New Delhi: Noida Sector 62’s Ithum World has all the markings of a regular mall — with a food court, fast fashion stores and aimless crawlers. But inside this 12-storey building are two floors of a co-working universe that is set to change how Delhi NCR’s suburbs go to work. They are optimising space, revolutionising budgets and fuelling entrepreneurial aspirations.
At first glance, these former IT offices appear monotonous, with rows upon rows of cubicles, cabins and conference rooms, often in dull grey and white. But that’s where the corporate banality ends. The army of men and women occupying these spaces have traded their suits and ties for jeans, khaki pants and T-shirts. Here, every day is casual Friday.
From Make-in-India electronics assembly hub, Noida is now a buzzing start-up suburb too. And this is feeding a demand for co-working spaces. They require less investment and make it easier for hybrid working environments where employees don’t have to physically check in to the office every day.
“It gives you a corporate environment. You get the feel of an office at a nominal cost and you don’t have to worry about housekeeping and space issues,” says Renu Kapoor from Ghaziabad. When she started BBT Consultancy last year, renting an office was out of her budget, and almost fractured her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
A friend suggested renting out a co-working space, and within days, she was able to set the ball rolling with ‘an office’ in Ithum’s BCogent. In the last six months, Kapoor has hired three employees and expansion is on the cards.
Noida, earlier known for electronics manufacturing hub, IT offices, miles and miles of gated condominiums and Ponty Chadha’s malls, is now resetting old notions of stuffy 9-to-5 offices with co-working spaces in Sector 62, 63 and 8. What started in Gurugram has now spread to Noida and Faridabad. It has become the preferred workspace and work style of a new generation and their start-up dreams. It’s as if slothful, sarkari New Delhi is being hugged on all sides by the new co-working space boom.
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IT companies to stand-up comics
37-year-old Nikunj Gupta’s IT company was running into losses when he was introduced to the concept of a co-working space. In 2017, he gave up on IT and turned his office in Ithum to CoBox. Now, seven years later, his co-working business has grown to six office spaces in the building.
“The first clients I had were two content writers. It has been seven years and they are still working here,” said Gupta with a grin.
As Noida and Gurugram came into their own, they emerged not just as satellite towns bolstering Delhi, but as cities in their own right. Students started travelling to NCR to study. Young graduates joined the teeming workforce taking up jobs in multinationals and start-ups that had set up base there. But by the time they were ready to build their own companies, real estate prices had skyrocketed.
For a new generation of entrepreneurs and freelancers who did not want to be shackled to a nine-to-five job, co-working spaces were the answer. From coders to scriptwriters, there’s room for everyone. The manager of one co-working space told ThePrint that one of his ‘renters’ is a stand-up comedian who uses a cubicle to write his script.
In 2022, Pratik Chaudhary, who worked at a supply chain and logistics company, decided to start his own business. At first, he was working from home. “The laid-back attitude at home did not give me the motivation to work. My performance also dipped,” he said, sitting at his workstation at a co-working space in Noida.
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If the Covid lockdown years made work-from-home the norm, then the last two years have given the flagging flexible office space market a fresh lease. Towards the end of 2019, there were about 30 million sq ft. of co-working units across seven cities in India, but this dropped to 20 million sq ft by the end of 2020, according to data from property consultant JLL India. But in the last year alone, there’s been a reversal in the trend. By June 2022, co-working spaces were flourishing again, having grown to nearly 43.4 million sq ft.
The real boom came after the lockdown. People are becoming aware of such spaces and more co-working spaces are opening up in Noida,” said a manager who oversees Amigo in Noida’s Sector 8. Expansion is on the cards for the two-storeyed space.
This growth story is not limited to Noida and Gurugram. Faridabad is also poised to become a hub for co-working spaces.
“There is a lot of traction in Faridabad but not enough co-working spaces. Our research shows that there is a market there,” said Sarthak Chabbra, the owner of AltF, a co-working space with branches in Delhi, Noida and Gurugram. He’s getting ready to launch a similar set up in Faridabad as well.
Hindustan is here
Co-working spaces offer daily and monthly passes for a nominal fee to use a workstation. Daily rentals are around Rs 200 and monthly passes range from Rs 5,000 to 6,000. Most co-working spaces offer hot-desks which are rented out to different clients depending on time slots or designated rooms that can be booked every month. For startups like Chaudhary’s and Gupta’s the dedicated space is an added bonus.
“I just have to come with a laptop and get started. There are several people working here so it diversified my network,” Chaudhary added.
This shift in work culture has also proved effective for IT firms. To cut down on overheads, many software technology companies are storing their servers at co-working locations.
“You only need to rent a place to keep servers. Give up rented offices and let employees work from home,” said Animesh Mishra, a software developer.
Ankesh Kashyap, 41, business head (north India) of EDS technology shifted with his team of a dozen employees to CoBox in Noida Sector 62 mid-last year. They had earlier rented out an office space in Noida but had to give up during the lockdown.
They were paying a rent of around Rs 1.2 lakh for the office, now they’re spending just Rs 65,000. “See how cost-effective it is,” Ankesh said, sipping on a cup of green tea.
The word ‘Hindustan’ is affixed on the main entrance door to CoBox on the sixth floor of Ithum. Inside, cubicles and cabins are divided to represent states.
“Co-working is like Hindustan where people from different work backgrounds come together to work like the states of India,” said 29-year-old Vaidhei, a manager who oversees CoBox, as she enters a room labelled Delhi-NCR.
Rooms are randomly labelled. Maharashtra is in one corner, next to Gujarat and Rajasthan, and Delhi occupies the largest space.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)