Co-Working Spaces Are The New Norm. Now What?
Once the preserve of hipster freelancers in Brooklyn, Hackney, Sheung Wan and Tianzifang, co-working spaces have now flooded the mainstream and are stealthily taking over our cities. WeWork, the US group that pioneered the concept of trendy co-working spaces for millennials, has evolved into an international giant, operating in more than 60 cities around the world.
It arrived in the UK in 2014 and since then has accrued the second highest number of offices after the British government. Think about that for a moment; it rents more office space in the city than Google, Amazon or any multi-national British firm.
In Asia, meanwhile, there was a 150 percent year-on-year increase in co-working spaces in 2018, and statistics show that 80 percent of co-workers are under 40, meaning that figure will shoot up as Generation Z ages into the workplace. Many of these new spaces have been founded in Thailand—Asia’s co-working capital—by Amarit Charoenphan, the CEO of Hubba, which is the country’s number one co-working hub and online community platform.
"The growth of co-working spaces will [continue to] accelerate around the world as people realise working together collaboratively beats working alone," he says. "You get the best facilities and services at an amazing location at a fraction of the price of a typical lease and without any of the hassle. For small teams, the close proximity to other entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and support networks could mean the difference between life and death. Co-working is here to stay"
However, as co-working spaces begin to dominate our urban landscapes and change our work culture, they are going to have to start offering more than just a desk and a fast Wi-Fi connection. We speak to Charoenphan to find out how co-working spaces will need to adapt to a world where half the population is freelance, and their offices are the new normal.
1/4Create A Fertile Environment For Startups
Walk into any of Charoenphan’s co-working spaces in Bangkok and you’ll be struck by just how pretty they are—plants trailing over book-shelves, floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the city, and cosy communal coffee areas where freelancers come together for inspiration, business advice, or just a chat. Hubba Ekkamai is in the busiest part of Bangkok but feels like a taste of the literal jungle in the middle of an urban jungle—and as for the wild, overgrown abandon of the greenhouse meeting room, all we can say is it's hard not to fall in love with it.
“When I first started Hubba, I realised what was missing in Thailand was a workspace that could support an entrepreneur, a freelancer and startups,” says Charoenphan. “One that was not just affordable, flexible and fully equipped like your dream office, but that also offered a strong sense of community and friendship, lots of space for learning and shared opportunities, and services that could help your business to succeed.”
He wants to create more than just an environment for ideas to blossom in, he wants Hubba to be an integral part of an ecosystem that makes businesses flourish. “Most need support on every part of their entrepreneurial journey, since the journey is probably the hardest thing they will ever do in their life,” says Charoenphan. “They are embarking into the unknown, and that’s very frightening.”
Which is why, at Hubba, there are mentors, designers, entrepreneurs and tech experts on hand, as well as networking events with investors and regular fundraisers. "Without this content, connectivity and culture that promotes collaboration among members, co-working spaces are glorified glass boxes," he says.
2/4Creches For The Kids
How do you launch a company, write an article, design a website or even create a single spreadsheet while looking after small children? The answer, as any parent will tell you, is with difficulty. Parents want and need flexible childcare that can easily fit around the irregular work schedules that are an inevitability in freelance life. However, the co-working sector runs on very tight profit margins, and according to a 2017 Global Coworking Survey, just 40 percent of all co-working spaces are profitable.
Is it possible to run a workspace with a creche and make a profit? So far, none of the largest co-working offices in London, New York or Paris have attempted to offer any form of childcare, although Asia is slightly ahead of the game with Trehaus, which is headquartered in Singapore and offers nanny supervision, play areas and meals for children, and fully equipped offices for adults.
This is an element to co-working that needs development—it is a sector that is past its early stage and is rapidly maturing, and with a rise in self-employed parents, there is now a demand for a new type of flexible setup that allows women in particular to pursue their self-employed career goals while being a parent.
"I have seen it in co-working spaces in Singapore and elsewhere and it seems like a great idea," says Charoenphan. "I'm in the process of starting a family myself and I can see why so many parents of very young children would want to constantly be around them. That said, a creche or day care is a highly regulated business in many countries so it will require coworking spaces operators to be very skillful in running two businesses side by side."
3/4Meeting Then Mani
Okay, we agree, beauty salons are a less urgently needed development than creches, but they would be a welcome one nonetheless. And fear not fellow beauty lovers, they are coming to a co-working space near you soon. Some are self-contained beauty co-working hubs, where consumers can, in one building, visit a series of professional individuals including hairdressers, nail technicians, beauticians and barbers.
These work in an innovative way. For example, members at the Hunter Collective in London—who are all beauty professionals—pay a flat rate of US$120 a month, and then a standard rate of $28 per hour for a chair or $13 per hour for a table, and you pay only for the time you use it. This is different from the way the industry currently works, where beauticians usually rent a chair in a salon and work on a commission basis. It is set to shake up the entire beauty industry and proves co-working has legs beyond traditional laptop-based work.
Elsewhere, office-based co-working spaces are offering small beauty salons, where men and women can have a quick haircut, massage or pedicure in-between tasks. Which means tense shoulders and bitten-down nails could be banished from your working life.
4/4Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Scientists are showing that running doesn't just give you a trim waist; it has a profound effect on your brain. In fact, specific physical activities can markedly alter brain structure in precise ways that make you more likely to succeed at work. A wave of studies exploring the unexpected links between mental and bodily fitness is emerging from labs, showing it improves concentration, memory, mental health and creativity. No wonder office-based gyms are booming.
In the US, co-working space Life Time began as a gym, but as the managers noticed a number of their regulars staying on to work in the cafe between work-outs and classes, they expanded to include a co-working space and their concept has spread across the country.
And while Charoenphan's co-working spaces undoubtedly put brain power above brawn, they have begun trialing yoga sessions on the roof. "I think the sky is the limit on what additional products and services a co-working space can provide but sometimes it's also better to focus on what you do really well and partner with other companies that specialise in gyms and beauty salons to help you deliver the service," he says. "Just make sure that you can run it all well, as every new business is a distraction from the core values of co-working: community success."