1. Plug & work

Plug & work

The very concept of an office is changing, with several start-ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers considering non-traditional, cost-effective and flexible set-ups like shared or co-working spaces, hostels and even cafés for their day-to-day business

By: | Published: November 20, 2016 6:03 AM
workplace-l Internet, a supportive and collaborative community of creative start-ups—where budding entrepreneurs, creative minds, freelancers and independent professionals can set up temporary offices.

When Kapil Gupta, a 25-year-old entrepreneur from New Delhi, wanted to add another office to his existing set-up at Janakpuri, he was in a bit of a dilemma. He didn’t want to go for a full-fledged office, as he needed just a small space for about two people. Also, high realty costs and the stress associated with the daily maintenance of a conventional office space deterred him. Working from home was out of question. Earlier, he used to work out of outlets like Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks, but that had proved to be costly and monotonous after a point of time.

That’s when the co-founder of Enqodle, a digital house that provides various IT solutions, decided to turn to [email protected] in Connaught Place. The café houses a dedicated co-working space—started in May this year by One Internet, a supportive and collaborative community of creative start-ups—where budding entrepreneurs, creative minds, freelancers and independent professionals can set up temporary offices. “We chose [email protected] for its central location. Also, we didn’t have to pay any security deposit, as is the case when you set up an office elsewhere. The working atmosphere is good and the courteous staffers take care of all our needs. The Internet speed is amazing too,” says Gupta, an engineering graduate, who has subscribed to the R5,000 per head per month package that includes the cost of the space and food, among others.

Similar is the story of New Delhi-based Pooja Bhayana, co-founder, Let’s Barter India, a platform for bartering goods and services. “Earlier, we were working mostly out of my home office and from our co-founders’ homes. As for meetings, we used to go to coffee shops, but those were becoming highly inconvenient. We decided to go for a co-working space because we wanted to interact with other members of the community and imbibe the office side of work,” says Bhayana, who now works out of Innov8, a co-working and innovation centre located in Connaught Place.

Once upon a time, there were offices and business centres—mostly cold and impersonal with barely any scope for imagination or recreation—that employees would go to and work and share ideas in. But not any more. In the start-up era, desks and chairs have been replaced by bean bags and bar stools, conference halls and meeting rooms have turned into collaborative corners and networking spaces, and graffiti-splattered walls have become par for the course. Expand your parameters a bit and you’ll notice that nowadays, you don’t even need an office to work. The very concept of a new-age workspace is changing, as start-ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers increasingly consider non-traditional set-ups like shared or co-working spaces for collaboration (especially for a generation raised on social media), start-up hostels to live (temporarily) and work in, and even ‘café-bar workspaces’ to kick back over drinks, as they finish a hectic day.

Collaborate, co-work

The basic idea behind these set-ups is to promote a collaborative culture and provide networking opportunities in a vibrant, fun and interactive atmosphere. But what these non-conventional workspaces also end up doing is help individuals and businesses save on costs while starting up. Take, for instance, New Delhi-based co-working space provider Awfis. The new-age venture aims to provide ready-to-use, plug-and-play office spaces embedded with the latest technology solutions. In simple terms, the Awfis platform enables users to book work desks, private cabins, meeting rooms and business centres across the country on a ‘just-in-time’ basis for a flexible period ranging from an hour to a year. “With rapid urbanisation, burgeoning traffic and increased travel times, ‘anywhere workspace’ is the new normal. In India, SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) and start-ups face the challenge of having decent infrastructure at cost-effective prices. Awfis was started with the goal of providing new-age, technology-enabled workspaces that provide a superior alternative to owning conventional offices. We effectively provide ‘anytime-anywhere’ workspace solutions,” says Amit Ramani, founder, Awfis.

Currently, Awfis offers up to 2,400 ‘seats’ across 10 cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. You can hire a ‘flexi’ seat for about R4,500-R5,000, while a ‘fixed’ seat will cost you anything between R9,000 and R11,000 per month. Awfis’ private cabins can be had for R11,000-R13,000 per seat per month, depending on the location. In the deal, you also get high-speed Internet connection, printing facilities, meeting rooms and hot beverages, among others. Awfis offers daily and weekly plans as well, starting at R300 per flexi seat per day and R600 per fixed seat per day. You can avail of a ‘virtual office’ (where they provide communication and address services for a fee without providing dedicated office space), too, starting for as low as R1,500.

Innov8, a co-working and innovation start-up launched by serial entrepreneur and investor Ritesh Malik in December last year, has a similar concept. Housed in a 10,000-sq-ft space in the heart of Connaught Place, Innov8 services start-ups, SMEs, corporates, banks, government departments, NGOs, service providers and freelancers, among others. It has a capacity for 150 individuals at one time. “We are trying to revolutionise the way India works. When you come to Innov8, you meet like-minded individuals and feel the energy in the air,” says Malik, who is a doctor by education. “Sharing economy is the future of the world… the mindsets of people are changing now. They don’t want to own assets, they want to share them instead,” he adds.

