by Dr Caroline M. Burns | www.carolinemburns.com
“Coworking is absolutely not about desks or WiFi or coffee—most of us have access to a desk and WiFi and coffee at home. Coworking is truly about being surrounded by a diverse group of peers….Coworking helps us to balance personal and professional, work and play, independence and collaboration. By working together, we build a strong vibrant community, and a network of support. We share resources and we share contacts….We are leading by example—we are building a workspace that we want to be a part of and we are shaping the future of work.”
Ashley Proctor, Executive Producer of GCUC Canada
The global coworking ‘industry’ has doubled in size in two years, from 510,000 members in 2015, to a predicted 1,030,000 members worldwide by 2017. Despite (or perhaps influenced by) predictions of a global economic slowdown in 2016-17, this rapid growth is forecast to continue.
This is not to say that entrepreneurs, freelancers, and independent consultants haven’t been around for a long time, at least since the nineties dot com era. They just didn’t have much choice beyond home, serviced, or shared office space. Their numbers are also growing due to many factors: in the US the ‘freelance’ workforce (admittedly not all are knowledge workers) is predicted to reach 60 million people by 2020, outnumbering traditionally employed workers.
This growth drives demand for coworking spaces, while simultaneously the benefits of coworking membership positively influences the choice to ‘go solo’, creating a positive feedback loop.
“Although there remains an ‘indie vibe’ to much of the coworking industry, this is now big business.”
Operators range from independent start-ups to branded, corporatised networks such as The Hub (28 independently owned Hubs worldwide), Seats2Meet (1648 seats and 361 meeting spaces in almost 100 locations), and the Coworking Visa (180 workspaces in 36 countries). The poster-child of the coworking industry, WeWork, has more than 50,000 members in 77 locations and was valued at US$16 billion in March 2016 – making WeWork, on paper, the world’s 6th most valuable private start-up and New York’s largest office tenant!
WeWork has given legitimacy and a brand to the coworking business model, and nowhere is this so evident as in Singapore, with its love of big brands.
The first CBD coworking office was started almost 4 years ago; 3 years later there was 150,000sf of coworking space in the city state. Fast forward a year and coworking space had doubled by another 150,000sf (source: Jonathan O’Byrne, CEO of Collective Works, speaking at the CUAsia conference, February 2016). While Singapore often represents the extremes, just as often it’s a leading indicator for much of Asia, where 82% of coworking operations plan to expand their existing premises or open new locations in the next 12 months – more than in other regions.
So, to get an even deeper understanding of the coworking phenomenon, and the changing socio-economic conditions that fuel its growth, I participated in the second CUAsia conference in Indonesia earlier this year. My colleagues were a diverse mix of coworking centre operators, entrepreneurs and industry participants, drawn mostly from Asia and Australia, and included a number of high profile speakers. I was privileged to be part of panel discussion on real estate and design aspects of coworking operations facilitated by Mike LaRosa (Coworkaholic), with co-panelists Brad Krauskopf (CEO and Founder Third Spaces Group aka Hub Australia) and Jonathan O’Byrne (CEO of Collective Works Singapore and author of “Coworking Corporations”).