Sisters Nikita and Rhea Patel couldn’t have more different backgrounds. Although Dubai born and raised, the pair pursued their education abroad.
For Nikita, experience was the best teacher. She had a string of entrepreneurial ventures including a hydroponic vertical farm. The common theme between all her ventures was that they were all impact-driven in some way.
Rhea comes from a corporate background, working primarily in media and marketing. Working with a spectrum of brands, her strength lies in her analytical and creative skills. Following the pandemic, Rhea completed her post-graduate at the London Business School.
The pair had always aspired of starting a venture together and as co-founders, their different backgrounds would make them two halves of a whole.
While studying in the US, Nikita was introduced to co-working spaces. Pre-pandemic, co-working was still a novel concept in the UAE, and co-working spaces were few and far between. The pandemic triggered a shift in work culture, with a large number of people opting to work at home, or in a hybrid model.
The duo recognised that women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. School closures and lockdowns led to increased caregiving responsibilities, including homeschooling and taking care of elderly family members. Women, especially mothers, often bore the brunt of these additional responsibilities, which impacted their ability to work and led to reduced work hours or leaving the workforce altogether.
In the wake of the pandemic, there was a dire need for co-working spaces, especially for women re-entering the workspace. Having recognized this gap in the market, the idea for a female-centric co-working space was conceived.
Five years later, the two, along with their team celebrate the six-month anniversary of The Bureau, a co-working space designed by women, catering to the needs of women. However, The Bureau is not exclusively a co-working space, but also a platform for forging connections.
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“I think a lot of women who are entrepreneurs, freelancers or corporates prefer to work remotely.”
She acknowledges that entrepreneurship is often glamorized in society when in reality it can be a tedious and lonely process. She adds,
“I think one of our main motivations behind creating The Bureau was not just to create a workspace and a coworking space, but it was really to create community,”
The Bureau is also intended to be a sanctuary for women professionals like themselves, to network, connect and grow, and to find like-minded individuals working towards the same path.
“So I think at the core of what we're trying to create is not only our own community but also a home for all the amazing communities that already exist in Dubai.”
Anyone who visits The Bureau would be able to tell that the venture was a passion project. Every minute detail is intentional and mindful of almost every demographic and their preference.
The pair worked together with the design company Design Smith to turn the 930-metre space into something as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The Bureau is equipped with a range of working spaces from one-person private offices, to ten-person private offices.
The space also includes co-working lounges, and meeting rooms that can be booked out. For those working alone, there are cosy corners and a library area. Walking past the entrance, the wall is lined with intimate soundproof phone booths where patrons can attend Zoom calls or have a private conversation.
The salient feature of this co-working space is that it is meticulously curated with women’s needs in mind. Some of the amenities for women include a nursing room for breastfeeding mums with a fridge to store milk, a shower for a quick freshen-up, and a vanity room.
The space is also geared to launch a workout studio in August, where patrons can participate in yoga, pilates, sound healing and a number of other fitness activities.
“The whole ethos and purpose of having all these amenities in one space is that time is such an important commodity and as a woman passes through a lifecycle, it becomes increasingly important to manage time. The Bureau is intended to be a hub for work.”
Working together in one household during the pandemic, the sisters realised that they had wildly different working styles and preferences for their workspace.
While Rhea enjoyed working in a livelier workspace, Nikita preferred silence. The experience helped them recognize that an individual's workspace highly contributes towards productivity, stress management and motivation.
Almost every feature of The Bureau was intentionally curated, from the location to the design choices.
When Nikita and Rhea were in the creation process in 2020, they had very specific requirements. Located in Gold and Diamond Park in Al Quoz, the venue is a hub for professionals. They wanted a space that received natural light and had high ceilings to create a sense of openness and space, making it feel comfortable and less cramped. There was an emphasis on choosing a location with an abundance of parking space and located where patrons would not need to take an elevator.
“I think the experience of getting into a space is sometimes forgotten and if someone is already flustered by the time they walk into your space, they're probably not going to have a good experience. It's not only about the experience once inside your space but also the journey of getting there”
Even details as simple as seating space is attentively designated, with various types of seating from couches, high seats, standing desks, and traditional desks available for the patron’s choosing. By creating options on the basis of day-to-day tasks, the space clearly emulates its tagline, ‘Coworking Haven.’
