Nov, 2020 - By Nilanjana Chakraborty
The word “co-working” was first coined by Bernard DeKoven, who described it as “working together as equals”. It is the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, typically so as to share equipment, ideas, and knowledge. In 2005, software engineer, Brad Neuberg, began the first official co-working space when he was going through tough financial times. While working at a start-up, he wanted a platform that would combine the feeling of independence and freedom of working by himself with the community feel and structure of working with others. He created a new type of space that delivered a structure and community feel. In this moment, co-working as we know it today, was conceived, though similar ideas had been percolating for years. C-base, which was founded in Berlin in 1995, was among the first hacker spaces around the world. Many now consider these hacker spaces to be precursors of today's co-working spaces.
With the ongoing flexibilization of work, new trends concerning work outside the company’s premises such as co-working spaces are on the rise. These spaces are designed to offer collaboration and community in furnished and equipped workspaces on a rental basis. Co-working spaces are redefining the traditional workplace where employees sit and work with strict office rules. These are slowly fading and being replaced with thriving co-working hubs. The 9 to 5 work culture is gradually being deconstructed and a work culture is being built with a philosophy that, at its core, invests in the environment in which the work is done. This change is prominent where start-ups and home-based-businesses are numerous but are failing to grow because of the lack of a proper workspace.
A co-working hub is ideally a well-designed workspace to meet different needs of different people. Where some established businesses may prefer a private space, Freelancers may just need a desk. Co-working hubs include different kinds of spaces to meet different needs. One of the major reasons why someone would opt for a co-working space is to cut costs incurred in rent, designing an office space, and electricity, internet, and maintenance or utilities. One might argue that anyone with a laptop and decent internet connection can work from anywhere and need not opt for a co-working space. However, the idea of a co-working space is to provide a positive work environment which improves the morale of people and drives them to do more, which in turn, results in better work quality. This is encouraged because people thrive, not under pressure, but on motivation and support. Co-working spaces are normally accessible 24/7. People can decide whether to put in a long day or take a long break in the middle of the day to go to the gym. They can choose whether they want to work in a quiet space so they can focus, or in a more collaborative space with shared tables where interaction is encouraged. They can even decide to work from home, without repercussion, if they need to be with a family member need.
The most important thing that a co-working space provides is a sense of belongingness. It is a platform where beginners and experts belonging to different fields work under the same roof and share ideas and opinions. This becomes beneficial for someone who otherwise may have ended up working alone at home and missed out on valuable inputs and directions. This person could also have helped an established business person with fresh ideas. People who understand or have experienced all possible struggles of building a business from scratch, work in the same space as someone who is a beginner, who has no idea how things work. This creates a network of talent from different walks of life. People fuel each other’s growth.
There seems to be something special about co-working spaces. Until few years ago, co-working was considered a “movement” or a trend with many believing it would fade away. Fast forward to 2020 and co-working is a full-blown industry and a way of working opted by several people. There is no denying that co-working is today’s normal. With COVID-19 hitting the world, the co-working industry is expecting a resurgence as remote working is here to stay. Working from home comes with a lot of challenges and many companies may not want to adapt it as a culture. Even though remote working is appealing, it may impact operational efficiencies and productivity as managing work-life balance for employees can emerge as an area of concern. Companies will have to continue social distancing within their campuses, which means they might have to station some employees in different locations. In India, most IT giants have announced work-from-home as a permanent solution, even in a post COVID-19 world. More than 70 percent of companies are likely to continue the work-from-home policy for some percentage of their total staff for the next six months to maintain social distancing and for business continuity, according to a survey by Knight Frank. Co-working space is not just a space provider but a complete solution. The pandemic and prolonged lockdowns have helped both employers and employees realize some great benefits of remote work, which has potentially changed the dynamics of workplace usage forever. As the Indian economy is reviving following the COVID-19 outbreak, each organization is re-shaping its business model to adapt to a post COVID-19 era. This situation has provided opportunities to businesses that would be hard to achieve in more business-as-usual times. With increasing productivity and flexible working being the focus of all organizations post the pandemic, co-working is the new style of working. A lot of people find it difficult to focus on their work at home as there are too many disturbances. It isn’t easy to juggle between work and home responsibilities. A home environment can be very distracting, as can other locations where entrepreneurs sometimes choose to work such as coffee shops or malls. Not all Indian households are equipped for optimum efficiency and output as infrastructure and technology continue to pose a challenge.
Somewhere or the other we all miss the soft buzz of co-workers going about their day, brainstorming sessions over unlimited cups of coffee, and the ability to meet and learn from each other's presence. Working in isolation not only affects productivity but can also be depressing. It is common to feel lethargic and demotivated while working remotely. Co-working space is the perfect solution of working remotely with an office set-up. COVID-19 has not only shut down a lot of businesses but also provided a lot of opportunities for start-ups. Co-working is a great place for new start-ups to flourish. Renting a commercial office space involves high cost and huge investments, whereas, a co-working space can be rented for simply a month. It also avoids startup costs of furniture, utilities, additional lease service charges, and appliances (coffee machine, fridge, microwave, etc.). It provides an ideal environments for networking with other entrepreneurs, especially for startups. Need a web designer for your business website, a photographer to cover your next event, or someone to help with your social media marketing campaign? The expertise you need may just be a few desks away.
For summer students and interns, co-working can also be a great way to meet potential employers. It is also beneficial for self-employed freelancers who miss the synergy and social interaction of working in an office with a group of like-minded.
The co-working space has come a long way since 2005 when the first modern day co-working space opened. The adoption of co-working has been quick in India owing to its unprecedented growth in the past 3 to 4 years with all conventional office users considering this as a viable alternative to owning their own workspaces. The industry is estimated to reach a valuation of $2.2 billion by 2022. India is the youngest start-up nation in the world where 72% of founders are less than 35 years of age. It is widely projected that by 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. Co-working allows the right exposure and opportunities to network and engage for skills enhancement and work enrichment without any organizational rigidness and hierarchical boundaries. This attracts the millennial workforce who have a more open and collaborative style of working.
Once more a western concept, co-working, is now widely accepted as a viable workspace option in India by big corporates, Small and medium enterprises (SME’s) and start-ups alike. Shared workspaces are rapidly attracting businesses amidst a booming demand in India. Best in class infrastructure, renewed networking opportunities, workplace flexibility, no fixed capital investment and the ever-swelling commercial real estate prices are some of the many factors that are driving demand in the India market. With remote working being the order of the day, the concept of co-working is expected to grow. Co-working is the new trend.