How rental housing firms in India are transforming spaces to cater to WFH

Rental housing companies say corporates are willing to sponsor stays for their employees so that they can live closer to the office under a safe and hygienic setup.
OYO Life
OYO Life
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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to a WFH (work from home) culture in the ‘new normal’. However, with employees working from home, concerns have arisen over issues such as data theft, unsecured access, interrupted power supply and internet connectivity. Sensing an opportunity here, rental housing companies have started approaching corporates for developing WFH development centres or hybrid workplaces for them. These centres will have dedicated space/ floors for companies where their employees can work and live.

The idea is that rather than having a distributed workforce delivering from home, it may be advantageous to have WFH development centres, where the corporates can house a good chunk of their resources and deliver. This could lead to data security, confidentiality, better control over delivery due to 24/7 power, dependable high-speed internet, etc., and also translate to lower costs with close office campus experience.

Guesture, a company offering co-living spaces, is planning to develop such centres with a long-term commitment on safety and security standards for both companies and individual employees, where they can work and live. Guesture will launch its first project under this category by the end of this month in Bengaluru and says it can provide uninterrupted service to corporates as the company has its own land bank and buildings.

Guesture is in talks with companies in the technology, IT, FMCG and startup sectors to provide them with such tailor-made spaces.

Sriram Chitturi, Guesture’s founder and founding President of the Rental Housing Association of India, says that the pandemic has highlighted the need for organising the rental housing sector and the transition from the unorganised to the organised sector has already gained momentum. “Unorganised players will be losing out substantially because governments have started enforcing rules on the number of people that can be accommodated in a particular space. Also, unorganised players will not be able to offer infrastructure that supports WFH,” he says.

In WFH development centres, each room of an apartment is a self-contained private cabin, with an office desk, ergonomic chair, queen size cot, cupboard, bookshelf and a toilet. Only the hall, dining room and the kitchen will be shared among the residents of that apartment. In order to meet the physical distancing norms, one room will be occupied by only one individual.

“Even after following all the norms, we’ll be able to provide ample work/ living space to each tenant. We have a wide range of offerings where an individual will get anywhere between 400 sq ft to 600 sq ft, as against 80-100 sq ft in a commercial building. There will be only two people in a 2 BHK apartment of 800 sq ft and only three people in a 1,800 sq ft apartment,” Sriram says.

WFH development centres offer a hybrid model that closely simulates the office experience and addresses many negatives of the WFH model, both from the employer’s and the employees’ perspective. “The hybrid model enables teams to live, work, play and socialise from a healthy, safe and diligently controlled environment. This also solves employee mobility and availability issues, team interaction, data security and productivity concerns, and SLA (service level agreement) compliance challenges,” Sriram says.

“We’re reaching out to MNCs and tech companies as they’ll have to go back to their clients and give a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) during such pandemics, and we are providing the most probable solution for the same. Companies /employees are now worried about the living conditions as well, since they don’t necessarily live in houses but in shared accommodations like PGs, where the chances of being susceptible to the virus are high. This model will address that concern as well,” he adds.

OYO Life, OYO’s long-term rental housing business, is another player that is reorienting itself to offer solutions to working professionals in the new normal. “Interestingly, we’ve seen that many corporates are willing to sponsor stays for their employees so that the employees can live closer to the office under a safe and hygienic setup, and we expect this trend to continue. The current organised co-living market is a very small fraction of the overall co-living market. Further, post unlock, we’ve also seen a positive trend in demand with a clear preference for properties that are close to commercial hubs /tech parks. We therefore continue to grow our supply with a focus on being closer to commercial spaces,” says Ankit Gupta, Chief Operating Officer & SVP – Frontier Businesses, OYO India and South Asia.

The working environment is continuously changing with many corporates now evaluating the adoption of hybrid workplace models. Virtual has become the new reality and work from home is no more just an alternative to a physical office but a practical solution given the importance of employee safety and well-being. With managers moving away from micromanaging daily tasks, the flexible working arrangement has resulted in a noticeable improvement in overall employee productivity, Ankit adds.

“At OYO Life, we are innovating to be the preferred option for customers in the new reality. We’re seeing significant growth in demand for private room options and are therefore providing this as an option to our customers, thereby catering to their needs for safe and hygienic accommodation with distancing norms. We have upgraded the wi-fi plans to ensure higher internet bandwidth in our buildings to cater to the WFH demands in the current situation. We have also upgraded our kitchen facilities to enable residents to prepare food in a safe, hygienic environment,” Ankit says.

With unpredictable job scenarios, simple contracts and flexibility tops the list of priorities for customers. “To ease the burden on the wallet, we’re offering customers a deferred security deposit plan. Under the plan, residents can check-in without paying a security deposit upfront and can pay the same after completion of one month stay,” Ankit adds.

Guesture is planning to expand the WFH development centre concept to other cities such as Hyderabad, Vizag, etc. based on the demand.

“We feel that this concept is going to evolve significantly across India as the pandemic has enforced the new normal on both corporates and people. We’re anticipating more rental housing players to adopt this model and build hybrid centres across the country,” Sriram adds.

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