The space hosts a café where patrons can eat and socialise, run by Jones the Grocer.
The success of creating an inclusive and optimal space came from creating focus groups to talk to people from different backgrounds, ages and stages of life about their expectations from a co-working space.
“The key during this process was not to assume what people want and also not to assume that we are representative of what every woman wants.”
The Bureau has quickly developed a very loyal customer base, which owes largely to the community formed in the space. The co-working space hosts a number of events and installations meant to encourage networking and connection, having both external and internal events. The space has its own community lead who is tasked with connecting members with each other.
“It could be that you get along with X, Y, Z person or it could be someone who's in a similar stage of life, taking a student path, doing their master's or PhD. It could be people that are in different stages, but in the same industry, you know? The community leader will help connect these individuals and constantly add value.”
Each month, the space hosts an internal event titled Needs and Leads, with the intention of helping facilitate connections between community members, by creating an environment where a group of ten to 15 members can bounce ideas off each other.
“I would share a little bit about my business and express three to four items or pain points of my business that I need support with at this point or maybe a recommendation on or a reference for point of contact.”
The group will then crowdsource ideas and offer vetted recommendations, following a give-and-take structure.
Every occasion is celebrated at The Bureau, and this inadvertently prompts not just professional connections, but also friendships.
The external events hosted occur monthly and are named the Taboo Talk series. The event is intended to create a platform for community members to discuss things that may often go unacknowledged by creating a safe space for people to discuss topics that may be difficult to consider. Womanhood comes with a certain dogma, and societal expectations can influence what topics are considered appropriate for women to discuss openly. The topics discussed usually follow the themes of women’s mental and physical health, encompassing body image, fasting, fad diets, intimacy, money, relationships, marriage, and motherhood.
Collaborating with the likes of Lighthouse Arabia, Nabta Health, and Baraka, the events are open to all and free of cost. Nikita thinks back to one of the events presented by money coach and speaker, Carol Glynn.
Sharing can be extremely valuable when it comes to taboo or unconventional topics, and having a safe and non-judgmental environment can encourage people to speak freely and realize that their predicaments may not be an isolated experience.
Variety and options extend to their prices as well. Individuals can pick from several options at different price points based on their commitment. The day pass priced at AED 120 allows access to the co-working space and all its facilities. The membership program offers monthly and annual plans, offering not only access to the space but also additional perks like meeting room credits, an invite to members-only events, and access to their community through their portal.
Another option that is a part of the annual plan is their dedicated desks, which offer fixed desks within a shared area. Members are encouraged to bring extra monitors or items to personalize their space since the desks are equipped with lockable storage.
Individuals or groups of ten can rent out offices on a six-month or annual lease. The offices are serviced, fully furnished, and equipped with Wi-Fi.
In the Bureau’s first year, it launched a Founding Member program. 15 to 20 individuals who reflected the ethos and values of the co-working space were handpicked to serve as ambassadors for the Bureau. These individuals were often entrepreneurs or ran their own communities making them adept at providing feedback and opinions. The backstage support and camaraderie from these communities helped consistently maintain the quality of the business. The Founding Member Class is expected to return in 2023.
In the short to medium term, the sisters hope for regional and international expansion and anticipate establishing more female-centric working spaces in other locations across the world.
Retrospecting on their journey as entrepreneurs, the sisters credit the comfort and ease of being co-founders, designating roles in business activities, and having a support system as the primary contributors to a great partnership. Rhea advises that persistence in the face of rejection is essential. Nikita believes that being hands-on can contribute a lot to being conscientious.
“Rhea and I are constantly sitting at the reception, overseeing everything that happens, speaking to every member and knowing them by name and face. It’s important to know your business inside out because that's the only way that everyone else in your team will see the commitment that's required. No one is going to care about your business as much as you do. ”
“Something that we really embody as founders, that has seeped through our team is that no task is too small. So when the founders care so much, I'm sure even the team will want to care just as much as.”