Coworking spaces have gone silent. The general chit chat at hot desks, networking & idea exchange over endless cups of coffee is missing.
Coworking spaces are built on the idea of bringing together communities from different walks of life on a common office floor. With people working from home post lockdown, the start-up discussions and sharing coffee culture have gone extinct. Even when people will return, they will avoid those fortuitous conversations and information exchanges.
India Inc. decided to send their employees to work from home even before the lockdown was implemented. The remote working which was seen as a luxury became a necessity. The current social distancing measures which lay stress on personal space will have a lasting impact on the kind of office spaces tenants will look for going forward.
Tenants and owners of co-working spaces are trying to work out an agreement. Tenants are asking for rent waivers for the time they have been working from their homes. Akshita Gupta, CMO, ABLworkspaces, shared with The Blue Circle, “We are in continuous touch with the landlords for easing up the leasing terms and also with the government to get some tax relaxations so that we can pass on the benefits to the clients till the business cycle restores and the situation improves.”
Another challenge that industries are facing right now is of workforce transportation. In cities like Delhi-NCR, a huge chunk of the workforce is dependent on the Metro train services for commuting.
To help handle these challenges and boost up the falling demand, some co-working spaces are launching subscription-based work-from-home packages, transport services, and Covid disinfection packages for managed offices.
The owners of coworking spaces believe that the demand will pick up after the curve flattens. This is due to the flexibility that they offer. Tenants get to decide the lock-in offers. Coworking offices can be rented on a monthly, daily, or even hourly basis plus get access to the network of spaces and people the company provides. Then there is also the price benefit of 15 % over traditional workplaces in top cities.
Coworking spaces account for 3-4% of the occupied office space, according to estimates by ANAROCK, a real estate services company. It said that the rising demand for flexible workspaces may lead to an increase in its share to 6-7% in the near future.
As more offices will open post lockdown, to maintain social distancing of a minimum of 6 feet between desks, companies will look towards flexible coworking to house some of their staff till the curve flattens. This will be a silver lining for the stressed coworking sector and the fact that since the global economy is in a recessionary state, corporates are looking to cut costs and embrace co-working facilities to expand their business.
“A halt in the cash flow because of people losing businesses has put up another challenge. We are however optimistic that this will pass soon and the industry will be the first one to see growth again,” said Gupta.
Response to Going Back to the Office
A report by Jones Lang LaSalle said that going back to the pre-pandemic schedule will take some time. In an employee survey by the firm in April, it said that 4.9% of office workers said they wanted to work exclusively from home going forward, and 60.6% of workers planned to split their work time between the office and their homes.
Mitigating the Covid Storm
To control the spread of Covid, alternatives to shared desks and hotelling stations will have to be evaluated so as to keep staff six feet apart. Air- conditioning systems will need to be modified to prevent airborne diseases and cross-contamination between offices. As droplets from a sneeze can travel within surfaces or booths, it could remain hazardous for days.
“We understand that businesses are concerned about the hygiene and safety for their employees and have taken necessary steps. Our new safety standards include regular disinfection, sanitization, and marking up the whole co-working area according to the regulations. Density of the spaces has been reduced to follow social distancing norms and make offices safer,” shared Gupta.
Some co-working companies are also planning to customise offices for clients from scratch. while some others like Awfis, AltF, and Garage Society have launched work-from-home packages. They provide a chair, internet connection, and IT support. A few of them also provide Zoom membership and an app that has productivity and attendance features.
Health and safety are likely to become the norm going forward. There will be concerns around sanitizing the area after one person has used it. It is likely to change the way one works around strangers and sharing space with them. Coworking operators will also face a challenge in going for greener practices.
Covid is not an end to the co-working culture as people need a collaborative environment to work. Intellectual and emotional fulfillment will also be key for the health of society.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)
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