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Commentary: Co-working spaces look pretty attractive right about now

While co-working spaces came under threat when the pandemic broke out, it looks like they’ll continue to dot the landscape for a much longer time, say Carys Chan and Julian Waters-Lynch.

Commentary: Co-working spaces look pretty attractive right about now

The interior of a co-working space by JustCo at The Centrepoint. (Photo: Cheryl Lin)

BRISBANE: The global co-working sector is said to have declined 13 per cent in 2020, according to a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com.

This is unsurprising, since many are still working from home as COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions remain in place in most parts of the world.

COVID-19 also created huge uncertainty in Singapore during the circuit breaker, as subscribers and subtenants were initially left in limbo over rental rebates for co-working spaces, souring the experience many people and business owners had.

But recent studies of the co-working sector suggest brighter prospects in the post-pandemic economy.

In India, co-working spaces are expected to grow at an average of 15 to 20 per cent annually in the lead up to 2023, according to a recent report by JLL India published in November.

Co-working spaces such as JustCo in Singapore and The Commons and Spacenow in Australia also received a sharp increase in enquiries from companies on flexible workspace solutions as the pandemic unfolded.

And in Singapore, JustCo has seen queries return to 85 per cent of pre-pandemic rates.

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CO-WORKING SPACES ARE MORE AFFORDABLE AND FLEXIBLE

We can expect renewed interest and uptake of co-working spaces going forward.

It may be that the flexible working arrangements forced upon organisations during the outbreak will be retained even after the pandemic eases.

Many companies including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Shopify, and Twitter have also adopted permanent remote working polices.

These trends extend beyond the tech sector. About 74 per cent of Chief Financial Officers in the US planned to increase the number of permanent remote workers, according to a recent Gartner survey.

Further, many companies are also adopting the hybrid work model where workers are only required to go to the office two or three days a week.

Richard Matsui works from a coworking space on Nov. 18, 2020, in Honolulu. A group of Hawaii leaders is trying to attract more people like Matsui to work remotely in Hawaii during the pandemic. (Photo: AP/Ashley McCue)

We should expect to see more organisations end their fixed long-term leases in the central business districts and turn to co-working spaces which have more affordable, scalable and flexible leases. 

Australia-based IT recruitment agency Real Time Australia ended its Sydney and Melbourne office leases at the start of the pandemic and now uses office spaces listed on flexible leasing platform Spacenow for external meetings and team collaborations.

Perhaps they realise savings from reduced lease expenses can be used to offer workers with options to work in co-working spaces closer to their homes, rather than simply push the costs of home office setups onto them.

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CO-WORKING SPACES ARE ATTRACTIVE ALTERNATIVES TO OFFICES

Workers too see benefits in co-working spaces. After months of working from home, many are craving the human connection.

Although workers generally like the autonomy that remote working provides, they also miss working with others.

In particular, workers in creative industries such as advertising, fashion, and research and design miss the "creative collisions" that used to happen around the office on a daily basis.

Office workers used to bump into one another in unexpected ways and discuss ideas along the corridors, in lifts, and at the office pantries. Now, they plan calls in advance to reach out to others remotely.

A poll by Gallup found 60 per cent of Americans workers want to maintain their current flexible working arrangements. This also means 40 per cent are missing something about their office environment.

(Photo: Freepik/marymarkevich)

Recognising this latent demand, many co-working providers such as Hub Australia have expanded their locations to include outer suburbs closer to growing population centres, so workers who prefer social connections need not commute as far to work in a workspace.

Firms too recognise the importance of networks and how co-working spaces can fire those up. Firemark Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Insurance Australia Group (IAG), now houses its entire Singapore team in The Great Room, another co-working space in Singapore.

As the firm works closely with start-ups, entrepreneurs, and global thought leaders, co-locating its entire team in The Great Room has given them good networking opportunities with other businesses, and enabled them to have shared data infrastructure in one location.

Further, the variety of spaces in The Great Room has enhanced socialisation and collaboration among its team members, as they can easily move between quiet productive spaces and collaboration zones.

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Many co-working providers are also incorporating “working near home” with “working from home”, partnering and co-locating with community spaces, healthcare facilities, libraries, childcare operators, and gyms to offer workers with a whole range of services.

For example, Trehaus, a family-friendly co-working space in Singapore, has a “kids zone” for working parents to drop their children off with certified childcare facilitators while they work or hold meetings in the “child-free” areas.

This variety of choices in such suburban co-working arrangements is likely to appeal to both employers and workers, as workers are now more reluctant to commute long distances, according to a poll conducted in the UK.

CO-WORKING SPACES HAVE EVOLVED SINCE THE PANDEMIC

Many co-working spaces have also upgraded their flexible workspaces to counter concerns around COVID-19.

In India, co-working spaces such as OYO Workspaces and Inc42 have raised the quality standards and level of staff expertise required to provide safe and hygienic office environments, especially in relation to social distancing measures.

Across the world, many co-working spaces also took the opportunity to include more open, collaborative spaces, and enhance their ventilating systems to allow constant fresh air to flow through.

An app by co-working player JustCo provides users with real-time updates about crowd levels at various centres. (Photo: Cheryl Lin)

In the thick of the pandemic, co-working spaces have also evolved to offer even more flexibility such as on-demand spaces, charged at per minute, to attract retail customers who are not willing to commit to a huge fee upfront.

For example, Switch work booths found across nine locations in Singapore offer a purely on-demand, per-minute service starting at S$3.60 per hour.

As workers are slowly returning to co-working spaces, many appreciate the easy access to printers, stable internet connection, and secure environment that were not always available when they were working from home.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have led to a mass work-from-home experiment, but along the way, it also increased the need for an alternative “third space” between offices and homes.

On the cusp of a post-pandemic workplace in certain parts of the world, co-working spaces are looking very attractive right now. 

Listen to human resource experts debate the merits of returning to the office on CNA's Heart of the Matter podcast:

Carys Chan is Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at Griffith University’s School of Applied Psychology.

Julian Waters-Lynch is Lecturer in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Organisational Design at RMIT University’s School of Management.

Source: CNA/sl

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