During pandemic, the rise of Pakistan’s shared workplaces

This undated file photo shows Pakistani professionals at a COLABS shared workplace. (Photo courtesy: COLABS)
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Updated 01 November 2020

During pandemic, the rise of Pakistan’s shared workplaces

  • Demand ‘through the roof’ for flexible office spaces as requirements for big offices subside
  • Women-run, home-based businesses that flourished in lockdowns have driven demand up in all-women’s co-working space/

RAWALPINDI: The popularity of the shared workplace as a cost effective, no-fuss model has recently risen in Pakistan-- considered one of the world’s largest freelancing economies-- with savvy young enthusiasts in the South Asian country’s urban centers jumping in on the bandwagon to build spaces that break the traditional office mold.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the owners of shared work spaces say they have witnessed demand “through the roof” for flexible office sites-- despite a lull during lockdowns earlier in the year.
“By August and September, most large offices realized the need [for flexible spaces] and demand went through the roof,” said Omar Shah, 31, co-founder and CEO of COLABS, Pakistan’s largest collaborative workspace, which Shah launched with twin brother Ali, in Lahore last year.
“The requirement for large, fancy offices slowly subsided and that is what has driven the demand up,” he added.
“Our contracts range from monthly to daily to yearly with no fixed capital costs or investment. You just walk in with your laptop and we manage the SOP’s.”
There are currently over 100 small co-working spaces in Pakistan, according to global online marketplace ‘coworker.’ Only a handful of these spaces however, have the capacity to seat more than 100 people. 
The swanky charcoal COLABS site, launched by the Shah twins in partnership with a Swedish company, accommodates 300. The building, with its cool, millennial aesthetic is complete with sun soaked work rooms, no-fuss oak tables, art on the walls, dine-in cafes, even a neon sign that reads in a scrawl: “There’s no place like work.”
It is home to freelancers, Pakistani startups like popular media site ProperGaanda, as well as mature international businesses looking to set up shop in Pakistan.
“Some of our small to medium businesses are companies based in the US or Europe that have operations in Pakistan, but do not necessarily want to deal with the headache of setting up an office here,” Shah said. 
Rent for shared office spaces in Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, ranges from as low as Rs.6000 to upwards of Rs.100,000. 
But for Karachi-based freelancer Mishayl Naek, 39, the incentive to set up a co-working space went beyond just business. 
Naek decided to set up a community space inspired by her freelance work that often found her without a comfortable- and safe- place to work in the bustling seaside metropolis.
“I looked at existing co-working space but they were very male oriented. This inspired me to open a women-centric co-working space in 2019,” Naek said, which eventually became ‘Pinky Gul.’
In the aftermath of the pandemic, Naek said, demand for partnerships at Pinky Gul have increased as more and more women-run, home-based businesses opened and flourished during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“A lot of home-based businesses opened in Corona times so we have more partnerships than before,” she said.
“Women needed spaces that were multi-faceted, which supported their businesses and created networks.”
Currently, at least 20 women use the informal working zone at Pinky Gul every day.
“Setting up our own office would’ve cost us a lot initially and we didn’t even know if we could manage to sustain the overheads of an office space,” Syed Ahmed Khalid Bukhari, 27, who co-founded a college counselling company in Lahore in 2017, told Arab News. 
Bukhari works out of co-working space ‘Daftarkhwan,’ which has office sites in Lahore and Islamabad.
By taking up shop in a co-working space, Bukhari said, the specifics of handling an office-- from generators to general maintenance-- was not his responsibility. 
“Our idea was that we’d start off with Daftarkhwan but would get our own office in a year,” Bukhari said.
Now, in their fourth year running and in the middle of a pandemic, Bukhari said his business isn’t even “considering getting our own place.”
But expenses aside, for Shah the best perk of a shared office space is the business community being created within its walls.
“It goes beyond networking here because we don’t just have people meeting one another... we have companies sitting side by side,” he said.
“Let’s say you open a new company. You need a website designed, you need a logo designed. And somebody who can do all that for you... works just down the hall.”


