The Design Of WeWork India Spaces Fosters An Ethos Of Creativity And Community | Verve Magazine
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August 29, 2019

The Design Of WeWork India Spaces Fosters An Ethos Of Creativity And Community

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographs by Aviva Baig

Francois Gramoli, creative director, WeWork India, speaks about how they believe in transforming buildings into environments.

Working and networking have never been as easy as at WeWork which is present in 485 locations worldwide. In India, the co-working space’s 23 locations across three cities – Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru – with nine sites in Mumbai, boast over 30,000 members working out of its singularly designed interiors, created particularly to harbour creativity, functionality and a sense of community.

The man behind this vision, Francois Gramoli, creative director, WeWork India, who is responsible for the design of WeWork properties in new markets and for managing design and construction consultants, speaks to Verve about the importance of design in productivity, what’s different about India and where he intends to go from here….

What is the role of design at WeWork?

At WeWork, our main objective is to cater to the functional and emotional needs of our members. We’ve found that people have different working styles and find motivation to be more productive and creative in their own way. Keeping this in mind, we tailor our spaces to suit a kaleidoscope of human needs and design them in a manner that encourages collaboration.

How, in your opinion, does design foster creativity, productivity and positivity at WeWork?

WeWork offers a physical and digital experience that connects each individual member to a diverse global member community. What sets WeWork apart is that we connect people using design to ultimately make the way we live, work and play, more human. To do this, we create a community which is fuelled by culture and guided by design. Culture is an extremely important aspect, especially when you’re creating a space and environment that people are going to spend most of their day in. Having said that, small design elements like keeping larger common areas that help in driving connections, as Indians are known to prefer community living and eating.  Having interconnected stairways to encourage closer collaborations between members on different floors or using glass in partition systems so that while members walk down a corridor, they see activity and energy. Led by intent, our in-house Arts & Graphics team, consisting of an eclectic mix of designers, illustrators, and artists, creates meaningful and unexpected art and graphic experiences to connect and inspire our members. The custom installation artwork created by them for all our spaces helps in bringing out local elements and weave the history of the city and locality into the overall aesthetics of the space.

Why do you have such a large in-house design, arts and graphics team? What is their role?

Design is our biggest catalyst as we have a global interdisciplinary team of specialists comprising of architects, interior designers, lighting designers and the building engineering and information modelling group, that work cross functionally to take workplace and living design to a new level. WeWork strives to design buildings with a character of their own. Our design team believes that the best designs come from constraints and pressures that one may not experience while designing a conventional office. The in-house team works from conceptualising to bringing the actual product to life. They also use data from our spatial insights team to study what spaces are being used and how they’re being used to feed into our design process. If a room scores low, the design team would go to that room and try to figure out what people don’t like about it, learn from it, and extrapolate from there. And vice versa. If everyone loves one room, we will go in and try to figure out what’s so great about it, why it’s so different. We’d then capture that and try to replicate it in future rooms. There’s a lot of concerted data collection and analysis going on as we scale up.

How much of the interiors and artefacts are locally sourced?

For every new location that we design, we always ensure we work with local vendors and designers to source design elements like artworks, furniture, lights, linen, et al. We have introduced Indian elements like charpoys, cushions and throws to add an Indian flavour to our locations to bring the comfort of home to workspaces and create a sense of familiarity for our members which helps in driving comfort for them. While we keep our global design elements in place as well, partnering with local designers and suppliers helps in creating customised products tailored to local requirements.

Do you find a difference in the work ethic in India as compared to New York and how does this reflect in design here in India?

In India, culture and community play an important role which represents a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices. A country as diverse as India is symbolised by the plurality of its culture, hence making sure to consider the smallest of cultural references and requirements is very important in India. When we entered the Indian market, we understood that we cannot entirely replicate designs that we created and used in other countries as Indian audiences react differently to design from the global one. We realised that Indians respond really well to bright colours and hence, colour plays such an important role in all our locations wherein we ensure to put in pops of colour everywhere. Compared to the rest of the world, we are also mindful of the number of seating spaces that we put in communal areas because members here, in general, have a strong sense of community. So in India, we need more seats in lounges than we need in say, New York, for example, so that people can enjoy lunch together — something that’s very specific to this market. Another interesting thing that is very India-specific is the emotion or personal experience attached to local design elements like artwork or to core objects such as furniture that tends to resonate with our members. For instance, use of eclectic Indian furniture like a charpoy bed in place of a daybed in the lounge areas. People really appreciate and relate to it.

What part does art play in your interiors? How are the artworks chosen?

Our design team always leads by intent and creates spaces that speak to the members and encourage creative thinking. Hence, the art used at different WeWork locations is extremely relevant in bringing the design aesthetics of the space together. We usually use a curated mix of LED panels, photographs, murals and hand-painted pieces that have been designed by the in-house team. These are inspired by local elements of a region and help bring a local vibe to the overall design along with an element of playfulness to the workspace. The addition of such elements helps members relate better to the workspace making them feel more welcome and comfortable. Member comfort is of prime importance to us as it infuses the space with a positive vibe and also helps in boosting their creativity and abstract thinking.

What is the role of colour in a corporate environment?

Our spaces have been created by incorporating lessons from psychology, design and architectural principles. It is widely known that the work environment has a huge impact on fostering the ability to perceive, create and collaborate. And use of colour plays an important role in the same. At WeWork locations, pops of colour have been used innovatively to increase employee productivity. The common areas and discussion spaces have a combination of bright and dark colours as it helps individuals feel comfortable and open to interactions.

As design evolves, where do you see yourself going from here?

A well-designed workspace is more than just visually appealing — it enables you to get work done, keeps you motivated and connects you to your team. The way people work is changing, they want a more personalised workspace where they can feel more comfortable. Design has been the prime catalyst in the new age workspaces. In future, design bundled with technology will be used as a tool to enable member work effectiveness by creating better and customised workplace environments. Providing members amenities that helps in their overall wellbeing is a must, the future as I foresee holds a lot of customisation for members for example, smart desks, sound and light therapy in spaces and so on.

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