Work the Talk | Episode S1E1| Evolution of workplaces

Recently updated on March 13th, 2023 at 01:15 pm

Welcome to Work the Talk- An initiative that empowers businesses to co-create workplaces of the future through sharing and deliberation. The podcast series is an initiative where we talk with industry leaders about the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities impacting workplaces across industries. I am Aastha Sharma, your host, and co-founder of Veris-A high-growth startup that offers integrated workplace solutions to modern enterprises across the globe.

A little about our guest and host

KC Sharma- Consultant for facility planning, security and space management. Ex – Procter & Gamble, Hindustan Unilever and 91 springboard.

KC has over 50 years of work experience across different industries such as FMCG, real estate and personal care. He has played a key role in future-proofing workplaces, making them adopt an employee-first approach and using technology to make workplaces more efficient. He shares his experience that spans decades to help us understand how far workplaces have come and what lies ahead. 

Aastha- Co-founder, Veris.

Aastha is the Co-founder & Director at Veris. She has nearly 15 years of experience in developing & executing organizational projects designed to challenge conventions. Dedicated to creating inclusive and intelligent workplaces, Aastha has been spearheading growth strategies for Veris since its inception. Beyond her professional role, Aastha is also passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the corporate space, she works closely with several organizations towards building inclusive workplaces across various sectors.

Podcast transcript 

Aastha – To kickstart the series, we welcome our first guest today, one of the most seasoned facility and operations management experts in the country- Mr KC Sharma. A leader and a mentor, KC have a career spanning over 50 years with big names in the industry to start-ups alike, Hindustan Unilever, Procter & Gamble Springboard 91 to name a few. Welcome to work the talk.  So my first question to you is that over 50 years, How have you seen the workplace evolve? I’m sure you’ve seen different eras. As of workplace as offices all together and what other most stark differences and evolution that you have seen that you’d want to share with us today.

KC Sharma – Well, I started my career from Factory Glow Water Industries, which is Lumax now it was a newly constructed Factory. It had an office block where I was employed and then there was the machine block they had imported machines from Japan for the injection moulding. In office the work was, if I tell you or accountants, who are totalling the ledgers by hand and that’s 1968, but in the office, they were typewriters manual typewriters. Things changed. I move to my next job in Hanuman Road Connaught place, a small sales office of a British company and my third job was a Unilever joint venture in Okhla, which was a fully air-conditioned building.

A- Big shift… 

KC- Big shift. We moved to a 20,000  square ft space but fully air-conditioned in those days, I believe that way back in 1966. Very advanced for India. Yeah. Imagine PnG Gillette guys who came in 87, they couldn’t believe that in India existed, a factory, which was fully air-conditioned and in those days. So, life has gone on. So, I’ve seen from manual typewriters to electric typewriters to electronic, electronic typewriters and then when Gillette came in 87, and then computers came. All of us didn’t get the computer. There was an IT room only somebody would operate a computer. Then we were all given training for computers, basic training, for IT and then we got, all employees got to the second stage where we had a server room, wires connected. But in my life, I have seen work in 91springboard where wireless computers, wireless internet, where anybody could sit anywhere anybody you know you had the flexibility you could sit on a sofa on the cafeteria to a window…and sit and relax because 91 springboard startup and no dress code. 

A-  A different culture altogether.

KC- Having worked with Gillette with a tie and G4S with a tie again, 91springboard was like a college in jeans and not only jeans people came in half pants and slippers the guys who have lived in America. Yeah, the latest but great, great combination, 91 springboards we all have a similar workplace for everybody and from a founder to the lowest employee,  everybody sat in the same space, so they were no barriers. We could walk up to anybody anytime and complete a cultural shift together.

A- So over I think, half a century literally, you have seen from paperwork to paperless. You have seen from desk jobs to completely flexible. And now, even at home was going, right? You’ve seen a complete cultural shift, in terms of how people were supposed to be, expected to be, and even expected to dress to come into an entirely casual era. So you’ve seen a lot during these years, or at what point in time did you see the onset of automation in the workplace you did mention that from typewriters, and manual typewriters to a computer to a tab to everything happening on the phone today. Right? So what, what do you feel, was the era that really, you know, make this shift and was open to automation in the workplaces and to the sector specifically Okay, if we talk about facility management security, what was the time that you felt this change started happening?

KC- You see, I had this terrible experience in 1977 when first time, Congress 

was thrown out of power and Janta dal, Janta party came to power you guys would not know, but companies like Coca-Cola IBM were thrown out of India. 

A- Oh!

K.C-  They were overnight asked to wind up and go and that’s how local campacola by one of the Congress guys. Okay so that’s thumbs up, gives up In Mumbai.

A- Gold spot!

KC- Thumbs up, these things you know. You guys do not know how governments changed but the next shift came in 1990 when the liberalization started. Luckily for me, you know, I was in a company of joint venture of Unilever which was taken over by Gillette in 87 and subsequent to that, we would all have computers and Gillette was very focused, an international company providing its employees, the best equipment and best processes to produce the world’s best safety, razor blades, and the accessories. 

