Co-work­ing spa­ces are set to eclipse the tra­di­tional of­fice set-up, writes He­len Dalley

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

“In­no­va­tion nests”, aka co-work­ing spa­ces, are gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity through­out Asia, as tra­di­tional of­fice set-ups go out of fash­ion

The tra­di­tional nine-to-five of­fice en­vi­ron­ment may soon be­come a thing of the past. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Pricewater­house­Coop­ers ti­tled The Fu­ture

of Work: A Jour­ney to 2022, only one in five staff want to work in a con­ven­tional of­fice space, with its cu­bi­cles and cor­ner of­fices. The ma­jor­ity pre­fer to use col­lab­o­ra­tive workspaces or log on from any lo­ca­tion. Ex­pected to rep­re­sent 75 per cent of the work­force by 2025, mil­len­ni­als favour co-work­ing spa­ces as ideas can flow freely and a com­mu­nity spirit per­vades. In ad­di­tion to the chance to net­work and bounce ideas around, co-work­ing spa­ces usu­ally of­fer work­shops, talks and ser­vices rang­ing from sec­re­tar­ial to dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing.

Al­ready fairly well es­tab­lished in Europe and the US, co-work­ing spa­ces are now be­com­ing more preva­lent in Asia-Pa­cific. No­table open­ings in­clude Spa­ces Sin­ga­pore, a Dutch im­port that made its Asia de­but last Novem­ber and will open its sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Ja­pan later this year, with more Asian open­ings to fol­low. In Hong Kong, Garage Col­lec­tive, whose pet-friendly pol­icy and in-house veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant sin­gle it out from the com­pe­ti­tion, bills it­self as a “life­style hub” and has an ex­hi­bi­tion space with pop-up shop fa­cil­i­ties to help busi­nesses – es­pe­cially start-ups – pro­mote their goods and ser­vices.


Founded in 2010 in New York, We Work ( we­work.com) aims to cre­ate a world where peo­ple “work to make a life, not just a liv­ing”. Fast-for­ward six years and it has about 1,800 em­ploy­ees, nearly 80,000 mem­bers, and more than 100 lo­ca­tions in 32 cities and 12 coun­tries. The shared workspace, which de­liv­ers ser­vices for en­trepreneurs, free­lancers, start-ups and small busi­nesses, is mak­ing in­roads in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, hav­ing re­cently opened its sec­ond space in Hong Kong. A China flag­ship in Shang­hai’s Wei­hai Lu opened last Novem­ber, along­side other lo­ca­tions in that city as well as Seoul and Syd­ney. In 2017, it is en­ter­ing into the Bei­jing mar­ket with two new lo­ca­tions: We Work Guanghua and We Work Ciyunsi.

Ole Ruch, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for Asia-Pa­cific, says its tar­get mar­ket is any­one that con­sid­ers them­selves a cre­ator.“We Work is home to mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies, de­sign­ers, en­ter­tain­ers, PR firms, health­care pro­fes­sion­als, fi­nan­cial ser­vices, artists, bricks-and­mor­tar re­tail­ers, F&B, lawyers, health and well­ness, ac­coun­tants, re­cruit­ing firms – any­one who wants to work in an in­spir­ing en­vi­ron­ment pro­grammed to help con­nect, ed­u­cate and foster col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

It also counts big cor­po­ra­tions such as Delta, IBM, KMPG, Drop­box, Sam­sung, HSBC and GE within its ranks.“For cor­po­rates, the power of We Work is ac­cess to a cre­ative space and the chance to con­nect with the most in­no­va­tive peo­ple in the coun­try,” Ruch adds.“We see more and more en­ter­prises im­merse them­selves in the in­no­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment fos­tered in both our phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal spa­ces around the world. We also help global com­pa­nies stay at­trac­tive to young tal­ent – mil­len­ni­als who want a more col­lab­o­ra­tive at­mos­phere.”

Ruch says his is a global com­pany with a lo­cal play­book.“When­ever we en­ter a new mar­ket, we work to­gether with key part­ners and ex­perts to help cre­ate the We Work ex­pe­ri­ence in that re­gion. We have lo­cal con­sul­tants and de­sign teams to add lo­cal el­e­ments to our spa­ces. We want lo­cal op­er­a­tions, lo­cal pro­gram­ming, lo­cal em­ploy­ees and – most im­por­tantly – lo­cal mem­bers.

“There is a macro-shift hap­pen­ing in the way peo­ple want to work, peo­ple fo­cus­ing more on co­op­er­a­tion, com­mu­nity and what’s mean­ing­ful to them. We Work’s busi­ness is a true shar­ing econ­omy busi­ness, fo­cused on col­lab­o­ra­tion.”


Billed as an en­tre­pre­neur’s club that con­nects peo­ple, ideas and re­sources, Hong Kong’s Metta ( metta.co) at­tracts in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions keen to change the world through en­trepreneur­ship and in­no­va­tion.

Since open­ing last May, the club has hosted ev­ery­thing from dis­cus­sions on cor­po­rate gov­er­nance prac­tices to work­shops on de­vel­op­ing tech prod­ucts. Man­ag­ing part­ner Tony Verb says they plan to build a net­work of spa­ces that serve as meet­ing spots for in­no­va­tors glob­ally, and have al­ready opened a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Nairobi. How­ever, cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one feels equally at home can be a big chal­lenge.“We had to build a space that was at­trac­tive to ev­ery­one in­volved in the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem, from the gov­ern­ment, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and stu­dents to en­trepreneurs, an­gel in­vestors and high-tech com­pa­nies. Cre­at­ing a space where a univer­sity stu­dent feels as good as a bil­lion­aire is not easy,” says Verb.

