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Coworking Spaces: Emergence, disruption and growth

, May 31, 2022, 0 Comments

coworking-space-india-marketexpresss-inThe other day when my colleague discussed her article on the scarcity of one’s own space due to work from home situation, I started thinking about what could be an alternate option. Work from home is added as a new norm and there will be a seismic shift in workplace culture in future. While a certain percentage of the workforce will return to the office, a very large portion will opt for permanent work from home solution.

In India real estate being one of the most expensive commodities, the majority can’t afford a large residential place and space crunch is a genuine issue to manage work from home. The situation is worse for people dealing with small kids at home or when barking pets are around. Coworking spaces (CS) have come to rescue this problem.

Over the last two decades, most large and medium companies started using coworking spaces to avoid high expenditures on long term investment. In India Coworking spaces started operating first in 2013, mainly to cater for the need of the startups. As of 2019 data, around 25.45 million sqft area of office spaces is taken up by CSs. Often freelancers and individual professionals who are quite tech-savvy and manage their work on digital platforms are not bounded by traditional office spaces. They prefer to work in such kind of community workspaces to build the network and utilize it for business growth.

Emergence and evolution of Coworking spaces

Coworking spaces are agile office spaces centrally located and well connected to most parts of the city and provide an excellent nurturing work environment to the corporates as well as to individual professionals. Most of these office spaces are open 24X7 to provide flexible timings and have ample amenities and recreation zones. According to Spinuzzi (2012), CSs are collaborative office environments where unaffiliated workers work next to others for a certain amount of fee. After the post-2008 economic recession, CSs became very popular and many reputed real estate companies started investing heavily in this sector. Multiple benefits are offered by coworking spaces-

  • High level of customizations under one roof– Some professionals may want a corporate setup while creative professionals may look for a cozy bean bag instead of office chairs and prefer a start-up kind of set-up. CS offers a solution to both kinds of demands. Coworking spaces serve the need for a worker who opts for a creative diverse office outlook, at the same time may offer a space for only ladies’ zones and even pet-friendly spaces. 
  • Conference settings and large meeting spaces– Sometimes workers work from home but don’t have home settings to organize formal office meetings or a conference for important presentations. CS is an answer to this type of problem.
  • Networking with professionals from the same or other industry– People working at Flexi spaces get ample opportunities to connect with the business community, exchange ideas, generate revenues and win new clients because of the physical proximity of professionals and businessmen from various companies. 
  • More flexibility at less cost– Companies can save a huge amount of fixed cost just by leasing or renting a smaller space or few cubicles at the beginning and add more with expansion. It can work another way. As a monthly rental option of modular office spaces are available extra spaces can be surrendered in case of shrinking the business
  • A sense of community– Often promoters and service providers in coworking spaces try to build a sense of community, emotional connection and belongingness among the workers, freelancers, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs who work in that space through various activities and giving them “at home” comforts.    

Sluggish growth during Pandemic time

The covid-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses heavily and Coworking spaces are no exception. Rather they were potentially more vulnerable and the pandemic hit hard this sector due to multiple reasons-

  • CS is mostly situated in densely populated urban city centers or downtown areas or at crowded knowledge hubs at places easily reachable from any part of the city. As observed in those areas infection rates were higher, people were advised to avoid such crowded places and many of these facilities had to close down.
  • These places are mostly visited by diverse multinational populations, and tourists for business purposes, so workers did not take any chances and avoided using those office places. 
  • A Series of lockdowns and restricted movements imposed by the Government left no option for commuting to those areas.
  • Work from home and remote working options offered by most of the companies gave the opportunities to use the home as offices and people confined themselves at home to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus. 

Many small and medium players in this segment closed their businesses and the business of even prominent players was badly damaged by the pandemic. In India one-fourth of the business in this sector is offered by small players and Knight Frank India, the renowned global consultant predicted that half of these small occupiers in the coworking sector would fade away by 2020. 

The accelerated growth of coworking spaces in the post-pandemic period 

Experts predicted that the concept of coworking is here to stay and will grow multifold in post covid time, especially in metros in India. Small fragmented players will consolidate and offer better facilities to the workforce. Not only freelancers or individual startups but many established corporates are offering co-working spaces to their employees as they don’t want to go to the corporate office. Post covid time many employees prefer to go to the nearest office space offered by the company to avoid travel. New builders started expanding their business in CSs with better facilities in terms of hygiene, social distancing and state of the art technologies. Due to economic uncertainties, large corporations have moved to shared workspaces to avoid heavy investment in stand-alone office buildings. In the post-pandemic period, the CS sector will emerge stronger than before with cloud-based platforms, IoT and cyber security in a more well equipped collaborative flexible office space.

References:

Spinuzzi C (2012) Working alone together: coworking as emergent collaborative activity. J Bus Tech Commun 26(4):399–441
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researchgate.net