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To Reunite India's Covid-Dispersed Workforce, Companies Look To Hybrid Workplace Solutions

CoWrks Powai in Mumbai, a member of Uplex's Safe Space network, complies with coronavirus safety protocols.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on India, and as the country works to get infection rates under control, its companies are reimagining what the future of office work could look like. As in nations around the globe, many Indian workers opted to move away from cities during the pandemic and have grown accustomed to working from home. 

As a massive second wave of infections there ebbs, demand for India’s corporate services hasn’t slowed: Foreign companies are turning to Indian software and tech support providers to better support their own remote work efforts. With their teams still distributed and permanent work-from-home proving an imperfect solution, businesses in India are looking at hybrid workplace solutions from companies such as Upflex to help them manage their remote employees and plan for the future of the office.

Anuj Puri, chairman of Anarock Property Consultant, one of India’s largest real estate firms, said pandemic-scarred companies are now more open to adopting nontraditional work arrangements, including remote offices, to accommodate their dispersed workforces. 

Puri recently discussed the future of flexible workspace in India at a webinar hosted by Anarock. Other speakers included executives from U.S. firm Upflex, which operates as a coworking booking platform for businesses in 75 countries, and Indian firms such as Accenture India and Awfis Space Solutions. 

To Puri, who moderated the discussion, the topic is more than academic — he is actually putting it into practice. His firm recently inked a deal with Upflex to roll out a customizable workspace program to meet the changing needs of companies of all sizes across the country. 

Upflex’s mobile app allows employees to search a network of hundreds of workspaces in cities across India and then book desks, offices and meeting rooms on demand. With Anarock’s help, that network is growing. 

“We see growing demand from our global users that have a presence in India, and as of now, we have close to 200 locations in India,” Upflex CEO Christophe Garnier said of the existing network in a statement.

That includes spaces operated by local and national providers such as WorkAmp and Innov8, as well as international providers like WeWork and Servcorp. 

“Our friends at Anarock have not only a large network of brokers but a deep sense of the market and what Indian employers need,” Garnier said. “With their help, we’re going to be able to bring this network to a whole new level.”

Within a year, Anarock and Upflex will work together to add more than 1,000 new workspaces across the country. Spaces are individually vetted to ensure quality and accuracy, and those that commit to complying with a rigorous list of coronavirus safety and sanitation protocols are designated with a green badge as part of Upflex’s Safe Spaces network. This gives workers peace of mind as they consider changing scenery or seeking out more collaboration, space or amenities than their pandemic home offices might offer. 

Not only did employees leave the office during the pandemic, but many of them moved far from their employers’ headquarters. Accenture India saw more than 50% of its workforce move back to their hometowns during the pandemic, said Sanjay Baurai, the firm’s managing director for workplace solutions. 

“We haven’t seen a big enthusiasm for people to come back to their offices,” he said. 

Accordingly, Amit Ramani, founder and CEO of Awfis Space Solutions, said this pushback is forcing the hand of employers.

“Before the pandemic, the corporate occupiers, especially the large ones, were fence-sitters,” Ramani said. “Most of these have heard the call that hub-and-spoke is the way to the future, and clearly, flex is a key part of their strategy going forward.”

This change isn’t limited to India’s largest corporate centers.

“We have seen a surge of demand in customers looking for flex setups in Tier 2 cities,” Ramani said. “Obviously, those setups are fairly small compared to Tier 1 cities, but clearly they are looking to diversify their risk and they are looking to access a talent pool that might not ever come back to live in the Tier 2 cities.”

No matter how big or small a city is, Upflex and Anarock said many employers also are ready to replace traditional leasing models with a single-vendor alternative that is easy for them to monitor. This has the advantages of streamlining their real estate holdings, reducing overhead, conserving resources and improving the employee experience. 

It also offers employers a new tool set to help them understand and monitor the new reality of work, said Vincent Lottefier, chief strategy officer for Upflex and member of the advisory board of Upflex India. Lottefier said this “hyperflex” approach “has to be attractive to every single enterprise post-Covid, irrespective of their size, industry sector or geography.”

In addition, it means they can avoid the arduous tasks of finding and paying rent for expensive offices, Lottefier said.

“I think you'll see more operators wanting to have a partnership with landlords under a contract that actually resembles the hospitality sector,” he said. “This will allow them to avoid capital constraints, and just like with a hotel, it is very easy for people to leave.”

Lottefier said flex arrangements also can provide better customer service than traditional landlord-tenant relationships. 

“In these situations, I think there's definitely a much better dialogue between building operators and tenants than what you normally see in traditional office buildings,” he said. “It's much closer to a hotel business model. I mean, the proximity that hybrid space operators have with a client’s employees is phenomenal. And that allows them to really understand their client far better than a traditional landlord would.”  

Anarock and Upflex say they expect this change will stick, and not just because corporations may find it more affordable and easier to manage but because, for employers and employees, manageable hybrid work solutions are a win-win. 

“Today, the employee has the control, unlike in the last 15 years when the employer had the control,” Ramani said. “I think we will have to work around that.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Upflex and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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Related Topics: India, hybrid working