Nev­er­the­less, rapid mem­ber­ship growth – it be­gan with 80 mem­bers and now has 800 plus a fur­ther 200 in Nairobi – demon­strates that Metta is man­ag­ing to make ev­ery­one from un­der­grad­u­ates to CEOs feel com­fort­able.“We have a method that gen­er­ates ex­po­nen­tial growth, as every mem­ber can rec­om­mend an­other. As long as we cre­ate value, that in­vi­ta­tion should be trig­gered, and if mem­bers don’t feel like they can in­vite some­one, then we’re ob­vi­ously not do­ing some­thing well enough. That’s the only way we can guar­an­tee the right peo­ple come through the door,” ex­plains Verb.

He shares a story that il­lus­trates how the club works. “The other day, I had two meet­ings, one with Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank’s Bo Han­son, and an­other with John Ri­ley from [tech con­fer­ence] RISE. I felt that they should know each other so I in­tro­duced them, and it turned out they’d ac­tu­ally been in touch a while ago and had been try­ing to meet up ever since. It was the space and the whole idea that made them come to­gether, and the fol­low­ing day they met for a coffee and dis­cussed co­op­er­a­tion.”

Metta is now fo­cused on its global net­work as­pi­ra­tions.“We’d love Metta to be ev­ery­where where there’s in­no­va­tion, and we want to be in at least ten en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tems by the end of 2017. I think we can go even be­yond that if we find the right part­ners,” says Verb.


Workspace com­mu­nity Retro Spot ( ret­rospot.hk) was one of the ear­li­est pro­po­nents of co-work­ing spa­ces in Hong Kong, hav­ing set up in Quarry Bay in 2012. There are cur­rently around 13 com­pa­nies work­ing there, ac­cord­ing to founder Bon­nie Yip, who says, “We’re not just a co-work­ing space – we also in­tro­duce our mem­bers to in­vestors. We’re try­ing to reach out to those look­ing to in­vest in Asia and make Hong Kong a hub for cre­ativ­ity.”

In or­der to at­tract global in­vestors, Yip says the com­pany is work­ing along­side out­reach pro­grammes such as global start-up Get in the Ring.“Hope­fully we can have more of a bridge to the out­side world. Get in the Ring is the first out­reach pro­gramme we’ve been in­volved in, and if it’s suc­cess­ful, I want it to be an an­nual high­light. We al­ready have cor­po­rates very ex­cited to join next year who haven’t been able to this time.” In ad­di­tion to in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors, Yip works to of­fer mem­bers ac­cess to ad­vi­sors, busi­ness lead­ers and coaches from over­seas to bring their per­spec­tives to clients.

Yip thinks co-work­ing spa­ces have be­come pop­u­lar for two main rea­sons.“The cost of run­ning a com­pany is ex­pen­sive, and usu­ally the big­gest over­head is the rent, so you don’t have to hire some­one to work in the of­fice and take care of your needs if you co-work. Also, start-ups are es­pe­cially keen to meet other peo­ple and net­work.”With so many co-work­ing spa­ces hit­ting the mar­ket through­out Asia-Pa­cific, Yip says cross­col­lab­o­ra­tion is cru­cial.“I’d like to set up an ini­tia­tive where co-work­ing space own­ers can come to­gether and talk about how we can build the ecosys­tem, to en­sure we don’t have du­pli­cates of the same sem­i­nars and in­stead put on work­shops that re­ally iden­tify what start-ups need, and how we can get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion over­seas. Co-work­ing spa­ces of­fer more than just a desk – it’s the am­bi­ence and mind­set that makes them spe­cial.”

Founded in 2014 in Hong Kong, and with lo­ca­tions across China and South­east Asia, Garage So­ci­ety’s ( the­garage­so­ci­ety.com) name pays homage to the game-chang­ing com­pa­nies that were born in a garage, in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft, Ap­ple and Google. It re­cently opened a 750 sqm work­ing space in Sai Ying Pun called Garage Col­lec­tive, a “life­style hub” whose pet- friendly pol­icy and on­site veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant en­able mem­bers to spend qual­ity time with their pets and have lunch with­out ever leav­ing the workspace.

“So­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity rests at the core of our busi­ness,” says Garage So­ci­ety founder Elaine Tsung.“Aside from the en­vi­ron­men­tal up­sides, what we of­fer at Garage Col­lec­tive is in line with the life­style and pri­or­i­ties of our mem­bers.”Those mem­bers in­clude a fash­ion events com­pany, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency and tech­nol­ogy start-ups, and Garage So­ci­ety also of­fers flex­i­ble mem­ber­ship op­tions for busi­ness trav­ellers, from day passes to meet­ing room rental.

As well as a Phuket lo­ca­tion opened last sum­mer, the com­pany is ex­pand­ing the Garage Des­ti­na­tion brand to in­clude Thai­land’s Chi­ang Mai and Siem Reap in Cam­bo­dia.“There will also be more Garage So­ci­ety and Garage Col­lec­tive op­er­a­tions in key Asian cities in­clud­ing Manila, Bangkok and Shang­hai,” says Tsung.

She be­lieves many con­sider co-work­ing to be the fu­ture as it pro­motes col­lab­o­ra­tion while of­fer­ing flex­i­bil­ity, both of which are cru­cial to mod­ern busi­nesses, es­pe­cially as most teams now tran­scend borders and time zones.“Co-work­ing has been pop­u­lar in North Amer­ica and Europe for a while, and Asia has started to catch up in re­cent years. The trend will only con­tinue as work be­comes more and more mo­bile.”

Clock­wise from op­po­site page: Garage Col­lec­tive; We Work; and Retro Cre­ative

Be­low: Garage So­ci­ety

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