Maria Bourke is the Brand Director, Asia Pacific at Steelcase. She is responsible for building brand awareness and engaging brand experiences in the APAC region. With over two decades of experience in brand innovation and creative strategy, she is now handling the furniture solutions brand. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she shared her thoughts on the workspace culture in India, the impact of positive working environment and millennials at work.
Before joining the furniture solutions brand, Maria was working with Gibson Innovations. She shared that the role at Steelcase came to her as a challenge. “I saw the gap to bring something fresh to the brand and felt excited,” she said.
Workforce and working environments
Maria believes that Steelcase is a company that not only delivers furniture to solve problems, but it understands the problems and the behavior of its clients and changes their work environment according to their need.
The working environment in India is changing. The younger generation has the most significant share of the workforce. These younger employees like working in a new environment which is a big challenge in the Asia Pacific region.
Maria pointed out that the younger workforce wants to be in a space where they come to a workplace that feels like a home. Even though it’s not their home, they want to stay longer hours and do something different and stay successful.
She said, “We are trying to help them and make them successful. How can we help to make their days at work happier? Ultimately for HR heads, the happier employees are, the longer they are going to stay in their role with the company, and the retention is higher.”
Undoubtedly, infrastructural changes impact the employee's experience, and creation of new space will entertain the employees. “The fact is creativity is productivity,” Maria said.
Future of workplace
Technology has brought a significant change in the work culture, and employees no longer want to work in permanent workstations. Working remotely or from home rejuvenates them.
When asked as to how sustainable the new trend is? She replied, “This is a global trend, but people can’t work in silos they must come to the workplace and group together. If we want to build something creative, if we are going to produce innovative solutions, it doesn’t mean you have to come to the workplace and sit tight hip next to your partner. You can come together for the beginning of the briefing, disperse and come back together and rework and this is how creativity works.”
She suggests that with technology such as cloud and hub people can work from different places and access the shared work.
The brand director finds the Indian market customized and meaningful. She noticed that personalization is an upcoming trend and Indian people like more useful things and they like it when products are curated.
Maria feels that people are thinking about materiality, colors, textures as employees keep emphasizing small things. It may be because there's a younger generation at work here.
The latest technology is changing the dynamics in the working space. People are working virtually, on the move and using co-working spaces. Steelcase is also betting big on technology to change the furniture solutions space.
The brand has come up with a new technology called ‘Space Analytics’. This technology measures the space, and according to the usage it provides the solution.
Using technology the brand shares information to their clients about the needs at work, such as the need for less meeting rooms, and more collaborative space. This is something that companies are then able to take note and adapt in their offices.
Maria believes that the excellent working environment leads to better results and companies are realizing it. Companies are competing for workplaces because it’s essential for companies if one needs to deliver the best.
She said, “If you need to attract talent, you need to have right space for them, and if you don’t have the right space, people cannot give their best.”
All these companies competing with each other are not necessarily multinationals they are leading local companies who are learning from multinationals.
Steelcase’s India story
For the brand, India is among their top three markets in Asia and on growth parameters, India and China are same.
To make every market successful, we decided to let China be China and let India be India because all these countries are so vast and each one is so complicated,” she said.
She concluded by saying that being a brand director she gets people on her team who think differently and people who bring something smart to the table and who are open-minded and open to learning.