The typical corporate environment in India, with its long work hours and high stress and burnout rates, needs a complete rethink. It’s perhaps why WeWork, a company which provides shared workspaces, has been able to impress Indian startups and freelancers, and why Ryan Bennett, the co-CEO of WeWork in India believes that their solution makes people “far more productive”.
He says, “When we spoke to our members in India. we found that 75 per cent of them feel more productive than they otherwise did.”
The phenomenal figure, by Bennett’s own admission, is the highest in the world. And the reasons for it aren’t exactly incomprehensible at a time when employees value purpose, innovation, collaboration and a sense of community far more than an inflexible, stress-inducing work environment.
In pushing for isolated cubicles, businesses have forgotten what makes a good workplace which startups like WeWork are once again trying to establish. “When you’re in an environment with people not only from your team but other organisations, people who support you and help you grow, it allows you to de-stress and learn”, Bennett says.
WeWork offices might have people slouching on their desks, too, but as they gather in the co-working space of their own volition, walls are automatically torn down. “Small startups are working next to large companies… You put someone next to an organisation they aspire to be like, and a large organisation that wants to be nimble like a startup, and magic happens.”
A magical workday, a term that’s alien for many of us, or simply a Monday that’s not dreary, requires purpose, yes, but also as, Pradeep Parameswaran, South Asia Head Uber, a ride sharing platform, says, a buy-in from the employees. “The employee might get that Uber is trying to change the world of transportation but how is he/she a part of that mission?”
Parameswaran leads a dynamic, aspirational workforce where people, he believes, work “because they have an opportunity to change something that hasn’t been changed”.
Stress, then, is an inevitable part of the journey but the first step, Parameswaran says, “is in the recognition and understanding of stress and thinking of ways to deal with it.”
“If you’re just doing a job and show up 10-12 hours a day and five-six days a week, without finding purpose, you’re unlikely to enjoy it. That’s not okay. We need to spend time to ensure that the person knows why they are doing it and feels excited.” But along with purpose and a shared vision, each of us needs support.
This means that Uber invests in leadership and corporate wellness programmes to help its employees build technical knowhow as well as soft skills, and WeWork invests in activities that can bring its community closer.
“It is not about throwing a person in the deep end of the pool and asking them to figure it out. It is about recognising what’s required to be successful and what support you can bring the person to play that role to the maximum output,” Parameswaran says.
For Bennett and WeWork, the support comes in the form of, “Giving members the environment to work the way they want to, a community, and the digital tools they need to connect”.
A good working environment, however, is often about the simple things that are easily ignored, such as communication and design. In the case of Uber, for instance, Parameswaran says they’ve invested in “Driver Samaj” where Uber employees “have spent 10k hours listening to the drivers (arguably the most stressed Uber employees) about their challenges, their asks, and needs so that we can design better policies for them”.
For WeWork, it’s the transformation design itself brings into a workplace. “Like designing the hallways tighter so that people bump into each other,” Bennett says. “Or bright colours to lift people’s moods so that they don’t come here to make a living, but a life.”
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