The Case For Employee Wellbeing
It matters when workplaces care about employee wellbeing just like their families would. One office leads the way
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For the sheer fact that employees spend most of their working week hours in their offices creating wealth for their organisations, I have seen very few organisations be cognitive of the well-being needs of their workforces. Benefits such as health insurance, weekly offs and holidays aren’t enough because they don’t end up impacting the day-to-day lives of your work force.
I get invited at least once a month to a large corporate office or an institution for a health talk, and I’m usually greeted by a musty smell, not enough sunlight, open desks that have unclean soft boards staring at employees, and attract allergens and dust that helps the germs circulate better in an air-conditioned and closed environment. These then manifest into viruses, infections that go from desk to desk and decrease productivity. Coupled with this is phone extensions and laptops so that wonderful and intelligent professionals can grow roots on their non-ergonomically placed chairs and help their organisations grow while they themselves gather a couple of middle tires, a low BMR, a high risk for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high heart disease risk.
This is the standard office scenario, irrespective of the size of the organisation, whether it is an Indian one or an international one. So when, over a cup of coffee, Harit Nagpal, MD Tata Sky mentioned that they have moved from Worli to Kalina, and that their office was kick ass, my internal one eyebrow went up. I became curious the moment he said that we don't have phone extensions. Okay, I thought, that is a good start. But I was sure that the other trappings, which trap employees to their desks with invisible collars and chains existed. Since Nagpal himself stays fit, my curiosity was piqued enough for me to pay a visit.
I entered the Tata sky office and there was that usual reception, with the branding and a swipe facility to get inside. Normal till now, I said to myself. Through the glass door, I could see a few colourful sofa insets that seemed to be for visitors. Our photographer and I walked in and took the scenario in. Till wherever my eyes could see, I just saw a large hall. Interspersed in the spaces, I saw different kinds of desks, no soft boards, no phones, a swing right in the middle for meetings, a table tennis enclosure towards the large windows, a silence zone overlooking a green forest, open meeting areas for 4 -6 people without the barriers of partitions and at the far end, Nagpal’s own office, which seemed to be a completely open desk overlooking the entire office. The MD didn’t have a cabin. No one did.
My mind raced. The nutritional therapist in me began ticking off the observations:
1. Everything is casual, the body language has less inhibitions
2.People are walking across to each other instead of sitting rooted to their desks because they need to talk and phone extensions don’t exist
3. There is no picture of papa, mummy, baby, doggy, god on any desk
4. The windows are large, a lot of natural light is coming in at 6 p.m., and the lights inside are sparely lit
5. The café has a fresh juice machine
6. There are no office boys, but there are coffee and water machines everywhere, so employees have to walk towards them to get their fill
7. The carrom table is almost never empty
8. It is Friday evening and nobody is in a hurry to leave for home
9. There is no musty smell
As I walked around, I was greeted with warm smiles from people I had never met and the air circulation helped me breathe easier. These guys must have spent a bomb on creating this kind of space. “Actually no,” said Sangram Chavan, Head of HR, Tata Sky. “We have saved on travel time, as most employees live in the suburbs, got a bigger place for the same rent, reduced electricity bills and swapped for a better quality of life for everyone.”
So what prompted this redesign and move? “We were just three of us who lived in town, and it seemed futile to make 200 people travel all the way for these three people,” explained Nagpal. “I even gave an option of working from home to a lot of my employees but they declined. We all assume that working from home is a great option, but the feedback I got was, we are eight people living in a 500 sq. ft flat, where will we find a quiet corner to work from? That was the time we realised that the office has to provide the quality and pride for increasing employee productivity.” After moving into the new office three months ago, most employees posted pictures on their social media, boasting to friends and their social newtorks about their new “with it” workplace.
We stood at Nagpal’s desk for about 20 minutes and my feet began to get restless because it was a high desk with no option to sit. Since sitting is the new smoking, I realised that a lot of the energy and movement was coming from people just floating around. Everyone had a locker to put their stuff in and there were some common cupboards for important contracts but no one had a fixed workstation. “We de-cluttered,” explained Nagpal. “People carried cartons from the old office that were stored for a bit, and then we destroyed them after giving enough notice. We all realised we don’t need so much paper.”
There were wall insets for private phone conversations, baskets of fruits that people were picking up on the go and many of the employees were wearing their fitness watches to clock the steps as they talked on their mobile phones while they walked around the open space. As I enjoyed my green tea and walked around, I silently observed the raised BMRs and the activity, a few people carrying their laptops to the silence zone so they could work without interruptions and still get their teas or coffees since there was a counter close by, I began to think of the new age offices I had recently visited. I was comparing the Tata sky office some AI, technology companies whose offices have often been “coveted.” And here was a “Tata” company, bettering it. Not because they wanted to be “with it” (that too, though) but also because higher productivity meant higher profits.
I wish more companies would understand this simple connection, and focus on investing in their employees’ quality of life at work.
It’s about time.