Is It Time For Co-Working Spaces in the Maldives?

By Guest Author: Uz Mohamed Zahir

In light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the Minister of Health issued a State of Emergency for the entire island nation, with the most recent extension of the status being issued on the 27th day of May 2020. The Director General of Public Health, by virtue of powers granted under the Public Health Safety Act 2012, ordered a full lockdown of the Greater Male’ Region.

During this lockdown, private offices remained closed with little to no business undertakings taking place. The eventual result, overheads existed but the income vanished. Many employers were left with no choice but to minimize overheads by cutting down on the biggest expense, wages. Many employees were asked to remain home on “unpaid leave”, or laid off while some were even terminated. Despite some generous landlords waiving their right to a partial sum of the rent, rent was still payable.

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Much of the MSMEs are located in the capital island where property rental rises on a daily basis. It is customary for every Maldivian business to flaunt a posh or spacious office of its own, where “the boss” must sit behind a lavish executive desk. The businesses start with paying hefty sums quoted as advance payments or security deposits, the latter which usually ends up as reimbursement for some unknown expense the landlord incurred, and this is before even a single penny is received as income.

If the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown has taught us anything, it is that we need to come up with better business models, more sustainable and self-sufficient strategies and greater efforts must be made to minimize overheads. Not every business requires an office space of its own. A simple desk where you can work, a drawer to lock up your documents and files, a laptop with a power socket and an internet connection and switch on to work mode.

Photo: Maldives Capacity Development and Government Institute (Facebook)

But what if we can throw in a bit of professionalism and convenience too? Perhaps, a coworking space model. A coworking space is an arrangement where individual practitioners or one-man businesses share a common office space with common infrastructure. Most of these spaces provide secretarial services, mailbox services, network and printing services and sometimes, a meeting space where you can meet your clients or business partners in private.

With a rise in entrepreneurship and more graduates joining their esteemed field of work every year, it is time that we come up with creative solutions to ease the burden and not force them to burn another hole in the pocket. Graduates usually have student loans and entrepreneurs have their capital loans and they can do without more debt.

Hence my proposition, on monthly rental basis, why can’t we facilitate a coworking space for our peers or potential business partners? An ideal set up would include an office desk with a drawer and a chair with electricity ports in a partitioned cubicle, an internet connection with printing and photocopying facilities, a common secretary who sits at the reception to receive mail and usher guests to the meeting room, and perhaps even a tea room for a few chats. Various businesses under one roof not only gets rid of our isolation but also helps us broaden our horizons.

Of course, the landlord must practice some sort of control in order to ensure the safety and privacy of all the tenants and avoid unnecessary trouble, but isn’t this the sort of thing that could work? Don’t we all need to minimize our expenditure on rent, the added variables of utilities, and the assistance of a receptionist to accept deliveries while we are out of office?

About the Author: Uz Mohamed Zahir is a partner at law firm Wisham and Co. LLP.

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