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Flexible workplace: GSK gets rid of cabins, most fixed workstations at its new India headquarters

Education NewsGlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare has gotten rid of cabins, cubicles and most fixed workstations at its new India headquarters. After Philadelphia, this is the second city in which the 3.2 billion pound British consumer healthcare firm has rolled out the concept.

“The whole space is open — you can see what the CEO is doing, whether he is working or playing games,” Ahmed told ET. “There are practical reasons backed by hardcore research why the office is like a concentric circle — to encourage collaboration, transparency, trust, integrity.” The office is on two floors at Horizon Centre on Gurgaon’s Golf Course road. Seated next to the MD are the sales head and the sales team. The absence of barriers makes eminent sense, he said. “Ultimately, they are working on the ground, selling. They are the ones who can tell me what’s working,” Ahmed said the marketing team will sit next to the sales team so that latter can provide constant feedback to the former on their strategy. For instance, whether a new commercial is translating into sales and how it can be improved. India is one of GSK’s top three markets and its products include Horlicks malted milk drink and Sensodyne toothpaste among others.

Only a few of the 330 or so employees have fixed places — the rest will take what’s available. In any case, the number of seats is about 75% of the total number. “This is something we have done deliberately,” Ahmed said. “It was a waste of space. So many people are travelling, there is no need for seating for all.” The firm has been counselling employees in order to help them cope with the culture shock.

“When people come in, the first thing they would ask is ‘Where’s my seat?’ So we told them there’s no seat. For our mindset, unless the person is at his desk, he’s probably not working,” Ahmed said. “We are changing those mindsets.” The concept of the open office has been around for a while. Tech companies looking to change the way in which business is done have extended the philosophy to office design as well by breaking down the walls. Michael Bloomberg, as mayor of New York and boss of the company that bears his name, has also rigorously implemented the open office, along with free food and other staff amenities.

Traditional businesses are increasingly adopting such practices as they seek to ensure that younger workers remain engaged. “We feel a good environment has a positive view on output and productivity. In one of our old offices, research showed that people take sick leaves, as offices are dull and boring,” Ahmed said. “This is such a fun place that you get people to come.” To be sure, changing the culture will take more than just adopting an openoffice plan. “For a conservative firm such as GSK Consumer to create an open, cabin-less work place is a move with huge significance,” said Sangeeta Pal, senior partner at consulting search firm Transearch. “But it may not be enough to drive cultural changes, though it is a first, forward-looking move.”

GSK’s Gurgaon office is following a global trend. “Internationally, large corporates have been moving to open-plan offices for almost a decade, where even global CEOs don’t have fixed cabins in some cases. Open-plan workplaces facilitate teamwork and help in breaking down hierarchies,” said Vibhav Dhawan, managing partner at Positive Moves Consulting. “The downside is animated conversations, heated debates or arguments would also be in the public domain — even though there are private areas to curb this to a large extent. But open plan offices are definitely the future.”

Employees are also completely insulated from visitors at the GSK office. “This is because it gives rise to gossip about who came, who he met, how much time did he spend with the CEO and so on,” said Ahmed.

Lockers have been allotted to employees to store backpacks, work folders or personal articles and so on. None of the workstations have drawers, which mean things can only be stored in the lockers. Ahmed said internal research showed up that close to 65% of decisions was taken at chats over coffee or in meeting rooms.” So we have made the office totally wi-fi enabled. People can sit anywhere in the office and work. People will carry their own laptops and plug in wherever they chose to sit at that time — in the office’s coffee shop, in the breakout areas or with any teams,” Ahmed said. “After all, decisions are not taken in meeting rooms. They are taken in informal areas like the cafeteria, near coffee machines and other breakout areas.” Some concessions have been made to Indian cultural sensitivities, such as putting up tall plants in front of Ahmed’s desk. “That’s as close as we have come to keeping the cultural bit. My visitors may want some privacy. So we have used only plants to do that,” he said.

Large spaces that GSK Consumer calls ‘kitchen tables’ or ‘team tables’ have been set up to aid collaboration, for teams to sit across, work together, sort out issues quickly and get back get to work. “Marketers have to collaborate mostly with sales,” he said. “This makes it easier to resolve issues, take decisions, change plans which aren’t working at that time itself.” The office also has a display area that can be transformed into a supermarket shelf, which will also have rival products. “You don’t have to go to Spencer’s or Big Bazaar to see how your product will look,” Ahmed said.

Source: The Economic Times

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