A desk away from the office: Why India Inc is checking into co-working spaces

02 April 2018

A desk away from the office: Why India Inc is checking into co-working spaces

For a sip of the start-up culture, large corporates are warming up to shared working spaces

WeWork’s co-working space in Bengaluru. The company also has shared office spaces in Mumbai and Gurugram and half of its 10,000-plus occupants are blue-chip companies Enter WeWork’s premises at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC)—a 16-storey building in Mumbai’s central business district—and a chic vibe immediately catches on. Music streamed from the co-working company’s headquarters in New York plays, a café offers up easy seating and a place to hang out, and MacBook-rearing millennials who’ve swapped suits for jeans mill about. “All WeWork locations have the same music playing at any given time,” Karan Virwani, director of WeWork India, tells Forbes India. “It’s part of the culture we want to permeate.” It is this cool culture that has attracted startups and freelancers to co-working spaces aside from the more prosaic reasons of affordability and flexibility. And now, increasingly, larger corporates are eyeing a piece of the shared workspace future. Globally, WeWork has seen its “enterprise member” profile—the term they use for large companies—jump from 2 percent in 2015 to 40 percent today, says Virwani, scion of property developer Embassy Group that brought WeWork to India in late 2016. Here too, at WeWork’s six locations spread across Mumbai, Bengaluru and Gurugram, 50 percent of its 10,000-plus occupants are startups and freelancers, while the rest are blue-chip companies, including Microsoft India, Discovery Channel and Twitter India. For them, it’s not so much about cost-effectiveness—WeWork at BKC charges ₹18,000 a month for a ‘hot desk’, where no one seat is assigned to a single person, ₹25,000 for a dedicated desk in an open area and ₹40,200 a desk at a space marked out for the company. Shared workspaces do away with the upfront security deposits and fixed period leases that traditional landlords typically lock tenants into. Yet, large companies can easily afford their own spaces at premier business hubs like BKC. So the appeal for them lies in mingling with energetic entrepreneurs and having a bit of that ‘startup culture’ rub off on their own operations. Take the case of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which has a 10-person team stationed at a glass-doored space at WeWork, BKC. Sitting amidst graphic designers, startup founders and even non-profits, the company sees synergies in being surrounded by people who “think differently”, says Sameer Arif, who oversees the team’s benchmarking activities against those of JLR’s competitors in multiple markets. They chose not to sit at JLR’s Mumbai headquarters in Ceejay House, Worli, for “strategic reasons”, he says, adding that sitting out of WeWork gives his colleagues the ability to “interact with others from different industries, make friends and grow their professional and personal networks”. All this not just through everyday water-cooler conversations, but also through the events that WeWork carefully curates such as misal pav breakfast gatherings, Zumba classes and talks by individuals whom the member-community is keen to listen to. Not to mention free beer on tap every evening. Ditto for Sharekhan. A subsidiary of BNP Paribas, the French multinational bank that acquired the Mumbai-based retail brokerage in late 2016, Sharekhan’s 100-person team sits out of co-working space Awfis in BKC—a stone’s throw away from BNP’s Mumbai headquarters. “We could have chosen to sit there [the headquarters] or any of our other offices in Mumbai,” says Varun Sridhar, director, Sharekhan. “It’s not normal for a big company like ours to do this, but we’re working on a special new project and needed a startup-like environment.” In fact, instead of opting for a dedicated space at Awfis, like most mid- and large-sized corporations have, Sridhar chose to hot-desk. So his employees sit at a different workstation amidst different people, every day. “What’s the point of co-working if you isolate yourself?” he asks. Flexibility is also important, points out Amit Ramani, CEO of Sequoia-backed Awfis that went from 3,000 members across 17 centres last year to now boasting over 12,000 members sitting in 50 centres pan India. More than 70 percent of Awfis’s clients are medium- and large-sized companies that are able to easily expand into new areas, set up satellite offices away from their headquarters or even downsize operations if needed. For instance, Zomato set up a base in Kolkata, away from its Delhi headquarters, in a matter of days through an Awfis centre. So also Vodafone, which took up 380 seats for its shared services team in Awfis’s Pune facility. As large companies look to target tier II markets with their products and services, Awfis hopes to be able to meet their needs by setting up centres in cities like Chandigarh and Kochi. For companies too, as they outsource their office management to co-working operators, they are able to focus on their core competencies. Says PC Musthafa, CEO and co-founder of iD Fresh Food, a ₹150-crore, ready-to-cook packaged food company, “Before moving into The Hive, we used to work out of our own office [in Whitefield, Bengaluru]. If there was any issue like a faulty printer or a toilet flush that didn’t work, people would come to me, so I started getting involved in all of that,” he says half-jokingly, half-exasperatedly.  Since moving 35 of his 1,600-person strong team into The Hive Collaborative Workspace at VR Bengaluru, one of the southern city’s largest shopping malls, he’s been able to focus undividedly on his business, he says. Another reason why established companies take to co-working is to attract and retain employees, particularly millennials, who are touted to form 64 percent of India’s workforce by 2020, according to Deloitte. And companies are gearing up for that. So much so that human resource managers are getting involved in real estate strategy decisions, unlike previously where only the CFO was in charge, says Virwani. “Millennials prefer to work for companies that share their vision for the future. The lines between social and work life are blurring, so it’s important for employers to give their employees an enriching environment to work in,” he says.

