How has the workplace in India evolved in its 25 years as an economically liberalized nation?

Research Project Name

The Evolution of Workplace in India

What We Did

We researched the evolution of work and the workplace throughout India’s history, beginning in the pre-colonial era and ending in the present. Focused, comprehensive information that specifically addresses the sociocultural and economic factors that have defined and influenced the Indian workplace are not easily available. In response, we designed this study to begin mapping the changing Indian workplace. We relied on published third-party research, interviews, questionnaires with service sector industry leaders, workplace observations, and focus groups. Our research focused on shifts in demography, workforce, trade and commerce, politics, urban infrastructure, and technology.

The Context

The current form of the Indian workplace, specifically in its growing service sector, is largely the result of a Western typology that was introduced into India in the 1990s with little regard for the local context. While this form has evolved over time, its evolution has been driven primarily by business and real estate shifts and less by demands or desires specific to the Indian cultural context.

There is a growing realization that a maturing, global Indian workforce needs a workplace that speaks to their ethos and mores. The challenge remains for designers to discover what this “Indianness” is and reflect it sensitively, appropriately, and creatively. A lack of focused, comprehensive information that specifically addresses socio-cultural and economic factors in India is a key challenge to achieving a more culturally appropriate approach to workplace design.

The Results

Workplace design has a significant effect on employee performance and engagement. There is a growing realization, presently, that a maturing, global Indian workforce needs a workplace that speaks to their ethos and mores. As designers, we must respect this “Indianness” and reflect it sensitively and appropriately. What works elsewhere in the world may not work with the same degree of effectiveness in India.

The challenge in India is for both architects and corporations to recognize its rich cultural history, vast landscape, and how its evolution of work impacts the modern workforce. To understand how to improve workplace design in India, business owners, architects, and designers need to be informed by a deep understanding of workplace evolution, through time, as well as the forces that affected that evolution.

What This Means

With the gradual shift to knowledge-based work, keeping employees engaged and motivated is the imperative Indian businesses and workplaces must face today. Employee engagement and satisfaction are affected by a variety of factors—and a workplace that speaks to one’s culture is essential. Employees view their workspaces as a symbol of whether or not they are valued by their employers. Workplaces must respond to India’s uniqueness and reflect solutions that come from within, celebrating cultural differences and identity.

To begin developing a conception of and design strategy for the Indian workplace, we identified 10 key factors to address as we look to the future:

Hierarchy: Indian culture remains hierarchical and the workplace must respect this separation. Management expects a level of distinction (separate elevators, for example) and a higher quality of service and design.

Religion: Sensitive accommodation of religious and cultural differences is paramount. Prayer rooms accommodating a variety of faiths should be accommodated in the workplace.

Demographics: Unlike many nations in the West, India’s demographics skew young: 60 percent are under 35, and by 2020 the average Indian will be only 29 years old.

Gender: Currently only 15 percent of the urban workforce is women. Though women are the minority, cultural needs require significant attention to separation between genders such as modesty panels at workstations, mother’s rooms, and security for women in the workplace.

Food: A large portion of the Indian population is vegetarian, and separation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is extremely important. Significant importance is placed on meals, which often consist of multiple items, and dedicated (non-toilet) hand-washing statements are necessary.

Work Styles: The Indian workforce has adopted technology quickly and is highly dependent on telephone and virtual communication, particularly as teams become more global. Growing focus on employee retention necessitates investment in learning and training activities.

Hospitality: Food service is extremely important for both internal and external meetings. Infrastructure must be provided for food preparation, and accommodations for added staff focused on food service and cleanup.

Location: Lack of available real estate has driven many offices to be located far from infrastructure, requiring independent power, water, and often sewage systems. Continued urbanization will require new approaches.

Sustainability: Corporate attention to sustainability is increasing. Larger floor plates create issues for daylight penetration, and heavy (often round-the-clock) space utilization requires extra attention to durability and housekeeping.

Transportation: Infrastructure and location challenges make for very long commutes. Arrival and departure amenities are required to enhance employee experience; many companies have dedicated bus fleets.

What’s Next?

India is a vast country with extreme variations. A one-size-fits-all workplace does not do justice to the multicultural, multilingual, and multigenerational workforce. What would work in the south of the country might not necessarily work in the north. To extend our research, we hope to conduct an in-depth study to develop more location-specific findings to improve the Indian workplace.

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Team

Smita Gupta, Arpita Ray, Disha Chanchani, Sonmoy Chatterjee, Maanasa Ganesh, Rajendra Prasad Malineni, Abhishek Srinath, Sailaja Vedula

Year Completed

2016