It’s 9 am. You walk to the coffee shop, sit at your usual table and order a sumptuous breakfast. Meanwhile, you boot your laptop and answer e-mails. By the time you’ve drained your coffee, your productive workday has begun. Wait a minute; did we forget to mention that you’re already at work?

Colaba-Social-6With its part-office, part-cafe vibe, the newly opened Colaba Social is inviting freelancers to be part of a relaxed work environment, bursting with artists and innovators who work 9 to 6, if they must. “We’ve seen how people use cafes. We’re only making it official,” says founder Riyaaz Amlani, of Cafe Mocha fame, about his latest venture. The Social serves food and beverages to walk-in customers and turns into a bar post sunset. It’s notoriously hard to snag a table in the evening — the relatively cheap alcohol being one of the star attractions. Simultaneously, a handpicked group of freelancers is given a spot at a carefully curated co-working table and armed with access to printers, stationery and the occasional boardroom, all for a monthly rent that is fully redeemable against food and drink.

When freelancing first started making headlines as a career option, working from home was a coveted lifestyle choice, a clear break from the tedium of a 9 to 5 desk job. At home, though, work usually fights a losing battle against the bed and the kitchen. For Meghna Das, a freelance content designer in Bangalore, cafes were a viable alternative. “In college, I would go to a quiet cafe with whatever I was working on. It was peaceful and I felt like I got more done in less time,” she says.

It helps that cafes are everywhere, and that they usually have free Wi-Fi and plug points. Decibel levels can be high, but the noise often helps distracted workers focus. Yet, working in a cafe can be an awkward affair; how long can you nurse a single cup of coffee and block a table? Co-working spaces alleviate that uncertainty. With flexible pricing plans that let you pay for a predetermined number of work hours, they’re also an attractive option for start-ups and satellite enterprises that would rather avoid the hassle of renting and maintaining a space.

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Colaba-Social---Community-TableCo-working attracts a large number of professionals from the media, culture, travel and technology sectors — groups that benefit from a collaborative working environment, where people with skills that complement each other can team up and find new opportunities. Many spaces actively function as start-up incubators, organising workshops and events for their co-working clients. As Sharin Bhatti of The Hive, in Bandra, puts it, “They help each other find jobs, make connections, find reasons to work with each other. It’s very organic. The whole idea is to grow with them and help them grow.”

Most shared workspaces encourage freelancers to change desks and interact with new groups of people. The emphasis is on making work as mobile as it gets. For the occasional conference or meeting, you can have access to a boardroom, but you could just as easily walk out of office one evening and never return. Until a few months ago, as marketing manager for the Bangalore-based India Foundation for the Arts, art writer Jigna Padhiar worked out of Bombay Connect, one of Mumbai’s oldest co-working spaces. She was inspired by her co-workers’ diverse backgrounds, but seeing people at work all the time sometimes made her feel anxious and stressed, reducing her productivity. The floating populace meant that she also missed the sense of attachment she may have felt in a conventional office environment with a structured team.

At Bangalore’s Jaaga, which is now housed in a bungalow after its first avatar as a rickety multi-level workspace held up by scaffolding, museum professional Tejshvi Jain echoed this need. Once Jain started undertaking field projects, she found it hard to keep up with happenings at Jaaga. “I met many design and technology professionals, and there was a lot of cross-pollination while I was physically present, but I wish they had a stronger online communication system that would let me stay connected on the go.”

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Bombay-Connect-4Things might change, with a growing number of freelancers looking for flexible, yet sustained, working environments that comfortably let them segue between the offline and online worlds. The people behind Social, for instance, put the exchange of knowledge at the top of their to-do list, with boot camps and conferences for creative entrepreneurs. Both workspaces and freelancers are eager to be part of ‘ecosystems’, albeit temporary ones, in which they can bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and also work in solitude when the need arises. As Amlani puts it, “People are loving Colaba Social because they enjoy working in a highly charged environment. They don’t come to us for our high-speed internet or printers and scanners; our biggest offering is collaboration. Coffee shops of the future are going to be like Social.”

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