This was the basis on which Akshay Ahuja, founder of RoboChampas, a robotics company based in Mohali, Punjab, started availing of the services of Innov8. “Before coming to this place, I used to operate solely from my corporate office in Mohali. At Innov8, I have opted for a cabin that gives me access to a space with four seats, as well as a meeting place. The benefits have been many. I have managed to save a considerable amount of money, as it allows me benefits like having an air-conditioned space and Wi-Fi connectivity, among others,” says the 23-year-old entrepreneur, adding, “But the most important benefit has been the collaborations I have been able to get into, thanks to the people I met here.”

As per Abhishek Barari, co-founder and CEO of office space-sharing marketplace My Cute Office, in the past five years, the number of co-working spaces in the US has gone up from 150 to close to 7,500 now. “We are seeing a similar trend in India, with close to 140 new spaces opening up in the past one year, which is a big jump from the 30 that existed when we started My Cute Office,” says Barari. Mumbai-based My Cute Office follows a marketplace model—it ties up with various space providers and gives users several options for ready-to-move-in workspaces.

Eat, drink, work

Considering the fact that people like working from cafés, restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani came up with Social Offline, a ‘café-bar’ co-working space chain that currently consists of 11 set-ups across New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, with expansion plans of up to 150 across the country soon. “We wanted to create a café chain that would encourage people to work socially, a place where there wasn’t awkwardness over having no food or drink left on the table,” he explains.

In India, where offices traditionally carry a reputation for chaos and bureaucracy, the co-working scene stands out. Collaborative workspaces such as Social foster a culture of ease and efficiency. “The co-working concept is much more productive than everybody sitting in their own cubicles,” Amlani says. “Communication is quicker, everybody knows what’s going on and people are on the same page. It’s a social environment, so there’s no unnecessary formality. Work feels like a mission and a sport when you are part of a co-working community,” he adds.

Hauz Khas Social in New Delhi is spread over four floors and has a gorgeous view of the nearby lake. It has almost everything an office needs, such as conference rooms, workstations and free Wi-Fi. Towards the evening—after what they qualify as a ‘full working day’—Hauz Khas Social seamlessly transitions into a high-energy bar.

Like Hauz Khas Social, Factory by Sutra, a microbrewery and pub located in Gurgaon’s Sector 29, also doubles up as a co-working space. Graphic designer Ria Rachel was working for a leading graphics house in Gurgaon before she decided to freelance. “I was told how to work and what to work on (there), which was against my skills,” says the 25-year-old Gurgaon resident. It was then that she chose to freelance at Factory by Sutra. “The variety of co-workers in the space means that they have unique skill sets, which they can share with other community members,” she adds.

Explaining why they decided to incorporate a co-working space at Factory by Sutra, managing director Sandeep Jaglan says, “We decided to do it after hearing about it from friends who stay abroad. We travelled to various countries to learn how such spaces work. Co-working gives freelancers, entrepreneurs and people who work from home an office-like ‘reserved’ area with social interaction—a juxtaposition of work and fun.”

Travel, stay, start up

Launching a start-up usually means a lot of travelling. And when there is travelling, there is bound to be a need for cost-effective accommodation. Thus was born Construkt’s Start-up Hostels in Bengaluru. It’s a convenient, community-curated, business-friendly hostel accommodation for the travelling start-up and creative community, where they can work and live. The 3,500-sq-ft facility houses four bedrooms, shared bathrooms, a living room, dining area, balconies, library and laundry areas, and a fully-equipped self-catering kitchen as well.

The hostel’s target customer includes outstation entrepreneurs travelling to Bengaluru, city-based start-ups with offices outside Bengaluru that would want to bring their teams to the city for short periods, entrepreneurs coming to accelerator/incubator programmes in the city, and delegations and interns coming for entrepreneurship programmes organised by trade bodies and foreign offices. “We have coined a term for these travelling entrepreneurs: ‘hackpackers’ (hacker + backpacker). We provide them a clean, safe and inspiring place to stay in, with high-speed Internet, services such as laundry and access to information such as where to set up an office, who to meet and what industry events to attend, etc,” says Shashikiran Rao, one of the two co-founders of Construkt. The hostel charges R850 per bed per night, but also customises packages for people who want to stay for a month or more.

“Workspaces have changed drastically over the past few years, with shared desks and open cabins all contributing to a better work environment. Co-working and accelerator spaces are becoming community spaces now,” Rao says.

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