When Gaurav Chopra set up IndiaLends, his Delhi-based financial services company, he was determined to import some of the relatively informal work culture he had encountered during the eight years he spent in the UK.
“When I first started at the London School of Economics, I managed to offend some of my professors by calling them ‘Sir’,” he says. “It was a pleasant surprise to me at that time, and so when I started my company in India I asked my employees to call me by my first name.
“刚入读伦敦政治经济学院(London School of Economics)时，我尊称教授们‘先生’（Sir，是一种尊称，如中国称一些德高望重的女性为“先生”，与英语中Mr. XXX翻译过来的XXX先生不同——译者注），结果冒犯了其中一些人，”他说，“这让当时的我感到既惊且喜。所以，当我在印度创业时，我让员工直呼我的名字。”
But even now, some employees still address Mr Chopra as “Sir”, no matter how much he tries to stop them.
The deferential culture he describes is, in part, a legacy of colonial rule that ended in 1947. For nearly 100 years, the British imposed their hierarchical, Victorian-era civil service on the Indian system of government.
例句：Polls show that people today are less deferential to authority in organizations and politics. 民意测验显示今天的人们较少顺从组织和政治的权威。
In the decades after independence, that culture was copied by private companies. Not only were there strict hierarchies, but also those at the top were allowed to arrive late, leave early and take long lunch breaks — a habit that still exists in many Indian public sector organisations.
“Everyone knows that if a government office says it will open at a certain time, no one will be there by then,” says Mr Chopra. “And if it is due to close at 5pm, you can be sure no one will be in the office by 5.01pm.”
Since the country started to open its markets in the early 1990s, however, corporate office life has changed substantially, with office-based service jobs increasing particularly quickly. In 1991, the year liberalisation started, services accounted for just over 40 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Last year, that figure was about 55 per cent.
The arrival of multinational companies such as Nestlé, Microsoft and Citigroup, coupled with the sudden growth in the IT services sector, brought a new style of corporate workplace and a new way of working. Gone are the late starts and early finishes: a survey by Manpower Group in 2016 found young Indians work harder than anyone else in the world, clocking up an average of 52 hours a week.
“Hard work is generally measured by the number of hours you put in at the office,” says Prakash Rao, chief experience officer at PeopleStrong, a human resources services company. “If you leave on time, your colleagues start to wonder whether you have enough work to do.”
Amit Veer, vice-president of payments at Paytm, a financial technology start-up, says he works from 9.30am to 8pm. “But given my commute takes one hour 15 minutes in the morning and two hours in the evening, it is a very long day.”
Paytm, for example, has mimicked San Francisco’s culture by creating an open-plan office where Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the chief executive and billionaire company founder, sits among his colleagues at a desk indistinguishable from theirs.
The Indian corporate workplace has now become so established it has been given the ultimate mark of recognition: its own spin-off of the BBC sitcom The Office, the UK programme format that became a hit in the US and eight other countries.
Even in the face of rapid technological and cultural change, however, certain elements of the traditional Indian office have remained. The lunch hour, for example, is still an hour. Even in the most dynamic start-ups, workers decamp en masse for their meal.
Another common feature of the Indian workplace is that there is little, if any, respect for the separation between work and family life. Employees describe being called up at any time of the day and at weekends, and some are forced to come into the office on a Saturday if they are behind on deadlines.
Mr Rao says: “In my previous job, customers expected to be able to contact me at any time of day or night. There were times when I would get a call at two o’clock in the morning and would be expected to take it.”
Krishna Rathi, general manager of Paytm’s entertainment business, says he does not have a regular day off each week. “Our busiest days are Friday and Saturday, when most people go to the cinema, and I have to be on hand to respond to customers’ problems throughout the weekend.”
Some see a link between such demands and the habit of many senior people in Indian organisations of turning up very late for meetings or not attending at all. “There is no sense of respecting other people’s time,” Kishore Jayaraman, president of Rolls-Royce in India and south Asia, told the FT this year.
Many Indian start-ups have tried to do away with the idea of scheduled meetings altogether. “It is quite an unstructured office,” says Neha Agarwal, general manager of investments at Paytm. “If you want to work with someone, you just walk up to their desk and ask them. And if they are not there, our mobile numbers are all printed above our workstations.”