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November 3, 2016

Asia’s diverse cultures are embracing the coworking trend in innovative ways tailored to their locations, and companies and developers are reaping the benefits of this new rapidly evolving business model.

Coworking spaces are booming in the Asia-Pacific region. In China’s top-tier cities alone, more than 100 operators have sought to establish coworking spaces between the second half of 2015 and early this year. The coworking phenomenon has also spread to Australia, Singapore, Mumbai and other major cities throughout the region.

Coworking, a way to foster innovation and attract talent

In Australia, a survey of the best places to work shows that the top 50 enjoyed an average revenue growth of 25 percent over the past 12 months and added $1.3 billion to the Australian economy. Many of the companies named have innovation programs that foster ideas from their employee base.

Australia New Zealand Bank has opened the atrium of its office building in Melbourne to the public, inviting users to access a rich variety of café and work settings, while symbolically viewing the inner mechanisms of the bank. National Australian Bank (NAB) has made co-working space available for its small-medium sized business clients to access on demand. The Village by NAB is 500 square meters of pro-working space for businesses to connect with clients work between meetings and learn from leaders.

According to Jiemei Tan, Research Analyst at JLL Singapore, community-based coworking spaces are less hierarchical than corporate offices, resulting in a more relaxing and friendly environment. Whether the change is permanent or for short-term training and strategy sessions, getting employees out of their regular cubicles can also trigger their innovative and entrepreneurial streaks.

Coworking gives them the opportunity to break out of the ‘corporate box’and come “into closer contact with startups, entrepreneurs and freelancers, and allows for an unhampered exchange of ideas with these stalwarts of innovation,” she says.

Tailoring Asian coworking spaces to the needs of users

Coworking spaces take a variety of forms, from the concept designed for freelancers and startups to workplaces tailored to single business entities.

In China, large real estate companies are betting big on coworking offices. Prime office developer Soho China has 12 SOHO 3Q shared office spaces in Shanghai and Beijing. All of them are located in modern office towers, offering conference rooms, private offices and shared spaces. Members can book online in advance or using an app.

Elsewhere, the concept of coworking space in Singapore is going niche to meet tenants’ specific needs. For instance, The Great Room, located in Singapore’s Central Business District, comes with stylish interior design and offers a hospitality-inspired space for people who are not only looking for a working desk, but also connections and potential partnership among others. Another niche coworking space Trehaus caters for working parents who need a hand taking care of their children.

Workplace culture in Asian coworking spaces

Workplace culture is also vital for any coworking space. As Tan says, a “culturally-informed lens is crucial for effective workplace transformation in a culturally complex region such as Asia-Pacific.”

According to JLL’s A new era of coworking report, allowing selected groups to work in a more flexible setting, which is different from the rest of the organization, may breed division or resentment among staff.

Therefore, to avoid the cultural and motivational risks associated with coworking spaces, companies should give due consideration to employee experience, according to the report. They should also be clear about their objectives and what creates the most value for their organizations.

As one of the top four CRE ideas for 2016, coworking offers innovative workers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, an ideal workplace environment, so organizations that embrace the change will be well positioned to take advantage of a younger, dynamic workforce.

In Asia Pacific, local businesses are coming up with innovative co-working spaces that tailor to the local work culture and investment environment. With a million people expected to be using shared workspaces by 2018, coworking is more than a fad. It’s an idea whose time has come.

Click to read about why retail is looking to co-working spaces for extra revenue

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Jiemei Tan

Research Analyst, Corporate Research, JLL Singapore

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