Mumbai-based tax consultant CK Tyagi, who runs boutique firm CKT Tax Consulting, was in a fix as the return filing season started drawing to a close. His team of 12 people was finding it tough to coordinate and constant connectivity issues meant delays. Tyagi therefore booked a boutique hotel in Mahabaleshwar, in Maharashtra’s Satara district, where his team has been working for the past three weeks. All the employees had to test negative for Covid-19 before the travel.
“I could not force employees to come to office since their families would have been at risk of infection. This ‘work bubble’ arrangement helps get work done more efficiently. Yes, there are costs involved but again we saved up by leasing out our office and doing away with any form of travel since April,” he added.
In Goa, Daniel Vaz has hosted four corporates from Mumbai since September at his two homestays in Calangute. But unlike the pre-coronavirus (Covid-19) period, the teams were smaller and did not step out of the villas even once during their two-week stay.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, companies are avoiding offsites and large team getaways. Instead of abandoning these activities, however, they are opting for work-bubbles that would be boutique properties or homestays that teams of four to six people visit and use for work purposes. Since it has a limited and private space for a set group, it is considered safer than large hotels.
“We earlier had corporates sending their teams purely for leisure activities for one to two days — there would be conferences followed by parties and beach visits. Now, the stays are at least two to three weeks and there is an emphasis on staying in at all times,” said Vaz.
Premium holiday home rental company Vista Rooms is also seeing a rise in demand among startups for homestays that could be a work-bubble for a team. Here the teams stay and work together for a fixed period.
India has 9.54 million Covid-19 positive cases of which 4,22,943 cases are currently in active status. The death toll stands at 1,38,648. While overall Covid-19 numbers are on the decline across the country, corporates will wait for vaccine availability before completely resuming physical office work.
In the meanwhile, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings due to Covid-19. Due to this, collaboration between teams has been tough. Work bubbles are a way around that challenge.
What is a work bubble?
Rather than work-from-home, where coordination sometimes becomes difficult, critical teams are taken to a small hotel, villa or homestay and made to reside there for up to one month.
Due to Covid-19, outdoor activities are avoided. The teams stay together and collaborate on special projects planned by the companies.
Vaz said that beachside parties and gatherings are avoided due to the pandemic. But indoor activities such as team lunches and games are preferred as part of the bonding exercise. There is also a special emphasis on not sharing the property with any other group of people.
Why is it popular?
As India has moved into the unlock phase, companies seem to be eager to get together to plan business growth and strategies for the future.
Amit Damani, co-founder of Vista Rooms, told Moneycontrol that since October, a work bubble culture has been starting up. He said well-funded startups (Series C plus category) have primarily been opting for it.
“We had companies like PharmEasy and Mobile Premier League opting for private properties where teams could reside and work together. It is mostly groups of 6-12 people that are brought in to work on special projects or collaborate on future strategies,” he added.
He also said that since these are smaller properties, there is an advantage of exclusivity and privacy.
Dharmik Sheth, co-founder, PharmEasy said that the company believes in rediscovering pleasure in work by working in leisure.
"Thus we shifted from concrete to lush green backdrop, amidst unforgiving landscape and nature. Such proximity with nature has helped me to be more motivated and productive," he added.
‘Work bubbles’ are popular in Silicon Valley, where individuals working on a crucial project take up a bungalow/villa and reside together for a few weeks till their tasks are complete. This collaborative approach helps companies finish projects much quicker and it is easier to connect with team members.
Will this continue?
Delhi-based employee engagement consultant Fiona Cardoz told Moneycontrol that there is a rise in enquiries from mid-sized companies on ways to replace offsite meetings effectively.
“These ‘work bubbles’ are efficient and safer because only select employees will be allowed on these trips. This could also be used as a performance incentive to encourage healthy competition among staff. Here, top performers could be part of these work bubbles for as long as three to four weeks,” she added.
The consensus among human resource professionals and hospitality experts is that this is a trend that will continue.
Damani said that sectors such as IT, where teams are part of special projects, could opt for ‘work bubbles’ to ensure that work gets done quicker.
“This shift to opting for private and boutique stays for work purposes has been unlocked due to Covid-19. But it will continue as corporates realise this works well and is also cost effective,” he added.