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 tells airline operators to observe UAE pandemic guidelines or face ‘stern action’

Updated 14 sec ago

Pakistan tells airline operators to observe UAE pandemic guidelines or face ‘stern action’

  • UAE authorities asked airline operators to create a quarantine zone for suspected or symptomatic people on their flights
  • Pakistan says any violation of the notified guidelines may lead to a withdrawal of permission to operate to and from UAE airports

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) has warned local airline operators to abide by the safety protocols notified by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates to prevent the coronavirus spread or face “stern action,” said a PCAA spokesperson on Tuesday.
The GCAA has asked airline operators to create quarantine areas on their flights “for the exclusive sitting of suspected or symptomatic person(s).”
It also told them to ensure safe distance between passengers in the quarantine zone and other people on the flight to avoid cross-infection.
The GCAA guidelines also require airlines to designate a “buffer zone” for cabin crew members where they can wear or take off their personal protective equipment.
“The latest directives from Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority to local airlines come after the GCAA issued two safety assessment reports that mentioned violations of safety protocols,” the PCAA spokesperson told Arab News.
He said that despite clear guidelines “no compliance by the operators have been observed.”
“Operator shall seat passengers and cabin crew throughout the cabin to comply, as much as practical, with physical and safe distancing principle. Passengers should be seated with at least one empty seat between each other. Alternatively, when separation not possible, the use of face masks become mandatory for passengers,” the GCCA guidelines say.
“The GCCA communicated to us that airline operators were not following the instructions in letter and spirit,” said the PCAA official. “Hence, we decided to issue directives to our airlines to fully follow the UAE authority’s COVID-19 guidelines,” the PCCA spokesman continued.
He said that future violations would “lead to stern action by the PCAA,” which may include withdrawal of permission to operate to and from UAE airports.
The PCAA notification issued late last week said “such violations are ignominious not only for the operator but also for the state and the regulator.”
On August 5, the UAE lifted a ban on transit passenger traffic from Pakistan, India, Nigeria and other countries.
However, it still requires travelers from these countries to present negative COVID-19 PCR tests about 48 hours before their departure.
To facilitate Pakistani passengers traveling to the UAE, Pakistan set up rapid COVID-19 testing facilities at all the international airports of the country.
Over 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates live in the UAE and work in different public and private sector organizations, remitting over $4 billion annually to the South Asian nation.


Students in Indian-administered Kashmir face terror law for cheering Pakistan win

Updated 10 min 10 sec ago

Students in Indian-administered Kashmir face terror law for cheering Pakistan win

  • Students and staff at two medical colleges being probed for celebrating India’s loss to Pakistan in T20 cricket game
  • Hundreds danced in the streets, lit firecrackers and chanted “Long live Pakistan” while seeking end of India’s rule over disputed region

SRINAGAR: Police in Indian-administered Kashmir are investigating students and staff at two medical colleges under a harsh anti-terror law for celebrating India’s loss to archrival Pakistan in a T20 World Cup cricket game, officials said Tuesday.
Police said some students and staff at the government-run colleges cheered and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans during the match Sunday night, calling it “anti-national” activity.
Pakistan crushed India by 10 wickets for its first-ever victory against its archrival in a T20 World Cup game in Dubai. Minutes after Pakistan won the match, hundreds of people in Indian-administered Kashmir danced in the streets, lit firecrackers and chanted “Long live Pakistan” while seeking the end of India’s rule over the disputed region.
The celebrations came as India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, was visiting the region for the first time since New Delhi in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy, scrapped its statehood and removed inherited protections on land and jobs, further fueling tensions in the region.
Love of cricket, a legacy of Britain’s long colonial role of South Asia, is one of the few things that unites Pakistan and India despite their long history of animosity that has fueled three wars since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947, including two over control of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
The fracas over Sunday’s match shows how easily passions can be inflamed in predominantly Muslim Kashmir, where anti-India sentiment runs deep. Rebels have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.
A police spokesman said authorities on Monday registered preliminary investigations at two police stations in the city of Srinagar under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Police said the suspects were yet to be identified and officers were using videos of the celebrations on social media in an attempt to name them.
The anti-terror law was amended in 2019 to allow the government to designate individuals as terrorists. Police can detain people for six months without producing any evidence, and the accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years. Rights activists have called the law draconian.
Over a dozen Kashmiri students were attacked in India’s northern Punjab state for celebrating Pakistan’s victory, news reports said.
India describes the armed rebellion in the portion of Kashmir it controls as a Pakistan proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism. Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Islamabad denies state complicity in any violence and says it only offers moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris.
The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.


PM Khan welcomes Chinese investment in economic zones in phone call with Xi

Updated 26 October 2021

PM Khan welcomes Chinese investment in economic zones in phone call with Xi

  • Khan has directed authorities to provide land, electricity, gas connections as well as tax incentives to Chinese companies
  • Leaders discuss situation in Afghanistan, call for immediate provision of humanitarian aid to help avert crisis 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday lauded China’s investment in special economic zones (SEZs) in the country as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework, the PM Office said in a statement.
Khan was speaking to President Xi Jinping by telephone.
CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.
Khan “lauded the successful, timely and high-quality implementation of the CPEC projects, and welcomed Chinese investments in the CPEC Special Economic Zones,” the PM Office said in a statement.
Xi and Khan agreed to work to strengthen bilateral economic and commercial ties, including “full realization of the potential offered by the Phase-II of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, to overcome the economic headwinds,” the statement said.
Earlier this month PM Khan directed authorities to take “all possible” measures to provide land, electricity and gas connections as well as tax incentives to attract more Chinese companies to invest in special economic zones in the country.
He also said out of a total of 27 SEZs in Pakistan, work on five industrial zones in Sindh’s Dhabeji, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Rashakai, Bostan and Gwadar in Balochistan and Allama Iqbal Industrial City in Punjab was in “full swing.”
The two leaders also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and called on the international community to provide immediate humanitarian and economic assistance to the people of Afghanistan “to alleviate their suffering, prevent instability and flight of people, as well as continued engagement for rebuilding of the country,” the statement read.


