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.”


Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

Updated 7 sec ago

Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

  • Turner posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office
  • Position of Political Director, equivalent of Under Secretary of State, seen as UK’s second most senior diplomat

ISLAMABAD: British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr. Christian Turner CMG has been posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

The position is equivalent to the Under Secretary of State.

Turner has been High Commissioner to Pakistan since December 2019 and is expected to depart the country and take up his new role in London by mid-January 2023. This follows the end of a standard three year diplomatic posting.

Over his three years as High Commissioner, Turner oversaw the UK’s COVID-19 repatriation efforts, welcomed a UK Foreign Secretary visit, lobbied for and secured direct flights from the UK to Pakistan, initiated a drive to double UK-Pakistan trade by 2025, ensured that the UK was at the forefront of the international Pakistan flood crisis response and played a pivotal role in the promotion of sports diplomacy and the return of the England Men’s cricket team to Pakistan following a 17-year absence.

“The last three years have been some of the most rewarding of my life, both professionally and personally,” Turner said in a statement. “I will continue closely to follow Pakistan’s future in my new role in London.”

The position of Political Director is traditionally seen as the UK’s second most senior diplomat who is responsible for bringing together the UK government’s cross-cutting geopolitical work on security, international architecture and alliances, as well as UK values.

No announcement has been made regarding the appointment of a new High Commissioner to Pakistan. The Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Dalgleish, will take on the role of chargé d’affaires to cover the interim gap until a new High Commissioner arrives.

Prior to his appointment as High Commissioner to Pakistan, Turner was the Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser from April 2017 to July 2019. He previously served as the Director General, Political (Acting) and Director General for the Middle East and Africa, leading the UK organization of the London Syria Conference in February 2016.

From 2012 to 2015, Turker was British High Commissioner to Kenya, and from 2009 to 2012 he was FCO’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Between 1997 and 2008 he held various positions in the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, including as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, as Secretary to the Economic & Domestic Committees of Cabinet, and as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Washington from 2002-2006.

Before joining the government, Turner made television documentaries, following the completion of his PhD. He is married with two children.


Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

Updated 45 min 10 sec ago

Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

  • A Pakistani security guard was wounded in a gun attack on Friday
  • Pakistan called it attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban said on Monday a Daesh militant attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul was carried out with involvement of unidentified foreign groups with the intention of sowing distrust with Pakistan.

Daesh, which fights the Taliban in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the Friday gun attack on the Pakistani embassy in a statement carried by one of its affiliated channels on the Telegram messaging service on Sunday.

A Pakistani security guard was wounded in the attack that Pakistan called an attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt.

Pakistan has for decades had good relations with the Afghan Taliban but recently ties have been strained over security concerns on their common border.

The Taliban said they had arrested one suspect and recovered two guns and Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the suspect was a foreign Daesh member.

“Behind the attack there is the hand of some foreign groups and their aim is to create distrust between the two brotherly countries,” Mujahid said.

He did not say which country the suspect was from. An investigation was continuing, he said.

The Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September.

Pakistan said earlier it was consulting Afghan authorities to verify the report of a Daesh claim of responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan said it had no plan to close the embassy and the head of the mission was in Pakistan for consultations.


Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

Updated 05 December 2022

Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

  • Ashfaq Tola says the independent commission will address issues pertaining to complex tax system, budget
  • The reforms commission head says it'll be able to give first set of recommendations by the mid of April 2023

KARACHI: Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, chairman of recently formed Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC) of Pakistan, on Sunday said he was "confident" of playing a catalyst role in the simplification of the country’s complex taxation system and cut the informal, parallel economy to size.  

Pakistan has been grappling with a widening current account deficit, a balance-of-payment crisis and inflation hovering around historic highs in recent months. The South Asian nation has also witnessed an economic slowdown in the wake of recent floods that have damaged huge infrastructure and agriculture output.  

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last week constituted a powerful commission to review the existing revenue policies, identify issues and risks of existing tax system, review budget proposals and evaluate their consequences as well as review complexities of tax legislation.

An undated file photo of Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, Chairman of Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC). (Supplied)

Tola, who is currently serving as a technical advisor on the Board of International Federation of Accountants, would directly work under the finance minister and hold a full-time office at the Islamabad headquarters of the national tax agency, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).   

“This commission is completely independent and will play a key role in addressing complex taxation and other economic issues,” Tola told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Sunday.   

“The commission will have access to analyses, revenue policies and meet with the stakeholders. The commission will have its input in budget and budget evaluation.”  

The RRMC head, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP), has an experience of over 30 years in financial and forensic auditing, tax advisory and corporate structuring.   

The 11-member commission headed by him comprises FBR chairman, experts on taxation and economy, and representatives of the business community. 

This is the second commission formed by Dar in the last eight years and is given both short- and long-term objectives, with a major focus on finalization of taxation measures for next fiscal years.  

“This commission is completely different from the previous one and it has no lifecycle,” Tola said. “This time strong players have been picked up for the commission who have the capability to deliver.”   

Asked how the commission would work, Tola said it would form different sub-groups to come up with assessments of their relevant fields.  

“For instance, economists would be tasked to evaluate the size of parallel economy and the chartered accountants would be asked to draw global comparison and identify snags and [present] recommendation on how to rectify them,” he explained. 

