Hey there! Do you work in a startup? Or are you a freelancer? Or a part of the SME community? Yes, we’re talking to you.

Remember those days when you used to work out of a dingy basement? When you were struggling to get work done from your dining tables because you could not even afford furniture to make that dark and dull basement more workable.

Remember that one day of the week when you would think of treating yourself by working out of a cafe? Only to realise that the validity of work hours is limited to the time you finish that 500 rupee coffee in exchange for a table with a positive vibe. And the rest of the day would be all about trying to avoid the waiter’s disapproving glances or passing sheepish grins to the owners requesting them to not throw you out?

Or are you one of us who were fortunate enough to be working for a company which calls a cabin perched on top of an assembly line in a factory to be a perfect workspace. And which also took at least half a day’s time to reach?

It all seems slightly distantly reachable in our memories, right? What changed? What happened?

Coworking happened!

 

Coworking changed lives!

Waking up every morning became fun, going to work became exciting. We were finally travelling to dedicated business parks and corporate hubs. Walking into those aspirational high-rises which we thought would take a lifetime to be able to afford, was finally a dream come true.

Inside, we had the privilege of calling a small yet beautifully designed corner our own. This my friend, was the result of a flourishing coworking culture in India.

impact of coronavirus - coworking

The coworking industry works on a simple principle: taking up bigger spaces on long term leases, investing capital to make them inspirational/beautiful and offering these in smaller customized packages with short term contracts that bring in accessibility and affordability for smaller companies, startups and freelancers like you.

With India being home to the 3rd largest startup ecosystem and 2nd largest freelancer ecosystem in the world, before COVID outbreak, the startup community was expected to witness a consistent YoY growth of 12-15% as forecasted by Startup India (A Govt of India initiative).

Currently, we are an economy with more than 50,000 startups, 15 million freelancers and a sizable chunk of them turn to coworking as an enabler for growth. Coworking gives them access to aspirational workspaces, a seamless plug-n-play work environment and a huge like-minded community to interact with, network among and find synergies to catalyze growth.

However uncalled for, a calamity named COVID-19, followed by nationwide lockdown, brought the survival of the coworking industry under a massive question mark and contained their dreams from taking off. Click To Tweet

Sounds far-fetched? Allow me to tell you how it’s not.

 

The sudden outbreak of COVID-19

The coronavirus which has sucker-punched almost all the major economies across the globe has brought most of the Indian economic activities to a standstill.

All close-contact businesses have had to completely halt operations whether they are restaurants, cinemas, travel and tourism, hospitality, public transport and of course, office spaces. The business is at a complete standstill and this is a major concern for a lot of companies operating in this domain.

Moreover, the impact of coronavirus has been two-fold: Financial & Psychological.

Financial Impact: Small businesses with relatively lower cash reserves forming the bulk of the coworking clientele have been severely impacted by the slowdown of economic activities. As a result, the first cost-line that these businesses are rationalising is office-rentals by giving notices to the coworking space providers and withholding rents.

This is being facilitated by the lock-in free contracts that were extended to them to provide flexibility. Amounting to which, the space providers, due to low inflow of cash from clients are struggling to meet their expenses.

Paying salaries to their teams and honouring rent commitments made in the long term contracts they have signed with the landlords has become a burden for most of them. This vicious chain does not end and invariably leads us to the insolvency of the dangerous link leading to the collapse of this industry.

Psychological Impact: This industry worked on the premise of efficient usage of real estate to give affordable access to small businesses. Due to a sense of heightened caution inflicted by this virus and increased focus on social distancing, the core benefit of these spaces might be put under scanner in the post-COVID-19 world.

Scepticism around shared spaces and reluctance to step out of our homes even post the pandemic is surely going to add to the struggles of staying afloat for our space providers.

 

As a result, coworking space providers are getting impacted from all directions. They are receiving notices from clients who wish to vacate the premises and to procure time, they are resorting to in house reserves for payment of salaries and rent to their landlords. Unlikely even in the future, not many landlords have extended any relaxation on rent to the space providers. Do you think it’s fair to expect only one player in the team to take all the load?

Majority of coworking space providers are either startups or standalone businesses trying to help the workforce of small businesses across the country by offering hassle-free, affordable & flexible access to inspirational workspaces.

They have converted dingy, dull corners into beautiful workspaces by putting in critical financial reserves and hence cannot afford to wash their hands off of this situation anymore. In such a scenario, if no one steps up to support them, how are they expected to make it out of this without staring at a complete financial ruin?

So how do we save the place we call home for more than 12 hours a day? How do we ensure that these spaces which helped us grow and evolve can stay afloat in this tsunami called COVID-19? And how do we ensure that we see the same smiling faces when we head back – at the reception, the cafeteria and the coffee machines. Those who tirelessly served us while we worked?

 

How can coworking survive?

It is up to us to do our bit in saving their jobs and have the backs of our space providers who work together to offer us these second homes. All the cogs in this wheel have a part to play here. Here’s how each of the stakeholders can do their bit to fight these difficult times:

The Clients: To cooperate and contribute the minimal charges during this period of lock-down would help save our second homes and keep them operational. Only to cover for the bare essential costs of maintenance and staff salaries. To cover the lengths bi-laterally, most of our space partners have extended relaxations as high as 70-75% of the usual costs already.

The Space Providers: To manage costs efficiently, be transparent, treat the entire ecosystem like your family. We all, together, can weather the storm ahead.

The Landlords of the Coworking Spaces: To extend relief on rentals for this period of nation-wide lockdown and be open to exploring alternate models like revenue sharing instead of rentals going forward as we enter a new normal. This will help our space providers immensely in providing for their teams’ salaries, retain clients and at the same time, many small businesses will be able to retain their offices.

The Government: To be our guardian angels in these turbulent times and help us steer through by announcing GST benefits to give some cash flow stimulus to this industry which is helping small businesses thrive. We also request them to help in waiving off the interest on EMIs in line with the announcement of an extension of term periods by 3 months.

Lastly, We The People: To be the messengers, spread the word, generate awareness and do our duty towards this industry. It gave us another place we call home – by signing this petition and requesting our Government to intervene.

 

Want to help? Sign this PETITION!

Small measures like this will go a long way in helping the coworking industry survive. The survival of this industry is imperative for the growth of many others. It gives a ray of hope to the people at large, the courage to take the entrepreneurial route and the will to spread their wings and fly. In a small way and to a great extent, it will define the future of entrepreneurship in our country and will shape, re-form our economy to be better in the times to come.

Sign the petition & help us in our cause to save coworking. 

The economic slowdown & COVID-19 has severely impacted the coworking & office space industry. Sign this petition & join the cause: http://chng.it/WVZ8zccbFZ. #ReliefForCoworking Click To Tweet

Being a platform which works as a business partner to over 200 of these spaces serving more than 10,000 members, we feel that it is our duty to voice these concerns. We move to sensitize each one of you to the wake of this situation and we ask you to garner as much support for our space partners as possible. It will help them get through these tough times and they can continue making our workspaces more beautiful and the world a work-friendly place.

Can we count on you to walk along the miles needed ahead? Join us on this crusade to a better tomorrow and help us spread the word.

 

Related reads:

Impact Of Coronavirus On Indian Startups & How To Handle This Crisis

11 Tips To Improve Work From Home Productivity During COVID-19