A recent project for a corporate led us to a meeting at the Indus Club, a gated community and working space of which I’ve been a member. It was here that I noticed a marked change in the nature of our interaction. When meeting at our respective offices, the project discussions were restricted to regimental, dry queries such as pricing per square-foot etc etc. But here in the softer natural lighting and more relaxed setting of the Riviera Lounge, the clients seemed more relaxed. Once the formalities were shed, we were able to discuss key aspects of the design in a manner that felt more wholesome to all of us. This informally ‘formal’ meeting played a major role in the final output – a workspace built on the collaborative vision of our designers as well as the client.
This balance between informal and professional environments is something that coworking offices are good at providing. But many C-suite executives and industry leaders are still skeptical of such spaces, owing to the lack of privacy and exclusivity. ‘Business clubs’ such as the Indus Club have been addressing this specific need for decades. In India, the trend began with exclusive lounges such as Chambers at The Taj, The Belvedere at Oberoi , Equus at St Regis and The Club at The Four Seasons. The ability to provide top-class customised amenities is what makes it natural for five-star hotels to foray into this space. Places such as the A Club and Indus Club in Mumbai, meanwhile, operate exclusively as complete ecosystems with provisions that are just as upmarket.
These premium workplaces are ideal for business interactions where the need for privacy is paramount. For instance, talks about a merger or acquisition between two high profile company leaders cannot exactly be carried out in the open setting of a coffee shop. At the same time, a conference room could be too official an environment for the same. Premium business clubs therefore have a diverse menu of spaces for different needs – from private meeting rooms to exclusive lounges. This makes it easy for decision-makers to get together without the risk of disclosure until deals are made final.
Networking is another aspect of coworking that is simulated in these environments – but again, without compromising exclusivity. Most memberships to such spaces are by invite only, thus creating an ecosystem of high networth individuals from every industry. CEOs, sports stars, artists and entrepreneurs can mix with leaders from a variety of fields, leading to high quality cross-pollination of ideas. Moreover, these business clubs are also equipped with ballrooms and art galleries, allowing them to organise mixers and events for members.
What attracts me about these places, especially ones like the A Club and Indus Club in Mumbai, are the unique design elements they have incorporated. Members can use these spaces for working, taking a break to watch a film or just meditating. Another great space is the ‘Spielberg Theatre’ at the Indus Club. With a big screen the size of a small multiplex chamber, the auditorium can be used for conducting elaborate presentations befitting product launches for a small but elite audience.
These clubs can even entertain more bespoke requests for such events. I recently picked the Spielberg Theatre at the Indus Club to host a JTCPL Designs project review for a family-owned business client. My membership privileges allowed me to arrange a chef-crafted and customised menu. This added touch made the entire experience more sublime for the attendees, which included leadership from across the world. It’s in this regard that these places stand out in stark contrast to standard coworking spaces. While coworking offices operate on standardisation and communally shared amenities, these premium business clubs have made customisation and exclusivity their forte.
The attitude of these spaces can be gleaned from the difference in décor design as well. Where coworking offices thrive on colourful open areas lined with bean bags and communal tables, these premium spaces exude an aura of exclusivity. Timeless classics such as leather couches, high-end art and fawn carpeting dominate the interiors. I sometimes entertain my clients at the Equus, specifically for the gorgeous race course view and ambience – which features stunning art pieces by the likes of artists like S. H. Raza, Ram Kumar and Bose Krishnamachari. Clubs like the A Club bridge the gap with a balance of modern, informal and luxury elements, considering their younger clientele. Even the members-only privileges here include slightly more laid back activities such as wine-tasting dinners and single malt events.
Most of us might look at this as a gated community that doesn’t encourage an inclusive culture. But I’d say it’s a space with an aspirational quality to it. It’s where the deals that could change the world are made – with a collaboration between the greatest minds. It’s still a community of diverse individuals from different fields, but with real decision-making powers at their disposal. It’s why I don’t quite find the term ‘business club’ appropriate. I’d look at it as ‘premium coworking’ – or coworking for the gentry. It’s not for everyone – but it’s something to aspire to.