Pakistan has complex taxation measures in place, which experts say are highly "oppressive" in nature.  

“Pakistan’s tax system is complicated, fragmented, oppressive, narrow and anti-growth. It has one of the highest rates for the corporate sector,” Dr Ikramul Haq, a Lahore-based taxation expert, told Arab News.   

“It is highly oppressive for salaried persons and citizens with fixed income living under hyperinflation. It levies and collects main taxes at import stage, making exports uncompetitive and increasing the already heavy cost of doing business.” 

The Tola-led commission is assigned a daunting task to come up with recommendations to reform the ages-old taxation system and broaden the tax net.  

Pakistan has less than 3.5 million income tax filers, with a majority declaring its income below the taxable limit or reporting losses. The number of individuals registered for sales tax is less than 350,000 and actual payers are less than 85,000, the rest claim refunds, according to official data.   

Haq suggested dismantling the fragmented tax structure by giving power to the federation to levy and collect tax from all sources, including from the ones whose income is based on agriculture.  

Provinces should have exclusive jurisdiction over harmonized sales tax on goods and services and all these should be collected through a national tax agency, he added. 

The RRMC is given an April 2023 deadline to submit its first report, which Tola is confident to meet.   

To a question about the timing of the RRMC formation amid an uncertain and fluid political and economic situation, Tola said the formation of the commission was a "good initiative" and must be kept apolitical.   

“This is a good thing formed and if it is kept apolitical that would be good for the country,” he said.   

He, however, conceded that there was no guarantee of the commission’s future in case the government changes.  

Pakistan has been hit by political instability for years now, which has aggravated since the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan in April. 

The instable political situation has been taking a toll on the country's frail economy, already suffering from devastating impacts of the floods. 


For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

Updated 05 December 2022

For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

  • Popularly known as 'bakhoor' in the Arab world, the agarwood chips are said to have several medical and psychological benefits
  • Local businesses say the incense chips are in high demand in Pakistan, though many customers also find them quite expensive

KARACHI: Beauty and fragrance brands across Pakistan have been importing a product which has long dominated the Middle East culture and is widely used in traditional Arab households and markets. 

'Bakhoor,' or agarwood chips, are used to spread lingering fragrance at homes, shops and offices. Pakistani businesses have been bringing these scented bricks from Arab countries before offering their different varieties to customers. 

A salon in Karachi, for instance, provides hair bakhoor scalp treatment which, it says, is quite popular in the Arab World. 

"Bakhoor is in high demand in Pakistan," Adeel Shafiq Alam, chief executive officer of an Arabian fragrance shop, Souk Galleria, told Arab News. 

Alam's organization has been doing good business in Karachi and Lahore since 2020 and boasts international outlets in places like Dubai and the United States. 

"We import bakhoor from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," Alam added. "Bakhoor farming is not common in Pakistan. Even if we start it today, it will take another 25 years for us to benefit from it. A large number of people in Pakistan are still not very familiar with bakhoor." 

A Saudi man holds a handful of Bakhoor or Agarwood at his shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 10, 2007. (AFP/File)

Alam, whose business offers several types of bakhoor products, said people used to ask him all sorts of questions about the scented bricks when Souk Galleria started advertising bakhoor in Pakistan two years ago. 

"Many of them want to buy bakhoor but are usually deterred by high prices," he continued. "Most of them find it difficult to afford good quality bakhoor, which can cost around Rs1,000 per gram." 

The incense chips, which have been used in the Middle East for centuries, are said to have several medical and psychological benefits. Some say they change people's mood and relieve them of stress and anxiety. 

"The future of bakhoor is bright in Pakistan since many people from this country visit Arab states, especially for Hajj and Umrah, and see how Arabs use these scented chips," Shiekh Faisal Ghani, chairman of Saeed Ghani, a popular Pakistani brand for herbal and skincare products, told Arab News. 

Ghani's business offers bakhoor fragrances that include Oud Wood, Oud Combodi, Oud Kindi and Oud Amber. 

"Ninety-nine percent of bakhoor is imported from Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman," he added. 

Karachi's Scalpxury, a beauty salon, says it is the only place in the country offering bakhoor hair treatment. 

"Hair bakhoor are different from normal bakhoor sold in Pakistan. The fragrance and texture are slightly different and they give longevity to one’s hair," said Shehla Khan, the salon owner. 

"Conventionally and commercially, hair bakhoor are not available in the market. I get them from the Arab region." 

Khan said her business was different since it was not retailing or selling bakhoor, but using them to offer a popular variety of hair treatment. 


England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

Updated 05 December 2022

England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

  • The 29-year-old all-rounder made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi
  • Livingstone jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings 

RAWALPINDI: All-rounder Liam Livingstone has been ruled out of the rest of England's tour of Pakistan with a knee injury, the team's management said Monday. 

The 29-year-old made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi, scoring nine and seven not out in England's two innings. 

But he jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings. 

Livingstone also missed the Twenty20 series against Pakistan a few months ago after suffering an ankle injury. 

England have yet to decide if a replacement will be called up. 

Pakistan were chasing 343 Monday on the fifth and final day of the first Test. 

England are on their first Test tour of Pakistan since 2005, having declined to visit in the interim years on security grounds. 

The second Test is in Multan from December 9-13, and the third in Karachi from December 17-21.