By sharing workspaces, big companies hope that a bit of ‘start-up culture’ will rub off on their own operations

That said, co-working can present problems for companies, in particular a loss of privacy. While several shared spaces offer private data servers with restricted access, Sharekhan’s Sridhar points out that as soon as his team moves from conception to execution of the project it is currently working on, he will move out of Awfis. “Data security is a concern. Once we have client information, we have to ensure it is not compromised. We follow strict regulations,” he says. Additionally, that youthful startup culture that established companies look to embrace by co-working can give way to a more sterile culture as they take up more and more seats at such places. “For us, as operators it makes sense to have more corporate clients compared to startups as the cash flows are assured,” says Ankit Samdariya, CEO at The Hive Collaborative Workspace. “But maintaining a healthy mix is critical.”  Ramani, however, says that even though large corporations make up the bulk of Awfis’s clientele, the occupants are mostly young 20 and 30-somethings. As long as the employee base is youthful, the culture will remain youthful, he adds. Co-working operators in India leased more than 1.2 million square feet of office space in 2016, according to a report by Colliers International. While this accounted for only 3 percent of the overall leasing volume, the property consultant predicts that co-working operators will lease 8-9 million square feet of office space by 2020. So what are the implications for the commercial property market as larger companies ditch traditional offices and move into co-working spaces? one hand, the demand for commercial real estate will soften, given the “inherent inefficiencies” in the market, says Samdariya, referring to the hefty security deposits and inflexible long-term leases that landlords lock tenants into. But on the other hand, as startups, small- and mid-sized companies and non-institutional offices move into previously-out-of-bounds Grade A offices, thanks to the co-working phenomenon, they will pump up the demand. “Overall, I see this as a positive for the commercial real estate market,” Samdariya adds.  Sure enough, WeWork, Awfis and The Hive point out that they have all achieved 90 percent-plus occupancy at their facilities prompting them to rapidly expand to new cities. But there will never be a complete shift to co-working. Established companies won’t give up their headquarters for shared workspaces, instead using the latter for sales, technical or other functions. Yet companies will want the cool vibe that co-working offers in their headquarters. “Companies are aware that they have to create an environment that employees enjoy coming to every day,” says Virwani, adding that WeWork India is already speaking to companies across Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi where they will go into their premises and create such a setting.  Ramani also sees this as a trend going forward. “After all,” he says, “office management is in our DNA.”

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Awfis's Amit Ramani: Leading from the front

07 February 2022

Awfis's Amit Ramani: Leading from the front

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

We were all paranoid when the lockdown was announced,” says Amit Ramani, founder and CEO of Awfis Space Solutions, a co-working space. What if people never returned to work was a question that bothered Ramani when the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020.

Even during the crisis, Ramani was clear about a few things. First, he had to lead from the front. “For as long as it was important for me to be home, I did. But when things started to get better, I got back to work because seeing is believing. My presence would probably motivate other employees to help customers,” he says. Second, he had to be empathetic towards all stakeholders—employees, customers and landlords. “It was a first for everybody. It was most important for me to understand what was at stake for everybody and act accordingly,” he adds. Third, employee wellbeing would mean customers will be taken care of. “We took all major steps to take our employees’ health, both mental and physical, seriously. In the first wave, we did not see a single infection,” Ramani says. And last, he continues, “The importance of communication. I think we over-communicated during the pandemic because it’s important to be crystal clear and truthful. All our stakeholders were kept in the loop constantly.”

Apart from these managerial decisions, Ramani says the decision to engage employees in a way that business pivots came from them has been his most successful attempt at fighting the crisis. From tying up with existing office spaces to be managed and run by Awfis to setting up an online shop to sell work-from-home essentials such as desks, chairs or electronics were ideas that came from the team.

