BY Livian Lin
With storage in the cloud, cost-cutting measures, diverse workforce and a growing mobile society, the way we work is changing. Emerging in response to this change is the mushrooming of co-working spaces worldwide.
Co-working is a concept where individuals or groups from different organisations share one working environment, often an office. This concept appeals to freelancers, frequent travellers or those who work in relative isolation.
It is a fairly new industry but it is enjoyed 36 per cent growth in 2015 worldwide with the emergency of 7,800 co-working spaces globally. This number is forecast to rise to 37,000 by 2018.
Response has been positive with one in four employers having incorporated use of mobile ways of working, including home and co-working spaces, and the number is expected to rise to 89 per cent by 2020 globally.
Meanwhile, co-working spaces in Asia is seeing a 56 per cent growth rate and most of these are from new entrants.
In the Klang Valley, a co-working outlet named WORQ is expected to be launched this year end in Bangsar. It has been receiving positive feedback prior to its launch. Nearby, another outlet, Uppercase, has been garnering positive response since it opened in March this year.
“The idea is not entirely uncommon. We’ve seen new commercial trends emerging in the west and an increasing part of Asia, especially from the tech industry. The acceptance for the concept of co-working is growing. We see more people opting for this as an alternative workspace,” Ee Soon Wei, chief executive officer of Uppercase shared.
“It’s much less of a hassle to set up, and allows the flexibility to choose and add services as and when needed. It reduces decision fatigue. Most of all, time is the biggest savings for these tenants (known as members), allowing them to focus on the actual work itself rather than a constant to-do list about office operations,” Ee added.
CEO and co-founder of WORQ, Stephanie Ping concurred, adding that co-working spaces eliminate hefty set-up costs and long term rental contracts.
The Kuala Lumpur Journal Hotel in Jalan Beremi does not house a conventional business centre but a co-working space called the Workers Union.
“Workers Union started with some resistance as it is still a fairly new idea here but it soon caught on. Although it is not running at full capacity as yet, we are positive things are looking up,” said its marcom executive, Nadine Dargham.
Nadine points out the full facilities at members’ disposal, such as LED projectors, AV sets, meeting rooms, flip charts, flat screen TVs and teleconferencing facilities as well as the standard broadband internet access and high speed WiFi. There’s also coffee on demand.
However, some co-working space operators find that gadgets and a designer office are not enough. Successful co-working spaces also actively create a vibrant community.
In fact, that was how Uppercase started. Ee was hosting events and activities at the re-purposed heritage printing factory which soon became a vibrant hub of creativity before turning it into a co-working space.
WORQ too focused first on building a strong community – taking great pains to secure support from industry leaders, experts and government bodies, to form connections that members could tap into.
“Community is key. Real estate is only 20 percent of the business. Members leverage on each other’s strengths and connections to create new opportunities,” Ping added.
One who benefited from such a community was Razif Hashim, an entertainer, entrepreneur and educator. Trained in London, he found himself faced with fallacies, resistance and misconceptions that deter the cultivation of local acting talents and home-grown movies. He felt isolated until he found Uppercase where he got to meet and share his views and ideas with like-minded people.
As one of the first companies which joined Uppercase, Razif said: “I recall how awesome it was to see so many different teams working towards making their dreams a reality. It increased our productivity tremendously because there’s so much to inspire you on a daily basis. Then we realised that a good co-working space can make you feel like you belong to a bigger thing than just your own cause. It’s about community.”
Razif set up FTalent there and now runs free acting classes twice a month at Uppercase.
Once considered the go-to for freelancers, the creative types and tech start-ups, co-working spaces is gaining popularity with a wide and diverse group these days.
Deloitte, a multinational professional services firm based in the USA, noted in a recent survey that due to the growing importance of the service sector, knowledge intensive careers and digital technology, more people work on a mobile basis, unrestricted by location. No longer favoured only by small-medium enterprises, the list of blue chip companies offering flexible working location is growing. These include Deloitte, Dell and American Express.
Workers Union saw a mix of individuals as well as groups from different industries. Located in a hotel, it also sees a mix of locals and foreigners and a growing number of members who are not in-house guests.
Uppercase was initially tenanted by mostly the creative field from architecture, e-commerce, urban design, and creative arts industry, but has quickly gained members from tech and other companies, while the diversity of the industries is growing.
Apart from that, Ee noted that many of the members of Uppercase are at different business stages or career cycles, but all find the dynamics of such a diversity a major attraction.
“Co-working allows them to experience a community that is commonly engaged on similar values, like-minded presence and active participation for learning,” he said, “and in a world of globalisation, this proves valuable.”
“Experiences are exchanged – a stint in Bali, insights from a conference in Brazil – they are often inspiring,” Ee enthused.
Ping added that the diverse age group is a plus point as “older members get updates into the digital age and younger members get connections from the more established businesses”.
Harvard Business Review reported that employees who work from co-working spaces are about one point higher on levels of thriving from their traditional office-bound counterparts. They feel they are more in control, feel a sense of identity with their work and sense of community with fellow co-working space members.
Nadine believes it also has to do with the design and vibe. The layout of Workers Union has an al-fresco area, a bar that operates after 5pm, access to the hotel’s café services, books and chill-out spots on top of meeting spaces. This helps break the monotony, while the décor echoes a sense of familiarity — minimalist, relaxing and modern.
On whether it’s a transient office, Razif said: “Of course the dream of any acting school is to have a theatre facility of our own, with our identity in the walls we paint and shapes we create. However, the world is converging into a closely knit community where collaboration is king, and space is shared. If no absolute reasons arise for us to venture into our own space, with all the benefits of working out from a cool co-working space, why bother?”
During the Coworking Unconference Asia 2016, key points shared from the Co-working Survey by Deskmag found that more co-working spaces in Asia reported profit and a higher numbers of new entrants compared to Europe. 78 per cent are looking at expansion, encouraged by Asia’s competitive commercial rental rates. Globally, a big leap in membership has been recorded year to year and Asia is following suit.
“The co-working trend in Malaysia is still at its infancy stage and will continue to grow as more and more people adapt to the sharing economy. Resources both tangible and intangible will become more accessible, anytime, anywhere. This change, enabled by the advancement of mobile and communications technologies, will be adopted not just by start-ups and freelancers but also large corporations and traditional businesses,” Ping added.