Somewhere down the line in our life, we discover that we spent the best part of the last so many years at our work space, followed by long, grueling hours in the traffic. And only then in our own personal space, at home. And, often, our work space would have been an insipid, monotonous place that left us drained and peevish at the end of the day. Not just the physical infrastructure, the noise and lack of ventilation or such issues, but also the incongruence of having people of various verticals stuck together in a common cramped space has been known to have debilitating effects.
On the other hand, most independent professionals and creative workers complain of the absence of exciting open spaces where one can sit and work in peace, without getting cut off from the rest of the world, say a park or a courtyard or a patio that dot most of the old European cities as well as the new, designed western urban spaces.
So, how does one like to have a space that may be small but is an island of peace and comfort? How does it feel to be surrounded by like-minded people who respect and conform to our workplace needs? How does it feel to have a desk that comes with frills but with limited liability?
A bunch of enterprising youngsters in Hyderabad have been providing answers to these questions. By providing an amenable, cheerful workspace to anyone who has a job to do. Co-working is a concept that has been popular in western countries for some years now but in India, it is just catching up.
Co-working is not the same as sharing an office space. This is about a common space where people can do their own work without feeling isolated, something that a freelancer or a work-from-home professional often experiences, the creators of this space explain.
Co-working groups typically let out a desk space, with facilities such as free wifi, coffee, and an online dashboard to have their own account, a community space such as a lounge and access to a whole range of events and meetings. “We organise events of all kinds like discussions, technical workshops, debates, food meets and everyone who rents space with us are invited to attend. This gives them a sense of participation,” explains Vinay Peddinti, an Electronics and Electricals Engineer and administrator at a new co-working start-up Co.Lab.Orate located in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad.
“It is also a great opportunity to meet various people, who may just be in a similar profession or may be likeminded individuals. This is not something that happens when one is freelancing or is in the same organisation with many others, is in a start-up that has its own office or even snatching working minutes in coffee shops,” Raghuveer Kovuru, an MBA in Finance from IMT, Dubai, and also a law grad from NALSAR, Hyderabad, and one of the brains behind Co.Lab.Orate adds.
Co.Lab.Orate, that was rather literally born as an invention out of necessity as three friends were looking for an office space for a start-up they had been planning, offers 30 desk spaces, at the rate of Rs 3600 per desk per month, a package extendable up to Rs 5,600 with additional facilities.
So, how do Hyderabadis like the idea?
“It’s a new thing for me. As a work-from-home professional, I often lapse into sluggishness and have even missed deadlines. Just going somewhere and sitting down to work, sharing the company of others without my independent activity getting hit, is definitely appealing,” says Rasheel Jain, who works for a Spain-based company, restoring photographs online.
Admittedly, the most difficult part of the newfangled business is selling the idea, not even the space, says Anurag Parepally, the third member of the Co.Lab.Orate team and an engineer by profession. “I attend events everywhere, work on social media platforms. I interact with people, try to understand their needs. But it is very difficult to convince them that this kind of a space is a value addition to their functioning. For instance, in spite of the highly affordable package we offer, people still bargain and try to squeeze every drop out of the deal” he shakes his head.
The idea is not just to provide a physical space for rent. It is to encourage a coexistence of people whose wavelength matches others’ and encourage a synergy between various kinds of thoughts and ideas.
Having a graphic artist doodle by your side as you do your tech job may make for an exciting change. But what happens if there is incompatibility between various people sharing the space?
“Apart from the general agreement, we have a simple behavior code for the users. One, take care of yourself. Two, take care of others. And, three, take care of the space. This pretty much irons out any differences that coworkers may have,” says Raghuveer.
On the surface of it, co-working seems like an elitist arrangement, providing space only to those who already would have found a work opportunity or can afford to have their own nook for their creative explorations. Is it is possible to replicate this in other diverse urban areas, where youngsters who are possibly ready for it but do not have the exposure?
“It is a highly expandable concept. For example, we could have a space called co-heritage where people with wanderlust and a panache for history and heritage can meet and share their experiences and make plans.
Similarly, co-travel or co-adventure. We would like to make it more inclusive by introducing student entrepreneurship programmes, by organising events for youngsters and students to meet experts and professionals in the field of their choice and learn from them,” Vinay explains.
They recall the case of a software professional who cribbed about the meager rent he has to pay but then happily came back into the fold when he realised that he got Rs 45,000 worth of cloud space free whereas he was paying Rs 27,000 for the same somewhere outside, by just being part of an event.
In an urban setting such as Bangalore or Hyderabad, where small offices are chock-a-block in cramped buildings, in the shadow of the huge complexes of the major companies, a co-working space may yet be the solution for a workspace of agreeable ambience and proportion, not to mention the pressure on the pocket.
Co.Lab.Orate like a few other small companies that are exploring this concept in Hyderabad is a corporate project with emphasis on the human element. “We have big plans for expansion but are not keen to seek an investor because we do not want the quintessential cultural character of our project diluted,” says Raghuveer. “That is why, we call it not just a co-working space but a community working space,” chips in Anurag.
The team now eyes two-tier cities such as Visakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar and Patna for their expansion plans. “There are innumerable start-ups sprouting everywhere. The market potential everywhere is very high. And people are eager to converge,” they say.
Optimal utilisation of spaces, rational application of resources, a functional approach to infrastructure an amalgamation of diverse human energies, and a fusion of vibrant cultural milieus – co-working appears to be a sociological phenomenon that may yet capture the imagination of the metropolises of this country.