A perspective from the co-founder of Cove Offices in Chennai, India
Using a coworking space in a city that accounts for the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases (in a country as big as India) could seem daunting. We have indeed received a number of queries on how clients in Chennai are thinking about coworking during the present pandemic. But once we get into details, we realize the real issues are not about COVID-19, but about something very different.
From our recent experience, what clients are looking for in a coworking space — more than ever before — is flexibility! The very nature of such coworking has been to offer flexibility, but today, this is of prime concern.
Why don’t we think that factors like sanitation, hygiene, facilities to work in a socially distanced manner, etc. are more important? Because, in today’s world, these are taken for granted in any workspace—not just in a coworking space. No coworking space worth its salt would fail to have such measures in place.
Be it a small startup or a large enterprise, offering flexibility more than makes up for any additional cost that a coworking space charges.
In a COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 world, with complete uncertainty regarding business prospects, processes, and workforce management, a coworking space that offers flexibility is a boon. And when we say flexibility, we mean in the following ways:
a) Ramp up or down the number of seats – how seamlessly can you accommodate your members’ capacity needs? Assume multiple changes to capacity will occur over the course of the next year.
b) Offering multiple shifts – can employees use the space in a staggered manner during the day?
c) One seat, shared – can a company with 20 employees use an office with only 10 seats? Will teams be willing to work both remotely or from home at any point in time?
d) Cash flow management – will my coworking space offer me additional credit? Are there any discounts for the period that the space remains unused owing to lockdowns?
From Cove’s standpoint, having a center that operates 24×7 with a large green area around the space and multiple breakout zones has a significant advantage in being able to offer any level of operational flexibility. We have been able to offer a variety of product features to our clients, ranging from phased/shift-based work timings, to easily ramping down/up facilities, and the use of external garden spaces for a socially-distanced meeting.
We have gone a step further and used the advantages of our space and location to offer some very unique, personalized workforce management solutions for some of our larger clients.
Of course, it did help that we started our very strict operating procedures to ensure sanitization, regular disinfection, and working in a socially-distanced manner well before the first COVID-19 case hit the city of Chennai. Our in-house visitor management system allowed us to permit only genuine visitors and guests whose details were trackable in case of future requirements.
And finally, of course, credit was given when it was due! By which we mean that almost all clients received rental waivers for periods where they were unable to utilize their space. Others were given credits for future use.
What all of this has meant for us as a coworking space is that, despite the general sense of doom and gloom that has settled upon the coworking industry, we have not only managed to retain almost all our existing clients but are now in the process of moving remote workforces from other locations to our space.