Until recently, Kolkata-based Pooja Maitra, a media professional and mother of a four-year-old girl, had a nickname for her car: Mobile Office. She often used it to take her daughter to work while waiting to pick her up after school.
For all its ills – the car would overheat and the laptop was not easy to charge – it helped Maitra link up her career and family. Sometimes, she loved to sit in a cafe, but working out of these was expensive.
This changed when he discovered Happy Works, a co-working space started by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation or HIDCO, a public sector undertaking, in the city’s New Town area.
Happy Works Spaces essentially includes working pods, which provide a comfortable setting for people to work in – at minimal rates. The fee is Rs 30 for the first one and a half hours (90 minutes), after which Rs 20 will have to be paid for each additional hour. Many customers also book pods on a monthly basis by paying a one-time fee at the beginning of the month.
These pods have been installed at three locations in New Town and are increasingly attracting freelancers, up-and-coming entrepreneurs and of course working moms. Most of the people using these pods had left their rented offices during the pandemic. User Sukanya Guha said, ‘I am very happy that the government has come up with something like this. She is also the mother of a five-year-old and is working to set up her own startup, a recruitment firm.
The working pods, painted bright yellow, are installed over an area of over 800 square feet. There are about 20 work desks; Each is numbered and comes with a bookshelf.
It is an air-conditioned venue with free high-speed Wi-Fi. People also have the option of working from the roof in winter.
For many clients, especially young mothers, working from home is not always the most convenient option. For one, many families do not take women’s career seriously. In addition, it is hard to focus on the constant demands of family members.
Working pods are open from 9 am to 8 pm on all seven days.
“Working pods are the best thing in our city today,” said Maitra, who is now a regular user.
Beyond the obvious convenience, clients also enjoy working with a variety of people, exchanging ideas, and socializing.
“I come every month to hold meetings and meet my colleagues. Earlier I used to book in Kolkata, government sets up co-working spaces, charges Rs 30 for 90 minutes
Hotels for such meetings but now I book the conference room of these working pods. They charge me Rs 200 an hour,” said 44-year-old Abhinav Biswas, who heads the eastern region of a start-up working on women’s hygiene.
The first of the three working pods was inaugurated in August 2021 by Minister of State Firhad Hakim and HIDCO Chairman and Managing Director Debasis Sen.
“These pods are gaining popularity with each passing day, not only because they are very affordable – just Rs 20 per hour – but also because they are very conveniently located,” said Sen. “The idea behind charging some money for these pods was just to charge for WiFi and electricity, not to make a profit.”
These working pods have now been handed over to SHGs. About 20-25 women in Newtown operate the three working pods in turn.
In the next phase, HIDCO is working towards setting up a larger co-working space with the option of co-living.