Until recently, Kolkata-based Pooja Maitra, a media professional and a mother of a four-year-old girl, had a nickname for her car: mobile office. She would often use it to work in after dropping off her daughter at school while waiting to pick her up.
For all its ills—the car would get excruciatingly hot and it was not easy to charge the laptop—it helped Maitra juggle her career and family. Sometimes, she would choose to sit at a cafe, but working out of these was expensive.
This changed when she discovered Happy Works, a co-working space introduced by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation or HIDCO, a public sector undertaking, in the city’s New Town area.
The Happy Works space essentially comprises working pods, which provide a comfortable setting for people to work — at minimal rates. The charge is Rs 30 for the first hour-and-a-half (90 minutes), after which one would have to pay Rs 20 for each additional hour. Many customers also book the pods on a monthly basis by paying a one-time charge at the beginning of the month.
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These pods have been set up at three locations in New Town and are increasingly attracting freelancers, upcoming entrepreneurs and, of course, working mothers. Most of the people using these pods had let go of their rented offices during the pandemic. “I am so happy that the government has come up with something like this,” said user Sukanya Guha. She, too, is the mother of a five-year-old and is working to establish her startup, a recruitment firm.
The working pods, painted in vibrant yellow, have been set up on an 800-plus sq ft area. There are about 20 working desks; each one is numbered and comes with a bookshelf.
It is an air-conditioned space with free high-speed Wi-Fi. People also have the option of working from the rooftop in winters.
For many customers, especially young mothers, working from home isn’t always the most convenient option. For one, many families do not take women’s careers seriously enough. Moreover, it is tough to focus on the constant demands from family members.
The working pods are open on all seven days, from 9 am-8 pm.
“Working pods are the coolest thing in our city today,” said Maitra, who is now a regular user.
Beyond the obvious convenience, customers also enjoy working with a diverse set of people, exchanging ideas and socialising.
“I come monthly to hold meetings and meet my teammates. Earlier I used to book In Kolkata, govt sets up co-working spaces, charges Rs 30 for 90 mins
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 zone of a start-up that works on women’s hygiene.
The first of the three working pods was inaugurated in August 2021 by state minister Firhad Hakim and Chairman and Managing Director of HIDCO, Debasis Sen.
“These pods are gaining popularity with each passing day not only because they are very affordable—just Rs 20 an hour—but also because they are very conveniently located,” said Sen. “The idea behind charging some money for these pods was just to recover the wifi and electricity expenses, not to gain profit.”
These working pods have now been handed over to self-help groups. Around 20-25 women take turns running the three working pods in Newtown.
In the next phase, HIDCO is working towards setting up a larger co-working space with an option of co-living as well.