Until recently, Pooja Maitra, a Kolkata-based media professional and mother of a four-year-old girl, had a nickname for her car: mobile office. She often used it for work after dropping her daughter off at school while waiting to pick her up.
Despite all her ailments – the car got excruciatingly hot and the laptop wasn’t easy to charge – it helped Maitra juggle her career and her family. Sometimes she chose to sit in a cafe, but it was expensive.
That changed when she discovered Happy Works, a coworking space introduced by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation or HIDCO, a public sector company, in the city’s New Town district.
The Happy Works space basically consists of work pods, which provide a comfortable setting for people to work – at minimal rates. The charge is Rs 30 for the first hour and a half (90 minutes), after which one would have to pay Rs 20 for each additional hour. Many customers also reserve the pods on a monthly basis by paying a one-time fee at the beginning of the month.
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These pods have been installed at three locations in New Town and are attracting more and more freelancers, aspiring entrepreneurs and, of course, working mothers. Most people using these pods had abandoned their rented offices during the pandemic. “I’m so glad the government came up with something like this,” user Sukanya Guha said. She too is the mother of a five-year-old child and is working on the creation of her startup, a recruitment firm.
The work modules, painted bright yellow, were installed over an area of over 800 square feet. There are about 20 work desks; each is numbered and comes with a shelf.
This is an air-conditioned space with free high-speed Wi-Fi. People also have the option of working on the roof in the winter.
For many clients, especially young mothers, working from home isn’t always the most convenient option. On the one hand, many families do not take women’s careers seriously enough. In addition, it is difficult to concentrate on the constant demands of family members.
The work pods are open every seven days, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Work pods are the coolest thing in our town today,” said Maitra, who is now a regular user.
Beyond the obvious convenience, clients also enjoy working with a diverse set of people, exchanging ideas, and socializing.
“I come every month to hold meetings and meet my teammates. Earlier I used to book in Kolkata, government is setting up coworking spaces, charges Rs 30 for 90 mins
hotels for such meetings, but now I am booking the conference room for these work packages. They charge me Rs 200 per hour,” says Abhinav Biswas, 44, who runs the East Zone of a start-up that works on women’s hygiene.
The first of three work packages was inaugurated in August 2021 by Minister of State Firhad Hakim and HIDCO Chairman and CEO Debasis Sen.
“These pods are gaining popularity with each passing day, not only because they are very affordable – only Rs 20 per hour – but also because they are very conveniently located,” Sen said. “The idea of charging money for these pods was just to recoup wifi and electricity expenses, not to earn profit.
These work packages have now been given to self-help groups. About 20 to 25 women take turns leading the three work modules in Newtown.
In the next phase, HIDCO is working on setting up a larger coworking space with a co-living option as well.