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The rise of co-working spaces

No longer just for struggling tech start-ups, co-working is redefining the work culture with more spaces catering to a wider audience.

Throw a stone at any building and chances are it will either land at a bubble tea shop – or a co-working space.

In the same way that bubble tea shops keep popping up regardless of health warnings about eating too many tapioca pearls, coworking spaces show no sign of abating.

Not only are new players jumping on the bandwagon, existing operators are expanding quickly, with each new space bigger than the previous ones.

  • Casual meeting spaces at Csuites

    Casual meeting spaces at csuites.

Expansion Plans

Just this month, American co-working giant WeWork, which currently has 11 locations in Singapore, announced it will take over a 21-storey building in 2021. The tower, 21 Collyer Quay, will be its biggest property here.

(RELATED: Miguel McKelvey, co-founder of WeWork, on why he builds unconventional working spaces)

Just this year alone, Spaces, which originated in Amsterdam, added three more locations – TripleOne Somerset, Clarke Quay and Paya Lebar Quarter – to its Singapore portfolio, on top of City Hall and Robinson Road, where it started. Later this year, it will open its flagship site at One Raffles Place.

Three year-old home-grown brand, The Great Room, which has locations at One George Street, Centennial Tower and Ngee Ann City, has added a fourth location at The Raffles Arcade at the Raffles Hotel Singapore.

The concept of working in a flexible space is no longer a faddish trend appealing to millennial start-ups – in fact, it looks set to change the work culture as we know it.

Staying Power

Leading flexible workspace provider IWG recently conducted a survey among 15,000 respondents from 80 different countries. The results showed that 83 per cent of people would choose a job which offered flexible working conditions over one that doesn’t. And 28 per cent value being able to choose their work location over an increase in holiday allowance.

Margot van der Poel, Spaces’ brand manager for Middle East and Asia Pacific says, “More companies are realising the intangible benefits that co-working spaces  bring, including the ability to attract and retain top talent, support better work-life balance, and reduce the amount of stress associated with lengthy commutes.”

She is all too aware that Spaces faces fierce competition from new and existing operators. “Competition is good for businesses as it encourages innovation and differentiation in the industry,” she says.

The main players have since been modifying their premises to attract new members. When co-working spaces first appeared in Singapore in 2011, they appealed mainly to tech start-ups which couldn’t afford to pay for office rental. From basic fit-outs, co-working spaces evolved into stylish designer spaces that began to attract entrepreneurs, SMEs and even larger companies. Most still offer a space to anyone, with the option of having a private office or just a hot desk. But now, operators are further fine-tuning their spaces and their target audience.

(RELATED: Is The Work Project Singapore’s most luxurious co-working space? Here’s a first look.)

New Players

Cathay Organisation, a notable name in the entertainment industry which now counts property management in its portfolio, recently launched GATHER, at Martin Road. Unlike other spaces which offer a mish-mash of flexible working arrangements, GATHER offers only 12 suites which can fit from six to 40 people. Tenants choose either fully furnished spaces or design their own – from layout to furniture. There are common areas too. Designed by Takenouchi Webb, GATHER has a feminine feel, with its earthy pinks and light wood colours.

General manager Lena Tan says, “We did our research and found that there are businesses who want to be in a co-working space, but one that is quiet and offers more privacy.”

Meanwhile, Lendlease, an international property and infrastructure group, is launching csuites in Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ). The co-working space is designed for teams with at least 50 employees, as it feels that this segment of the market is underserved.

Richard Paine, PLQ’s managing director adds that csuites has been designed to meet the needs of corporates. “Corporate tenants have specific requirements, for example, a space with good functionality, seamless technology, and comfortable ambience,” says Mr Paine, who spent a few years in a coworking space, as part of his research.

csuites boast full length glass windows for natural light, with 10 suites fully equipped with real plants, height-adjustable desks, and USB ports in individual power points. There’s a cafe, soundproof meeting rooms and pantries with lockable fridges.

Lendlease believes that co-working spaces are the offices of the future, says Mr Paine, adding that the current ones are inefficient, requiring long fit-out times, and not knowing how much or little space a company will need in the future. “Co-working spaces offer more flexibility, which makes them more sustainable and efficient,” he says.

Catering To Different Needs

Another plus is the work-life balance that co-working spaces encourage, as Trehaus and Core Collective have shown.

When Trehaus opened in 2016, it incorporated a child-minding creche and nursery so working parents could work close to their children. Its dedicated desks and offices reached full occupancy within a year, with a waiting list for its creche. “Trehaus meets a very real need faced by countless working parents, who could pursue their careers while not missing out on their kids’ formative first years ,” says co-founder Elaine Kim.

(RELATED: Childcare centres for the one per cent)

In August, it will open at Funan, in a space three times bigger than its Orchard premises. It’s introducing a Trehaus school for kids aged two months to six years, at the parents’ request. It has its own curriculum that focuses on character building and future skills, with the full involvement of their parents.

The highly successful Core Collective – which opened in 2018 and houses fitness and wellness experts under one roof – now has a second branch at Dempsey. Founder Michelle Yong says that it has been a hit because, “Core Collective offered a plug-and-play solution for fitness and wellness companies to grow their business.”

Its Dempsey branch will have yoga, barre and ballet, Pilates instructors and personal trainers, and wellness practitioners such as chiropractors and acupuncturists. But it offers other services too. Fitness companies can organise bootcamps in the outdoor area, while another tenant offers swimming and aqua fitness lessons. Yet another provides healthy food options. “Core Collective Dempsey will be a lifestyle destination. The tenants and their offerings are more family focused,” says Ms Yong.

(RELATED: Michelle Yong redefines traditional construction business by building spaces for collectives)

Fledgling F&B operations are not left out either, thanks to IncuBaker, the first National Environment Agency-approved co-working kitchen. It’s a hit with mumpreneurs who cook only for festive occasions, cafe-preneurs who are testing menus and concepts, and even established companies who are doing R&D and need a small batch production kitchen.

Located at one-north, IncuBaker was founded by Terence Ho and his wife Stephanie, who runs a cake business. “A friend planted this seed of a co-working kitchen,” says Mr Ho. “Looking at the number of people who produce from their homes and need a reasonably-priced means to expand, we saw the market potential.” It provides licensed kitchen facilities for clients to produce for pop-up events and online retail.

Meanwhile, Federico Folcia, who founded the Robertson Quay space Crane, says he wants to fill a gap in the market for those who seek a casual and unpretentious space to not only relax and meet people, but also share their skills and life experiences.

“A big part of what Crane is about is skills-sharing and mentorship, which is best served by ‘grown ups’ – those who have significant life experience to share.” It doesn’t have age restrictions but it does have special membership deals for those aged 45 and above.

Business Opportunities

Whatever concept fits their needs, tenants say that being in such spaces fuels collaborative opportunities. At The Common Ground in Macpherson, over half of its members are from the events related industry, even though there was never a deliberate attempt to attract them. Its other members are from industries such as blockchain, engineering and fintech. “They find it useful to be close to events service providers so that they may work together to better market their products or services to their customers,” says co-founder Michael Lee. “Having large groups of members who work in the same industry not only creates a natural conversation and collaboration, it also builds networking opportunities that help various parties grow alongside each other.”

(RELATED: What’s special about these 4 new co-working spaces in Singapore?)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: csuites, The Common Ground, GATHER & Spaces