Is India Inc. privy to the idea of a third workspace?

The concept is not unknown, but how fast companies will adopt it is the question

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As we slowly return towards normalcy, employers and employees debate the workspace of the future. While some lean towards the reopening of workspaces, many who have adapted to the remote work model and are now comfortable with it, are keen to adhere to it for good. Employers continue to look for an innovative solution — one that will take the middle path.

This is where the concept of a third office space comes into the picture. Redesigning the pre-existing office space to make it more dynamic for employees — offer them adequate space and designated workstations, while also providing them the required perks and amenities, and facilitating socialisation, meetings and general recreation — is something that companies are seriously looking at.

“If the nature of work is intangible, then it can be performed from anywhere. Tangible output needs collaboration and it becomes essential for employees to come together”

Emmanuel David, former director, Tata Management Training Centre

Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google, recently expressed that, to get employees back to the office comfortably, the Company will be looking to test out multipurpose offices and private workspaces. Google has also been developing better video meeting technology that “creates greater equity between employees in the office and those joining virtually.”

HRKatha had reported that HPE is changing its office spaces to make them more people-friendly. The Company’s redesigned offices will have corners and hubs for the remote workers to meet, socially interact and collaborate. For employees reporting to the office on a daily basis, there will be separate workstations.

The applicability of the concept, however, seems to pose challenges. Firstly, if an employee base doesn’t require to report to the physical office and their productivity has only gone up while working from home, why even consider reopening workspaces?

Tangible vs intangible work: Emmanuel David, former director, Tata Management Training Centre and a prominent HR leader, believes that returning to office is only essential when collaboration between employees is required to drive the company forward. “The nature of work should decide the place of work. If the nature of work is intangible, then it can be performed from anywhere. Tangible output needs collaboration and it becomes essential for employees to come together,” he asserts.

“Traditional companies will not move in the direction of ‘third office’ concept as yet. The IT companies among other non-traditional industries will have to lead the way for this to be a reality in the future”

Sriharsha Achar, CHRO, Star Health and Allied Insurance Company

He also observes that while many have adopted to online work, people who are ‘technologically challenged’ remain somewhat disengaged. David calls this phenomenon ‘digital exclusion’. Hence, redesigning of offices to motivate employees to report back to the office is a must. “People have to reimagine many things and come up with many new policies moving forward. Creating a happy space for one’s people is a priority as one can’t overlook its contribution to their productivity,” points out David. “Look at it from the cost of not doing it. Will it impact productivity? Will customer experience go down? The repercussions of not doing it are many. It is just another way of taking care of one’s talent,” he adds.

Traditional vs modern: On the face of it, moving away from a traditional office environment to a more casual workspace may appear to be a Western concept. The real question regarding its implementation is whether Indian companies are privy to the concept. Sriharsha Achar, CHRO, Star Health and Allied Insurance Company, admits being familiar with the concept of the third workspace. However, he believes, “Traditional companies will not move in this direction as of yet. The IT companies among other non-traditional industries will have to lead the way for this to be a reality in the future. Traditional companies may make a move in this direction, but they will not be the first movers.”

Achar agrees that the concept is rather interesting, but how many companies will actually implement the change is the real question.

Need of the hour: Paramjit Nayyar, CHRO, Hero Housing Finance, believes that incorporation of flexible workspaces is the need of the hour and the future of the workspace.

“As we move forward, it is obvious that remote working and flexible work space will be prominent”

Paramjit Nayyar, CHRO, Hero Housing Finance

“COVID has led to the realisation that work can be done in many ways. The new ways of working call for a collaborative workspace, which promotes innovation. Flexible workspaces facilitate sharing of thoughts and evolution of ideas with collaboration,” explains Nayyar.

He is of the opinion that the third workspace can incorporate employee health and wellness really well into the work culture. Hence, “as we move forward, it is obvious that remote working and flexible work space will be prominent,” he asserts.

Further, he comments that incorporation of such workspaces depends on the evolution of different corporations. Some will accept it earlier, some will live with conventional workspaces for a prolonged time. However, gradually, the third workspace will become a significant part of office spaces.

“In order to compete in the talent market with the great workplaces, known for being great employers, one will have to offer talent what they are looking for. Otherwise, talent will not be attracted,” he points out.

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