Goodbye Cubicles: The office space has changed

  • Soma Das and Meenakshi Iyer, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 17, 2015 10:11 IST
Todi Mill Social has an industrial vibe thanks to exposed brickwork and the overhead metal frame.

Imagine an office where coffee (in the mornings) and beer (in the evenings) flow uninterrupted. Imagine not having to follow a dress code. A workspace where you could put your feet up on a chair, or sit cosily on a bean bag. Welcome to new-age offices where creativity thrives and networking rules. Where you could be sharing a desk with a techie, a fashion designer or a restaurant consultant. Where there is no hierarchy, and no corporate ladder to scale. And, where there are no cubicles.

These new-age co-working spaces have become an integral part of Mumbai’s freelance culture. Available for a fraction of the rentals in expensive business areas, such as Nariman Point, Lower Parel and Bandra, these spaces offer high-speed Wi-Fi connections, comfortable desks, food options that beat the standard canteen hands down, and trendy interiors. Lapped up by an army of freelancers, those working for start-up ventures, and consultants, such spaces have mushroomed across the city and are seeing increasing footfall.

Space crunch
In a city like Mumbai, where skyrocketing real estate prices coupled with a paucity of space often force entrepreneurs and freelancers to work from cramped shared-office spaces or from work-unfriendly homes, co-working spaces have emerged as great alternatives.

Mulund-based The Playce, started when three of its founders couldn’t find a suitable office for their ventures. “Real estate is often an issue, as are legalities with brokers, setting up internet connectivity, house-keeping, and other non-work-related tasks. An entrepreneur ends up having to deal with these hassles instead of working on his or her idea,” says co-founder Gargi Shah.

Over 25 start-ups function out of The Playce and it has enough space for an additional 35. “Cafés were too noisy, bedrooms were unproductive, and the typical ‘serviced offices’ were too expensive for us. So, we found unused premises and converted it into a fun and productive co-working space,” says Shah, of The Playce.

Similarly, when IT professional Kaushal Sanghvi found himself working next to a loud kitty party or a bunch of teenagers posing for selfies at cafés, he realised that there were many like him who simply wanted a peaceful office space without hassles. In October last year, he started BreathingRoom , an app-based service that helps you locate and book commercial spaces to individuals or groups. “We realised that there are a lot of commercial spaces that remain unutilised. We wanted to connect people who have such spaces with those who were looking for offices,” says Sanghvi. The spaces could range from an art gallery in Colaba, to a rejuvenating yoga café in Bandra or a workspace near the airport.

For Aarti Narang, a corporate trainer, working from home was proving cumbersome. “It is difficult to be on a conference call with clients when the television set in the other room is blaring,” she says. Narang found her kind of space in Bandra-based The Hive’s collaborative workspace, called Collab. “I like that it is centrally located. I am at my productive best here,” she says.

Bandra is home to some of the most creative and sharpest minds in the city. So, it is not surprising that numerous design studios, art and culture hubs and tech start-ups have made Bandra their base. The Hive, over the past year, has grown into a mini eco-system for the creative folks, with interesting workshops, plays and performances being held here often.

A shared ecosystem
It’s not just the space that is a bonus. Expertise in various fields is also close at hand. Founded in March 2013, Youthapreneurs in Ghatkopar was conceived primarily as a training venture. With spare space at hand, and spurred on by the popularity of co-working spaces, it was converted into a community for collaboration. Founder Dhaval Doshi says, “Co-working spaces offer an opportunity to learn from other entrepreneurs who are often facing the same business challenges. They can discuss ideas, share connections and participate in entrepreneurship workshops and speaker sessions.”

Zahara Sheriff, a chartered accountant agrees. She has been working from The Hive’s Collab for almost a year. Encouraged by her co-workers, she decided to increase her social media presence by creating a Facebook page and uploading articles on LinkedIn. “Everyone here was very active on social media, including the founders. I wouldn’t have realised the importance of social media if I were not here,” she adds.

For Shy Kalra, who choreographs fashion events under her company The Production House, Colaba Social was the venue from which she produced three shows. Originally from Delhi, she found the space economical. “Since I am new to Mumbai, it helps me share my work with others, and understand their work as well,” she explains. Through the space, she has been able to get help from a designer and filmmaker for her projects. “I met a social media manager who gave me a crash course on hashtags and in return, I gave fashion styling tips,” she adds.

