Workspaces don’t have to be rigidly defined by glass windows, cookie-cutter cubicles or ‘corporate’ formality. These three firms do great work even in informal settings, with open spaces, plants and maybe even a mother around for company!
SIMRAN MAINI, SWORDFISH WHO’S THE BOSS: Simran Maini, Swordfish Integrated Marketing WHAT ARE THEY: An award-winning advertising and branding, digital and events agency WHERE THEY WORK: Out of Simran’s mom’s garage in Hyderabad
When Simran Maini set out on the path to entrepreneurship, it was her dad who came to her mind. An industrial-safety expert working with the Government of India’s Department of Atomic Energy in Hyderabad, he always had high expectations of Simran and – though she was a highly creative kid in many ways – she always managed to dash his academic hopes for her.
After working for 16 years in the corporate world when Simran launched her own creative branding agency Swordfish in 2011, she finally made him sit up and pay attention to her work. Even if it was for an unexpected reason: she’d set up her office in the garage of her parents’ 40-year-old home in Secunderabad. “He was most welcoming,” she recalls.
Ever since he passed away three years ago, Simran has been keeping her mom company. At least during working hours.
It wasn’t just an emotional decision. For a team that would go on to win awards in design and branding, the idea made perfect business sense. The garage and open areas put together offered enough space for a team of 15, which is all that Simran needed. The firm addresses the marketing requirements of brands, from creative design, advertising, website and mobile design, digital marketing, to even PR and handling events.
Some of Simran’s teammates have been with her from inception, and perhaps the informal workplace and its brick-house vibe has something to do with it. “We hang around in the lawn when the weather is good, and have tea or just brainstorm,” says Simran.
It’s not like Swordfish didn’t try other options. A few years ago, they moved to a more professional 2000 sq ft space in an office building, and stayed there for two years. But then, they decided to move back to the garage as they didn’t really need a larger office, and besides, most of the team lived closer to Simran’s mom’s house. “We’re a small company doing big work,” smiles Simran. They don’t need that much space, she says, just the right vibes to do creative work.
And there’s plenty here. Simran and her mom have lunch together every day – a wonderful way to bond with one's parent given today’s hectic urban lifestyles. Simran’s own house is just two minutes away, where she lives with her husband of 21 years, an 18-year-old daughter who studies in Bengaluru and a 16-year-old son.
Ever the quirky, creative professional, Simran is certainly at home at work.
ALEYA SEN, CHROME WHO’S THE BOSS: Aleya Sen, co-founder, Chrome Pictures WHAT ARE THEY: An award-winning ad production house, one of India’s top three WHERE THEY WORK: In a uniquely designed soul-soothing space in Mumbai
Born in Delhi, and having worked in the capital before she moved to Mumbai, Aleya Sen was used to the idea of open spaces and green surroundings. “I wanted to replicate that in Mumbai in my own capacity so my office space had to be open, positive and welcoming,” says the renowned ad filmmaker and the co-founder of the award-winning film production firm, Chrome Pictures.
Aleya’s parents set a high bar for Aleya to follow. Her father was the vice president executive creative director of JWT, and her mother served as a member of the Ministry of Industrial Foreign Trade. Aleya graduated in fine arts from Delhi College of Arts, and then followed her calling in advertising.
Over a decade later, she had made some of India’s most memorable television commercials and campaigns for some of the biggest brands, from Godrej to
Kaun Banega Crorepati to McDonalds. In 2004, Aleya, along with Amit Sharma and Hemant Bhandari, established Chrome Pictures, a production house that now also makes music videos and has ventured into a full-length Bollywood feature film. They have won several awards along the way, including at Cannes, New York Film Festival, and International Film Festival of India.
Aleya was instrumental in setting up the firm’s new office in Andheri. Designed by Santosh Barmola of Straight Line Designs, Aleya was sure she wanted the workplace to be as environment-friendly as possible. “Our nature of work is such that, at shoots, all kind of wastage happens by default, and it’s our responsibility to control it as much as possible. We’ve made it a policy to plant trees at every outdoor shoot. At office, our initiative has always been to recycle and to go paperless as much possible. We have a no-littering policy at shoots; if that means installing a litter box every 10 feet, then so be it.”
Aleya was also sure she wanted plenty of fresh air and daylight at her workplace. “Since our nature of work isn’t time-bound, it tends to have ill-effects on our health so our work atmosphere makes a lot of difference,” she says, adding that no junk food or aerated beverages are served in the office. The standard snack menu at shoots is fresh salads, fruits, nuts, and fresh juices.
Yoga classes are conducted daily in the office for the 60-odd employees. “A happy, healthy unit will not only result in reinforcing professional rewards but it also provides a secure haven for its staff members, encouraging them to live longer, happier and fuller lives,” says Aleya. She hopes that the re-designed interiors of the office space will encourage “free flowing creativity, productivity, unity, camaraderie and encourage better and healthier lifestyles.”
SIMRAN LAL, NICOBAR WHO’S THE BOSS: Simran Lal, creative director, Nicobar WHAT ARE THEY: Modern Indian fashion and lifestyle retail brand WHERE THEY WORK: In Simran’s family-owned farmhouse in Delhi’s outskirts
Her mother is the founder of the luxury retail chain Good Earth, which is headquartered at the family’s farmhouse in the Sultanpur Estate, Mehrauli in Delhi. And so, the idea of a workplace was always slightly different for Simran Lal: it represented something earthy, rooted in nature and the Indian aesthetic, and yet high on luxury and quality.
After studying art history from the University of Bangalore, and product development and merchandising from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Simran joined her mother Anita Lal’s business as CEO, helping to streamline Good Earth’s merchandising and supply chain, and expanding it to 10 Good Earth stores around India, with retail partnerships in Turkey and China.
Many years after marriage and having had two sons, Simran along with her husband Raul Rai launched a new fashion and lifestyle range in 2016. They called it Nicobar, giving it a modern Indian, minimalistic resort vibe. The workplace is at the same location as Good Earth’s Delhi headquarters, Tulsi Farms.
It is a large spacious, two-storey building called ‘Treehouse’ because it is surrounded by tall trees that have been on the property for decades. Parts of the building have been deliberately left unfinished to give it a startup feel, and large windows allow for an abundance of natural light. It is an undivided workspace; there are no stuffy cubicles. The workstations have a ‘coffee shop’ appearance and the mismatched chair upholstery adds a quirky feel.
The ‘conference’ room is essentially a shed with a sunroof, and pots and plants abound all over the workspace. It also doubles up as a display area for visitors. Over 100 employees – mostly young and female – work from this location; they have coffee breaks on benches in the open air with birds chattering away in the trees above them, and wear comfortable walking shoes to get around the expansive property.
There’s also a photo studio within the property, and models, makeup artists and photographers can be seen strolling about at all times.
Simran’s own personality has had a lot to do with developing this relaxed, global culture and informal work environment. Work-focused, amiable but somewhat publicity-shy, her workplace reflects the sort of person she is, and the kind of brand she has built. Nicobar has nine brick-and-mortar stores in seven cities, and one more is coming up soon. They do a substantial amount of retail online, offering fashion apparel, home furnishings, décor, tableware, and travel accessories targeted at millennials and globetrotters.
“At Nicobar, we’re creating a modern Indian way of living, dressing and looking at the world,” goes the label’s ethos. It’s not so hard to do that when the people behind the brand are living it themselves.
First published in eShe magazine