The world is seeing profound changes today, in the way we work partly due to evolving work cultures, emergence of advanced technologies and the gradual rise of the hybrid workforce. The pandemic brought its own set of massive disruptions, which has now forever changed how we think of the workplace, the way offices are designed and how organisations are going to manage their employees. It has now become important for companies across the globe to understand the trends shaping the future of work to navigate the transition and change, better.
Anupama heads Gensler’s India Operations as its Managing Director. An accomplished Architect with over 25 years of experience in managing complex architectural, mixed-use, and master planning projects, her deep understanding of the Indian market, paired with her international experience, uniquely qualifies her for leadership at Gensler India. She is a strategic leader with a passion for design and innovative sustainable technologies, coupled with experience managing projects across India and the U.S.

Anupama Sharma, Managing Director, Gensler, India talks about major trends impacting the world of work, today. In an interview with Awfis, she shares some of her insights on the need for adaptable and sustainable workplaces that support employee health and wellbeing, going forward. Excerpts:

According to you, what are some of the trends you are witnessing in the current scenario that will have a substantial impact on the workspaces of future?

Key themes in design now are health and wellness, equity, and sustainability. We are seeing more businesses adopt a hybrid workplace model with remote working offered as a choice. Workspaces of the future are also seeing a rising trend in hospitality and coworking influence in workplace design. 65% of companies plan to adopt co-working into their portfolio offering. Co-working spaces have mastered the art of accommodating flexible office trends, focusing on productivity and collaboration while filling the niche gaps in the real estate market. Co-working brands have dominated the office market on a global scale and officiated the work-where-you-want, when-you-want mindset.

The magic happens when these two seemingly different models converge.  As the lines between our lifestyle, travel, and work habits continue to converge and require new ways of thinking to create unique spaces that are accommodating, collaborative, flexible, and inspiring.  Our experience tells us that places that support community and social connection perform better and yield higher job satisfaction in the workplace.

As a result, the office feels a lot more residential or like an elegant destination hotel which creates a space with similar comforts and appropriate professional social interaction. The lines have become blurred between business and lifestyle. Workplaces are more like the hotels we design, and hotels are incorporating places to work.

Confidential Client, Dubai, UAE

It has been a year and a half since the pandemic hit us, what do you think will be key design changes in office layouts?

Gensler’s India Workplace Survey 2021 illustrates the most salient points currently impacting workplaces. Here’s a quick overview of these findings:

  • Most companies are looking to implement some form of hybrid working policy, with employees coming into the office for an average of 2-4 days.
  • The core purpose of the workplace is shifting — team collaboration and enabled communities are on the rise.
  • Employees need the workplace for connecting with people, but they also want access to technology that isn’t available at home.

Being a mission-driven firm, Gensler believes in making the world a better place through the power of design. Data-driven insights from Gensler Research Institute have allowed us to be one step ahead when providing counsel to clients, extending analysis, insights and additional perspective into the original brief.

Experience is the sum total of physical and digital intuitively converging to meet users’ needs. In the workplace, one should be able to connect . . . when you want.  Innovation hubs, makers spaces, and quiet tech-free zones tend to become the most sought-after amenities in the workplace. To enhance resilience, designing mudrooms and multipurpose entries where people can clean off before entering the workplace; corridors with large circulation paths and “programmed” areas to create separation; hybrid office-cubicles to allow for semiprivate workspace while still enabling small meetings in an open, touchless environment; gender-neutral restrooms to simplify cleaning for maintenance staff; and separate entrances and exits, at least for the near term, which could be adapted down the road.

Our team designed a model workplace for Oberoi Realty for their new Headquarters Building in Goregaon, Mumbai.  Oberoi Realty Limited envisioned a new headquarters that would both reflect their brand of sophisticated, modern, aspirational living to clients and partners and would enable increased interaction, collaboration, and alignment of employees in the service of achieving the company’s goals of growth across greater Mumbai. Breaking away from traditional hierarchies of office space, the new open office design allows leaders and employees from disparate teams to work together more efficiently and more effectively. With no private offices, the space offers a multitude of collaborative settings ranging from enclosed video conference-enabled meeting rooms to virtual-reality enabled team rooms.

Inspired by the elegant, hospitality-driven developments for which Oberoi is known in the market, the project is infused with minimal, refined, honest materials reflective of both the natural elements of the Maharashtra region and the international sensibilities of their clientele.

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Oberoi Realty Headquarters Building, Goregaon

Going forward, what according to you will be the developments or trends that will exert an influence on corporate occupier decisions?

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for more adaptable and sustainable workplaces. Quick fix approaches such as switching to remote work and breaking up employees’ schedules into shifts to enable social distancing may not be sustainable in the long term. When it comes to workspaces, organisations must transit into longer-lasting resilience and find ways to invest in more resilient physical infrastructure, which will ultimately support resilience in the workforce. A physical environment that supports employee wellbeing – and takes safety, comfort, and environmental sustainability into account will help them retain and attract talent, boosting long-term productivity.

The pandemic saw CRE professionals adopting previously unfamiliar practices like virtual walkthrough and remote working. Do you think this will lead to the rise of commercial real estate trends centered around digital transformation?

Technology is constantly evolving, and so are business needs; the digitally enabled workplace is engineered to keep pace. What we need now are simple, off-the-shelf enhancements requiring minimal effort to adopt such as Smart Health Technology, New Activated Spaces, Density Tracking and Dynamic Communications. What we see in the near future are tools such as Touchless Experiences, Digital Concierge, Enhanced Health & Security and Connected Building Technologies that support advanced experiences and analytics that layer into our existing infrastructure. Digital tools are the connective tissue of the workplace ecosystem, linking spaces, people and processes. We need to rethink connections in new digitally-enabled ways. The goal is to create an ecosystem that brings people, place and technology together to give employees choice, flexibility, and autonomy while keeping the culture thriving.