In the year 2013, I was sent on deputation to the Munich based head-office of the Indian subsidiary that I was working for at the time. There is always a sense of pride and intimidation associated with such an experience. As I alighted at the Metro station, all my excitement vanished as I saw a large group of regular-sized buildings that comprised the “Head office” as opposed to the large behemoth that housed a thousand employees back in India.
After completing formalities, I was shown inside an airy room with a large desk in the middle housing 8 PCs. I was told to pick an empty seat that would become the workstation for the length of my stay. This was a huge change from the seemingly endless rows of cubicles spread across entire floors back in India.
As I later found out, while the offices spread across rest of the world did indeed follow the conventional cubical way, the head-office had grown organically over the years, adding on buildings as more work came their way.
Fast forward to 2019 when the start-up ecosystem had successfully established a coworking model which relied on shared workspaces primarily driven by the prohibitive costs associated with renting traditional offices for small teams of 15-20 people. This was also seen to be conducive to increasing productivity as discussions and decisions were quicker and ideas could be put across in an informal environment that in any case valued creativity.
This is when Managers at large Multi-nationals started to tinker with the idea of implementing such a model within their premises as well. The idea rightfully was to break down the barriers associated with the traditional cubicle model to foster innovation and productivity among employees. While this does work for the disciplines involved in Strategic decision making and marketing; implementing a similar approach to core operations often backfires.
With large teams involved in producing deliverables on a daily basis, employees are expected to follow established protocol rather than experiment with innovative ideas. Most of them die a quick death at the end of the annual innovation festivals that are typical in large organizations nowadays. As Peter Drucker rightfully proclaimed, Culture does eat strategy for breakfast! And a company culture where teams are better grouped based on functions or projects, an informal culture across the board could, in fact, be disastrous to productivity. As it so happens, humans pretty much like the rest of the animal kingdom are territorial by nature. In an informal setting with unassigned seating, it is not difficult to imagine employees fighting for the coveted corner space facing the window before long!
When I look back, I relish the camaraderie I developed working with my German colleagues. It was an unspoken rule that no mails were needed as long as the matter concerned someone inside the room. The collaboration that is fostered through informal setups for small teams is priceless. Perhaps that is the eventual fate of the Modern Hybrid Workplace.
This articles was written by Payoj Gupta,