The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

Working area in modern office with carpet floor and meeting room. interior 3d rendering

Working area in modern office with carpet floor and meeting room. interior 3d rendering  

Even as many Delhiites settle into routines of working from home for an indefinite period, they remember their offices as spaces they derived energy and inspiration from. “When I think of my workplace, there are a few words that come to mind: structure, discipline, my space,” says Meenakshi Sharma, head of pastoral care at DPS International, Gurugram.

She describes her room as being large enough for the 23 students of Class XII she teaches. With a board to pin up to-do lists, a cupboard, a plant, and a view of a corridor that sees the chaos and conviviality of students rushing or dawdling, Ms. Sharma says she thinks of her work spot as a place to connect with the children. A teacher of psychology, she feels that the physical act of dressing up and stepping over the threshold of one area and opening the door into another, helps her make a mental switch too.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

Of discipline and dividers

It’s much the same for Pankaj Kamal, who, like Ms. Sharma, has been home since March. As the deputy manager, customer relations, at the Jaquar group, he has a client-facing role, one where he is responsible for showing people round the art-meets-expertise brand studio at the LEED-certified head office in Manesar.

“I miss the routine – getting up, dressing up – there is a focus to the day,” he says. Because he was trained in the airlines industry, he believes it’s the little cues of going in to work – putting on a crisp shirt for instance – that automatically make him enter client-servicing mode.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

Both Ms. Sharma and Mr. Kamal today work from home, trying to adjust to a new reality, with the boundaries between a designated work area and home blurred. “It’s like teaching from space,” says Ms. Sharma, while Mr. Kamal, who is learning the ropes of showing off the brand studio online, says if he had been at work he would have been much more efficient, quickly connecting with people from different departments. “I am a people’s person,” he says, now finding ways of linking with people from other departments by opening conversations that involve online expertise. There’s nothing better than an office space for a person who draws his spark from daily dialogue with others, and nothing worse than being confined to a space without physical interaction, for an extrovert.

“The human race is great at cribbing wherever we are,” says Ms. Sharma, wearing her psychologist’s hat, referring to the way most people grumble about hiccups at work: a commute, a problem with the air conditioning, a rule that may not allow you to eat at the desk. “I am realising today that even when I was rushing in the morning, I was able to manage my own needs and time with my children much better compared to now when I am sitting at home,” she says.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

The office as home

When chef Veena Arora, who heads the Spice Route kitchen at The Imperial, was told that they weren’t going to work from the next day, she says, “It felt like hell,” in an unintentional hat tip to the Gordon Ramsay reality show. “I have never taken more than 10 days off in my 25 years at the hotel,” she says. While she does have an office, her favourite spot is the kitchen. “It’s like my own house. Or I sit in the restaurant with the service team. If you feel you have ownership, you love to work in a place.”

Confined to her own kitchen and garden now, she’s experimenting with sprouts so she doesn’t have to source them, growing herbs so she can replicate the process at the hotel, to cut costs when operations begin. She’s had all the time in the world to think, and she wonders aloud if women are more attached to a space than men.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

Ms. Sharma too thinks there’s a gender role in play, along with personality, but not in terms of attachment to the space. “I do tend to get distracted faster, which is why I need the discipline of the space. But if I were a man, I might have been able to cut off because of the gender roles we have in society.” The clink of a spoon in the dining room, the call of a child, the ringing of a doorbell – most women are more geared to registering and reacting to these if they are at home.

She articulates what Anagat Pareek lives out. As senior vice-president, cybersecurity, Paytm, who works in one of the company’s Noida offices, he says while he misses the vibrance, buzz, and a shared coffee or joke of the open office, he has been able to get a great deal done from home, often working longer hours than if he were in office. “I am at my desk at 10 (a.m.), meetings start on time, and the room is closed because I am on calls almost all day,” he says. He walks out to take a break but he doesn’t feel the blurring of boundaries.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

Given a choice, when offices open up completely, he feels some amount of flexibility would be nice, with a few days spent at home and some at the workplace. He also feels for new employees to settle in and for older hands to form a bond with them, there’s nothing quite like the office.

Back out there

Matina Wu, who runs a salon by that name in Malviya Nagar, is back at work after two and a half months. “When I am here, I feel I’m an artist and this is a studio,” says Ms. Wu, of her recently renovated space. She talks about the challenge with every hair type and the fact that when people come to her, they are often looking for a change – not just by way of a cut, but sometimes to mirror a life change.

“I missed my clients; they are close to me. I missed the conversations with them. The haircut would happen during the conversations. I missed the touch, the chair that I would see a new person sit in every day,” she says. She would see up to 25 people in a day in pre-COVID-19 times. Today, she sees five to seven because people are fearful of going to a salon and also because Ms. Wu is trying to keep numbers down so there is no overcrowding. There’s more time now to dwell on each person. “It gives me great joy,” she says, a sentiment that chef Arora also talks of when people applaud the food she and her team make.

The missing routine: Delhiites remember their workspace

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Rafi Ahmad Siddiqi, community and media manager for Gram Vaani, a participatory radio network, where his main job involves connecting with the programme team, comprising volunteers from the community, to gauge the pulse of factory workers. Mr. Siddiqi used to go to the office at Gurugram just once a week.

In a typical start-up culture mode, the open-plan office has no cabins and no fixed seats, and for him the office is just a space to file reports and meet colleagues when needed. Though the office is shut now, his work in the field is busier than ever. “Maybe once a quarter it will be nice to meet all my colleagues,” he says, clearly not rooted to the space, talking more about the volunteers he trains, and the programming he and his team do. He also finds it convenient to work from home when possible, since he and his wife –who works in healthcare – have a young child.

While Mr. Siddiqi’s ability to move around Delhi-NCR, unencumbered by punch-in times and heavy laptops, sets him free from office protocol, the physical workspace is what gives Ms. Wu her sense of freedom. “I am a complete workaholic. I can’t sit at home and bake a cake. To me my space symbolises the freedom to earn my own money, to be an entrepreneur, to be an independent artist.” Though she comes from a family of hairstylists, the salon represents her hard work and the fact that she’s achieved success all on her own.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 7:31:02 PM |

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