What was a 50 to 55 centre-strong business, spread over 30,000 seats across the country in April 2020, is now—he claims to be the largest network of any player in Asia—60,000 seats of shared office space available through Awfis across 15 cities. “In three months, we will be in three to four additional cities,” he says.

Experts say this model is here to stay. “Flex spaces have found themselves at the centre of occupiers’ hybrid work arena as organisations re-evaluate and reimagine a flexible and an agile world of work. Operators investing in elevating user experience will emerge as key differentiators in this highly competitive segment,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO, India, and MD, market development, Asia, at Colliers, a real estate consultancy.

This story appeared in the 18  January, 2022 issue of Forbes India and was originally published  at :Forbes India – Co-working Space: Awfis’s Amit Ramani: Leading From The Front

Post-pandemic, flexi-work will boost commercial real estate

04 February 2022

Post-pandemic, flexi-work will boost commercial real estate

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

Looking back at the past two years, Covid-19 was most definitely a curveball that companies and individuals alike had to adapt to. Prior to Covid-19, the real estate industry was at its peak. However, with the imposition of two lockdowns, the real estate sector faced a bit of a slowdown, but the industry has still managed to overcome these challenges through:

An inbound interest in Indian real estate

At the start of 2021, I read the World Economic Outlook report by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that highlighted the specificity of how India is rebounding and will be on track to build a five trillion-dollar economy. In my opinion, the financial impetus by the government, increasing FDIs (foreign direct investments) and boost to manufacturing are three endeavours that have been undertaken to ensure the country reaches this goal. These efforts, in turn, have led to exponential growth in the commercial real estate sector given that large-scale MNCs are now looking to set up their manufacturing base as well as secondary offices across the Indian subcontinent. This push has resulted in world-renowned brands like Tesla, Apple, and Samsung setting up their offices across India.

The burgeoning growth of Tier II and Tier III markets as commercial hubs

The pandemic induced lockdowns led to the subsequent return of a large part of India Inc to their hometowns, spanning tier 2 and 3 India. Even as we move towards an increased sense of normalcy each day, employees have realised that staying close to home helps them be more present, maintain a work-life balance, as well as be more productive. This observation has been supported by employers and recruiters because it allows them to diversify their base to different markets, while also slashing their expenditure on rentals in metro cities.

Many employees returned to their hometowns but soon realised the need to socialise with other employees and work in a structured environment. This served as a window for MNCs, developers, co-working players to build their presence in the smaller regions of the country. These regions offered low rental rates, subsidised development costs, and most importantly a booming market of opportunities.

With the Indian startup culture witnessing the rise of unicorns and soonicorns, business cost optimisation is easily enabled by flexible space providers, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 regions. According to a report released by JLL-Awfis Survey in December 2021, 50 percent of occupiers in tier 2 cities use flexi-office space. Of the total office stock in the top seven cities, the flex space stands at 3.5 percent, and it could reach around the 4-4.5 percent mark over the next two years.

Hybrid working: The middle-ground where employers and employees meet

Since India had the potential to accommodate new businesses, India’s work environment strongly pivoted during the pandemic in 2020-21 either to work from home, hybrid work models, or remote working strategies. With an influx of business opportunities, the commercial real estate sector of the country repurposed its offerings according to the growing need for healthcare, technology, and also shifts in attitudes. There exist various legs to commercial real estate, but the post-pandemic reality is converging it all into one as offices could now exist in a mall or a hotel. The co-working players and other offices are on their toes to automate the property systems through contactless solutions like automated dispensers, retina scanners, touchless doors, and so on. They have provisions for basic healthcare facilities and ensure the rules and regulations of stringent Covid-19 protocols are followed.

What does the future hold?

As we make our way into 2022, accessibility to booster shots, acquired immunity, and progress in medical science will invariably reflect on the positive growth for office space in India. According to Knight Frank’s Outlook 2022 report, IT companies alone have hired around 2.6 lakh new employees from April 2020 to September 2021. It means that while the work from home strategy was the most accepted way of work at the start of the pandemic, not many companies and employees are keen on continuing with the same. This massive shift in behaviour calls for the need for immediate office spaces.

Since the world of work is seeing constant changes, flexi-spaces have become a reliable option for employees and companies as they provide individual flexibility and will surely define the future of office in India for the next few years. In my opinion, we must remain optimistic even in the face of an anticipated third wave and realign the real estate sector to stay ahead of the curve.

Given the boom in hybrid work culture and mass vaccination across the country, the co-working sector will expect an increase in demand from large organisations, startups, and freelancers as employees are eager to return to the office. In 2022, flexi-space providers will be key growth drivers for commercial real estate with their on-demand, modern, digitised and quality workspace solutions.

