With the corona virus outbreak being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), Indian government has also advised against large social gatherings and asked masses to promote social distancing as a means to avoid further spread of the virus. Many big international as well as Indian companies like Google, Wipro, HCL, Tech Mahindra, Paytm, cognizant etc have shut their offices and asked staff to work remotely from home or in case of companies that rely fairly heavily on gig workers like Flipkart, Swiggy, Uber etc are encouraging social distancing as much as possible in all their communication with the staff.

This could spell disaster for co working operators as more and more people start staying away from work places as a company policy or simply avoid gathering at a communal public place like co working to keep the corona virus at bay. Especially for co working operators who are heavily reliant on flexible membership plans (which is perhaps their most convincing argument over a traditional office lease), while I am not privy to any such data about the mix of different co working player’s membership plans, I am however assuming that the flex membership does amount to a sizable chunk of their business.

Now why do I say it could really mean a blessing in disguise? While it could mean bad for their business in the interim or for an unforeseen duration, but this could provide us with a very reliable data set which could let us peek much ahead in to future of co working as a concept. Here is what I mean, there is little doubt that co working is here to stay however, is it worthwhile for members/tenants or its operators in its current shape in form? The answer is a thumping NO, barring a few exceptions of individual members or a small team of flex workers. Since the current business model for co working players is buy in whole sale and sell in retail model. And for companies with workforce more than 10-12 work force it will eventually not save any cost. So, for it to work, companies with bigger workforce need to be able to see the perks of working remotely with a flexible workforce, which could be scattered all over the city across different co working centers. It could be years before corporate’s start to realize it, and co working becomes the new office space synonym. The CORONA virus outbreak could potentially start a trial and error exercise in remote working that too at such a huge scale out of need, rather than just for the sake of it. This exercise will provide really crucial data to co working operators and also remote working could potentially start getting accepted as a norm for most companies. Acceptance of remote working as a norm is one of the biggest hurdles that co working industry faces and it could continue to do so for a long time.  Here are a couple of recent quotes from the twitter timelines of just two of India Inc’s head:

There will be many more bosses who will now start to think like Mr. Mehta & Mr. Jain above. We have all done fire drills at offices and all it really meant was a quick sutta break for 99% of the staff,  unless we do something out of real need and urgency, there is very little value in that data.  This virus outbreak could be that valuable fire drill (out of need) for all stake holders, especially for the different VC’’s on whose money the whole co working industry is riding high at the moment. If it was left to time, this sort of data generation could have taken years to be able to construe anything meaningful and worthwhile out it if it. The foiled IPO of WeWork is a proof and many investors are simply loosing patience.

I certainly hope the outbreak is contained as soon as possible, but for co working players, it would not hurt to bear this pain for a couple of months or may be more, it really can be a game changer for their tribe. Meanwhile, lets chuck the handshake, say hello to NAMASTE!!!

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