Changing technology, lifestyles and aspirations are making way for new businesses, more optimal operations, and increased collaboration. Over the world, co-working spaces have been disrupting the concept of traditional offices and bringing innovation to the way people work and work together.
India’s earliest coworking spaces were start-up focused businesses that served as both low-cost office space and provided some form of business incubation and mentorship. But that is changing. Coworking spaces are also catering to SMEs and established corporates that are seeking access to top talent, fresh ideas, proximity to clientele for enterprise services and productivity enhancement of their own teams.
According to a 2017 joint study by the Confederation of Indian Industry and other partners, the coworking segment in India is expected to get $400 million in investments by 2018. The report has called co-working a ‘revolution’ that will spell the future of the workplace.
So why are co-working spaces so much in vogue?
Reduced Operational Costs
Identifying office space, negotiating lease agreements, designing office layout, installing IT infrastructure, setting up a pantry service, a library, hiring and managing housekeeping staff cost company time and money. At a fraction of the cost of traditional office space and no capital engagement, offices can now be setup, teams expanded, downsized or relocated. In a workplace with shared space and amenities, even small teams on lean budgets can afford access to capital-intensive gym equipment and world-class executive meeting rooms that would have been out of their reach if they were setting up independent office space. Cutting down costs on one item of the balance sheet gives companies more leeway to spend in other areas that support business growth.
Flexible, Scalable Offices
Startups with limited capital and varying team sizes, SMEs venturing into multiple geographies or large companies setting up product incubation teams in new cities can set up flexible, scalable operations without taking on massive capital liabilities. Large and small companies are supported by co-working spaces which dilute a component of risk when companies venture into new markets, set up pilot projects, dismantle unsuccessful operations or launch short-term recruitment drives and marketing campaigns in new geographies. Freelancers become free to travel and work from potentially anywhere in the world.
On-Demand, Plug-n-Play Offices
Fully functional, world-class office space can be available for just the amount of time that it is required. A company with teams in Delhi and Bombay can have client meetings or recruitment drives in Bengaluru by simply booking meeting rooms in this coworking space in Bengaluru. Co-working spaces thrive on flexibility and there are many options for clients to pick and choose from in order to avail and pay for exactly the office experience that they need. You can book a conference room on one day and an outdoor space on another. You can rent fixed cabin space for the long-term or choose hot-desking three days of the week that you plan to come in to work.
Irrespective of the cost of real estate, new entrepreneurs, small businesses and satellite offices of large companies can operate from prime locations in the vicinity of the city’s business districts.Proximity to clients, vendors, competitors or mentors can mean the difference between success and failure of a business. Employees living in the suburbs can choose to work from co-working spaces closer to home and save on the time spent in manoeuvring traffic jams or negotiating a crammed public transport system. Especially in crowded urban centres, ease of travel and lesser time wasted on the road are major factors in keeping people motivated and productive at work.
Distributed teams and Independence at work
Technology has enabled people to work remotely as part of geographically distributed teams or set out on their own as freelancers. Co-working spaces are ideal for this workforce that values its independence but still needs basic office infrastructure (good wi-fi, meeting rooms, etc.) and a community of ‘co-workers’ with whom to build relationships and exchange ideas. Freelancing no longer means working out of cheap cafes isolated from a professional network. Marketing professionals, sales people, designers and recruiters are seeing many roles becoming viable for remote working and co-working spaces make them even more so.
The needs of a millennial workforce
Coworking spaces are designed for a maturing, millennial workforce that cares nothing for hierarchy, seeks fun at work, funky, technology-enabled work areas, entertainment, flexible hours and a sharing community with diverse interests.In keeping with the aspirations of its users, co-working space providers value aesthetic and design in their spaces. Offices are modern, pleasant and vibrant with good lighting and ventilation. A range of options from pool tables, gymnasiums, outdoor social areas and community events keep a young, dynamic workforce engaged in the workspace in a holistic manner.
In addition to Indian entrepreneurs, global players like shared office space giant WeWork are making rapid inroads in the co-working industry in India. This is spurring competition and boosting innovation in new models of co-working. Co-working spaces are sprouting in Tier II and Tier III cities. There is investor interest in co-working. With large companies now hiring substantial, long-term co-working space, co-working space providers are able to obtain better occupancy and long-term engagement with members and therefore healthier operating margins.
Co-working is not merely sharing office space and office amenities. People choose co-working spaces for the culture, the ease of use and the services provided by a space. In addition to basic amenities, many spaces are also looking to provide value-adds such as recreational facilities, caretaking, marketing, legal, accounting and insurance services to their clients. Professional networking events, knowledge sharing forums and avenues for structured collaboration within co-workers are other key considerations when picking a co-working space. Co-working spaces are even negotiating with retail food chains, grocery stores or partnering with creches to provide specific convenience to their clientele.
Innovation and Collaboration
In a typical co-working environment, a startup entrepreneur could end up having a conversation with a seasoned HR professional and hit upon an idea for how to structure his client database for optimal analytics. An SME in medical tourism could find a team of illustrators and copywriters to craft its marketing outreach in West Africa. Where freelance graphic designers, marketing consultants, tech, healthcare, education startups, SMEs in telecom and renewable energy, enterprise solution providers, business incubators, investment funds and e-commerce giants share a workspace, it creates an ecosystem in which cross-pollination of ideas, networking and collaboration is natural, effective and to the benefit of business and society at large.