Impact of Work from Home and Rise of Coworking Spaces on the Bengal Real Estate Sector
The COVID-19 pandemic had forced the world to undergo an overnight change with respect to the way it conducted both its personal and professional lives. It brought about boom in some industries, such as e-commerce, ed-tech, etc. and stagnation in others such as travel, hospitality, etc. The real estate industry also underwent some drastic changes, which has affected various stakeholders.
Encouraging Government Interventions
In the recently convened National Conference of Labour Ministers of all States and Union Territories, the Prime Minister said that “flexible workplaces, a work-from-home ecosystem, and flexible work hours” are the needs of the future. Another development with a similar vision of flexible workplaces was the Special Economic Zones (Third Amendment) Rules, 2022 and the Special Economic Zones (Fifth Amendment) Rules, 2022.
On 14th July, 2022, notification no. G.S.R. 576(E) was published by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India promulgating the Special Economic Zones (Third Amendment) Rules, 2022, which permitted work from home for Special Economic Zone (“SEZ”) employees and solidified the legal framework of work from home and remote working. By this notification, Rule 43A was added to the SEZ Rules, 2006 which enabled employees (including contractual employees) to work from home or from any other place outside the SEZ up to a maximum of fifty percent of the total employees of the SEZ Unit. It extends to employees of the IT and ITes SEZ units, employees who are temporarily incapacitated, employees who are travelling and also employees who are working offsite. In order to avail itself of this, the SEZ Unit had to submit its proposal for working from home to the Development Commissioner through email or physical application at least 15 days in advance.
However, on 8th December 2022, the Ministry published another notification bearing no. G.S.R. 868(E), bringing about the Special Economic Zones (Fifth Amendment) Rules, 2022, which granted further relaxations to the SEZ work from home norms. By virtue of this amendment, the percentage of employees who can work from home has been increased from 50% to 100% till 31st December 2023. It is also no longer mandatory to get prior approval of the proposal for work from home, and the SEZ unit owners are only required to intimate the same to the Development Commissioner.
Due to pandemic/lockdowns, most officegoers started working from home or remotely. Although remote working existed even before the pandemic, especially among freelancers, it was because of the pandemic that most businesses were forced to adapt to this mode of working even for full-time employees. Although the world is back to normal at present, both employers and employees are refusing to go back to the traditional office setup. The December 8, 2022 notification will now further encourage IT companies and their employees to opt for work from home in the SEZs.
Increase in Demand for Residential Spaces & Shifting of People to Tier 2 And Tier 3 Cities
Another interesting trend that has come out of this pandemic is the increase in demand for bigger residential spaces, including luxurious and semi-luxurious apartments. As per the reports of CREDAI, Bengal, the sales of 2 BHK apartments have gone down from 48% in 2019 to 40% in 2021, while on the other hand, sales of 3 BHK apartments have gone up significantly from 44% in 2019 to 54% in 2021. The sales of 4 BHK apartments have also more than doubled during the same period, going up from 2% in 2019 to 4.7% in 2021. This increase in demand for luxurious residences has taken place since individuals who work from home prefer an apartment with a home office, and therefore, they are leaning towards larger residential spaces.
The demand for residential real estate is highly dependent on where people go to work, as people prefer to live near their workplaces in order to minimise travel. Now that a large group of people are not required to physically to work regularly, they are shifting to tier 2, tier 3 cities and suburban areas from the metro areas as these places offer affordable housing options and a better standard of living at a lower cost. The tier 2 cities across India have witnessed healthy investment in residential real estate in recent years, with more residential project launches by developers.
Rise of Co-Working Spaces
As a result of the change in mindset of employers and employees, a new form of commercial real estate has gained popularity recently, namely, “co-working spaces.” A lot of companies, especially small businesses and start-ups have opted for this model across India instead of investing in individual spaces, as it offers both cost-effectiveness and flexibility. Some of the reputed coworking spaces, such as Colliers, Awfis, Coworks have already set up spaces in different cities across India. Due to this huge demand for coworking spaces, companies such as Awfis, Workport Coworking, East India Works Eden, My Cube and Seamus Management have already set up coworking spaces in Kolkata.
Now that offices are transitioning from work-from-home models to hybrid models and some workplaces are also calling their employees back to the office, the demand for office space and coworking space transactions has started to pick up again. Although the employees of the IT/ITeS sector in SEZs still have the liberty to work from home, most employers in other sectors have mandated that employees come back to the office. It will be interesting to see if the volume of rentals and leasing in office spaces goes back to the pre pandemic conditions or is affected by the rise of “co working spaces” and the new notification dated December 8, 2022 allowing 100% work from home in SEZs until December 31, 2023.
Now that offices are transitioning from work-from-home models to hybrid models and some workplaces are also calling their employees back to the office, the demand for office space and coworking space transactions has started to pick up again. Although the employees of the IT/ITeS sector in SEZs still have the liberty to work from home, most employers in other sectors have mandated that employees come back to the office.