A-Yeah, everybody knows.

KC- Because, they would say it’s not only your products which will be world-class, but all our employees need to be first world-class and all the processes, which they’ve, they adopt, if I tell you, we had a trained, computer engineer coming and sitting with us in from Egypt way back in 88, where we moved our employee data from manual to computer without any package, you know these days. You have so many softwares, those days, we were on a simple excel, and we were trying to, but the change started happening, right after liberalization, and the urge to change things happened and the other, if I tell you about Gillette, focused so much on training, in one of the training programs the speaker told us that everything will move to handheld, that you will be able to do all your official work through your phone in the next few years. It was a surprise to us. But today, that’s a fact. It’s a normal thing. that, you know today like I’ve come away,  I’m not carrying my laptop. Yeah, I have just my phone. I all my emails, and everything on there and I’m able to function. So I’ve seen that our sales guys are typically known to have incentive schemes. We introduced an incentive scheme, for our factory workers way back in 1982.

A- You are saying at that point in time you are it was not just a customer first but you started moving towards an employee first approach where you started taking care of your employee’s understanding, what they’re going through, what their needs are and that’s a great shift to have.

KC-  Can you imagine whole all the employees of our factory In Okhla to, were taken to pragati maidan to a new environment where the launch of what we used to call it  chunoti…chunoti is Hindi me rakha tha that they can understand tha. If you produce more apart from your salary, you are going to earn so much the incentive scheme because of the demand for our product was more. Yeah, so there was no point, imagine my boss or the CEO was somebody whose last job was as branch manager of Hindustan Unilever Delhi. So he has a sales background but he said no! Why should only the sales guys? Everybody should be motivated to work like things like that if the company makes a profit everybody will get. Yeah yeah so so we incentivized that. 

A- Importance of people was being realized. But do you think it was a function of you working in an MNC or was it, an actual shift across all companies in India?

KC- I would say only because I was working in an MNC like Unilever. They were trained managers, my boss at that point in time had just two years to go before it happened but he still felt that, No, because the seniors should put in all their experience to energize to change the place. One of the things that he change was the factory was there and the office was there, he de-linked, the office timing to the factory time. Like earlier, we used to report for the factory general shift at 8:15 in the morning. He said no, What’s the point? What’s the point? My office will start at 9 and will work till 6.

A- So okay, a lot of process-oriented changes also happened at that. So I understand that you know, there are multiple processes that run in a company for it to run in a people-centric approach, a lot of things have to be done and I think one of the important aspects of it is security and you have had a considerable share of, you know, and I heard a lot of the items that you have to share. So, how have you seen that evolve? 

KC-  See, imagine that everybody was on company rolls in those days security, pantry staff, the house-keeping everybody, but then we went through this unpleasant thing of slow down, go slow, lockdown strike because of the unionization because of an inquiry officer somebody, there was a disciplinary inquiry going on, and our legal manager was, you know, manhandled. So learning major learnings first step, we deal with security. We got external security way back in 97 other learning of levers of those days was the lever officer next to was building was again unionized day lot problems everywhere. So today all modern offices learn from such ugly experiences. Nowadays all the outsourced employee concepts from the west which is contracted employees employee and employees have to perform. Nobody can take his job for granted. Like, you know, if there are drivers or if there are peons actually the job of the peon disappeared, after Gillette came in he says no you have to all get up from your desk you remain fit and you don’t expect from paper to move from others expect you to interact with each other.

A- So all watercooler chats yes, and Xerox chats 

KC- They said yes we will sit and you know, the whole concept of cafeteria eating 

the same food eating together, that given to us the removal of any glass barrier.

A- That’s what actually humanization of workplaces has happened and I think in what we have seen till now, technology is played a strong role in it automation has played a strong role in it specifically, in giving a very, very similar streamlined experience to everybody from a janitor to maybe the CEO of the company, everybody is getting a similar kind of experience, so given you have worked in multiple kinds of companies, MNCs’ Indian startups, big companies, small companies factories and even educational institutes, where you are you still happen to be active in terms of automation, in terms of the journey that an employee or guest has from the may be a time when they are invited or they decide to come to the office at the time, they go back to their house, this whole journey. How has the automation happened over time and specifically post covid a lot has changed. So now what are the kind of changes that you received today that are going to be reflected tomorrow in the workplaces? 

KC- See I’m a member of the GACS global association corporate services and these are the challenges which are being discussed. Good progressive companies are adopting apps for solutions to employees who can integrate in advance about which day, they’re going to come to the office because if there is a transport pick up or drop involved, the old system is not working, correct so the new systems will come into place, even the cafeteria vendor is having a tough time, how much food you should bring to the office because, unless he has the number in advance, he cannot cook. 

A- That’s an issue a lot of our clients are facing as well.

KC- It is, it is not right to waste food. So, all these things today, the need of the hour is that every company must have a solution employee solution, one solution, and an employee experience solution. One Stop Shop. When is he coming? When is he going back? Does he want easygoing to bring his own food or does he want company food, does he want to park? You know people are using metros and users and others we need to know. And that’s the biggest challenge today for the facility managers.

