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The future of Indian co-working spaces in 2020

Since its inception in 2010, WeWork New York has seen startups and billion-dollar tech giants alike grow in their spaces across the city, overlooking the Manhattan skyline, across Central Park, on Wall Street.

But, post this pandemic, change is afoot.

While, WeWork is in talks with NYC’s private schools about holding classes in its offices this fall, IBM, on the other hand, has plans to pull out of a nearly 70,000 square foot WeWork outpost in Union Square — as many in the tech industry are hoping to make remote working the norm.

Much like Facebook and Google, closer home, Infosys has announced permanent WFH for 33% to 55% of its employees. TCS too has proclaimed that by 2025, only 25% of its workforce will need to come to its offices.

And it is this breakdown of the idea of traditional workspaces that co-working spaces are trying to turn in their favour. Convinced that work from home cannot be a permanent set-up for India, co-working units are hoping to act as ad-hoc spaces while companies try to figure out the new normal.

The future of Indian co-working spaces in 2020

When home isn’t enough

In January, Chennai-based Karya Spaces opened a new centre in Nungambakkam, eager to invest in the booming market of co-working spaces. The company which saw a flood, a cyclone and a drought since its inception in 2015, has now been facing a pandemic since the beginning of this year.

Soon enough, over fears of infection, their client base dropped by 30% in March. However, once the lockdown eased in May, they have received nearly 100 enquiries to rent desks from July.

“Of the people who are looking to join in July, one section sees new opportunities in co-working. Looking to cut down costs, they have changed their plans of getting their own office (for which they would have to pay a hefty deposit, and would be locked in) and are using our spaces instead,” says Arjjun Chander, founder of Karya Spaces.

The future of Indian co-working spaces in 2020

Arjjun believes that for any company to develop and grow, real-life interaction of colleagues is essential. “It is only when you meet that you can creatively inspire each other. The importance of offices will never come down,” he says.

Vaidhyaraman S, co-founder of Chennai-based IT startup Engauge, which caters to hotels and restaurants, is no stranger to co-working spaces. Until December 2019, he was working from Resolution 501 in Teynampet. His plans to move to a bigger space had to pause for the pandemic.

“Right now, I don’t think it is safe to work outside, as I have old parents at home. Also, lockdown rules keep changing. But once everything settles, I would like to move to a big co-working space,” he says. At home, he explains, it is easy to get distracted — not to forget, the power outages and network connectivity issues. Moreover, you begin to associate your home, your one safe place, with work.

“An employee of mine works from home in Kerala. He’s a really good resource. But there are days when he isn’t motivated to work. That can happen when you are working alone. In an office or a co-working setup, there’s more social connection and interaction, which can improve your work,” says Vaidhyaraman.

But given a choice between an office and a co-working space, he would choose the latter. “Unlike a traditional office set up, in a co-working space, you get to interact with people from similar and different businesses. It’s like an informal collaboration because you can exchange new ideas, perspectives and contacts. Even a half-an-hour coffee break with someone can lead to something,” he says.

The future of Indian co-working spaces in 2020

Safety standards to check
  • Restricted entry with body temperature check.
  • Masks and gloves for clients before they come in.
  • Regular two-hourly disinfection of office spaces including
  • desks and bathrooms. Any surfaces prime to touch like chair handles should be sprayed.
  • Desks must be kept at a distance of five to six feet, this may
  • mean a decrease in the number of workstations.
  • New facilities such as an isolation room, an evacuation path,
  • several sanitising stations, and even reprogrammed elevators to
  • reduce contact.

Recognising this need for human interaction, Hyderabad’s The Chalet, a spacious bungalow in Jubilee Hills, which had earlier positioned itself as a multicultural centre with opportunities for co-working space has now introduced The Chalet Social. This will be a lounge where creative professionals can hire workspace and explore collaborations, while following personal distancing norms.

The Chalet Social plans to function in an area of approximately 3,200 square feet, with an additional 250 square feet that can be hired for music, dance performances or workshops.

Pivot to survive

In Chennai, AtWorks is learning from the hospitality sector.

“This pandemic scenario, in a way, has proved that remote working environments are manageable,” says Ashwin Shankar, CEO of AtWorks. “So, startups, which form the majority of our clients, will choose to work remotely so they can cut down expenses. They will probably use co-working spaces on an ad-hoc basis... like hotels, where you can book a room for two or three days.”

The future of Indian co-working spaces in 2020

Before the pandemic, this six-year-old co-working space offered 450 seats across five centres in Chennai. Now, they are down to two centres and 240 seats.

“In order to attract clients, we will have to move from a rental model to a hospitality set-up. Apart from infrastructure, we have to provide them with services, software, strategy… We have to be an incubator for the startups. That’s how we are thinking of packaging ourselves after COVID-19,” he says.

It is a similar story at The Hub in Bengaluru, which mostly caters to content-and tech-based startups. Though it was shut from mid-March to mid-May, The Hub states it has been receiving a lot of new enquiries post resumption.

Founder Azaan Sait says the role of a co-working space has changed. “It’s become more collaborative. It’s now not enough to just provide good infrastructure to our clients. Many of them work on content. So, we offer them editing services and streaming softwares like OBS.”

But it is not just startups drawn to the co-working life. Arjjun of Karya Space reveals how he has a group of clients who work for an MNC, but as they have been asked to WFH, they choose to come work at his centre in a group of five. Purely for a change of space.

With no clarity on the safety of public transport, and when they will start operating within the city, he believes that easy access neighbourhood co-working spaces will be the future of 2020.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 8:03:26 AM |

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