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Co-Working Spaces-Making '9-5' the New Happy Hours in India Individual dress codes in co-working spaces vary from stylish to slacks, and people work at their convenience, rather than clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5

By Pranay Gupta

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Offices and workspaces have an inherent feeling of formality and protocol attached to them. But as corporate culture continues to change, a radical new idea has redefined what constitutes a workspace. Equipped with a host of "fun amenities', from board games to sleep pods, co-working spaces have transformed the conventional Indian office from its cluttered and stuffy past, giving it a cool makeover. The prospect of sharing a workspace with other companies, startups, and even freelancers might have been seen as unthinkable a decade ago, but is now emerging as a preferred model for businesses across the spectrum, from entrepreneurs to MNCs.

Walking into quirky office space in downtown Panjim, Goa, the first thing you see is a lounge that resembles a chic coffee shop. Sketches by one of Goa's favourite sons, comic artist Mario Miranda, adorns a wall next to a bulletin board that features, among other notices, posters advertising skateboarding lessons, and the opportunity to volunteer with a waste management NGO. The board also bears various post-its carrying little nuggets of useful information, like recommended hostels and homestays close to Goa's best beaches. Sofas of various colours adorn the lobby; a young man is stretched out on one of them, staring into his laptop, his headphones blocking out the world around him, while a group of young people sit around a coffee table playing a board game. The space possesses a vast collection of such games, from childhood classics like Monopoly, Scotland Yard, and Cluedo to popular new ones like Exploding Kittens and Upwords. You might think this is a hip, new cafe in Goa's capital, whereas, in reality, this is an office. Welcome to the world of Co-working spaces.

The early days-Co-working's journey from being a desperate measure to a cool practice

While the core concept of co-working has existed in some form or another throughout human intellectual history, from the proto-universities of ancient India to Bohemian collectives of writers and artists in Europe in the 1800s, many credit the invention of modern co-working spaces to Silicon Valley internet entrepreneurs in the early 2000s. Most of them worked from garages, basements or apartments, and chipped in to contribute towards rent and other utilities.

The first co-working space that advertised itself as such emerged in San Francisco in 2005, and the number of such spaces has grown at an exponential rate. In 2007, the Silicon Valley-based think-tank, Institute for the Future (IFTF) described co-working as one of the biggest trends to watch for the next decade. Back then, there were around 75 co-working spaces across the world, focused primarily in Silicon Valley and trendsetting European cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen. According to Statista, in 2017, there are over 15,000 co-working spaces across the world, including in places like Bali, Hawaii, and across many Indian cities such as New Delhi, Bengaluru and surprisingly at India's biggest party destination, Goa!

Building a community while catering to each client - understanding the co-working model

A co-working space is essentially a shared office where people from different companies, sectors, and backgrounds work independently in the same space, which is owned and operated by the co-working space provider. You pay for how many workstations you and your team need on a weekly or a monthly basis, and the co-working space takes care of utilities, overheads, administration, facility management, and often even leisure and entertainment activities.

For most co-working spaces, the focus is on creating interactive communities, with the idea that when you get a group of people who share common interests, ideas, and approaches to life in a single space, powerful possible synergies can emerge from that union.

The growth of co-working spaces parallels a greater desire among young people from across the world to take the proverbial plunge into the world of entrepreneurship. Instead of working out of cafes, garages, and cramped old offices, young visionaries are increasingly flocking to co-working spaces not only for the facilities they provide, like 24x7 access, WiFi, printers, scanners, and meeting rooms; but also because of the serendipitous opportunities such spaces offer in the form of networking events, chances for collaborations, and a greater proximity to potential investors, clients, mentors, and even friends. Furthermore, co-working spaces free their members, most of whom are in the 25 to 34 age range, from archaic and annoying traditional office strictures such as fixed office hours, dress codes, and decrees on decorum. Finding people indulging in good-spirited banter, exchanging ideas, skills, or even taking a nap in the middle of the day – all of these are common sights in a co-working space. These spaces truly know how to identify and differentiate between what really constitutes "non-productive' from the numerous superficial rules and regulations that have had a negative impact on employee productivity. For instance, individual dress codes in co-working spaces vary from stylish to slacks, and people work at their convenience, rather than clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5.

Facilitating employees and organizations to grow, together

Co-working spaces prioritize the comfort and happiness of the people working in them, a belief that also applies to the employees of the co-working space providers. A co-working space's team usually consists of Community Managers; young, energetic, and vivacious people who project positivity wherever they go. This focus on community, positivity, and allowing individuals to dictate the terms of their work life are the reasons why co-working spaces are not just supplanting the traditional 9-to-5 office space, but also why they are increasingly attracting the attention of a wide range of employees and employers, from early-stage startups looking for a space to grow their company to large MNCs looking for a new base of operations sans the trouble of having to set one up themselves.

From bootstrapped startups to corporate bigwigs, co-working culture has captured everyone's imagination. A range of facilities, scalable occupancy, flexible payment plans, entertainment options and an environment that makes "work' fun for everyone, that's what distinguishes co-working from the other trends, and makes it a phenomenon that's here to stay.

Pranay Gupta

Cofounder, 91springboard

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