A- Okay, I completely conquer with you because we have been talking to hundreds of companies and we see that this is a standing challenge because people don’t know how to plan for their employee travel of shuttle, parking within the check-ins. How many people they’re expecting within the office, cafeteria, desks even meeting rooms there are double bookings there are over bookings, there are ghost bookings, and people book but they’re not coming. So space, utilization is a problem. 

KC- Let me, let me tell you, I got into a project where the construction of the building was already on. Can you imagine to my horror I discovered that the architects had not planned a pantry on every floor and the first person who comes to the office in any office is your housekeeping staff at 7:00 in the morning 7:00 or 7:30 am. No place for him to park his cycle. Because their mode of convenience is a cycle. Space planning is required. And in any office you do a survey, there are more two-wheelers than cars, so no planning for two-wheelers was done. So when I came with all my experience the architect was saying, nobody asked these. So the biggest learning for me is if at all, any company is planning to construct an office, the security admin, the facility, guys have to be on the drawing board along with the architect in the same room to specify their needs and I did that. Can you imagine? 

A- So this definitely is there when a new building is constructed, but there are so many offices that are changing their layouts post covid, simply because of the amount of people that used to come or not coming anymore, the amount, if they’re coming, they’re there may be a lot of people are coming on Mondays and Tuesdays and then people are not coming. So half the time it’s overbooked at the time is just not booked which is why when we talked to workplace enablers we are seeing this as a standing problem and there are challenges, which can easily be mitigated by apps like, like the one we provide, but we still say that specifically in the facilities sphere people are reluctant to adopt new technology they know there is a problem, they know, it can be solved, but there has been, I think the limitation to the adoption of this technology is what I thought. Why do you think is that so?

KC- My observation you see today, I would say a majority of the youngsters are fairly educated and they are, you know they are very apt at operating different apps but it is only the elderly gentlemen and maybe some of the top bosses of some company who still expect somebody to open the door for them and you know that’s the issue but I would strongly urge people and to address the real estate issue the post covid not of companies have surrendered extra spaces or they were planning to take spaces and new companies are coming like table space and others. You know, I know the guys who customize how much space do you need and you know companies like 91springboard also when down during covid but now is the time they give you flexibility. You know In 91springboard we’ve created these offices. So there is people’s awareness rather than investing so much in real estate and getting it furnished if you want to have utilization.

A- So for utilization what we’ve also seen is that data plays a strong role. Like today, we have a lot of clients and you name a lot of brands and we have them. Most of them, they have a huge real estate. Few of them have downsized few of them and not. Some repurpose their real estate into more huddle spaces, more meeting room spaces, 

and breakout rooms because that’s the need of the hour. Our permanent desks are not because not everybody’s coming and hybrid has become sort of a constant for most companies because half the time people are coming in not coming, which is why companies need the data who all are coming on, which days when of the expected, how can they do this space planning? Which is what Veris does and data is playing a very strong role over there, but even now facing that they need the data, but the investment to build that data is a far-fetched thought for them and simply, because we are interacting with the decision makers are so many different it’s not just HR. It is HR, it is the facility, it is administration it is security it is procurement, so many different departments are involved, which is why it becomes a very slow, you know, sort of a ball rolling. How do you think that can change?

KC-  I can only think of the time when during the Okhla days Unilever our offices on the first floor in the factory, was on the ground floor and I was working with the CEO and the GM, every day in the morning we will use to get this sheet, a production sheet or a daily report. The factory was working 24 hours who has three shifts. So the report, even in manual form may still be out those days, in 70s still and before going home, my boss and knew me would normally take a round of factory and you know, talk to the people just one to one in the shift in evening shift very, very few people on the shop floor. Do you have any issues with the material? or any issues with the machine? So that is the need of the hour today we have computers, and we have apps. So, in any company, any company is working. So the end of every shift to the Asia shift, or Europe shift, or America shift data has to be there. And I’m telling you, my experience with my last company where thousand-plus offices, all over India. The data is updated every two minutes. The CMD can how much business is being done. What is the collection happening? IT has enabled that. Yeah, not only seems in senior management as in fact in our office we used to have a large screen and where data was being updated and anybody could view that You know, which was data, which was not the confidential type updation happening, you know. It’s sometimes difficult to view figures on a mobile phone but if you have large screen data, that’s that’s the way to go about.

A-  So my takeback from you is number one if the top boss is involved in decision-making in viewing, the data is the change is inevitable, so stop the change needs to fly in from the top boss number one, number two, getting employee pulse is extremely important. So we need to build people-centric, workplaces which are, you know, which accommodates for the pulse of the employee, whether they want flexibility whether they want to support, whether they want to travel, whatever it is, right? The third thing is data is king and for any meaningful change to happen data is something, which is critical and one should be after and the fourth thing is technology. Something IT teams need to support this change from the beginning to the very end so that a successful adoption of it can happen. You had so many insights that you’ve given us and we hope we keep learning from you.

KC-Most welcome. 

A-Thank you, thank you so much for being here.