India-Pakistan 'sporting brotherhood' impresses coach Hayden  

Updated 26 October 2021

India-Pakistan 'sporting brotherhood' impresses coach Hayden  

  • India captain Kohli embraced Rizwan soon after Pakistan romped to 10-wicket win  
  • Political tension between the neighbors has resulted in them avoiding bilateral cricket series 

ISLAMABAD: Matthew Hayden has been impressed by the “sporting brotherhood” on display after Pakistan beat India to break its run of 12 losses in World Cup contests between the archrivals.
India captain Virat Kohli embraced Mohammad Rizwan soon after Pakistan romped to a 10-wicket win in the Twenty20 World Cup game on Sunday to start its Super 12 campaign.

Former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, now a mentor with the team, smiled as he spoke with Pakistan players including captain Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik and fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani soon after the game ended.

“The thing that inspired me the most out of the performance was the fantastic sporting brotherhood,” Hayden, an intensely competitive former Australia opening batsman now working with the Pakistan's T20 squad, said in a video message from Dubai.

The political tension between the subcontinental neighbors has resulted in the countries avoiding bilateral cricket series since Pakistan visited India in 2012-13 and played a short limited-overs series. However, they compete against each other regularly in the ICC tournaments.

Hayden said the way the Pakistan and Indian players came together was a good example “of how we should treat each other as people.”

“That’s the role of sport, so it’s beautiful to see those moments where MS Dhoni is holding court with a few of the (Pakistan) players and Virat Kohli and (Rizwan), you know, in brotherhood, joining hands after there was heated battles in the middle.”

The Pakistan Cricket Board appointed Hayden as a batting consultant and South African Vernon Philander as a bowling consultant for the T20 World Cup after head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis stepped down.
Hayden joined the squad in the United Arab Emirates, following his stint as a commentator in the Indian Premier League which ended two days before the World Cup began on Oct. 17.

Following Pakistan’s record-breaking win, Babar reminded his teammates to stay focused on winning the World Cup instead of getting carried away with the win over India.

“Great humility from our perspective inside the change rooms, not getting carried away too much with the celebrations, but just this great humility, this great sense of spirit and great sense of purpose moving into the next game against New Zealand," he said.

Fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s burst in his opening two overs provided Pakistan with the key wickets of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul and helped restrict India to 151-7. Afridi also went on to take the wicket of top-scorer Kohli in his return spell.

For Hayden, it was a prime example of what Pakistan's pacemen are capable of producing.

“Pakistan has velocity in abundance, not just here but also back home that aren’t celebrating in this World Cup,” he said. “Shaheen really is that one leader within the bowling group ... nothing beats velocity, mixed up with some skill.”


Pakistan faces New Zealand in T20 World Cup match in Sharjah today

Updated 26 October 2021

Pakistan faces New Zealand in T20 World Cup match in Sharjah today

  • Pakistanis left fuming last month when Black Caps abandoned tour minutes before start of first one-day international in Rawalpindi
  • Pakistan ranks third on ICC Men’s T20 team rankings and New Zealand fourth, Pakistan has won 14 and lost 10 T20 contests between the sides

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and New Zealand will meet today, Tuesday, in a closely watched Twenty20 World Cup match in Sharjah just weeks after the Black Caps abandoned a tour minutes before the start of the first one-day international in Rawalpindi, citing an unspecified security alert.
New Zealand will be kickstarting their World Cup campaign today against the green shirts, who began their journey with a record-breaking win against India on Sunday.
On the eve of the match, NZ captain Kane Williamson, not part of the squad in Pakistan that pulled out of the tour as he was playing in the Indian Premier League in the UAE, played down talk of a “grudge match.”
“There are a lot of good relations within the two teams. Over the years they’ve played a lot against each other, and a number of players have played with each other, as well,” Williamson told reporters. “I am sure the game will be played in the right spirit.”
Pakistan ranks third on the ICC Men’s T20 team rankings while New Zealand is in fourth position. Pakistan holds a historical edge over the blackcaps in the T20 format, having won 14 and lost 10 contests between the sides. The last series between the two countries, held in December 2020, was won by New Zealand.
A week after New Zealand pulled out, England also withdrew their men’s and women’s teams from a tour to Pakistan due to concerns over the physical and mental health of the players.
“We had one team in our [T20 World Cup] target, our neighbors [India], now add two more teams, New Zealand and England,” Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ramiz Raja said last month.
Williamson, who admitted the decision to abandon the tour was based on New Zealand government advice, praised the Pakistan team.
“I suppose the focus now is here at the T20 World Cup, and no doubt after the performance last night, Pakistan have some momentum and are feeling pretty good about their cricket,” said Williamson.
Pakistan thumped arch-rivals India by 10 wickets in the teams’ opening Super 12 match in Dubai on Sunday.
“Yeah, I mean, it was a fantastic performance. I think Pakistan have come to the T20 World Cup full of confidence, having played in these conditions more than most,” he said. “They certainly put it on show last night and showed why they’re one of the favorites in the competition.”
“Tomorrow I’m sure they’ll be very strong again, so for us, it’s focusing on the cricket that we want to play and trying to adjust to conditions.”