The Playce also hosts several workshops and meet-ups where co-workers share stories, ideas and insights once a month during ‘happy hour’ sessions. Youthapreneurs also offers peripheral services at a discount, including accounting, digital marketing, legal services and programming. Similarly, Bandra-based Bombay Connect also has peer-to-peer learning sessions and networking events. “It’s difficult to work on your idea in isolation. As start-ups, we need access to peers, mentors and talent, along with an office space,” says program manager Preeti Dawane.

Work and play
While most collaborative spaces offer regular amenities, like a locker, a conference room or a pantry, some go the extra mile to make work more fun. So, The Playce has plug-n-play work desks and even a game room, The Hive organises weekly stand-up comedy acts, impromptu gigs, films screenings and pop-ups. “I watched my first stand-up act at The Hive,” says Sheriff.

With the emergence of eateries like Colaba Social (August 2014) and Todi Social (May 2015), the café has also turned into a serious workspace. Chandan Mohanty, co-founder of Leprechaun Games, spends around 20-30 hours a week working from Todi Social. “I like it because of the great location and good food. It is more convenient than renting, as the office facilities, including internet, a space to sit and a printer are all effectively free (the monthly user fee is full cover for drinks and food). So, you save tons of money,” he says.

Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and MD, Impresario, terms café-cum-workspaces as “an idea whose time had come”. “It is catching on globally. Companies like Google and Facebook have offices that actually resemble cafés,” says Amlani, who plans to launch Social in three other locations across the city over the next few months.

THE LITMUS TEST: Everyone wants to work out of here; but how well do they actually work? we checked out four of the most popular co-working spaces in Mumbai

=> The Hive

With the smell of freshly brewed coffee thick in the air, a crowd of youngsters pored over their MacBooks in one corner. Meanwhile, the local band prepped for a weekend performance in the studio. Nestled in an easy-to-miss Portuguese bungalow off Carter Road, The Hive describes itself as “an urban centre for the arts and technology”. Spread over three floors and 4,500 sq ft, it comes packed with an office space, a performance area (which can double as an office, when needed), an outdoor organic cafe and a soundproof room for recordings.

We were given a desk on the first floor and sensing our ‘first-day’ nervousness, most fellow workers either greeted us with a smile or a cheerful “hello”. And let’s not forget the perfect cuppa that kick-started a productive day. The desks come with a plug point (there is provision for extra power strips too) and a locker if you wish to leave your laptop behind. Two solid Wi-Fi connections — 11 mbps as opposed to 30 mbps mentioned in its rate card — make browsing easy.

We were told BuzzFeed India and Time Out’s Mumbai team work out of this space. By the time we could wrap up phone calls, a quick meeting at the café and a con call, it was time to leave. Evenings at The Hive often involve an impromptu band performance or a quick yoga workshop.

The Hive, Bandra
Time: 9am to 7pm
Where: 50-A, Huma Mansion, next to Ahmed Bakery, Chuim Village Road, Bandra (W)
Price: Rs. 900 for a day pass, Rs 9,000 for a month
Facilities: ***
Food: ****
Crowd: ****1/2

=> Ministry of New

Housed in a quaint bungalow, Ministry of New has an urban and edgy look. White and grey walls, minimalist décor, wooden floor and dark-wood desks — the interiors could be straight out of a start-up office in San Francisco. Owing to its set-up, it is ideal for graphic designers, freelance architects and start-up ventures with small teams.

Photo credit: Marlies Bloemendaal

Started by Dutch designer Marlies Bloemendaal, who loves bringing people together and helping expats find their way in the metropolis, the space embodies her vision. In one corner lie coffee table books on Mumbai, while the latest issues of art, culture and fashion magazines sit on the bookshelves. Most of the desks are surrounded by potted plants of various sizes that add just the right amount of greenery.

Our day here started with a cup of coffee — a lovely Italian blend — and a desk by the window overlooking the grand Sacred Heart church and the canopied street. The space is divided into two glass-walled conference rooms, individual desks and a pantry with a large community table. There are two plug points for each desk and two decent Wi-Fi connections. Though Ministry of New doesn’t have a full-fledged café, most co-workers order in together — often healthy salads and sandwiches — from nearby cafés. During evenings and on weekends, the space can be rented for smaller, ‘non-loud’ events such as exhibitions, lectures or workshops.