This story appeared in the 28 December , 2021 issue of Forbes India and is authored by Amit Ramani, Founder and CE0, Awfis. This article was originally published  at :Forbes India – Covid-19, Startup, Tesla: Post-pandemic, Flexi-work Will Boost Commercial Real Estate

2020s: Sharing assets will be the new normal

19 February 2021

2020s: Sharing assets will be the new normal

  • Posted by Arathy Nair

In 2008-2009, a few startups emerged to popularise the concept of the sharing economy. The concept was simple: If you have something lying idle, list it, and people will rent it out. By 2016, nearly 45 million people in the US were participating in the sharing economy.

It is an increasingly famous concept in modern India as well. Millennials are known to access products and services with just the click of a button. And the profusion of smartphones and gadgets coincided with the dramatic growth of sharing services.

It so rightly fits the millennial way of living. Millennials, who prefer spending on experiences over assets, believe that sharing, rather than owning, makes for a compelling proposition. A massive millennial population in India is feeding the idea of sharing and optimising the use of assets and skills. Projections put the sector globally at $335 billion by 2025, and the growing number of companies offering full service options are a testament to this growth and the shift in socio-economic behaviour of urban India.

The sharing economy banks on the concept of collective use of community resources and technology to shape business models, and startups are riding the wave of collaborative consumption. Many startups are leveraging the concept of sharing or renting and running their operations successfully. Modern technology decreases operating services expenses and anticipates customer requirements. There are multiple global companies operating under this model, helping millions of people rent rooms, lease offices, get business loans, and share houses, cars, bicycles, clothes, skills, and so on. They have a typical rating or review system, so that people on both sides of the transaction can trust each other.

Additionally, products and services are offered at affordable costs with no long-term commitments. These qualities instantly resonate with millennials. As a result, companies such as Ola, Airbnb and Rentomojo are dominating their respective spaces. Cars, homes, furniture and office spaces are now used on a time-limited per-use basis rather than requiring the expense and burden of ownership.

The sharing economy also brings a new phenomenon: Coworking spaces. Shared workspaces pose as the perfect example of the shared economy in two ways: First, by providing access to shared physical assets like an office infrastructure, and second, by sharing of intangible assets like collaboration and mentorship.

Coworking spaces make it seamless for companies and young entrepreneurs to resist long leases of commercial office spaces. They provide many of the amenities of traditional offices but place a much greater emphasis on community building and experience for members.

The inherently flexible and collaborative nature of coworking spaces has garnered immense success from its large base of clientele, ranging from not only small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups but also large corporations, multinational companies and freelancers.

The shared workspace sector has boomed in the last two to three years and the market is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. However, with the rising trend of shared workspaces, the coworking industry has also witnessed an increase in the number of players in the segment. The highly competitive sector has seen a few uncertainties recently; however, these will be short-term. These developments would have repercussions on the industry and investor sentiments too, but will definitely be short-lived.

The coworking sector has disrupted the commercial real estate sector, and is one of the major drivers fueling its growth. With the emerging workspace ecosystem, technology plays an integral role in the sector’s growth, making coworking spaces the new normal. Innovations in technology have transformed the workplace where employees can collaborate, communicate and connect with each other, thereby boosting morale and increasing productivity.

Soon, gadgets such as laptops and smartphones will be replaced with audio activated systems, wearable technology, including wearable glasses, embedded chips, and wrist devices connected with the Internet of Things (IoT), ensuring seamless connection between work surfaces and individuals. The capability of devices to understand an individual’s preferred work style will provide customised data that will help create workplace solutions according to individual preferences.

The sharing economy’s growth has dazed everyone. It is a trend that is here to stay, as it is a perfect balance of cost-saving and better infrastructure that benefits both parties in the business.

While lessors earn from products that lie unused, lessees utilise a product without having to spare a huge capital for something they would require sparingly. It also entices millennials to postpone or even avoid ownership of a product. As the country is experiencing massive growth and development, the model for collaborative goods and services will branch out to newer markets and pave a way for financial freedom and entrepreneurial success.

With the evolution of technology and innovations, shared-economy models will continue to expand. Experience precedes ownership in today’s time and age, hence the sharing economy will definitely form an integral part of the Indian growth journey in the next three to five years.

This story appeared in the 17 January, 2020 issue of Forbes India and is authored by Amit Ramani, Founder and CE0, Awfis. This article was originally published at: 2020s: Sharing Assets Will Be The New Normal | Forbes India