Sri Lanka’s flexible workspace industry to ‘boom’ during pandemic?

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In conversation with The Executive Centre’s Group MD Nidhi Marwah and Head of Sales – Sri Lanka Clifford Surendran

The Executive Centre (TEC) is a leading player in the flexible workspace industry for 26 consecutive years. TEC has been expanded to 14 countries, and Sri Lanka has been in the market of flexible workspaces with TEC since 2017.

TEC Head of Sales – Sri Lanka Clifford Surendran

Speaking to The Morning Business exclusively, TEC Group Managing Director (MD) Nidhi Marwah shared the inspiration behind TEC entering the flexible workspace industry and the market in Sri Lanka, her thoughts on current trends in the industry in the context of Sri Lanka, future plans for the company related to the prevailing pandemic, related industries, and the opportunities as well as the contribution of TEC to the country’s economy.

In terms of the inspiration behind getting established in the flexible workspace industry, Marwah stated that the dearth of premium flexi work options paved the way to the establishment of TEC, which was why TEC Founder, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Chairman Paul Salnikow commenced this venture.

“Colombo is a pretty new entrance, even though we’ve championed the privacy model enterprise solution for the last 26-plus years,” said Marwah, emphasising that in spite of the company’s establishment in Colombo having taken place very recently – almost four years ago, in the month of October of 2017 – TEC, as a company, has had the expertise of this said industry for more than a quarter century. 

TEC Group Managing Director (MD) Nidhi Marwah

When it came to selecting the location for TEC in Colombo, the company initially chose the World Trade Centre (WTC) and later also opened in MagaOne the same year. Marwah said: “The WTC has been such a wonderful setup for us (TEC) because we are not the end users, we are catering to other clients,” she said, implying that the WTC was identified as a potential location because the flexible workspace industry clients consider the work environment when choosing workspaces. She added, however, that the company too provides the service of flexibility to the client, which they were able to do through their spaces at the WTC.

Adding to this, TEC Head of Sales – Sri Lanka Clifford Surendran said: “No matter what, WTC will always be Sri Lanka’s number one business, as it is also in a prestigious location,” adding that industry demand is completely reliant on location and setting, where, in the case of the WTC, you wouldn’t find people coming and spend time merely because there is a work space available but rather because they have a business purpose.

TEC Group Managing Director (MD) Nidhi Marwah

The WTC is renowned as an iconic location of the city of Colombo with two 39-storey office towers along with a central four-storey retail podium. These two towers, in fact, house over 750,000 square feet of prime office space while providing an exceptional platform for businesses and networking opportunities for local, international, and multinational companies.

The WTC is owned by the World Trade Centres Association (WTCA), which is a trusted, global facilitator in international business connections with a network of more than 325 businesses and organisations in nearly 100 countries.

Both the locations of TEC, i.e. WTC and MagaOne, currently consist of more than 400 workstations, and was a total investment of over Rs. 400 million.

In terms of the market status in Sri Lanka, with regard to the aforesaid industry, Surendran said: “It is pretty much a landlord-dominated market in Sri Lanka, as the cost of setting up an office is so expensive,” highlighting that the workspace solution provided by TEC bears the burden of the costly infrastructure. He stressed that building an office becomes a Himalayan task due to the fact that focus needs to be given not only on building the space but also on “capex such as furniture, interior fitout, cabling, wiring, etc.” Thus, the flexible workspace market in Sri Lanka offers an interest-free office space – “which TEC is a reliable provider of”.

Talking about the presence of TEC as a space solution enterprise in Sri Lanka, he further said in Sri Lanka they have a clientele of 15 to 18 companies in both locations, which he anticipates will increase to 20 soon. He further said: “70% of our (TEC) clientele is from multinational companies, while the rest of the (workstations) are used by workers of country offices, local SMEs (small and medium enterprises), and a couple of start-ups.”

Speaking about the current trends in the aforementioned industry, Marwah said: “There is a huge demand for workspaces, and we are also seeing an opening up of the conventional mindset of having your own space.” This trend is a response to how hassle-free it is to hire a workspace rather than have one’s own.

Furthermore, she said that the client’s privacy as well as security can be assured in this sort of workspace environment. “There is absolute focus on privacy; data privacy, personal privacy, data security, and private security,” she said.

In the early days of the industry, the services provided were only focused on commercial matters. Now, on the contrary, the industry has been able to render their workspace coupled with ensuring security and privacy along with the ability of being flexible. Marwah elaborated that this was what was developed after so many years of experience, “without diluting the quality” of the brand, despite the challenging situations that TEC faced throughout its journey in the industry. 

When it comes to the outlook of Sri Lanka’s current trends regarding the workspace market, Surendran said: “As a company, we always follow the global trends, but when it comes to locality, the country has its own local trends.” Being adaptable to the domestic need in the industry, which is a business opportunity, while maintaining the global standard, is paramount, he said. 

“In terms of businesses, most people are downsizing, not because of anything but because of the pandemic, as they want to work from home (WFH) and also want to minimise cost,” he said, explaining that the circumstances of the industry have changed at present due to the pandemic-mitigating measures adopted where many clients have commenced WFH; meanwhile, the need to lower cost is also being observed as the major trend, meaning there is a demand in the industry of flexible workspaces. Therefore, TEC has been able to be resistant to this dynamic situation in the domestic market while offering the required flexibility to its clientele, said Surendran.

He further elaborated that a client can sign up for a workspace with TEC via “a very easy, instant solution with zero hassle”. 

Sustainability and the expansion of the current business are the future plans of TEC, said the MD. “We are definitely looking at continuing to flourish there (two TEC  locations in Sri Lanka),” she said, highlighting that TEC is always on the lookout for a vibrant market in Colombo to set up their world-class, quality office spaces. 

During the pandemic, Marwah foresees that the flexible workspace industry will not survive “but boom” because people will be looking for flexible office setups, as it is difficult to WFH for a long period of time – and the pandemic itself has proven that, she said.

Also, she believes “everything changes”, that people will adapt to the social distancing measures and continue hiring office spaces in order to work even during the pandemic. “It will take two years,” she said, anticipating that there is a possibility of a hybrid work environment where people work in shifts in order to report to office. 

At the same time, she accepts that individuals need to be flexible enough to tolerate the ongoing circumstances in order to go through the difficult times; “after all, man is a sociable being”. 

“Flexibility is the middle name of this industry,” said Marwah, emphasising TEC’s understanding of the industry. 

Moreover, TEC always “hires local talent”, she added, indicating the contribution of their company to the economy of Sri Lanka. 

Adding, Head of Sales Surendran said: “As a multinational company, we are investing in Sri Lanka while bringing new businesses to Sri Lanka. We are helping in setting up company operations of Sri Lanka, as there are globally recognised companies that are clients of TEC Sri Lanka.”

In conclusion, TEC is “a partner, a mentor, a resource, a network, a platform” for ambitious professionals who look forward to being successful in the world of business.

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