Pakistan not responsible for Afghan Taliban, nor group’s spokesperson — PM Imran

Updated 13 min 56 sec ago

Pakistan not responsible for Afghan Taliban, nor group’s spokesperson — PM Imran

  • Asks what US will achieve from operating bases in Pakistan which it could not in Afghanistan for two decades
  • Pakistani PM meets and holds dialogue with Afghan journalists visiting Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday Pakistan was neither “responsible” for the actions of the Afghan Taliban, nor a spokesperson for the group, local media reported.
The PM was speaking to a group of Afghan journalists visiting Islamabad.
“What the Taliban are doing or are not doing has nothing to do with us and we are not responsible, neither are we the spokesperson of the Taliban,” Khan was quoted by Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper as saying.
He said a “military solution” in Afghanistan had been a “flawed strategy” of the United States, asking what the US could achieve from operating bases out of Pakistan which it could not achieve by operating in Afghanistan for two decades.
“It was a flawed strategy. They should have talked to the Taliban from a position of strength when there were 150,000 NATO soldiers present in Afghanistan. There is no reason for the US to operate from Pakistan,” Khan said, reiterating that Pakistan would not get dragged into more conflict in Afghanistan.
The PM said Pakistan would not accept Indian participation in the Afghan peace process until New Delhi reverted its decision to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its constitutional autonomy.
“Pakistan has always desired peace with India, but it was India which did not want peace,” Khan said.


Pakistan thanks Bahrain for facilitating expats, calls defense ties ‘source of support’

Updated 27 min 8 sec ago

Pakistan thanks Bahrain for facilitating expats, calls defense ties ‘source of support’

  • Pakistani FM is in Bahrain to lead second session of Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission
  • Both sides agree in principle to hold the next JMC meeting in Islamabad in 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met Bahrain Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa in Manama and thanked his country for taking steps to aid Pakistani expats, saying strong defense ties between the two nations were a “source of support,” the foreign office said on Thursday. 
Qureshi is in Bahrain on a two-day visit that will conclude today, leading Pakistan’s delegation in the second session of the Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC).
Qureshi “appreciated the steps taken by the Bahraini government during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that the Pakistani community in Bahrain did not face any traumatic situation,” the foreign office statement said, saying he also “lauded the steps taken by the Bahraini Ministry of Interior to facilitate the visa amnesty scheme, waiver of fines, extradition and repatriation of Pakistanis awaiting repatriation.”
“Referring to the strong defense and security ties between Pakistan and Bahrain, the Foreign Minister described them as a source of support,” the foreign office said. 
On Wednesday, the second meeting of the Bahrain-Pakistan Joint Ministerial Commission was held in Manama. 
“On the sidelines of JMC, an MoU between Bahrain Development Board and Board of Investment of Pakistan was also signed to promote bilateral investment between the two friendly countries,” a Pakistan foreign ministry statement said, adding that the two sides agreed in principle to hold the next JMC meeting in Islamabad in 2022. 


Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

Updated 29 July 2021

Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

  • The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring
  • Taliban are charging drivers about $1,000 as duty in Spin Boldak with Kandahar officials demanding more 

