The coworking phenomenon might not be very old, yet, it already has a lot of perspectives and questions to address for its near and long-term future.
As we attended Asia’s first Coworking Unconference in Bali in January 2015, we heard a lot of the speakers (coworking operators for the biggest part) share their insights on the future of coworking spaces.
Yes, this is the first flyer of the very first coworking space!
If we were to date the concept itself, coworking could find its origins in 2005, when American computer scientist Brad Neuberg shared on his blog the opening of a new kind of space:
“Do you work for yourself from home?
Do you miss community and structure?
Join Spiral Muse and Brad Neuberg in creating a new kind of work
environment for free spirits!”
Since then, a few studies have shown the number of coworking spaces and available seats have roughly doubled each year.
Coworking visas: coworkers of the world, unite!
We’ve covered extensively the topic of coworking visas in a previous article, stating both the technical hurdles it faces as well as a few potential solutions.
The main issues so far are both technical and financial:
- A coworking visa or pass implies a common infrastructure, from membership data to payment systems, up to credit management in the case such a visa can have different levels of interaction. So far, most coworking spaces manage their data in a very local way.
- A second one is financial: how to make pay coworkers in countries where the cost of space and living can go from 1 (Indonesia) to 10 (Singapore, Hong-Kong)? Our sentiment would be to forget about the money and set a guidelines for a fair use of a few free days per year per member, above which he/she would need to become a member.
The Coworking Unconference Asia ended up by the setup of the Asia Coworking Alliance, whose task list begins with this pass or visa for members who move across South-East Asia.
Corporate partnerships: how can coworking spaces help large companies?
A recurring topic of the panels and sessions at CUASIA were about the partnerships between coworking spaces and corporates.
A provocation, significant enough though, is first to flip the equation and ask rather how coworking spaces can help corporates, rather than the other way round.
If coworking spaces are indeed chasing corporates for money to sustain their community, the long-term trend is clearly not in favour of corporates, whose model of hierarchy, salaries and career evolution are unfit for the generations who are now entering the age of work.
Where would you work?
Only 7% of the genY is willing to work for a Fortune 500 company in 2015, and they will constitute 75% of the workforce by 2025.
A common misunderstanding from corporates is about the community, this key concept of our age they have such a difficulty to understand as it implies transparency, collaboration and amateurism.
While listening to some testimonials from the speakers, it appeared that corporates often wonder what level of control they can have on the community of a coworking space.
Still, successful partnerships do exist.
- In Singapore, The Hub is working with DBS, one of the largest bank of Asia, to foster social entrepreneurship through its DBS-Hub Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp series (now in its 5th edition). The idea for DBS is to get an expertise from tomorrow’s consumers and bank clients, with the support of the methodological framework of INSEAD business school.
- In Melbourne, Hub Australia partnered with PWC and the local government to keep youth working locally, through a program called Sparks. So far, both the corporate and the government have funded for about $80k the support for 16 “sparks”, young people from the vicinity who benefited from a coworking space membership and mentoring to grow their projects.
The key success factor of these partnership often begins by a shared vision and the building of trust among partners whose culture and relation to work and money are usually diverging.
Real-estate and the community: two models for the future of coworking
Another trend made visible by Grace Sai from the Hub Singapore and the different talks is the difference between community powered and real-estate centric coworking space:
- Community powered coworking spaces often start with a community, not a space, takes time to build, don’t aim for profit at first, and, to be clear, often struggle financially to break even and make the whole thing sustainable. Their main asset is precisely the community, its diversity, its capability to create and innovate out of the standards of corporates or research labs. Many of these spaces receive a lot of partnership offerings from corporates and local gov, although there’s no easy match.
- On the other side, could we say, real-estate centric coworking spaces are bout selling desks first, then see if a community can emerge. It’s clearly not the same game. Collective Works, in Singapore, is one of these players who target mostly SMEs and working professionals who need a space and, partly, a collaborative spirit. Since its opening in 2012, Collective Works went from 30 to 90 companies “hosted” in the space, where they can also benefit from professional services ranging from printing to incorporation or consulting.
Collective Works, in the CBD of Singapore, targets more professionals and SMEs
It’s fair to say that a battle is breeding between these two poles of one same phenomenon.
Coworkers who begin in a community powered coworking space look for advice, like to share… but they also grow and as they do so, the need more professional support, and they are, as anyone, price-sensitive.
On the other hand, real-estate centric spaces may look cold for people who choose the coworking culture as an alternative to a dead cold corporate world.
Amarit Charoenphan from Hubba in Thailand also warns of the rise of Megaspaces, run by real-estate companies and/or government who, after acknowledging the rise of the coworking phenomenon, brutally seize the opportunity to scale it with huge “blocks”.
Blk79, the new government-powered megaspace in the One-North tech cluster in Singapore,
inaugurated early February 2015.
In Thailand, two of those megaspaces are planned, combining coworking desks, hotels, and service offices.
The solution for community powered coworking spaces possibly lies in focusing on what they do best (growing a creative and innovative community), and to expand to new missions, such as entering the tech startup space where young teams also need to be nurtured.
The Asia Coworking Alliance: defining and defending the coworking culture in the world’s most dynamic region
Now that the different coworking spaces have grown, the need and the will for a common framework makes sense.
In Singapore, the Hub went from a dozens of members at the opening to about 500 members in the community. Most of the spaces in South-East Asia experience this exponential growth.
The Asia Coworking Alliance, who stemmed from one of the session of the Coworking Unconference, will try to help both members, teams, and coworking spaces founders to design joint projects and a common philosophy to maintain their growth and professionalize.
- For members, for instance, the coworking visa or a job portal could foster regional collaboration and bring a value to digital nomads always on the move.
- For teams, staff exchanges to learn more about the neighbouring spaces or sharing in open-source the core documents of the space would spare time and nerves to many new coworking spaces, while giving a framework which has been proven before.
- For founders at last, monthly hangouts and sharing strategic documents might also help to create a less fragmented scene than it is today, for the benefit of members.
It will be extremely interesting to see how this project unravels in the next few months, so we’ll be part of the next Coworking Unconference Asia 2016 to check how it went!