Ministry of New, Santacruz
Time: Mon-Fri: 9am to 8pm / Saturday: 1am to 4pm
Where: First floor, Deep Jyot Bungalow, Plot 39, Church Ave, Santacruz (W)
Price: Rs 18,000 for a month
Facilities: ****
Food: ***
Crowd: ****1/2

=> Work from social

There are days when the muse is absconding, when you need a pick-me-up to get you working. It was on one such cloudy day that we dropped by at Todi Social’s workspace, Work From Social. The space has an industrial vibe thanks to the exposed brickwork and the overhead metal frame. The sound system was playing EDM hits. Now, EDM music on a Wednesday afternoon may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The upper floor of Todi Social is devoted to the collaborative workspace and while the volume was lower than downstairs, it was clearly audible, as were the sounds of people talking downstairs. If you want a quiet space, you might want to consider getting headphones. Or picking another space.

For fuel, we ordered a Chivda Crusted French Toast (Rs 190) and a Fresh Lime Soda (Rs 80), which were generous in proportion and had us good to go for some time. The sign-up process (for the Wi-Fi) was simple and only required our phone number. The speed was good but erratic; it lagged at times and we had to sign in again.

All around us, huddled over their laptops were — a freelance journalist from Japan, a fashion choreographer, and an investment banker; a fairly good mix. Facilities included lockers, a printer, scanner and a conference room (with hospital bed-side screens) as partition, as whacky as it gets. The space even has a 3D printer. Its monthly membership of Rs 5,000 is redeemable on food and beverages; for those who don’t wish to sign up, Wi-Fi downstairs is free for two hours.

Everyone was chatty and admitted to sharing tips. If you are someone who hates isolation while working, this is your best bet.

Work from social, Lower Parel
Time: 9am to 6pm
Where: Mathuradas Mill Compound, NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel
Price: Rs 5,000 for a month
Facilities: ****
Food: ****1/2
Crowd: ****1/2

=> Our First Office

Also located in the Todi Mill Compound is Our First Office. Around four-five cubicles at Orios Venture Partners are devoted to Our First Office while the rest is owned by other collaborative set-ups. This is perfect for those who want a peaceful environment to think and work. During the time we were there, we actually managed to get a lot of work done due to the lack of interruption. It manages to strike a balance between being a quiet workspace without making you feel isolated.

There is no Wi-Fi connection (only LAN connections, for security reasons), so it can be a problem if you are using laptops that don’t support it like ours (they made an exception however). The speed was good as were the seating arrangements (the closest to an office) with swivel chairs and a convenient desktop. There is a conference room and a pantry.

We managed to strike up a conversation with other people working from here (start-up entrepreneur, an IT personnel and a freelance writer) who admitted that interaction was minimal among themselves.

A good place to head to when you need to get a lot of work done, with minimum interruptions.

Our First office, Lower Parel
Time: Open 24 hours
Where: Mathuradas Mill Compound, Lower Parel
Price: Rs 11,950 per month
Facilities: ***
Food: ***
Crowd: ***



* The Playce
Where: First Floor, Marathon Maxima, Lal Bahadur Shastri Road, Moti Nagar, Mulund (W)
Call: 97692 41829

* Youthapreneurs
Where: Ghatkopar (W) | Call: 98201 99530

* Bombay Connect
Where: 26, St John Baptist Rd, Mt Mary, Bandra (W)
Call: 3222 0475

* Igloo
Where: Worli

* Geekout
Where: Lokhandwala, Andheri (W)
Call: 80974 15085


* The Nutcracker
Where: Modern House, Dr VB Gandhi Marg, opposite One Forbes Building, Kala Ghoda
Call: 2284 2430

* The Pantry
Where: Yeshwant Chambers, Military Square Lane, Near Trishna, Kala Ghoda
Call: 3015 1349

* Kala Ghoda Café
Where: 10, Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort
Call: 2263 3866

* Zen Café
Where: KSL House, Raghuvanshi Mills, Lower Parel
Call: 3015 1594

* Café Zoe
Where: Mathuradas Mills Compound, NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel
Call: 2490 2066

* Café Nemo
Where: Thadani House, 329/A Worli Village, Opposite Indian Coast Guard, Worli
Call: 3015 1970

* Di Bella
Where: West Wind, Cadell Road, Veer Sarvarkar Marg, Shivaji Park, Mahim
Call: 3015 1098

* Birdsong Organic Café
Where: Waroda Road, Behind American Express Bakery, Near Jude Bakery, Bandra (W)
Call: 3015 1369

* The Bagel Shop
Where: 30, Pali Mala Road, Bandra (W)
Call: 3015 1216

* Le Pain Quotidien
Where: Hotel Rodas, Central Avenue, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai
Call: 6671 3030

Photos: Satish Bate/HT, Vidya Subramanian/HT, Marlies Bloemendaal

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