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The joy of working with strangers in a co-working space

As the flex workspace market expands, cafés are making room for professionals looking for different experiences

Beyond flexibility and cost optimisation, what a co-working space offers is an opportunity for a professional to socialise and form connections with a diverse set of people(iStockphoto)

By Deepa Natarajan Lobo

LAST PUBLISHED 08.04.2024  |  11:02 AM IST

In the past couple of years, co-working spaces have become more popular among remote workers and freelancers as well as hybrid and full-time professionals, with many start-ups working from shared offices.

In fact, a recent report by private equity advisory firm Avendus concluded that co-working spaces in the country are in an expansion mode, owing to increase in demand from start-ups and global capability centres. India’s flexible workspace market is likely to reach 126 million sq.ft (msf) within the next four years, up from 61 msf in 2023.

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Beyond flexibility and cost optimisation, what a co-working space offers is an opportunity for a professional to socialise and form connections with a diverse set of people—something that’s missing when you are working from the confines of your home or in a dedicated office. In a corporation, for instance, people are linked by their department or their manager, often ending up spending the entire workday with team members. A co-working space, on the other hand, allows you to select people on your own, giving strangers freedom to bond over pets, food, news, exercise regimen, even political parties.

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Research, too, has often highlighted the positive impact of a personalised work environment on one’s mental health.

Mahesh Natarajan, a counsellor at counselling and training centre InnerSight, believes that co-working spaces started becoming more popular during and immediately after the covid era when most physical offices were either closed or they started following the remote/hybrid route. “Not having much adult company can get a bit difficult, lonely and frustrating. In such cases, being able to get to a co-working place helps connect with other professionals and feel like one is in an office space, reducing stress," he says. “It also works great for people who live in remote locations and brings them the work-community feel."

Sahil Khan, a product and design professional working with a tech start-up, was working out of a co-working space till recently. His company is now moving out of the space and shifting to remote work—a move Khan is not happy about. “It’s always great to see other people around and also helps me with a little discipline. Some places have regular community events that help in interacting with others even if we don’t sit in the common areas," says Khan, who’s in his 30s. “Now, with the company going fully remote, I am sad I won’t have access to the space anymore. But I have friends who work from these places, so I intend to mooch off them for access once in a while (laughs). I feel getting outside and interacting with others has a positive effect on my mental health and well-being. And depending on what my day looks like, if I don’t have too many calls or don’t need quiet focus time, I will go and work from a café."

As professionals look for newer experiences, many cafés have also started dedicating spaces for co-working facilities. The Social restaurant, which is spread across six cities, for instance, blends office and café together, where you can eat, drink as well as collaborate on ideas.

Another one is the Kind Roastery & Brewroom in Bengaluru. It has a “Zen Garden" to provide a tranquil space for individuals to co-create.

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“We believe that the environment plays a pivotal role in shaping experiences. The Zen table, with its minimalist design and serene feel, creates an atmosphere conducive to productivity and innovation," plugs Pallavii Gupta, the founder of Kind Roastery & Brewroom.

Vamsi Reddy, founder of Paper & Pie, a café in Bengaluru that has a co-working space, conference room and a podcast room, believes the significant shift in work dynamics owing to the impact of covid prompted a re-evaluation of traditional office spaces. “With an increasing number of freelancers, entrepreneurs and creators, the demand for a more informal and versatile set up has emerged," he says. That’s why one needs to focus on providing a good environment, besides offering high-speed Wi-Fi, quality food and coffee, and facilities like an open co-working space, he says.

Explaining the reason behind the podcast room, Reddy said: “We wanted to encourage aspiring content creators, particularly in the younger demographics, by allowing them to conveniently record their content without worrying about booking expensive studios."

There’s room for further enhancement of the co-working space, though.

“Emphasising flexibility, customisation, and community-building initiatives will cater to diverse preferences," says Reddy, when asked what makes an ideal co-working space. “Also, a commitment to sustainability and inclusivity will be pivotal to remaining relevant and appealing to the evolving needs of individuals and businesses in the co-working space."

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