Are Flexible Workspaces the Next Big Thing In the Asia-Pacific Region?
Flexible workspaces are all the rage — they emerged a few years back and are now dominating the commercial real estate market. Today, a growing number of employees are demanding flexible work arrangement as it improves productivity and efficiency. Flexible workspace specialist, The Instant Group published a report in October 2018 highlighting the rise of flexible office spaces. It found that flexible workspace market in AsiaPacific (APAC) has been the fastest growing in the world over the past 12 months. The rise reflects a shift toward new, high growth markets, as flex spaces seek to expand beyond the APAC region’s key financial hubs. The supply of flex centers in the region’s key cities has grown consistently above 15 percent with the only inhibitor to growth being a lack of available space for expansion. There are now an estimated 8,600 centers across the region providing a flex option within their spaces — an influx which has enabled rapid expansion and growth within a short period of time – leading to six of the largest global markets for flexible office space being in Asia-Pacific, the report emphasizes.
GROWTH OF FLEXIBLE OFFICE SPACES
Clearly, the demand for flexible office space is mostly driven by the lack of big space. This has made many coworking spaces expand their geographical scope to meet an unprecedented demand. Chinese coworking space Bee+ was initially planned for their catering business, but expanded further thanks to a software park’s interest in their idea. Founded in 2015, Bee+ is going to be the first high-end coworking space operator in the Southeast region, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai with total management area of 10,000 sq mts and over 15,000 working positions.
Bee+’s offerings are not limited to coworking spaces. The Shenzhen-based company has developed two product lines: coworking spaces for entrepreneurs as well as the innovative Bee+ lifestyle spaces for consumers. For David Tai, co-founder, Bee+, one of the main reasons that has led to the development of joint office space in the region is the economic environment, which has developed steadily in the past two years. Another major factor that is driving the demand is coping with economic uncertainity. Tai says, “After years of market dissemination, more and more enterprises in the APAC region have begun to accept this mode of work. Also, flexible workspace is a more flexible, convenient and cost-effective choice. So, many enterprises want to put office in prime locations, and also hope to save costs.”
Beside, Bee+ there’s another coworking space that is taking the APAC market by storm. Launched in April 2017, the cross-border coworking space and incubator OnePiece Work creates need for professional offices, meeting rooms and events. The Silicon Valley-based company also connects global business professionals and leading entrepreneurs. Wei Guo, co-founder and chief executive officer of OnePiece Work says, “The world has long looked to the West for innovation but the tide is finally turning. The APAC region is producing more entrepreneurs and startups than ever before, and many of them have gained global influence and are driving new innovations in many industries. Thus, the demand of flexible workspaces is soaring.” Apart from being an entrepreneur, Guo is also one of the most prolific startup investors, backing more than 300 companies. His venture capital firm UpHonest Capital is based in San Francisco and invests globally.
For Singapore-based design consultancy Space Matrix, the idea is to create corporate workplaces that inspire people and impact business. The decade-old company has relevant project experience in over 55 cities and 14 office locations in countries such as Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States.
Swaviman Das, design head, Space Matrix, emphasizes that the volatile business environment needs to cater to the constant change and evolution for which flexibility and scalability is a must. “The APAC region has several countries that fall under the category of growth markets with sufficient physical and financial infrastructure, making them favorable for business development. Investors are, thus, looking for these fast-growing regions to maintain higher Return on Investment (ROI),” he says.
When it comes to creating flexible workspaces, Tai says that one needs to re-imagine the design space from the user’s perspective, and create the working environment into a diversified scene that can stimulate creativity, inspire people and improve efficiency and cooperation. According to Guo, while coworking spaces in the past focused solely on creating visually appealing physical spaces filled with perks like beer on tap and ping pong tables, it takes more than design and amenities to inspire creativity and drive meaningful collaboration.
Das concurs saying that workspaces are becoming more intuitive, multifunctional and easy to reconfigure in to accommodate the mix of jobs, which are constantly evolving. “Many APAC countries that were earlier considered for the low-cost resources they offered are shifting to more sophisticated work due to the availability of high-skilled talent and professionals,” he says, adding that this change in the style of working attributes to the change in workplace requirement and therefore, the trend of flexible workspaces caters to everyone’s needs.
(This article was first published in the December 2018 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here )