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'New Normal' for Co-working Spaces in 2021 With some re-imaginations and re-alignments, co-working will likely see through the Pandemic; the workspace industry will find co-working as a viable option with these changes

By Neetish Sarda

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About a decade or so ago, a new model of office work disrupted the workspace industry. Co-working gradually found its footing and has never looked back, that is, until now. COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented set of changes to the world of business and the workspace sector was among the very first to get affected, severely.

As vaccines come into effect and things begin to get better, workspace sector will be looking at a gradual ascent. While corporates continue to swear by the work-from-home (WFH) model, employees are finding it difficult to continue. This could prove counter-productive.

Co-working finds itself at crossroads. Given the adversity, or rather, the opportunity, this new-age workspace model is set to undergo definitive changes to accommodate various needs of office goers, freelancers, consultants and entrepreneurs.

So, what modifications will co-working undergo to survive and surge ahead?

The following are some trends that will define co-working for the coming year:

Office decentralization

Big corporates have multi-storied offices hosting thousands of employees. Now, this will change. High emphasis on employee safety means that offices may no longer allow for congregation of big crowds at one place. This will pave way for decentralization of office spaces.

The "hub-and-spoke model' will come into effect wherein a large corporate office will have a "central office' and a set of smaller or "satellite offices' spread across different parts of the city, or even across cities. The office of the future will be a network of smaller, flexible and safety-driven places that benefit both the employees and the company while saving on commutation time and increasing productivity.

Tech-enabled workspaces

The pandemic has changed the dynamics of the regular working model making it imperative for corporates to think beyond the "office'. Leveraging next gen-office technology and collaboration tools to deliver a personalized and seamless office experience for people to work effectively will become a priority. A tech-enabled workspace is one that seamlessly knits all workspaces: the office, co-working and WFH together. Technologies such as automation, mobility, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet-of-Things (IoT) will ensure that employees are connected, albeit not in person, but virtually.

Flexible and hybrid space

The "new normal' in workspace sector will be defined by what the occupants prefer, than by what the co-working space prefers. Co-working spaces will need to be flexible in terms of both space and timings; occupants will have the upper hand to demand for a safe and tech-enabled workspace while paying only for the number of hours they use the space.

Realtors or landlords who own big spaces will be forced to go hybrid. They will need to modify their spaces. For example, an erstwhile 10-storied office space accommodating just two large companies might well be modified to accommodate several smaller companies even as the existing occupants, re-size and go "hub-and-spoke'.

Corporates to co-working

The last six months were time enough for big corporates to understand the sheer value of leasing out smaller spaces that come with all amenities and facilities taken care of. Co-working model, earlier brushed under the carpet by the biggies, is now viewed as a "to-the-rescue' option. Co-working spaces with slight modifications should be an enticing option for corporate—a ready-to-occupy plug-and-play model that will end up saving on costs and efforts.

Wellness and safety

If there is one aspect no workspace model should compromise on, it is safety and wellness. Employee safety will top the charts and wellness will soon become a priority. From ensuring comfort through great workspace design to cleaner air and lesser pollution both within and around workspaces, safety and wellness measures will become more evident.

Market consolidation

As corporates and employees look for flexible work options, workspace aggregators will find themselves getting a big push. Aggregators will play a key role in helping access flexible, tech-enabled and cost-effective workspaces. Adding to this, big real estate players with deep pockets will look to invest or buy these aggregators to ensure that they do not lose out on the "new normal'. Another strategy will be to collaborate with or invest in co-working brands that are in need of money to expand.

In the coming year, co-working will undergo modifications to align itself with the "new normal' of workspace sector. There will be more fluidity and customizations to the model that will allow co-working to position itself as a more viable option in the coming years.

Neetish Sarda

Founder, Smartworks India

Neetish Sarda is the Founder of Smartworks and envisions to transform it into India’s foremost provider of futuristic bespoke office spaces. Neetish comes with a strong business acumen, with experience that spans businesses ranging from jute mills and business operations to real estate and construction.

His company also has considerable investments in several ITES firms. The group is also into providing technology and software-based services. Neetish has an undergraduate degree in business from the Krannert School of Management, Purdue and Singapore Institute of Management (UniSIM, Singapore).


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