Co-working spaces are set to eclipse the traditional office set-up, writes Helen Dalley
“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.
REACHING OUT TO THE LIKE-MINDED
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