Interview with Fancy George, CEO, Thomas Associates

Fancy George, CEO at Thomas Associates Workplace Design, Bangalore, discusses how she believes workplace design in India has been positively impacted by the pandemic.

‘I’m optimistic’

There’s a lot of good coming out of the pandemic. I’m optimistic about the future.

Before, we were constantly running from project to project, we didn’t have time to breathe.

All that is changing. Over the last year we’ve been having a lot of meaningful conversations with industry experts on the workplace. To help us understand what they are thinking and what their future plans are.

‘We need to focus on our wellness’

The pandemic has helped us appreciate what we have.

We need to focus on our wellness – taking better care of what we do on a daily basis. Looking at our routines, the food that we put into our bodies and the kind of environment we’re living in.

We’ve been involved in the governance hackathon. It focused on going back to the traditional way that our grandparents used to live. Because we’ve forgotten.

If you look at the foods they were eating, everything was made from the grains they harvested. And everything was done at home.

We’ve been looking at the farm-to-table concept. And how foods are being made, what ingredients are going in them. How do we get that back into the workplace.

‘We need that energy’

We’ve recognised that we need to engage with our employees in a different way. It’s not just all about work – it’s about taking care of them and their wellness.

Our company tried hybrid working during lockdown, but as architects we need to be able to collaborate across a table, face to face. We need that energy.

There are also other challenges with hybrid working, as a lot of people live with two or three generations under one roof.

‘It’s reflected in the designs we produce’

The design conversation is changing. How best can we ensure that we create workplaces that take care of employee needs.

We are clearly hearing that most don’t want to sit in cubicle farms or at fixed workstations anymore. They want variety – a workplace that’s a lot more flexible and activity based.

This is reflected in the designs we are producing for our clients.

We’re looking deeper into what we’re creating. Offering better amenity spaces and ensuring there’s enough outdoor meeting spaces. So that people can get out of their offices and enjoy the campus. That was never a consideration before, even though traditionally our ancestors used to hold meetings under trees.

When we used to talk about it, clients would laugh. Now they’re a lot more open to consider it. Things have definitely changed for the better.

‘We want a circular design concept’

We’re also looking at the amount of recycled content going into the products we specify. It’s a difficult conversation. Most suppliers say you can recycle their products 100%. But what I want to know if they actually contain recycled content to begin with.

We would like to apply the circular design concept in our projects. We prefer to consider products that have a lot more recycled content.

Recently we’ve also started working with Kalyani developers on a project implementing this concept, to ensure they’re saving what’s already there. For example, something as simple as refurbishing existing light fittings, by replacing the old bulbs with energy efficient ones.

There’s definitely more awareness. But it’s still a very small percentage of what’s possible. Right now, a lot of clients are unable to imagine the extent of savings with this concept.

‘To define their future workplaces’

Every company has a different conversation about hybrid working. It’s dependent on their business needs and culture – it has to be customized to their needs.

Tech companies are more likely to implement a hybrid model – two or three days a week in the office for some and WFH for others. And they’re a lot more open to employees working from anywhere. This could be as exciting as working from the beach or mountains.

But if you look at a multi-national company versus a typical Indian company, they work very differently.

Companies are working towards collecting data, to help them decide what works best for them. Internal studies need to be conducted, so it’s not going to be an overnight solution. It’s probably going to take a year or two to define their future workplaces.

‘Offices which are activity-based’

Activity-based work is another conversation going on. Human beings are not designed to sit at a desk all day. Our bodies are designed to keep moving.

People are starting to embrace this concept – leaning towards offices which are activity-based. Post-pandemic, it will become increasingly popular.

The younger generation are a lot more conscious about taking care of themselves – living a quality life. They’re very confident and absolutely sure of what they want. You can be sure they will not accept a workplace that doesn’t nurture their inner being. The demand for change will come from them.

There’s a lot of great start-up companies innovating in their workplaces. They experiment a lot more. And they’ll get what they want because they question everything. They will go for it – especially if it makes logical sense to them.

We are definitely going to see a very different India in a year or two. People are not going back to the traditional way or work.

As designers our responsibility is to create a biosphere that is life-centric in its approach. To support an environment that offers an energetic and healthy workplace.

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