How do you design an office tempting enough to make employees want to leave the cosy confines of the homes they’ve been used to for over two years and travel to the outskirts of a city in the sweltering heat, to sit alongside colleagues in a glass building?
PepsiCo’s new office in Gurugam, about 40km away from Delhi, might offer some answers. Spread across 70,000 sq.ft and three floors, the workspace follows an open-plan office layout. That’s not unexpected in the office of a multinational—just as standing desks, cycling and treadmill workstations, informal seating areas, breakout rooms, nurseries, gender-neutral washrooms, sleeping rooms, meditation pods, and a cafeteria with a space dedicated for a small event are par for the course in such workplaces.
What makes the new space unique is its approach to design. Each element inside subtly serves as a reminder of home and the brand. As soon as you enter, the glass wall behind the reception desk offers a glimpse of the office energy: colourful, fun and approachable. Pillars denote the department sections—legal, logistics, design—in big ital-style fonts. Children of some of the employees are running around, attempting to play golf, walk on the treadmill, or move the magnetic badges on an India map hanging inside a meeting room to denote the various locations of PepsiCo factories, to create the shape of a truck. One employee is responding to mails while pedalling a stationary bike. No personal cabins are in sight. Walls are crowded with murals of famous Pepsi brand campaigns, done by various Delhi artists.
“We moved into the new office (the earlier one was closer to the Delhi-Gurugram border) with one vision: home away from home,” says Ahmed ElSheikh, the PepsiCo India president. “Covid time has been challenging for everyone personally, and it has also changed the way people work. We wanted to create a space which we can call our own, a space where one gets the flexibility and freedom to be oneself, where we all, as a team, just don’t work but create, collaborate, connect and celebrate. Flexibility is at the core; I don’t want us to be worried about life-work balance.”
The design language
To achieve a “workplace that works”, it’s vital to ask what its inhabitants really want. PepsiCo did exactly that.
“Comfort was the most common response, followed by flexibility and fun,” informs Tanu Sinha, the head of design at PepsiCo India.
Saumya Rathor, one of the 500-odd PepsiCo employees who presently follow a hybrid work model, wanted more flexibility. “I want the comfort of home in the office, the flexibility to do whatever they want,” says the category lead, who referred to the earlier office as more “regimented, more 9-5ish”. “Coming to this new office is not just about to work, but also connecting and playing with colleagues, something we have missed in the past two years.”
Her answers are reflective of the global employee mood. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report, the one thing employees care about the most in the pandemic era is not a big fat paycheck, but flexible work arrangements and more life-work balance. Employees are twice more likely to report being happy when they can choose their location and work schedules. They want to work for employers who value their physical and emotional well-being, says the report, based on conversations with two dozen talent leaders from around the world and proprietary LinkedIn data.
“There was this pre-pandemic era, where nobody had imagined we could all work from home. And then there was a time we worked from home for two years. I think a lot of inertia settled into people’s minds. And now that people are starting to come back, they want to return to a place that’s happy, lively, because they are leaving their comfort zone, their pets, children, the tiny plant near the window,” explains Sinha, who finished the building project within six months. “Even personally, it’s no longer about work-life balance, but life-work balance.”
The design team wanted to replicate that sense of comfort in the office. Sinha says: “Breakout zones are everywhere, you don’t have to seek them out. You have to do this, if you want to retain staff, if you want to hire new, young talent. You have to walk the talk, that’s why you will see sustainability and wellness are part of the office as well.”
By way of sustainability, the office has terrazzo flooring, and empty Pepsi bottles and can openers function as recycled lamps, among other things. The effort, however, is offset by the big glass windows—a popular choice of companies across the world who prefer to welcome more natural light inside, ignoring the fact that they turn into greenhouses during summers and leak heat on cold winter nights. When I asked the project lead, Rashmi Mehrotra, if they considered an alternative, she said, “We’ve been conscious about using less glass inside.”
When it comes to wellness, the cafeteria has a space dedicated for yoga, meditation, even bicycles to include some exercise during workday—in line with the company’s campaign to promote employee health. And then in various corners there are stalls of soft drinks, tea, coffee, chips and other snacks—products of PepsiCo, from Lay’s to Uncle Chipps—in case you decide to cheat on your diet.
“It’s all about choices,” an employee, who’s my tour guide, tells me. “We offer Lite (sugar-free drink) and Quaker Oats as well. We, as a company, have always been clear that we have something when you feel like celebrating, and something else for daily use.”
This aim for balance continues to the meeting rooms as well. Besides rooms with curtains as walls (a first I have seen in any office), the office has a series of glassed conference spaces, big and small, designed in a more square, democratic way, with no head-of-the table concept. Each room has art of various Pepsi ad campaigns, designed “not to scream branding, but to make you feel part of the company. Most Pepsi brands are fun and vibrant, so we wanted the office to reflect that but not in a jarring way,” explains Sinha. “So the wall may be all colourful but everything else would be a subtle white, to maintain the balance.”
Gone are the days when firms could offer table tennis tables, mental health sessions and free food to keep employees happy. Remote work has made people realise that they might crave for real-life, social interactions but it can't come at the cost of their newfound sense of comfort and well-being. Offices that are able to offer this balance in their design might be able to create the workspace of the future. PepsiCo achieves that, to an extent.