The moment you exit the lift on the seventh floor of the building in Bengaluru’s Hebbal, there’s no doubt about the flagship product of the office you’re about to enter. Huge decals of easily recognisable bottles are plastered on the sliding doors of the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd (HCCB). The corporate office of the bottling arm of Coca-Cola India was redesigned after the pandemic to accommodate not just safety protocols but also new and possibly futuristic styles of work.
“We wanted to incorporate the idea of fluidity into everything,” says Indrajeet Sengupta, executive director and chief human resources officer at HCCB. “Covid taught us to be safe yet agile.” After nine months of planning and four of redecorating, the remodelled office was opened to all employees in April. Understanding that hybrid work is here to stay, they decided to redesign the office as a venue for events “and not as a place for daily work with people hunched over laptops”.
The office block in Hebbal has been home to HCCB since 2016 but earlier the layout was more conventional, geared towards solo work and fixed desks, where people could spend eight hours a day. Since most of their 700 corporate office employees now prefer to work from home, the office has been reimagined with an open-plan layout for just about 400 people, though only 250 people work from the office on any day.
“Our shift has been towards getting work done and moving on. People just come in to meet, be at workshops, do reviews—the office then becomes a space for people to visit for a change of scene, for learning, for relaxed conversations and meetings,” says Sengupta, adding that there are five generations in the workplace from ages 21 to 58.
It’s to cater to the needs of the different generations that tech and people interventions become important. About 90% of HCCB employees, however, are in the factories or out in the market and nothing has changed for them in terms of the way they work, though how they do business has changed with far more digitization than before.
The idea of infinity
The corporate office is spread over three floors and 87,000sq.ft. Multiple iterations of the colourful HCCB logo, inspired by the idea of infinity, decorate the walls, and office spaces have been designed for collaborative work, focused solo work as well as meetings and quick catch-ups.
Unlike most places with showpiece entry zones, these café-style tables and chairs clustered around a scale model of a bottle plant or near the bright delivery truck with crates of all the HCCB products are actually used by employees to have lunch, relax and chat on the phone or hold short meetings. There are lunch rooms, prayer rooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, a yoga centre and a gym and the ubiquitous TT table.
While the seventh floor seats are shared among business services employees who work in finance, procurement, human resources for the 16 factories spread across 10 states, on the eighth floor is an experience and ideation centre. It is being built into an interactive archive for the company’s 25-year history in India. Murals, posters of their iconic ad campaigns, artwork created to mark company milestones, the notes from poets like Gulzar and Jayant Kaikini, who compiled the HCCB manifesto, and other souvenirs fill the space. The large room has also turned into a popular backdrop for their employees’ photos for social media. The ninth floor is dedicated entirely to training and activities—the space is divided into rooms for training sessions, a library and more but collapsible walls ensure that it can be opened out to accommodate all 700-plus employees in the corporate office in Bengaluru for a townhall. “One of our worries about an open-plan office was that it would be noisy but noise levels have actually dropped as people are more sensitive to others around them,” says Sengupta. Separate areas for calls and quick huddles, which are placed a slight distance from the main work areas, help keep noise levels down.
As with all other FMCG businesses, HCCB was also hit hard by covid though it says recovery has been steady. In FY 2020-21, HCCB posted a net profit of ₹716 million, a decline of 92.6% compared to the previous financial year’s ₹9,745 million. Yet in April 2020, the firm gave its 7,000 employees increments about 7%, bucking the general trend of cutting jobs and salaries. “The first two things we had to communicate to the team was that there would be no firing or pay cuts and that we would continue to work and plan for the future though business had been hit 80%,” says Sengupta. Through the pandemic, the focus was on the future of work and ensuring that people remain strong.
They decided to engage them with training and skill building as they would “need a workforce that was ready for the changed world.” Health and wellness took priority, though the company lost 19 people to the virus. “We’ve learnt to be smarter,” says Sengupta. “What you do in a crisis is what defines you. It’s easy to talk about company culture in good times, but it’s in the bad times that your value system comes to the fore.”
There is a clear understanding that jobs are changing just as quickly as the approach to and ideas about work. The company is now thinking about the jobs that we don’t see right now but are likely to be core to the way we work in future. Gig workers and the ever-growing cohort of the retired are just a few examples of people with specialized skills, deep know-how or niche knowledge who do not necessarily want to be tied to one company, one brand or one way of working yet have much to offer.
“How do we include talent pools that don’t work on traditional contracts yet are not strictly part-time workers? Gig working, moonlighting… all this is a reality and rather than fight it we need to understand that the nature of work is changing,” says Sengupta. This is why design becomes integral to work—systems, processes and spaces should ideally allow retired experts to work alongside college students .
“One group has the knowledge, the other the willingness to experiment and visualize, but neither will want a full-time role,” says Sengupta, explaining how the child of one of their factory staff designed a new workflow while interning with HCCB, which has been implemented. “We are thinking about ways of integrating all these styles of working. This is our work in progress.”