By Priya Vasudevan
“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling” – said popular author Cecelia Ahern, in Love Rosie. For many years I resonated with that sentiment – attributing higher value to people that inhabit the place almost to exclusion of the place itself. I built deep relationships with people in organisations that I worked in and continued to connect with them in social settings – however made a rule to never go back to the offices I left back, even for a get-together. It was my strategy of – moving on.
Recently I have started noticing the emotionality in Places. As the second wave of pandemic hit India badly and WFH became the norm – we decided to visit my in-laws place at Coimbatore (partly to escape the chores of lockdown again!) with its welcoming relatives, spaciousness and pleasant weather. Previous visits would be for short and definite periods, this time we stayed for 2+ months. While work continued over MS Teams and Zoom, I started feeling rootless and longing for my study in Mumbai – decked with books and everything at my reach. A feeling of temporariness took over. Amidst tasks, calls and meetings – all of which were well accomplished – the state of ‘being in flow’ so crucial to creative thought was missing.
And it was with great relief that I flew back to Mumbai – on the news of office re-opening. Without even waiting for a day’s rest (or to set the home!)– I resumed office the very next day. As I entered the office and found my way past the reception desk, the nicely polished glass doors, tapping my fingers on the cubicles and assertively stepping on to the carpet – it felt like the physical place was enveloping me in an embrace. Meetings were in my favourite conference room with the mahogany table – more spacious than a two-person meeting rooms and less intimidating than the boardroom. A ten feet glass wall – offered a luxurious sight of the Mumbai skyline – from the Antilla to the Racecourse, on the backdrop of the dark clouds heralding a Mumbai monsoon. I was ‘in the zone’ – contemplating on the work at hand in a meditative state, lost to any distraction of social or familial nature. There weren’t many employees or colleagues around and frankly I didn’t miss them. The office place ‘held’ me so nurturing. For a person who was not emotional about physical spaces – it was a different feeling – triggering insights and previous patterns.
Emotions are integral to all human action, the places these actions play out, feed two-way affective perceptions. Often we are only friends with certain people due to physcial proximity and frequency of interactions – as we discover when we change organisations. Pandemic induced WFH has created broken emotional landscapes at workplace and a dilution of the office as site and seat of emotions over time. Place and identity being inextricably bound, employees come to identify with where they work, shape it, however modestly, and are in turn shaped by their physical environments, creating distinctive narratives we hold as shared memories that we call Organisation culture. If one were to eavesdrop on MS Teams calls – one would hear employees nostalgically recalling the cafetaria conversations, their well decorated cubicles and brainstorming spaces. As many organisations embrace Remote working as the new mantra – it would be prudent to create a
hybrid model of workforce – with rotating teams engaging in physical spaces, creating cultural meanings and experiencing rootedness to the Organisation.
Priya Vasudevan is passionate about Organisations, Women empowerment and Communities