As we attended Asia’s first Coworking Unconference in Bali in January, a recurring topic among the speakers and attendees from Asia, the Middle-East, Europe and the US was the idea of a coworking visa.
Demographic foundations of the coworking phenomenon
A few key demographic and work trends explain why so many people are discussing the coworking visa:
- Individuals are more and more emancipated from traditional institutions such as families (rise of single households everywhere on the planet), unions, states or companies.
- Migrations are on the rise, with 232 million migrants officially assessed by the UN in 2013 (+30% vs 2000), with states experimenting new visa policies to get talent all over the world.
- Only 7% of the generation Y (born between 1980 and 2000) wish to work for a Fortune 500 company. They will account for 75% of the workforce by 2025. Coworking are where people can redefine themselves through collaboration.
As a result, entrepreneurship, work-from-home are on the rise, but people still need a place to work form or work with, and that’s where coworking spaces kicks in.
Technology and transport innovation increase remote work
A few other trends are helping a lot a new generation of freelancers to work from wherever they deem convenient or comfortable.
Digital technology, from social media to easier payments online, have made popular freelance marketplaces such as Elance-Odesk (8 million members claimed) or Fiverr (more than $50m raised so far), where anyone can offer or rent typical freelance work (marketing, design, coding, language, etc).
The rise of budget airlines also made traveling cheap for freelancers who are no more forced to stay in one place.
Ryan Air and Easy Jet (Europe) and Southwest airlines (USA) are now among the top 10 airlines in the world per number of passengers carried. With 40 million yearly, Air Asia is not very far from this top 10 as well.
Many websites also list the top places to cowork from, with a mix of visa, quality/price of life, bandwith, and freelance opportunities, here is one of them.
Financial and technical hurdles for the coworking visa
A few obstacles are still on the road of a proper and efficient coworking visa, as discussed in one of CUASIA’s unconference sessions.
The first one is to know if there’s even a need for such a coworking visa. No data so far has been gathered to check how many people would actually use such a system.
It’s a chicken and egg problem as well, as the existence of a “pass” between several countries could also be an infrastructure creating a new form of entrepreneurship.
The lack of a common infrastructure is likely the main obstacle.
Being upstarts themselves, few coworking spaces manage their members, data or payment systems the same way.
Even in large coworking brands such as Impact Hub, with 63 locations worldwide, each local unit has its specificities. Hubbers in Singapore can enjoy a few free days at the Hub in Ubud (Hubud), but it’s more of a gentleman’s agreement than a formalised system.
Then, the price difference of membership between countries makes it hard to calculate transfers.
How many days of coworking in Hubba in Thailand are worth in Hong-Kong or Singapore? A coworking space in Bandung we’ve met has a $50 monthly rate, when it can reach up to $1000 in more pricey cities.
Some places also attract more of these nomads. Bali is an easier, cheaper, nicer place than pricey Singapore for digital nomads.
First steps toward a coworking visa in Asia
After assessing these difficulties, our work group at the unconference also tried to find solutions. Most of them can be seen on a mapping going from a technological approach to a more behavioural one.
An ideal system would rely on technology, although it supposed a huge clean-up and standardisation of the data of coworking spaces, which so far does not exist. A few startups have already got funded to solve, partly, the issue.
Sharedesk would be the equivalent of the Booking.com of shared offices. They’re not yet in the field of coworking spaces, traditionally more community-focused than real-estate centric shared office whose first matter is to sell/rent desks.
A possible system would be to create a memorandum of understanding or a charter common to a group of coworking spaces, settling the do’s and dont’s of coworkers coming from abroad or another city.
Such a document could for instance says how much days it is acceptable to cowork in a network of spaces, at what conditions or rates, with the concept of “fair use” as a founding principle.
Alliances and global partnership: will the coworking visa be the same pain as airlines miles?
From a coworking space founder’s perspective, an alternative lies in a regional or global partnership or alliance, into which a negotiation can help members from different cities and/or franchise to move across borders.
The idea is tempting in theory, but makes us think too much of the clumsiness of airlines alliances (Star Alliance, Skyteam and One World) which incentives frequent flyers to join either of them. Loyalty to one means “miles”, convertible in free flight tickets from time to time.
From a user perspective, though, airlines miles are really a pain. Alliances are never stable enough (read how the airliners of the Gulf countries, such as Emirates, Qatar or Etihad, are playing on these tensions).
Users are locked in an ecosystem which does not give them the best convenience (some alliances are stronger on certain flight segments than others), nor the best price (if you find cheaper in another alliance, you’re penalized as you won’t get points).
We’ll be keeping an eye on the development of coworking visas. So far, two initiatives can be found online.
One with the Coworking Visa Map (whose spaces offer 1-3 days of free cowork for any member of another of the listed coworking spaces), and the other dubbed Coworking Visa, a long, dense and complex Wiki where you can find frienly spaces and their terms.
Deskmag shares that in its surveys, members are both less to use coworking visas over time, and more to fully drop it as they think “it is too complicated”.