When it comes to a campus as large and prominent as Flipkart, there is an expectation as facility managers to constantly deliver the best. As senior director of Corporate Real Estate, Facilities & Services, Flipkart, Nagaraj Kulkarni has his work cut out for him. He ably leads his team in a manner to ensure that the 8.3 lakh square feet office, spread across three buildings at the Embassy Tech Village, Bengaluru, functions efficiently day in and day out. It’s not just about managing an impersonal space of brick and mortar but also providing employees with an environment that is conducive to productivity and their wellbeing.
Behind the scenes, Kulkarni and his team manage the campus with much foresight and passion for excellence. In a conversation to find out more about what it takes to create a thriving work environment and the challenges they field on a regular basis, Kulkarni discusses the efforts that are in line with the company’s ethos.
Give us an insight into the basic brief that underlines the foundation of Flipkart’s campus design language…
The overall design, layout, material selection and detailing are based on Flipkart’s forward-thinking approach to its business and was meant to be a true reflection of life at Flipkart and its culture. The design, therefore, had to be efficient; frugal yet functional and comfortable; as well as contemporary, open, bright and lively. All spaces without exception were designed to be functional first, both in their planning and aesthetic treatments. The idea was to have smart spaces, void of any unnecessary ornamentation. Design detailing and materials selected ensured that the facility wears well over the tenure of Flipkart’s occupation of the buildings.
What are the common challenges when managing this campus?
Defining what we want in the reasonably long term is extremely challenging as it is hard to foresee the future requirements in a rapidly changing technology business environment. We also need to take into account growth and constant changes in headcount/team structure. There is also the need to maintain a sense of excitement about the workspace for the employees over time.
Since Flipkart emphasises a people-centric workspace, what are the key factors that have helped increase employee productivity?
Two key factors contributed to this. The first was the exercise of compiling learnings and insights from our earlier offices. An employee survey was carried out at the beginning of the design exercise, which was fundamental in outlining space requirements. The second was the project team’s own foresight based on observations about employee behaviour, usage patterns, etc, which were equally crucial, especially when the new campus consolidated workforce across Bengaluru into one location. These resulted in some key design features. Optimal use of natural lighting was ensured across the floors. A variety of meeting rooms and collaboration areas were included. Internal circulation was improved through interconnecting staircases and bridges that connect the buildings. The intent was to increase movement and opportunities for chance meetings and visual connect with peers spread across buildings. False ceilings were only designed in areas where they are functionally essential. We also increased the number of writing surfaces — at desks, meeting rooms and open office areas. There’s variety in the design and aesthetic treatment of spaces to create an element of surprise. The internal landscape, greenery and quiet zones in all buildings allow focused working environments, making this another design intervention. Overall, the design relies on sensible and robust materials that support the way we actually use our spaces.
What are the challenges you face?
The challenges continue to be the same with all the stakeholders involved in a typical project — internal clients, developer, consultants, project managers and vendors/suppliers, and contracting agencies. These challenges multiply when the overall design intent and philosophy is not clear in the minds of the last man sweating his life to get the things done on the site. If the end product is clear in the minds of all those involved — from the designer to the supervisor on-site, the quality of output definitely meets the purpose. The key lesson that we’ve learnt in the process is that a simple and thorough design brief works wonders. Also, There is no such thing as a small detail — all of them matter and it is important to address as many as possible within the given time, leaving less to be imagined at site level. Challenging what must be challenged during the design process really goes a long way in making the workspace functional, comfortable and frugal but adequate.
What were the initial steps taken to streamline the FM practices within the company?
Involvement of FM teams in the design stage was a crucial step to incorporate functional requirements, ease of maintenance and enhancement of efficiency of service. A significant amount of time was invested in pre-occupation planning to achieve the desired employee experience from day one. As the projects and FM teams are under one umbrella, it has helped in evaluating and validating the provisions made in the design of the workspace vis-à-vis their usage. This collaboration has helped in making the workspace more efficient and user friendly.
What are the key contributions of a FM in managing a facility as large in magnitude as Flipkart?
The challenge is maintaining consistency in services across multiple floors in multiple buildings. Challenges prevalent in the industry with regard to availability of skilled and stable workforce affect us too. It is a continuous effort to make operations process-dependent rather than person-dependent. It’s always ‘work in progress’ and we continue to be at it.
How do facility managers measure the success and value of their contributions to their internal customers/employees?
The FM team is in constant touch with users on the floor. Real-time feedback is shared and addressed on the spot. Increasing the visibility of the FM team through internal communication channels has helped increase user awareness and also in building confidence and a sense of pride in the FM team. When the connect between the user and the FM team is strong, naturally the FM teams feels a part of the success achieved by the business team.
Given sustainability is at the forefront of the company’s agenda, what were the measures undertaken?
A large part of this agenda was addressed at the project stage itself, ensuring that going forward, the office would be easy to operate and maintain, thereby also reducing its impact on the environment. We believe that this was instrumental in helping us do our part. Building and buying only what we absolutely needed ensured optimum design and consumption. We made sure the layouts were smart with natural lighting across locations, clear circulation, etc. Designing for the long term through smart selection of materials and design details was another aspect. Finally, buying locally, unless absolutely unavoidable, helped with the sustainable agenda.
Given that the concept of open-floor workspace has been criticised, has you received feedback about Flipkart’s open-plan approach from employees?
Flipkart adopts an open-floor model because it is a true reflection of its culture — we are open, non-hierarchical, highly collaborative and evolving as fast as we are growing. Given the nature of the business we are in and the type of organisation that we are, an open-floor is a natural workspace for us. A lot of the typical concerns that could crop up with such a planning approach were already addressed at the design stage itself, thereby ensuring the benefits of an open-floor plan.