For those who had enough of the work-from-home environment, cafés, workcations and co-working offices are providing alternative spaces
‘Will a kind friend let me use a silent corner in their house to work?’ was a desperate plea of a colleague on social media, as he found it increasingly difficult to deal with the everyday household din. While a few came to his rescue and offered their farmhouses, almost everyone could empathise.
After all, over the past one year, as offices closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people across the world simultaneously discovered the challenges of working from home. As pandemic fatigue creeps in and many offices remain shut, people have been looking for alternatives to their couches, from cafés to co-working spaces, and embracing the frills that come with them: dependable WiFi, cappuccinos and a social life.
Amyn Pirani, marketing manager with a Hyderabad-based hydroponic farm, says a café near his house became his workplace. Amyn recollects, “Invariably, I found myself at the café at 9.30 am and logging in to work to finish calls, emails and meetings. Having got used to working in an office, working from home wasn’t as exciting after six months.”
Dr Prerna Ravi who starts working from a café in Bengaluru at 9 am everyday, says ambience plays a major role. “I am preparing for an oncology specialisation test. My apartment complex is noisy with children.” She continues, “I come to the café, order my breakfast and many cups of green tea. I am in the café till about noon and just when it starts filling up, I leave. After that I head to a business centre with a friend for a group study session.”
Meanwhile there are ‘workcation’ offers from hotels. At the Sheraton Gachibowli, and other business hotels, there are daytime packages . Workcations come with lunch and evening tea packages, choice of fresh fruit juices and beverages for short breaks. The goal here for hospitality spaces is to leverage the new age of remote work to shore up their post-pandemic revenue.
In the quest for a space to conduct meetings without the sound of a pressure cooker going off in the background, people who want a more structured set up are moving to co-working spaces. Santosh Martin, head of sales, WeWork India, a co-working space provider says, “We are witnessing a rising demand for flexible workspaces especially by large companies who are reconsidering their fixed asset investments based on current market conditions.” He is of the view that the demand is an outcome of 2020 forcing businesses to re-evaluate their commercial real estate strategy to make it more resilient and agile.
Santosh says, “According to a report by the UK-based Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated (JLL), a global commercial real estate services company, driven by increased demand from large enterprises, the flexible workspace market will cross 50 million square feet by 2023.” He says that they are expected to contribute around 10% of the overall leasing activity in 2021 and 2022, adding “Last year, we witnessed a 10% rise in our enterprise member base.”
Cultural centres too are witnessing an increased footfall of the ‘creative crowd,’ from writers to web designers. According to Anvesh Kuruvilla of Aaromalé, a café that comes with cultural space in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, the increase in footfall is as much as 40%. He says, “This is roughly the number of people accessing the lawns and creativity centre for business meets and project discussions.”
In Mumbai where living spaces are cramped, couples are taking turns to step out and work from co-working spaces. Some couples say this is helping improve relationships that had almost gone sour from a year of having to share limited space through the day. Rekha M (name changed) whose husband manages a co-working space in Dadar, Mumbai, says he was bombarded with requests from friends in the vicinity to re-open the space.
“We even contemplated operating it during the partial lockdown, but then had to give up keeping in mind the trouble we will have to face. Now that things are limping back to normal , our co-working space is always occupied with friends and their friends who find it tiring to work from home. The space allows interactions with newer people,” says Rekha.
As summer approaches, along with it comes power cuts. Keeping these factors in mind, a lot of corporate workers are looking to book co-working spaces. “The only hitch is, we need to dress formally again,” says Radhika Kumar who has made a quiet corner of Roast, a coffee shop in Hitech City, Hyderabad, her work den. No more spending the day in pyjamas. On the plus side, you do not need to tidy your room before Zoom meetings any more. And at these workspaces, unlike your office, you can run meetings in shorts , with endless cappuccinos on call.