When Aditi Pareek walked into online furniture retailer Pepperfry’s corporate office in Mumbai’s Vikhroli seven years ago, she didn’t know where to go. “Every space looked so interesting, I couldn’t decide which one to check out first,” says Pareek, the head of HR. Over the years, she’s made a set daily routine: She reaches office by 9.30am, heads to the café to order a cup of tea, spends some time chatting with colleagues, and then settles in at her desk. “Office feels like an extension of my home,” says the 33-year-old. Her previous workplaces were “formal with no casual space”.
Comfort and a sense of home are what Pepperfry’s founders were going for while furnishing the 20,000sq.ft space for 300 people in the corporate and customer service teams.
“We try to bring our culture to the working space,” says Ashish Shah, co-founder of Pepperfry. “Our vision is to furnish 20 billion homes by 2020. When we were designing our office, we knew we wanted to make a space that would compete with people’s homes. People spend 15 to 20 hours a day here; we needed to create an ambience of home.”
Orange lighting and walls in solid, earthy tones create a sense of warmth. There are no false ceilings, and exposed pipes give the space a grungy yet chic look. Workstations are lined up in the open areas with meeting rooms and cabins along the edges. The tedium of the workspace is broken with recreational corners that house swings, sofas, bookshelves, a gym and a cafeteria.
For his cabin, Shah chose the furniture from Pepperfry’s website and personalized it with memorabilia and awards he has won. He also has a poster of his icon, F1 racer Michael Schumacher.
Bringing home to work
The office design encourages the employees to spend more time in office and perform better. Workstation partitions are under a foot high to make communication with colleagues easy. The 120° configuration of workstations allows more space for people. “The idea is to give more space to people so that they want to come to work every day,” says Shah. “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said they don’t compete with anyone but with sleep. Similarly, our main competition is time spent at home.”
At the customer service office on the 10th floor, Tibetan bells and flags hang from the walls. “I have travelled to Ladakh a few times and love the culture and the warmth of the people. The sound of the bells spreads positive vibes in the office,” says Pareek. The only part of the office she dislikes is the gym because it constantly reminds her of the weight she has gained.
Culture on the walls
Pareek points to The Memory Wall, which has handprints of all the employees with their names and date of joining. “This wall gives us a sense of belonging; the feeling that ‘Hey, we are here and we helped build this brand’,” she says.
“Like every house that has a cosy corner, this is our cosy game room,” says Pareek, showing a small nook between halls that has a sofa, bookshelves and video games. One wall in a corridor is decorated with caricatures of all the employees. “We have tried to personalize the workspace,” she says. Posters emphasise values such as courage, ownership, learning and communication.
The history of the company is knitted into its design. One of the boardrooms is called Wildflower Hall to remind employees of the company’s origins. “Wildflower Hall is a hotel in Mashobra… . Ambareesh (Murthy, the other co-founder) was on a sabbatical and staying at the hotel when he drew up the business plan for Pepperfry.”
The founders are avid trekkers and often organize treks for employees. Meeting rooms and cabins are named after mountain passes and photos taken by employees are displayed on the walls. The glass walls of one conference room are covered with ropes, reminiscent of a climbing wall.
Here, trekking serves as a metaphor for work ethics. “The photographs of trekking communicate intensity and endurance, which are what we stand for. We go for regular treks, because it challenges you and gets the best out of you. Your limits are tested,” says Shah.
Trekking helped Pareek build her mental strength. “It is a lot like business, as both are concerned with meeting unforeseen challenges. It teaches you to take the first step away from your fears,” she says.
While most treks are voluntary, the one-day trek as part of the induction programme is mandatory for new employees. “It is about bringing out the best in people by challenging them with a new environment,” says Shah.