Chaman, Pakistan: The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring, with insurgents and government officials separately taxing traders, and bandits demanding bribes to allow safe passage of goods.
Thousands of vehicles cross daily from Chaman in southwestern Pakistan to Spin Boldak on the other side, carrying goods destined for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
On the way back they usually ferry agricultural produce bound for Pakistan’s markets or ports.
The bilateral trade — worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if not more — ground to a halt earlier this month after the Taliban seized the dusty border town, but resumed this week with the insurgents seemingly firmly in charge.
They have captured a vast swath of the country since early May after launching a series of offensives to capitalize on the final stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops.
While they have not yet taken any provincial capitals, they have captured a string of key border posts — with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan — which provide vital revenue from customs duties on goods arriving in the landlocked country.
“We loaded grapes in Kandahar and on the way we have been extorted at least three times,” trucker Hidayatullah Khan told AFP at Chaman.
“Sometimes they charge 3,000 rupees ($20), somewhere else 2,000 rupees, and in some other place 1,000 rupees,” he said.
That was on top of the taxes he had to pay Taliban officials in Spin Boldak and Afghan government customs officials who have opened shop in Kandahar.
Truckers interviewed in Chaman this week told of chaos and confusion on the Afghan side of the border.
Imran Kakar, vice president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, gave one example of a truck carrying fabric from Karachi destined for Kandahar.
The Taliban charged the driver 150,000 rupees (about $1,000) as duty in Spin Boldak, but when the vehicle reached Kandahar government officials were also waiting.
“We had to pay even higher customs duties as they don’t acknowledge the payments made to Taliban,” said Kakar.
The scenes were reminiscent of Afghanistan during its brutal civil war in the 1990s, when a patchwork of militias held stretches of key trade routes and extorted truckers and residents using the roads at will.
Hundreds of trucks were lined up Wednesday on the Pakistan side of the border, waiting for permission to cross.
On a dusty plain this week, with rugged hillocks as a backdrop, drivers and “spanner boy” apprentices tinkered with their vehicles ahead of the journey.
While the distance is just 100 kilometers (60 miles), the journey is fraught with danger.
Vehicles and roads are poorly maintained in Afghanistan, police and army checkpoints routinely demand “tea money” or more from every driver, and bandits also lie in wait — either to steal goods or demand further payment for safe passage.
There is also the risk they could be caught in crossfire during fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
Still, traders and drivers say they have little option but to keep on trucking.
“War has been going on, we know that, but we don’t have any other choice,” said Abdul Razzaq, a driver carrying hatchling chicks to Kandahar.
“Transportation of goods is the only means for us to feed our families,” he told AFP.


UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

Updated 29 July 2021

UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

  • Flights to Pakistan from the UAE have been suspended for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic 
  • UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors of foreign remittances

ISLAMABAD: Emirates, the largest airline and the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday flights from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had been suspended until August 7 in line with the government’s orders.
The UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors, alongside Saudi Arabia, of foreign remittances. Flights to Pakistan from the Emirates have been disrupted for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic. The date for resumption of travel has also been extended several times now.
“In line with UAE government directives, Emirates will be suspending the carriage of passengers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Dubai until 07 August 2021,” the airline said on its website. “Furthermore, passengers who have connected through India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka in the last 14 days will not be accepted to travel from any other point to the UAE.”
UAE Nationals, holders of UAE Golden Visas and members of diplomatic missions who comply with updated COVID‑19 protocols, are exempt and may be accepted for travel, the airline said. 
It advised travelers that if their flight had been canceled or impacted by route suspensions due to COVID‑19 restrictions, “you don’t need to call us immediately for rebooking. You can simply hold on to your Emirates ticket and when flights resume, get in touch with us or your booking office to make new travel plans.”


‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

Updated 29 July 2021

‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

  • Thursday was first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to coronavirus
  • “Alarming and critical” situation in Karachi city as positivity ratio crosses 26 percent

KARACHI: Pakistan reported more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day running, data from the National Command and Operation Center showed on Thursday, with the national positivity rate shooting past 7.5 percent.
As per the NCOC pandemic response body, 59,707 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours, of which 4,497 returned positive. The new cases take the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,020,324, with a current positivity rate of 7.53 percent.


Thursday was also the first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to the coronavirus, taking the countrywide death toll to 23,209. Around 28 million vaccine jabs have been administered so far in a country of 220 million people.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is witnessing an “abnormal” surge in COVID-19 cases and an “alarming and critical” situation as the positivity ratio in the city shot past 26 percent.
Pakistan’s director general health, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, told Arab News the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response, was closely working with the Sindh administration to stop the spread of the virus.
“The NCOC is working closely with the Sindh government to support the NPI [non-pharmacological interventions] implementation, vaccination ramp up and upbuilding hospital capacity,” Safdar said.
The infection rate in Karachi has consistently remained high, with 8,513 coronavirus cases recorded during the last week and an average daily positivity rate of 21.73 percent.
Secretary General of the Pakistan Medical Association Dr. Qaiser Sajjad has suggested imposing a 15-day lockdown in the metropolis, saying if untested people were counted, the positivity rate had likely reached 40 percent.