In tandem with global trends, India has swiftly embraced the concept of co-working spaces. In major Indian cities, shared working spaces have emerged as a haven for new entrepreneurs, startups and independent professionals. Two Chennai residents have taken this popular trend and adapted it into an initiative for female professionals, particularly working mothers.
W2, a co-working space exclusively for women, was launched in Chennai this month.
Behind the initiative for women are two women themselves, Vandhana Ramanathan and Jinal Patel. The two run Let’s Shout Out Social, a Chennai-based digital agency, and their personal experiences as female professionals led to the start of W2.
“I am a mother myself,” says Vandhana. “My biggest issue was travel — my office was located far — and I had to ultimately leave the job.” As Vandhana and Jinal got together for work, they realised that women everywhere faced similar issues. Their solution was developing a chain of co-working spaces exclusively for women.
“We wanted to ensure that women don’t have to travel too much for work,” says Vandhana. “Our first workspace is an independent house in a residential neighbourhood and we want all our workspaces to be in similar areas. It retains a feel-at-home quality and cuts down on travel time as well.”
The first W2 workspace is located in Chennai’s Adyar neighbourhood and a second workspace is slated to come up in the Malad locality of Mumbai.
The W2 workspace comes with all the amenities of a regular co-working space, but also takes into consideration the unique needs of women.
Along with WiFi and coffee machines – the mandatory trappings of shared workspaces — Vandhana and Jinal’s workspace includes a yoga and fitness room for women to work out or take meditation breaks. The chairs are ergonomically designed, particular keeping in mind pregnant women and new mothers.
There’s also a concierge service, which women can avail for groceries, home-cooked meal takeaways and other sundry services. “We wanted to ensure that the women working here are left free of any chores when they are done with work.”
In order to ascertain the specific needs of women, Vandhana and Pallavi ran a two-month pilot project before the official launch and used the feedback they received to enhance the workspace.
“Women want workspaces to be where they can be themselves. We have made sure that there’s a lot of space for women to walk around, sit more comfortably and relax. We also have a garden and patio,” says Vandhana. “We wanted to have a day care centre, but realised that the women found it difficult to work amidst the noise and activities. As a result, we have planned a day care centre right around the corner, and will have similar daycare centres located right next to all our workspaces.”
The co-working space comes with three plans. Users can reserve their spot for just a day, or a few days every month, or regular everyday plans. There are provisions for working in open areas as well as private spaces for individuals and groups.
With this new venture, Vandhana and Jinal hope to create vantage points for women to further or even resume their careers.
“We want women to come back to work,” says Vandhana, drawing attention to the number of women whose careers are hampered by breaks and maternity commitments. “We found women who had perhaps stopped working after a baby or a break, and they couldn’t or simply didn’t know how to get back to work.”
The W2 spaces is an attempt at giving women not only congenial workspaces, but also an opportunity to network, build business contacts and explore new opportunities. Vandhana and Jinal are concentrating on building their enterprise as incubation spaces for startups and young entrepreneurs.
They are also organising events for members, like an upcoming workshop on financial planning. “These workshops are for everyone, from professionals to housewife because a subject like planning finances is important for everyone.”
With their first workspace up and running, the duo is now planning more workspaces around the country. “We want to launch five more workspaces around Chennai since we are here,” says Vandhana. “Our Mumbai space is set for launch, and we also want to expand to Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad this year.”
They are also planning collaborations with corporates to facilitate workspaces for women closer to their homes and also tying up with daycare centres. With an ambitious plan in place, this shared working space is certainly one of its kind.