Nikhil Gumbhir never imagined that a new office would change their mind about quitting their job, but that’s exactly what happened. Vice-chairman of Harappa, Delhi’s e-learning company, millennial Gumbhir was disappointed in his role and was considering leaving the company in May.

As a part of Harappa’s original start-up team, Gumbhir says he has always been “inspired by the founders” and being close to them at work has motivated him to excel in his role. Although the first year of the pandemic was tolerable, he felt extremely disconnected from his colleagues in the second year. The collaboration was more difficult and he expressed his desire to eventually move the company to Shreyasi Singh, co-founder and managing director of Harappa.

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Security concerns and a sense of inertia also made him uncomfortable returning to the physical office, especially since he had moved to Bengaluru to be with his family during the pandemic. All of these issues were dispelled, however, when he visited an offsite senior management company in Rishikesh in July and then entered Harappa’s new 12,500 square foot office in Okhla. “The first day I walked in, I felt the same energy as earlier. Being able to see people face to face and being outside made me change my decision. It reconnected me to the vision, mission and purpose of Harappa. I absolutely wanted to continue, ”he says. The space is warm and inviting, even when viewed through a laptop camera.

Co-founder Shreyasi Singh with colleagues in the office.
(Pradeep Gaur)

Another benefit of returning to work was better navigation in the conflict. “When there was a difference of point of view with a person or a team, it was really difficult to resolve that online. The physical space made it possible to be able to feel what the other person was saying, and to feel his intention and his motivations, ”he observes.

Return to work protocols

Gumbhir is a role model for Singh, who mobilizes his team to get back to work. “In the past 10 months, we’ve hired 100 people on our 150-member team, including a whole bunch of senior executives who haven’t met. They had hired teams they had not met. It’s really difficult for managers who are responsible for large teams, ”she says.

“Collective effervescence”, his favorite slogan, is another essential driver. Psychologist Adam Grant used the phrase in an essay for the New York Times, describing “the feeling of energy and harmony that people feel when they come together in groups around a common goal.” It could be attending a rock concert or spiritual gathering, or experiencing an “aha” moment during shared brainstorming with whiteboards and physical markers, Singh explains. Being together also facilitates “iterative co-creation”, such as refining ideas for new content offerings. And she knows her team is exhausted from excessive screen time.

Singh’s workplace advocacy is based on an anonymous survey of returning employees, where 80% of respondents voted for a “permanent hybrid model,” with three days in the office, two days at home ( or anywhere else) as the most popular option, and 20% by choosing a fully offset model. A plan was then developed. “Individual health and safety, backed by science (vaccination, mask discipline, ventilation) is the number one priority. Organizational needs (collaborative efficiency, information symmetry, pace of execution, productivity) come second, followed by organizational values ​​(warmth, tangible commitment, non-transactional relationships), ”she says.

Currently, fully vaccinated workers are required to come to work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those who have received a single dose and have had covid-19 in the past six months can enter, but are not required to be present for all three days. Those who have received a dose and no previous infection in the past six months need special approvals, and those who are not vaccinated cannot come. As a result, Singh says 35 to 40 team members came to work regularly until July, depending on their eligibility.


A “calling pod” allows employees to make private calls or to work.
(Pradeep Gaur)

This vaccination policy is accompanied by close monitoring of the positivity rates of the covid-19 test (TPR) in force. “The minute the TPR rises above 5% in Delhi, we will make a new decision. Right now it’s between 0.05% and 0.09%, ”Singh explains.

Design for covid-19

Security protocols are essential, but Harappa also lucked out with the timing.

The pandemic has slowed down work on the interior of its new office, which was originally scheduled to begin in April 2020. As the lockdown deepened, the company realized it would have to recalibrate the design of its offices to adapt to hybrid work and security. concerns. Other meeting rooms have been added, with video conferencing capabilities. Of the 150 employees, up to 50 people can be accommodated in meeting rooms at any one time, says Lokesh Anand, associate director, who was responsible for building the office.

New ventilation features have been added, such as’ whole-building air purifiers, an upcoming new technology called ionizers, which reduce the spread of airborne contaminants, and ventilation fans. extraction on all floors for better circulation of fresh air, ”he says. The building also has windows that open, which the company hopes to use more often during the colder winter months. Reserved outdoor eating areas allow employees to interact more safely when masks are off. The office is disinfected daily and deep cleaned every weekend.

“The actions of space planners show that they have taken seriously the potential for airborne transmission, especially air purifiers with Hepa filters and exhaust fans,” said Seema Bhangar, indoor air quality expert. “The technology and mode of action of ionizers has yet to be proven, so I’m happy to see them used here as an additional air handling device, instead of replacing a proven air purifier technology. based on elimination. It is good to note that the product used here does not emit ozone.

Space programming supports social distancing. The structure and layout of the offices, with double-height spaces, walkways and separate workstation islands, is generous, especially for a young company. So far there have been no cases.

Its attractions extend beyond protection against covid-19. A mix of local materials, fabrics and textures creates an original and contemporary Indian aesthetic that transcends conventional design of corporate workplaces. Co-founders Pramath Raj Singh and Singh “wanted something modern, but also very rooted in the Indianness that they embody as a company,” says Priyamwada Singh, principal architect of Common Ground practice LLP, the architects of Harappa.

Respond to concerns, resistance

Despite these measures, many employees, especially those in their twenties, are reluctant to return to the physical workspace. Security concerns, inertia, reluctance to forgo rent and commute savings for those who have returned to their parental home, or simply a change in personal preferences are the most common deterrents, even if the lack of social connection is seen as a limitation of remote working, says Shreyasi Singh.

The office has an entire floor for meeting rooms.

The office has an entire floor for meeting rooms.
(Pradeep Gaur)

His answer is unequivocal. “While there is a belief that individuals should and should have preferences, I believe the organization should also have the luxury of having preferences. The way we reconcile our preferences is really where the tango, the dance, and the landmines are. Just as company employees are individuals, they are also corporate citizens. And so these are the honest conversations that we have internally. “

The lessons are clear. Designing for covid-19 is a necessity, but not enough on its own. Workplaces will need to redouble their efforts to re-engage workers who are reluctant to return. As Gumbhir says, “The process of returning to power made me look at the office in a more human way. I make a point of talking to people when I’m in office. And my appreciation of office design has changed in terms of space, comfort, lighting, and aesthetics. More human and better design, this can only be beneficial for workspaces and their occupants.

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