How has workplace design evolved with time – By Shrinivas Rao

Our relationships with our jobs have come a long way, with the overall concept of an office space also changing over time. Over the past few decades we saw evolution of workplace in terms of utilization of space, structuring, use and placement of equipment, automation, sustainability measures and more. Companies have changed their view of the whole process of designing an office space as we know it; from just placing desks and chairs to ensuring digitalization of the office, setting up a fully functional cafeteria, recreation room amongst an entire gamut of offerings.
While the British era might actually have been the harbinger of organized labour in India, the way the offices were built during that time were akin to the way they were built back in England. The offices wore a traditional look with chairs and desks made of solid wood, amenities included telephone connection and electricity, and there was no automation which resulted in huge file storage spaces that were often relegated to the attic, basement or right where the officers used to sit.

Post-Independence and Pre-liberalization Era saw the birth of modern architecture in India, with a surge not only in construction of corporate and government office buildings, but also formation of cities. Eminent architects like Le Corbusier, Otto Koenigsberger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Roheso, and Walter Gropius were roped in to design Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and other projects across India.

Cubicle offices were popularised as the style promoted collaboration and flexibility, while affording employees some privacy. Further on, the 80s also saw the advent of automation with telephones, fax machines and computers making way into the workplace. This reduced the use of filing cabinets to a large extent, thus impacting the size of office cubicles/ cabins.

Post-Liberalization saw influx of IT/ ITeS companies in India. Computers became commonplace at work and there was extensive digitisation of records, files etc. With digitized files and documents, file cabinets became a thing of the past. Digitization enabled easy storage and duplication, thus easing work for all. The concept of open office was brought to the fore in organizations that needed people to collaborate on a daily basis. Cubicles were restricted to collaborative work and hence the numbers drastically reduced and in some cases, were done away with.

In the late 2000s, as broadband connections became available along with mobile phones, the concept of remote working and flexible working evolved. Companies started offering them as a perk to employees, providing work flexibility in terms of place and time.

The 2000s also saw Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization, which totally changed the work culture. There was a spurt in the number of MNCs entering the Indian market and with it came exposure to best practises in work culture, workplaces and a whole gamut of things. There was a shift in building of infrastructure with use of modern architecture concepts, technology, newer construction material, giving rise to quality high rise buildings with provision for parking spaces across India (mainly A Grade Metro Cities).

Introduction of IT Parks (only office buildings) and BioTech Parks (office spaces along with manufacturing units) also brought in a lot of companies to these designated zones/ spaces. This ensured many positive and welcoming points for investment as well. Newer offices with ergonomic designs and well thought of design elements and vibrant colours helped provide an informal workplace. Focus shifted to creating an agile and activity based workplace that seamlessly blended with changing work requirements. This trend has also resulted in improved seat count and lesser real estate take up. Organizations are taking up space equivalent to 70-80% of their employee strength instead of the earlier 100%. There are no fixed, allocated spaces and employees, teams occupy seats on a first come basis and the nature of the task/ assignment. This trend provides per seat allocation of 65-70 sq ft per person including work cafes, huddle spaces and other amenities which attribute to a significant boost in employee engagement and performance.

Today, we see a huge shift in terms of how offices are conceptualised, built and maintained. Millennials the largest workforce today is redefining the way we work. Technology and new ways of working like hot desking (no allocated seats), Virtual offices (Using a common office space and operating from remote places), Co-Working (one big office space with common overheads and amenities shared by multiple tenants/start-ups/companies) is also responsible for this shift.

With the current generation of employees turning heath conscious, corporates have started to move towards building biophillic spaces i.e. building alongside nature with the inclusion of water bodies and green walls etc. Inclusion of natural elements into the workplace is known to improve employee health and performance. Best examples of this would be Google and Apple offices. Post 2010, also saw the concept of ‘fun at work’ catching everyone’s attention. Corporate offices now include recreational areas and activities like arcade machines, gym, indoor swimming pool, club membership, inter-corporate matches, cafeteria with healthy food options, pool tables, etc; to make the offices more fun and appealing to the employees.

With open space, open door and open to change taken to a whole new level, the next level of evolution in workspace design is sure to be worth a wait.

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