Sunshine streams through the French windows of a bungalow in the leafy neighbourhood of Greater Kailash, New Delhi. In the large living room, people are lounging on sofas and beanbags, jabbing at their laptop keyboards, occasionally sipping from their coffee mugs and laughing at the jokes that someone or the other keeps cracking.
Not far away, in a coffee shop at a swanky mall, the scent of freshly brewed java lingers in the air as some people sit by themselves at single tables, working on their laptops or talking animatedly into their smartphones, while others sit in twos or threes, discussing projects and deals.
WORK IT OUT
What coworking spaces offer that your office doesn't
1. An informal and relaxed work environment
2. Paying a nominal fee for using a desk or common space
3. No fixed work hours
4. Meeting people from other professions
5. Networking and building contacts
6. A casual space for taking breaks
7. A space away from household chores and distractions
8. High-speed Internet
Welcome to the new-age workspace.
CTRL + ALT
As careers move beyond mundane nine-to-fives, and as technology lets you literally carry your office in your pocket, more and more Indians are moving away from the air-conditioned, white cubicles of the conventional office space.
"Psychologically, the work-sense has evolved," says clinical psychologist Surbhee Soni, founder of Horizon Healthcare. "Today, as long as the work is delivered on time, organisations are not really bothered about how, where and when it's done, or how many hours are being put into it."
You may think that being unshackled from the office would mean more people working from home, but experience shows that home may not actually be the best place to work. A house has its own distractions: there is domestic help to supervise, family members to take care of, and a nagging sense of chores undone. Instead, people tend to look for alternative workspaces.
"This is what we call avoidance behaviour," explains Soni. "People want to avoid distractions at home. Others, such as people who live alone, tend to get lonely without other people around them. And finally, for some people, working from home leads to laziness and indiscipline." Which is why there's a new way to operate these days - you don't have an office, you don't work from home, you just cowork.
What's coworking? At its simplest, it's working out of a place that rents out cubicles or desks to individuals or teams. At its most ideal, it's a space occupied by people from different professions, who work individually, but are stimulated by conversations with their coworkers from other professions.
Coworking began sometime in 2005, when Brad Neuberg, a Silicon Valley techie working with a start-up out of a rented office, became unhappy with the formal fabric of his workplace. So he set up the Hat Factory in San Francisco, the first coworking space, to incorporate communication and a cross-fertilisation of ideas among different working professionals. Coworking has since become a movement and metros all over the world have replicated the model.
India joined the coworking bandwagon when Jaaga launched at Bangalore in 2009. Mumbai caught up soon after with Bombay Connect, formerly known as Bombay HUB, and Delhi joined in with Moonlighting, the city's first coworking space in Greater Kailash in late 2010.
"We like to think of ourselves as a community house in the literal sense," says Jacob Jay, co-founder of Moonlighting. "We have working space or hot desks for full-time coworkers, a casual area for unwinding, and part timers, plus accommodation for expats and entrepreneurs from other cities. So it's a social conflation for people from different professional backgrounds."
ALL IN THE MIND
At one of the hot desks at Moonlighting, corporate trainer-turned-writer Avinash Sahu sits typing the manuscript of his debut self-help book on his laptop, while his coworkers - a mix of techies, graphic designers and PR professionals - take a break to make lunch plans.
"I have been working out of this place for almost three months," says Sahu. "I chose to rent this place instead of working from home because at home, your personal life tends to overlap and overpower your professional life. A place like this gives you the discipline of an office without the strict work hours or the monotony."
Most coworking environments stay open late into the night (some as late as 11pm) so you can work whenever creativity strikes. But not all coworking spaces would suit your interests. "Some large spaces like 91 Springboard (at Mohan Estate on Mathura Road) have a corporate feel, with cubicles and private spaces, and are more suited for teams of start-ups," says Jay. "And others like The Studio [in Kalkaji] are small, casual and conducive for creative freelancers like designers or artists."
At The Studio, in the ground floor flat of an apartment building in Kalkaji, the founders of the cosy two-year old coworking space are busy packing up their office in boxes. "We are moving to the basement; it is more spacious and we are planning to do it up in a way that reflects our orientation towards the creative sector," says owner Shitij Malhotra, who co-owns another start-up, Traveller Kids, which makes board games for children.
Coworking works best when people with roughly the same mindsets share the same space. "Every coworking space has a screening process, so that they get applicants who would best fit in their setting and the applicants, in turn, find the place best suited for them. Here we prefer artists, designers, bloggers, videographers, etc," explains Malhotra. "If we feel that a person would fit the model of a different coworking space like Moonlighting, we gladly refer them there. There's no competition within the coworking community. We are all part of one big movement."
FREEDOM AND FRAPPES
But you don't really need a coworking space if you're lucky enough to work for a company that has relaxed attendance norms. Ever since coffee shops like Café Coffee Day and Barista cropped up as part of the urban landscape, they have served as informal conference rooms. Now with free WiFi, they are also attracting those who work from home but wish to spend a few hours of their day outside.
In fact, the Starbucks chain has been aggressively promoting its internationally known 'third place' experience since it opened its first outlet in Delhi in early 2013. "Starbucks is the third place between your work and your home," says Manmeet Vohra, director of marketing and category at Tata Starbucks. "Our stores are designed to be community gathering places where people come not only to spend time with their friends but also to work in an environment that is comfortable and inspiring."
Mohak Gambhir, a marketing professional, regularly visits the Starbucks in Nehru Place for business meetings. "I do not have an office to work out of. I do not have a boss to report to. I do not have fixed work hours. And I do not have a dress code to adhere to," he says. "I sometimes work from here over a couple of coffees or if I fancy a chilled beer, I just go over to one of the pubs. This is, after all, the age of libertarianism of our work and workspaces."
Indeed. And the glorious era has only just begun!
Follow @satarupapaul on Twitter
From HT Brunch, July 6
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch