Payal Sandhu Khurana joins us for today’s Feature Friday to discuss her 19 year career, which has included shaping workplaces for a host of multinational clients and more recently in 2019 co-founding Alabama Design Consultants LLP.
WOD: Thanks for joining us. Could you give us your background and an introduction as to how you became involved with the workspace sector…
PSK: “I’m from Jamshedpur, a quaint town in East India, also known as Tatanagar in deference to the founders – Jamshedji Tata, the first industrial family of India. Jamshedpur was one of the first industrial townships in India to be influenced by significant twentieth-century town planning ideas—the garden city and the neighborhood unit. I realized later in architecture college how the built environment had shaped my perceptions and maybe even drawn me to this discipline.
I completed my architecture degree at the University of Pune. Though I had planned to and got admissions to pursue my Master’s Degree in the U.S, life took me to Bangalore where I gained some exceptional opportunities, practical experience and have been anchored here ever since.”
WOD: And what happened when you got there?
PSK: “My first job plunged me headlong into the commercial office sector and I learned the nuances of office design from scratch. It was a very heady time with the office sector booming in India and my work took me to every significant hub across the country. Though ‘interior office architecture’ was not a conscious choice, it’s now a defining part of who I am.
I was fortunate enough to work at leading design firms in Bangalore where I found passion in my work and could add real value, moving from design-centric roles to leadership roles more focused on servicing key account stakeholders and strategic design consultancy. My main focus soon shifted to steering and guiding client leadership teams to best practices of workspace design, be it in user metrics and data, employee wellness, technology initiatives, and posing the greatest questions – ‘What do we need this office to represent and reflect?’ and ‘Why do we need this office?’.
Recently, I co-founded a ‘Design led Build’ firm with the sole aim to bring about changes in the way office workspace design is delivered in India and develop an evolved design language based on human-centered approach and research.
At present, I am taking a career break and using this time to refresh and reboot, catching up on my life-long passion for reading and up-skilling. The combination of being ‘away from work’ at home during these pandemic months has been liberating and eye-opening. I can see first hand why human-centric lights need to be advocated while trying to catch sunlight through various rooms in my apartment throughout the day. It has also got me re-evaluating the large floor plates that are designed for modern offices which make looking out of the window an activity only for a lucky few.
I do see the current pandemic as a game-changer and a never-before opportunity offered to our industry and am currently engaged in independent research towards the post-vaccine office. As I interact more and more with many client side-stakeholders trying to grapple with the best ways to re-open offices, I am convinced that the impulse to return to normal has to be questioned. I think we are witnessing what the future of the workplace will look like – a distributed and hybrid workforce with many continuing to telework, space metrics being upended, the emergence of digital technologies – leading to the office becoming an amplified focal point for collaboration, conversations and mentoring. It is time to leverage this disruption for though the office is not going away, it will never be the same again.”
WOD: It’s extremely encouraging when people as experienced as yourself recognise the need for consistent personal improvement, instead of becoming complacent. The career break must have changed how your working days now play out?
PSK: “Yes. It used to look very different a few months back with very early morning and late night calls filled in multiple meetings which only quadrupled once we adapted to working from home.
Currently, my day starts with yoga – I try to keep a disciplined schedule with more focused reading and research early in the day. An added benefit of having time on hand is that I am discovering the myriad world of my teenage daughter kaleidoscopically. I have been able to explore and nurture mindful knowledge through a lot of webinars with global speakers, which I was missing due to my work commitments. Along with reading for pleasure, podcasts are a new discovery in the same vein.”