The spurt in start-ups and growth of the gig economy first created a demand for co-working spaces. Now, the conglomerates and MNCs too are moving out of their traditional office set-ups, triggering the next surge in their popularity.

DXC Technologies (formerly HP Enterprise Business) moved into WeWork’s brand new Goregaon facility in Mumbai in July. A part of the Tata company Jaguar Land Rover’s team works from WeWork in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), and, in March, the company took up 180 seats at Smartworks in Pune. One of Google’s many teams works out of Awfis in Gurugram while Amazon India has a team of 16 at Smartworks in Pune.

Time and money

A growing number of companies are preferring co-working spaces to creating new spaces or expanding their facilities, especially if they are setting up new teams or departments. “IndiaMART was trying to build a new product and a team of 25 needed a strategic environment. To set up a new office would have taken us weeks, if not months. We were able to set up and start work within 30 minutes," says Brijesh Agrawal, co-founder, IndiaMART, which has its own office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. They moved into 91 Springboard’s facility in December.

Those in the co-working space business attribute the shift to an expensive real estate market and the ease and swiftness of setting up a new office with a plug-and-play model. “In a traditional office space, business owners need to deal with landlords, contractors, brokers, security deposit, lock-in period and other legal and technical issues. This process is extremely time-consuming and takes six-eight months from the time they start looking till the time they move in," says Karan Virwani, chief WeWork executive officer, WeWork India.

On an average, a team of 200 would need an office area of 10,000 sq. ft. “Co-working spaces lease office spaces of 50,000 sq. ft or more, giving them greater flexibility to negotiate on rent. Hence we are much more efficient and we redirect this efficiency in costs to our clients. So, even for a big corporate, working from a co-working space turns out to be 50-60% cheaper than having their own office," says Pranay Gupta, 91 Springboard co-founder .

As a business model, it enables flexibility, allowing businesses to free up capital expenditure and focus on their core competencies.

“We moved into the WeWork BKC building in January primarily because of the ease of moving, cost and minimal fixed investment," says Sameer Arif, Commercial Manager, JLR.

An open-night comedy show at Smartworks, Pune.
An open-night comedy show at Smartworks, Pune.

Not just about money

The reasons, however, go beyond capital and convenience. The corporate workforce, much of it comprising millennials, benefits from the vibrant design and environment such spaces have meticulously created. “The healthy, relaxed atmosphere in co-working spaces helps companies retain their employees, as they are happier working in such environments rather than in conventional protocol-driven offices," says Sudeep Singh, co-founder and chief evangelist of Go-Work. The vibe is generally youthful and positive, its effects rubbing off on professionals, who report an enhancement in work-life balance and an improvement in personal and professional relationships due to the emergence of an ideal third space between work and home, he adds.

For watch-maker Daniel Wellington, the biggest change has been the work environment, says business operations director Sander van der Stroom. “The space comes with its trendy design, selection of furniture and decorative elements. The general atmosphere is that of combining hard work with having fun and engaging with many other people outside our own team," says van der Stroom, who works out of the WeWork BKC branch with 50 staff members. They were among the first to move there in September.

Arif says their new environment has enhanced productivity. “There is a social life beyond work that is offered here. I think that invites my team to come to work, be happy, enjoy, make friends and also grow professionally," he adds.

New collaborations

“When you’re in a traditional environment in a large organization, you’re in a silo. It’s the same boss, same friends and same conversation. There is no room for dynamism. The idea of an open, communicative, barrier-less office culture is finally catching up on this side of the economic ecosystem," says Virwani.

It’s a big change for corporate India, particularly leaders used to a certain style of operation. For one, the atmosphere is vibrant, buzzing with energy. Moreover, co-working spaces are great platforms for informal networking and collaboration as one keeps bumping into executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers from different sectors. “For me, it’s a big change," says Arif. “The team’s morale is high, they have made friends, there is a sense of being part of a wider community than just JLR," he adds.

Van der Stroom believes the move has strengthened team bonds. “The entire team has to be more mindful of noise levels and discussing certain topics outside the office. In return, we have become a close-knit team that is very aware of what is happening across the board as it is very easy to share information and get involved in conversations and make a contribution," he says.

And, since all the behind-the-scenes work is taken care of, the big companies are free to chase their targets while having some fun. As Arif puts it, “Working at a co-working facility is a brilliant opportunity to tap into the network of talent that exists in such an environment."

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness

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