Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our New Offices in Kharadi, Pune

iPlace spent considerable time and expense coming up with a new office that would hold 3 times the staff we had at the time. We visited more than twenty sites across the city of Pune, interviewed several architects, sought out financing and after nearly a year of planning and building, we moved in two weeks ago, still unfinished. We had several challenges, from unresponsive architects and vendors, trying to source world class furnishings, designing custom workstations, and developing a design concept that would promote our brand and show the company off as a world class place to work. Which it definitely is. Here I present early photos of our great new office. :-)

IT Tech Park: View from the World Trade Center, Pune

World Trade Center, Pune

Reception Area: Also features security and vendor desks for cabs, concierge services, etc.  We need to change the lights in the down lights to something less yellow. We have fitted LED lights to save electricity and provide a more natural light across the entire space.
Reception Area: Seating for nine visitors with a custom curved glass wall, showcasing the work floor. The ceiling above is being prepared for a sky mural inside a lit dome. Yes, on the sixth floor of a nine story building. :-)
Two interview rooms are equipped with electrical, internet and backup Wi-Fi. Back-painted glass is installed in a matching paint colour to enable them to fade into the background when not required.
Custom curved glass wall from the work floor side. 
As you will notice, there are a few columns, actually lots of columns. We decided to take advantage of them and encase them in back painted glass to use all four sides of each column as white boards. 
You will notice there are a lot of clocks. From any seat on the work floor, each team member can look up and see what time it is in any American time zone. (Signs are coming to identify which time zone!)

Floor to ceiling glass walls provide two views of the beautiful city of Pune.
Each custom workstation has been designed to provide each team member with a lockable drawer for their belongings. Connectivity is available both above and below the desk for PCs and laptops. Pin boards are attached to the back of the workstation (orange cloth). 
Each station is outfitted with an American phone line and a local intercom. Each desk also features dual displays in order for our team members to keep multiple windows open and visible at the same time. Back painted glass separates each station and features more white board space.
iPlace believes in a very flat hierarchy, so there are very few offices/cabins. Only two full time people use them. The rest of the offices are used for meetings, visiting clients, and when the CEO comes to town each quarter. 
Team members even use the glass walls for white boards. I think we're a bit white board crazy. :-) 
Closer view of the custom furniture we designed for the cabins. Storage is along the wall (not pictured) as well as an additional pedestal below desk and accessory storage. Again, the back painted glass used as white board recedes into the background.

Hallway to the cafeteria, showing storage area and the Pledge Wall. As a company, we pledge to be ethical, professional, and client-centric. Each quarter, we re-sign this pledge. This is work in progress. 

Video wall will showcase news and events for our team members, along with sharing some of the awesome comments from clients about their successes working with iPlace team members.
Cafeteria space. The colourful furniture really pops against the drab walls, exactly as we had hoped. :-)
Our friendly housekeeping staff maintaining our self-serve kitchen area, equipped with tea and coffee services, microwaves, refrigerator, tiffin storage, etc. Behind them is a caterer who supplies meals for staff. His menu is usually written, again, on the glass-encased column. What can I say? White boards are very useful...
Each department features custom workstations, upper and lower cabinetry, pin boards... did I mention our chairs? We cut costs in other areas in order to afford the very best chairs for the team which include customisable lumbar support, etc. 
Our conference room is a work still in progress. The table is going and there's much more to do in here... Will post photos again once this is completed, along with the massage centre.
This is my favourite desk in the entire office, in the Finance Department. 
Each department office is outfitted with as much built-in storage as possible. This enabled us to fit a teeny tiny store room next door and add more space for things like a massage centre. :-)
Two of our managers in one of the department offices. We used the windows we had to allow as much natural light as possible into the rooms. Glass doors also bring additional natural light into the hallways.
Another view of the work floor.
Interview room 
Training room filled with amazing new trainees that just started this week. :-)

So that is it for now. Our internal recruiting team is already reporting a huge upturn in candidates accepting offers. They love the "vibe", stating that it feels very modern, and they love the fact that everyone looks like "they're having fun while at work". I'm very proud of the space and invite you to visit if you are interested in offshore recruiting! Send your CV to payal@iplaceusa.com to get started. 

