Coworking expands into China and Southeast Asia

They may once have been considered a fad, but coworking facilities are proving to be a lasting trend, and demonstrate to be one of the biggest changes in the work market today across the world. Coworking has taken off globally and has recently gripped China and Southeast Asia – offering an alternative for people working from home or in the traditional office space. Literally translated as relationship, ‘guanxi’ is the Chinese concept of social networks and personal connections facilitating business dealings. Coworking spaces, depending on the variety and size of their membership, are in an optimal position to offer ‘guanxi’ – and are already proving this, with rising popularity in China and Southeast Asia. It appears more people are finding that coworking is becoming a viable alternative to the traditional office.


Coworking in China

The coworking sector has taken off in China over the past three years. However, just five years ago, it was a very different situation. Very few of these spaces existed in China. Freelancers, entrepreneurs and start-ups were forced to find cheaper alternatives – such as cafes with plug outlets, or small apartments to rent with like-minded people. There was little sense of community for these groups of individuals and innovators.

More recently, the country’s efforts to promote entrepreneurship has allowed for growth in this sector, which originated in the US, Europe and other western societies - gradually moving into eastern societies. These spaces are usually shared, open-plan, work environments specifically designed to encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing with like-minded individuals. They are beginning to challenge the traditional workspace, which typically consists of designated desks, less flexible start and stop times and separated departments. Competition among China’s coworking market is steadily intensifying, with global brands expanding fast into the market and local rivals developing apace.

With this recent growth of competition in the market, many coworking spaces also provide a variety of creative perks, such as pet friendliness, on-site gyms, free flow beer and saunas. Typically, these spaces have attracted tech startups, freelancers and entrepreneurs, however, with these developments, there is a growing appeal for small businesses and multi-national corporations to move into these spaces, which can potentially offer more flexibility and autonomy to employees.


Coworking in Southeast Asia

The coworking sector in Southeast Asia is still in its infancy, but on the rise. The rise of these spaces is down to various reasons. With its low cost of living, its young tech savvy workforce and digital infrastructure, Southeast Asia is fast becoming a hub for start-ups and digital nomads. The startup ecosystem is younger than the rise of coworking spaces in the U.S., many of the more successful startups in the region started out in coworking spaces. The high growth rate of the economy in Southeast Asia has paved the way for a community of start-ups and freelancers to flourish. As a result, the demand for affordable workspaces have increased. Also, the heterogeneous nature of these markets make coworking spaces and the communities around them essential for startups looking to quickly expand internationally and plug into local communities. As such, Southeast Asian governments are increasingly viewing the coworking movement as a new strategic tool that can encourage entrepreneurship within the population. For example, in Vietnam, policy makers are setting up coworking spaces for startup companies with initiatives in place with the goal of transforming Vietnam into a startup nation by 2020 and in Indonesia, the Global Entrepreneurship Program Indonesia (GEPI) offer coworking spaces for early-stage startups, as part of a wider global initiative formed to promote entrepreneurship among developing countries.


Why businesses and individuals are choosing coworking spaces

As workers become increasingly mobile, the importance of having a conventional office decreases - and that’s where coworking spaces come in to meet the needs of a new breed of workforce. The advancements in technology has allowed people to work from anywhere in the world. Technology has also increasingly blurred the lines between work-life balance. This is leading to a growing number of workers looking for more control over their work-life balance and flexibility in the working schedules. Unlike in the traditional office, workers can come and go as they please and work to their own schedule. They are also becoming popular with larger corporations too. With property and rental prices on the rise in most cities, it makes good business sense for many organisations. It also provides a way of networking with others in similar or same industries in different organisations. Coworking spaces don’t just provide the bare basics like office amenities - these facilities also serve as a touchpoint for startups and investors seeking to connect with each other.


The future of coworking spaces in China and Southeast Asia

The growing trend looks set to continue, particularly as younger generations, with a different outlook, join the workforce. In the China market, coworking spaces have seen intense demand, particularly as the working culture has shifted to allow for more creative and innovative work environments. Although the concept of coworking is still in its infancy in Southeast Asia, the high growth rate of the economy and growing number of expat and local entrepreneurs is fuelling the startup scene, giving significant contribution to future coworking growth. With rising rental and property prices, coworking appears to offer an appealing solution to the rising challenges many freelancers and businesses face. As the markets grow, coworking spaces do look set to continue playing a vital role in creating a stronger businesses ecosystem within the region, which may eventually see the demise of the traditional office workspace.


This a guest post by Fiona Murray of Urban Serviced Offices.

Fiona Murray is a MSc Digital Marketing graduate and writer based in Scotland. An enthusiast for all things digital and travel related, Fiona has experience living and working in the UK, USA and Asia, and has travelled extensively in order to further her experiences of other cultures. Found out more about her on LinkedIn.