Neetish Sarda

Work From Home can never be a permanent solution: Neetish Sarda, founder, Smartworks

Companies are trying hard to reinvent in the post Covid-19 era. Here, co-working providers face a daunting challenge, as apart from the pandemic driven disruption, some companies see work from home as a long-term strategy and may not have all employees coming back to offices in a hurry. In an e-mail interview, Neetish Sarda, founder, Smartworks says there are limitations to working from home and employees will be back into offices. In turn, Smartworks is ensuring safe work places in sync with needs of a post-Covid 19 world. It’s also using technologies like IoT and Virtual Reality (VR) to ensure contactless workspaces, safe working environments and virtual tour of offices to help companies make their decisions. Edited excerpts:

What are some of the significant changes you have seen in the post Covid era?

The pandemic has compelled all of us to re-imagine and re-create the workplace and called for stringent measures to work on aspects like incorporating social distancing norms and technological interventions while opening up new horizons to explore.

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The most significant change in offices has been the spacing of desks – diagonal arrangements rather than across each other, which means less seating available on every floor. Employee well-being has taken precedence over everything else. We are leveraging our all-new Smartworks mobile app for contactless service and support requests.

Work From Home (WFH) has been a saviour for corporates in times of the pandemic. This has an impact on demand for commercial real estate and co-working. How do you plan to make co-working relevant for companies?

India is a service-based economy and the WFH can never be a permanent solution. Also, WFH arrangement doesn’t work for everyone – there are space constraints, technical glitches, and the overall ecosystem needs to be conducive for an employee to be productive.

We foresee increased demand for co-working spaces as the occupiers are likely to continue with flexible workspace providers compared to the traditional workspace. The physical constraints and mandated social distancing norms will make co-working spaces the first choice for many organisations since WFH comes with challenges.

While some companies are exploring the ‘Work Near Home’ policy, many may consider leasing smaller spaces at different locations instead of absorbing large areas. These trends will benefit the co-working segment as it is in the best position to cater to such flexible demands.

What new technologies are you implementing?

Covid-19 has accelerated the digitization of workspaces, and technology has emerged as a strategic asset, a necessity that will define the future of workspace experience. Embracing the digital transformation is the only way forward, and future workplaces will be all about personalized and digitized solutions.

IoT enabled meeting rooms, deploying humanoid as a front office assistant, contactless visitor management system, smart feedback platform, parking management system, or ordering beverages from the meeting room are some of our tech offerings.

Such tech offerings have reduced the dependency on the workforce and enabled members to go contactless during the pandemic, keeping members literally ‘hands-off’ for daily support.

We have been making use of various forms of technology like ML, AI, IoT to create future workspaces.

Is Virtual Reality (VR) coming into play now? If so, in what areas?

VR has been there for long but has made significant progress in the last few years. Many within the commercial real estate sector have been deploying technologies like VR and Augmented Reality (AR) to ensure that the entire site selection process is seamless and offers an immersive experience. VR has the power to change how businesses will take/see offices for years to come.

We have started conducting virtual reality-led facility tours for our clients as a part of our sales strategy. VR has helped us conduct guided tours and interactive visits during this pandemic and has also helped us offer to clients the flexibility to navigate through a virtual office space.

The VR tours simplify the pre-configuration conversation with a realistic, detailed look at the space that can be viewed anywhere and anytime. This new solution is working as effectively as it is in real-time and cuts across locations. The current situation may have restricted movements, but the need for office spaces remains, and VR has made it convenient to address client queries regarding the facility tours. Our VR Studio is designed with an ultra-high-resolution screen that will make the entire office space experience so real for any client/user that it will be challenging to differentiate the virtual office space design from the real one.

It has allowed the clients to narrow down on locations, visualize their office space by changing the carpets, seating arrangements, wallpaper, and décor as per their brand ethos and office needs.

In the last couple of months, we have taken more than 60-70 customers through these VR tours. Going forward we will be setting up VR Studios across our facilities to provide our customers with VR office tours.

Are you collaborating with technology providers for VR solutions? If so, which are these, and what solutions are they providing?

We are leveraging TREZI- a VR collaboration design platform for conducting ‘virtual meetings’ & ‘online collaboration’ with our stakeholders.

The purpose of facilitating VR guided tours for our clients is to provide them with more in-depth, faster analysis and more explicit, compelling presentations of their office space design and utilization while connecting virtually from any location. We are effectively communicating spatial concepts to them through immersive design reviews to unlock better decisions and alignment.

Overall, how is VR helping the various stakeholders–customers, employees, and co-working companies?

If we go by market analysis, the real estate industry is expected to be one of the top sectors that will be transformed by virtual reality. The use of VR in commercial real estate has added an extra dimension to marketing strategy.

For co-working players, it has emerged as a powerful tool to reach out to potential customers and has eliminated physical distance in these tough times.

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