.

Interestingly, even for Indian companies, a "western trend", as Majumdar calls it, is increasingly setting in. "Heavy chandeliers, bright carpets, false ceilings and overtly designed furniture is giving way to functionality and plainness," he explains.

A trip to one of the leading business and knowledge outsourcing MNC, Genpact in Gurgaon only confirms Majumdar's statement. The entire office is a combination of cheerful bright colours with natural light seeping through strategic points into the office space.

Genpact's five offices in Gurgaon have been designed for the requirements of young employees who work round-the-clock and have to remain in the office premises for a long time. While one of the offices in Gurgaon has been designed by Hafeez Contractor, the other offices have been shaped to perfection by architect Mohit Gujral.

Ashok Tyagi, senior VP, (enabling services), Genpact boasts: "Though BPO offices with plush interiors are not uncommon, in'99 Genpact's offices were a hallmark in interiors." According to him, even in smaller cities like Jaipur Genpact's offices are making an impact with impeccable interiors, excellent acoustics and what have you.

It's not just the interiors that are getting a dash of colour and a touch of class and comfort. Besides ergonomically designed furniture to ensure optimum comfort to employees, office space is increasingly housing departmental stores, air/rail ticketing services, clinics and gymnasiums with large open spaces.

And if you thought office space was only about the glamour quotient, think again. MNCs like Genpact adhere to absolutely strict safety standards that according to Tyagi, "comply with American norms".

And thankfully Genpact is not a sole example. Take a look at Mumbai's ICICI Bank [Get Quote] office in Bandra Kurla complex that is spread generously over 4,20,000 sq ft. One of Mumbai's most prominant landmarks with its glass exterior, the office was designed by Raja Aederi on a staggering budget of Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion).

The office houses 2,500 employees and is designed so as to give an average space of 80-100 sq ft per person. The highlight is the cafeteria that has been designed rather stylishly and informally to make it a place where employees can meet each other informally.

While ICICI Bank employees hit the cafeteria for their much-needed breaks, in Kolkata's Cognizant Technology's office that accommodates 1,600 workers "everything in the building", as architect Sandeep Agarwal, informs, "is cutting-edge."

He adds, "The veneer (decorative covering) is primarily Sycamore (exotic wood) with white, lime yellow and green to draw out the colours," With a human-space ratio that is 1:100, the office building boasts of a well-equipped gym and a volleyball court.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, vice-president and head, Cognizant Technologies, Kolkata, adds, "We wanted a lot of natural sunlight and a relaxed atmosphere." Which is why Agarwal designed a special water feature, "a fountain and an atrium inside the building."

At Hyderabad's Manugistic Software Services, a supply chain management company with its headquarters in the US, nearly Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million) were spent on the interiors alone.

Designed by Mumbai-based architect, U K Joshi, Manugistic has a 120-degree workstation with chairs imported from Thailand and carpets flown in from Europe. Hyderabad's Microsoft office is another exemplary example of fabulous interiors and design and if employees are to believed it's a replica of Microsoft's US headquarters in Redmund, US.

Why just MNCs and IT companies, even ad agencies are smartening their interiors. When ad agency, O&M shifted its office in New Delhi, it decided to get a brand new look.

According to Sanjay Thapar, president, O&M, Delhi: "Spread over 38,000 sq ft over two floors, O&M wanted its office to look like a creative Indian office as well as an MNC. Essential spaces like the reception and boardroom have been done up traditionally while pillars were designed to show off our team's creative work."

The office cafeteria has been designed as a gaming zone with a punching bag and a dart board and can accommodate nearly one-third of the employees in one go. Since natural light was a prerequisite, no blinds have been used in the office.

"Natural lighting, waterless urinals, natural wood and lots of greenery," that's how Contractor is designing British Gas office.

With companies getting increasingly conscious of becoming eco-friendly, they are getting specifications on everything, "including the material to be used in chairs", informs Contractor. What does he pay attention to while designing offices? "How to keep the office lively so that monotony of the job reduces, sound absorption tactics and helping office design to let employees cope with long hours of work,"

Agrees Sumeet Ghosh, architect, planner and interior designer, who says what is important in an office interior is that space evokes function.

"Natural light is a good concept but sometimes obsession with natural light can prove counterproductive. Sometimes it has to be a blend of natural light and lamps," he says. Ghosh, who has worked on the India Habitat Centre, believes that call centres are like warehouses and their interiors have to be done with a lot of vibrancy.

Architects are also experimenting a lot with office space. For instance, Mohit Gujral, who designed WNS Global Services in DLF's Trinity Towers, Gurgaon, connected all three wings of WNS spread over three towers.

"The result is, we have an over 120-metre-long corridor connecting the three towers which makes our office distinct," says an employee.

The highlight is that there are three different canteens serving different cuisines in these three different towers. WNS, which is into BPO and KPO services, emphasises a combination of dark and light colours, open space and natural light falling from all sides on the workstation.

But hold on. New architecture and design are not restricted to the upmarket Gurgaon area and MNCs and IT & ITES companies. Architect Rajeev Aggarwal recently did a manufacturing unit in Manesar. Tricolite manufactures electric panels with a Japanese collaboration. He has used red and blue colours to reflect the company's logo.

"We have done the interiors keeping Tricolite's corporate philosophy in mind. Since Japanese culture does not believe in hierarchy we have designed it in such a manner that intermingling is maximum, the cafeteria is done like a bazaar, with lots of Bollywood posters," says Aggarwal. But the interiors do not have paraphernalia, something which according to Aggarwal is passe. Again...

Even though interiors depend on a whole host of factors - including the personal choices of companies and individuals - a trend that seems to be common to all is that offices should look more spacious than they are and more futuristic. These are not buildings that should give you the impression of monotony or drudgery; they should be more lively than the jobs being done in them!

Additional inputs: Gargi Gupta

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