The cost of managing office spaces during the pandemic has increased exponentially, making organisations outsource office management to third-party providers, says Neetish Sarda, founder of Smartworks, a managed office provider to enterprises and MNCs.
Founded in April 2016, Smartworks reportedly raised $25 million from Singapore-based Keppel Land last November. The post-Covid world, Sarda maintains, will be all about expansion, acceleration and opportunities. “The industry will see some significant revival, and we remain bullish on the sector,” he says in an interview to Forbes India.
Over the past two months, he claims Smartworks has leased more than 2 lakh sq ft to clients across locations from IT, BFSI, manufacturing, logistics and energy sectors. There is a lot of office space demand in the market as companies explore the hybrid model. “Owing to this demand, we are moving ahead with our expansion plans,” he adds. Edited excerpts:
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Q. When do you reckon people will come back to office and co-working hubs?
The pandemic-imposed ‘work from home’ led to cost savings for companies in terms of rent, maintenance, housekeeping and monthly overheads. But five months down, we see work-from-home fatigue setting in and companies reconsidering their office spaces, as work-from-home cannot be a permanent solution.
At Smartworks, we are witnessing a high demand from enterprises for smaller and distributed spaces across locations, owing to flexibility and mobility as they explore a hybrid model for the future. Some of our clients have already resumed work with a staggered workforce, and by the end of this year, we expect the occupancy to be around 35% to 40%.
Q. The pandemic battered the concept of co-working. How do you see it panning out?
The health crisis has stressed the need for flexibility and agility. Post-Covid, co-working will play a critical role as organisations are planning a distributed workforce strategy, and require hybrid workplaces. While some companies are exploring the ‘Work near home’ policy, many are considering geographical diversification instead of a single, large office. Flexible workspaces or co-working spaces may become part of core strategy, considering the cost benefits, amenities and services under one roof, in the long run.
Covid-19 has accelerated the need for managed services. Companies want to concentrate more on their core competency and look forward to managed services providers to help them manage their office spaces and bring additional value-added services.
Q. What sort of technology tweaks did you make to deal with the post-Covid world?
We were the first co-working player to introduce ‘Smart Mitri’—an artificial intelligence (AI) Humanoid for overall office and visitor management. To strengthen the link between workspace belonging and business performance, we have rolled out IoT-enabled meeting rooms, contactless visitor management systems, a robust mobile app, smart feedback platforms, parking management systems and digital pantry services. The idea is to reduce dependency on the workforce, and enable members to go contactless during the pandemic, keeping them literally ‘hands-off’ for daily support. This pandemic has taught us the tight correlation between technology and workforce interactions and performance.
During the initial lockdown phase, we revisited all our processes to ensure a safe and sanitised environment right from entry to exit. There has been a strict implementation of proactive measures to adhere to the social distancing norms, hygiene practices, temperature- screening and awareness. We have redesigned the offices to ensure spacing of desks and enhanced sanitisation measures. Our workspaces today have the latest new-age preventive measures such as sanitisation tunnels, for vehicles, foot paddles for touchless door opening and hygrometers for humidity control.
Q. So you see a massive opportunity in post-Covid world?
Smartworks is one of India’s fastest-growing and leading flexible workspace provider to have become profitable and has clocked over Rs 100 crore in revenue in just three years of its operations. The company has been profitable for an entire year at the corporate level. Though the pandemic has slowed down our expansion and growth plans temporarily, we remain bullish on scaling our business.
Currently, we have a growing footprint of over 4 million Sq.ft, covering nine key markets. By the end of 2020, we aim to expand our footprint to 4.5 million sq. ft. We do anticipate a rebound in 2021 and believe the co-working market will see significant recovery as the trends are positive.
There is enough appetite for co-working space in the market. Continued infrastructure demand, future workspaces, distributed workforce and a safe and sanitised environment are the need of the hour and will drive market growth in the future as well. We believe the industry has reached a point where it will be more about quality than quantity.