How new-age CEOs are demolishing corner office

New-age CEOs, as they overturn many tenets of conventional corporate wisdom, are also obliterating the concept of the corner office. It started in the US a while ago, it is now happening in India.
Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
Updated on Jun 27, 2016 12:25 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | BySuveen Sinha

When Paytm first moved into its current head office in Noida, founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma was given the corner office. It was a large glass cabin, with furniture handpicked by his closest aides. They wanted him to feel privileged.

He felt like a prisoner. Sharma was accustomed to having informal, spontaneous conversations with his colleagues. Those conversations acquired the proportions of an event. “I felt I had been thrown out of my team,” says Sharma.

He is fine now, sitting on a desk right there in the middle of the buzzing office. The hand-picked furniture of his corner office has been dismantled and dispersed over different conference rooms.

Sharma’s current desk is like any other in the office. It is by the main passage, which sees constant movement of people. As the closing hour approaches, a queue forms at Sharma’s desk. You want to talk to him, you queue up.

“I gain energy from my team,” says Sharma. In the process, he takes the steam out of the old concept of the corner office. It has been a powerful concept, bestowing its occupant, the CEO, with an aura that’s as much a perk of the job as the business card. In fact, the corner office had become synonymous with the CEO’s position.

Not anymore. New-age CEOs, as they overturn many tenets of conventional corporate wisdom, are also obliterating the concept of the corner office. It started in the US a while ago, it is now happening in India. In many technology companies here, as they value meritocracy, the top management sits out in the open with everyone else. The subtle message is that the work you do matters, not your entitlement.

Paytm has been on a hiring spree, recruiting from large companies and top-flight management consultancy firms that give large cabins to their senior staff. Don’t those people, when they join Paytm, hate Sharma for not giving them cabins?

Actually, Sharma does not say no to someone who asks for a cabin. A chief of finance, who joined a while ago, said the confidential nature of his job needed the privacy of a cabin. He was given one, but something told Sharma the fellow was not going to be around for long. Sure enough, he left because he found himself at odds with the company culture.

Startup Cluster

The way Kavin Mittal has organised Hike Messenger, it no longer looks like the company of 240 people that it is. The team is divided into 12 small groups that work like a cluster of startups. As Hike scaled up from a 10-person company to 240, Mittal wanted to retail the freedom and spirit of the early journey.

The teams choose the way they work, when they come to work, when they leave, and how they run their meetings. The only guideline from the company is that they should hold their meetings either before 12 noon or after eight in the evening. In between is the company quiet time.

You will find people working at Hike’s headquarters, near the New Delhi international airport, whether you visit it at midnight or at four in the morning. You might also find a couple of them sleeping; the office has a nap room with bunk beds.

“The best people do not like to be told what to do,” says Mittal. Has anyone tried to tell him what to do? “All the time. We try as much as possible to not have a boss-like culture.”

As part of the culture, Mittal does not have a cabin. He does not even have a designated seat. “I used to have a fixed seat,” says Mittal. “Now, I don’t. I don’t need it. I float around the office. I get to spend more time with the team.”

In fact, no one in the top executive team has a designated seat. For conversations that cannot be held in public, there are enough meeting rooms.

“The last couple of weeks I have been sitting there,” says Mittal, as he points to two hammocks on a patch of green, synthetic grass, next to glass walls through which you can see the scurry of the airport.

The Co-working CEO

Ritesh Malik, having sold his first startup and funded a host of others, has set up Innov8, which provides co-working spaces. His first property is in the Regal Cinema building, in New Delhi’s Connaught Place.

Spread over three floors, the office is open to anyone who is willing to pay a price that gets them a desk or a cabin, wifi, tea, and coffee. There is no security guard at the door. You let yourself in by using a mobile app.

So where does Malik sit? “On one of the seats in the public area,” says Malik, like a true co-working CEO. “I need to be among my team and my customers, and learn.”

Read| Why Indian startups are in a reality check, not bubble

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Thursday, December 09, 2021