Would love to know what people think. Let me know in the comments. Cheers. :-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The FRRO Again... and Again... and Again...

If you read my latest post, I introduced you to the lunacy of the FRRO. This new process is significantly worse than the old way. For starters, they refuse to allow any appointments without the online form, and you can't get the form until you have uploaded the photos. My helpful team at work said they would try and see if they could talk themselves into the FRRO speaking Marathi and get an idea of what my options are. They were told to get an agent. The FRRO staff were very unhelpful. For every question, they repeatedly suggested getting an agent. One of my team members was finally able to upload the photos using a PC and Internet Explorer and finally got us appointments.

Now, agents run the gamut of cost and services. Most are completely useless. You still end up generating your own paperwork, you still have to show up at the FRRO. The only difference is that the agent is sharing a portion of his fee as a kickback to the FRRO personnel. Hence the speedier service. Typical charges are anywhere from 10,000 rupees to 40,000 rupees per person. Thomas Cook were the people charging the most and provided the least amount of support when we met with several of them. 

We decided to continue to go through this alone to save the company money. Silly me. After we provided all the paperwork and then some, they wanted more. They wanted a Form-16 (like a W2 in the States) even though I work for an American firm and get paid in the States in US dollars. I pay my taxes in India on this US income since my legal domicile is India for 365 days a year. There is a tax treaty between the US and India that keeps expats from paying double taxation in US and India. For this, I need to pay my taxes directly to the Indian government and for that I provided challans (receipts), along with a Form 26AS showing proof that my taxes have been paid to date. Because of their request for a Form-16, I had to get a second letter from my company explaining this. Of course, it needed to have a corporate stamp. Doh. 

The next visit required another police verification, beyond the one we had already done with the landlord verifying our new address, getting the new lease notarized, etc. This one required the police to physically come to the home and verify that we were actually living in the house. Of course, they came bearing sad stories about how underpaid they are and how they have families, to which I replied, yes, me, too. And I'm a single woman raising a child alone. And I'm putting him through college alone. They were looking for a bribe. Will walked them out of the house with a couple hundred rupees each. We went back to the police station the next day for a sealed envelope for the FRRO's second police verification.

By now, we had visited the FRRO four times. I thought we were done. Of course not. All the paperwork is scanned and they tell us we're all done, but there is nothing written into our passports, no paperwork saying we're in process, no acknowledgement that we are legally allowed to be here. At this point, we're illegal. Our visas have expired. The telephone companies, our satellite TV vendor, even our wifi service has been calling stating they're turning off our services because we have to supply updated visas by law. The woman behind the counter explained that everything has to go to Mumbai for processing. Oh, just fu*king kill me now.

I'm having flashbacks of Gurgaon, where it took nearly 8 months to finalize my visa, but here, they won't even grant an emergency one-month visa. If something happens to our family back home, we can't leave the country. We were planning on visiting Burma in the Spring, but that's now cancelled. We can't fly domestically nor travel by train until this is solved. My son was supposed to go on a class trip to Jaipur for the Jaipur Literary Festival today. He went to the train station only to say goodbye to his fellow students. It was a huge disappointment. Thanks, FRRO.

It is, by far, the worst experience the typical expat goes through in India. Think of your worst experience in an American Department of Motor Vehicles and add steroids (to them) and a hangover (to you). I think they actually enjoy screwing with expats. I seriously think that's what gets them up in the mornings and eager to go to work. Will is constantly telling me not to react because i get so upset dealing with these morons who can't make it clear, who deliberately obscure the process to make it so vague they can capriciously decide what paperwork is required for you when you approach the counter. It's never, ever, ever the same, and this is my sixth year doing this. It's enough to say, "Fu*k this country. I'm leaving". But then again, I can't leave until they give me a new visa.