Speaking to All Things Talent, Pratik Agarwal, Chief Business Officer, Smartworks talks about the accelerated need for flexible office spaces, key changes made to office space for the returning employees at Smartworks, and more.
Q. Most organizations are thinking of bringing their employees back to work. There seems to be a boom in organisations going for co-working spaces instead of traditional spaces. What do you think these co-working spaces are giving to the companies?
A. The pandemic has accelerated the need for flex spaces. And this is due to a combination of reasons. I think first would be the flexibility and agility that this model offers over a conventional space, whether it is in terms of a lesser lease, lock-in, or access to newer markets without incurring any substantial capital expenditure on other amenities, health and safety, etc. I think the second would be the Hub and Spoke model. With work from anywhere gaining momentum, corporates are taking up satellite offices closer to the employees in order to avoid long travel hours. Flexspace providers with a strong presence are able to provide corporates the ability to open smaller satellite offices across the industry. The pandemic has taught us that running an office space is expensive. Whether it is health and safety measures, the Covid-19 preventive measures that everybody has to take are not easy to implement. Companies today prefer to focus on their core business and give the entire running of office space to be managed by the office provider. It also turns out to be cheaper, about 20-25% compared to a traditional conventional space due to the economies of scale that we have.
“With work from anywhere gaining momentum, corporates are taking up satellite offices closer to the employees in order to avoid long travel hours. Flexspace providers with a strong presence are able to provide corporates the ability to open smaller satellite offices across the industry.”
Q. Has there been any change in the demands of your clients now in the world where the pandemic is receding?
A. A couple of things. One, before the pandemic, everybody was focused on consolidation. It has moved to a hub and spoke where companies today are opening smaller satellite offices across the country. Many have approached us to open smaller satellite offices for them in tier-I, tier-II, and tier-III cities so that their employees based in the cities have access to a closer working space. The demand for a flexi seat or a roster-based mechanism has definitely gone up. So we’ve developed something where clients get the ability to access the seats that they have with Smartworks and this can be booked on a first come first serve mechanism. One can put in rosters, your timings, dates, etc for the employees and the other basics. It’s a mechanism where all the employees of the company get access to a limited number of seats to be booked. One comes to the center, scans the QR code, and the data of that workstation would turn on. The person will then get access to that premises.
Health and safety are at the center of course. So, the basics such as the quality of the building, the infrastructure, improved HVAC systems, and air quality have become very important. These are the basic requirements that enterprises need to have when they’re looking for commercial real estate.
Q.What are the changes that you’ve made in your own office space for the returning employees of Smartworks?
A. We are making use of new-age technologies. We’ve digitized the entire ecosystem right from the entry to the exit. The minute one enters a Smartworks building, we have an RFID-enabled packing system that is digitally integrated for faster vehicle movement, we have a QR-based smart pass instead of having traditional HID cards, etc. You just need to flap your phone, access control and you can enter the premises. Right from your coffee machines to dispensing coffee to food and beverages to the meeting rooms ticketing system, every single touchpoint we’ve tried to digitize so that we have as few touchpoints as possible. In terms of infrastructure, like I said air filtration, air quality has become important because of the importance of fresh air in HVAC systems. So those basics have been done on the back end to improve the quality of air and other things that are Covid-19 preventive like frequent sanitization, etc. continues.
Q. How is it better than a traditional office space? And when do you lease out these kinds of spaces? What are the measures that you take?
A. We have this concept called ‘Smart Stores’. Right from the moment an employee enters Smartworks building, everything is taken care of within the building itself, from the gym to anything medically related to household chores, like grocery delivery, and laundry, etc. So we focus heavily on the experience that we are able to provide to our members in terms of the measures. Even things like the coffee dispensing machine, one goes up to a coffee machine, scans through the Smartworks app, chooses the coffee preparation they want, and dispenses it immediately.
“We have this concept called ‘Smart Stores’. Right from the moment an employee enters Smartworks building, everything is taken care of within the building itself, from the gym to anything medically related to household chores, like grocery delivery, and laundry, etc. So we focus heavily on the experience that we are able to provide to our members in terms of the measures.”
Q.What do you think the future of work will be keeping the co-working space in mind? Do you think they will become much more common than they are right now?
A. Yes, definitely. I mean, demand for flex will go up and we will see more and more enterprises and corporates moving to a flexible model or at least having a certain percentage of their entire portfolio move to a flexible operator.
Q.What would be your expansion plans? And if there are any hiring goals or targets that you have, presently?
A. Currently, we are present in nine cities, across 31 locations, and our portfolio today is 4 million square feet. So with demand for flexible offices picking up, especially the hub and spoke model, we will be expanding in or doing a partnership in tier-II and tier-III cities where corporates now want to open up smaller offices. The cities in focus are Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and Kochi in terms of tier-II cities. Apart from that, in tier-I, we will continue to expand whether it’s Bangalore, Hyderabad, Noida, or Chennai. In fact, we’ve taken a couple of properties as well in the last few months. So, the expansion in tier-I coupled with tier-II would be the target for the next few months. In terms of hiring, with this demand coming in, we will be hiring more for all the various verticals that Smartworks has. I think, as and when real estate comes up, we will see at least 100-150 people getting added in the next few months. Current employee strength is 400.
– as told to Moumita Bhattacharjee