Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Out of Office

A co-working movement from New York comes to India. All it asks is for freelancers to bring a laptop,walk into a cafe and get to work.

A co-working movement from New York comes to India. All it asks is for freelancers to bring a laptop,walk into a cafe and get to work.

We toil our lives in over-heated,under-staffed offices under short-fused bosses. Working in pyjamas and bunny slippers under one’s own supervision — that would make most office-goers turn green with envy. But once you are in the pyjamas,you miss the office skirts. (The latter are certainly more flattering.) And when your interaction with your plumber becomes the social highlight of your week,you are ready to leave the house.

Working together is simply more fun for everyone. Roommates Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford realised that when they were working from home. So,in February 2006,they started Jelly (the idea occurred to them while they were eating jelly beans),or a semi-weekly work-together in New York,where friends got together in their house to work.

“We loved working from home,but missed the creative brainstorming,sharing and camaraderie of a traditional office. (Office politics,not so much),” says the Jelly website. Working in a common space led to interesting conversations and the birth of new ideas. Jelly took the best things about office — dressing up for work and meeting interesting people — and removed the worst—mean-spirited computer chairs,vending machine salvoes and unreasonable bosses.

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Gupta and Crawford spread the Jelly concept and today,the idea is being replicated across 100 cities,in houses and cafes,from Sydney to Paris to Lima to Beijing to New Delhi. Jelly founders encourage people to start their own co-working groups in their cities and provide them basic information through email.

Maria,an Italian who works for a multi-media firm in Delhi and “has always been interested in new forms and spaces of work”,has helped organise a Jelly meet at Cafe Oz,located in Delhi’s upscale Khan Market,nearly every week for the last month. On a Wednesday morning,as shopkeepers sweep their porches,flower sellers furiously spray tiger lilies and a few early customers wander around,Cafe Oz—in the market’s middle lane—is relatively crowded with heads bent over laptops. There are no idle coffee drinkers feeding on club sandwiches and gossip. Instead,everyone is engrossed in their own work in their own space. A new person is welcomed with a smile and introductory questions but then people get back to their work. Everyone here is following the Jelly rule: “Bring a laptop (or whatever you need to get your work done) and a friendly disposition.” Ann,from the US,who works in a social enterprise for green energy,is drawn to the meet because she can meet others,exchange ideas and work.

The idea is still wobbly in Delhi which has more bureaucrats and ministers than entrepreneurs and freelancers. But there is a potential market. Deepika Sinha,a Delhi-based freelance writer,complains about the lack of public spaces where she can write her book. “I don’t like to sit at home every day. I go in search of cafes where other people are working too. I don’t like to be the only one at a computer. I don’t want to feel I’m the only person in the city who doesn’t have a real job!”


In other cities,co-working groups have sprung up as well,some inspired by Jelly and some having thought of the idea themselves. Bangalore has a co-working group in Jaaga Creative Common Ground,Mumbai has the Bombay Hub.

In a DIY building in Bangalore,fashioned out of industrial pallet racks,with a vertical garden for a façade and bright red canvas and recycled plastic for walls,it is a handful of start-ups that have found their perfect working space. Most of them incubated by Freeman Murray,a former computer programmer and co-founder of the Jaaga Creative Common Ground,a modular space that hosts art and technology communities. They occupy open,colourful booths on two levels of the “building”,a far cry from the glass-and-steel tech parks dotting the city. “It’s a cool space to work in. And the other start-ups that operate from here make it even better,” says Deepan Chakravarthy,co-founder of HashCube,a gaming app company whose Sudoku game is among the most popular on Facebook.

Chakravarthy and his four colleagues work on the first floor,immersed in their MacBooks,earphones plugged in,oblivious,it would seem,to the world around them. Jaaga also has a full-time co-working facility,where the co-workers are techies-in-residence,enjoying access to free power and internet — thanks to donations and grants — in return for their contribution to the community,such as organising tech meets and writing blogs.


Working alongside each other for almost a year now,they’ve become thick pals and associates who lunch together and use each other’s products. HashCube uses their co-working start-up Aplopio’s recruitment software,for instance. Murray works in the common room on the first floor,indie music from his laptop filling the space. A digital video chandelier of three computers — monitors,keyboards and cables strung together — is suspended down to the lower level,symbolic of Jaaga’s keen interest in the role of technology in art and society.

Shashi Singh,a co-worker whose company Mauryan Web has developed CAT Ninja,a popular online MBA preparation tool,says,“Getting up every day and going somewhere to work brings a certain discipline. Having other people around you,who are also working on their own start-ups,is helpful because it leads to an exchange of ideas. I might think of a certain strategy and can get instant feedback and insights from other founders during a tea break.”

Says Goldee Udani,whose company Beevolve works out of Jaaga and provides social media marketing and monitoring solutions,“We can learn from each other’s experiences by not making the same mistakes.” Of course,at Jaaga,there’s the added advantage of film screenings,performances and interactions with resident artists,making it one of Bangalore’s most creative endeavours.

If Jaaga is the techie co-working space,Bombay Hub in Mumbai is the co-working space for activists. Started a year-and-a-half ago,it is a collaborative space for social entrepreneurs. With its large sunlit and airy rooms,it is “one space in Mumbai for people with ideas and a passion for change”.

Unlike Jelly,members here pay an “affordable membership (packages are for the hour,month or year) depending on their individual needs and necessities”,says Guncha Khare,Hub host. The facilities include work desks (for full-time or flexi-time),wireless internet,printer,scanner and copier,spaces to hold meetings and conduct workshops and shared spaces such as a library,a terrace and a kitchen.


Bombay Hub also works on building skills of social entrepreneurs through workshops and clinics,says Khare. It has provided a space for people from different backgrounds who work for social change. Sweta Mangal,CEO of Dial 1928 for Ambulance (a nationwide network of ambulance services),who has been part of events at Bombay Hub for over a year,says,“The world of social enterprise is small. So it is great to meet like-minded young people here.”

As more young people take to entrepreneurship,freelancing and working from home — co-working is here to stay. Goodbye office cubicle. Hello coffee shop and co-workers.

by Nandini Nair and V Shoba

First published on: 19-12-2010 at 02:48:49 pm
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