Co-working spaces in China are big business, extending beyond the tech scene into the arts, design and even traditional ‘old’ sectors
After Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” at the Summer Davos Forum in 2015, it became a critical national strategy for the government to encourage people to start their own businesses in China.
However, the emerging generation of young, Chinese startup founders do things differently than those in the past.
Many of Chinese entrepreneurs prefer working in a shared, co-working environment instead of traditional offices. They believe there are considerable advantages of co-working spaces — low rental rates, varied leasing periods, higher productivity and creativity, network expansion, as well as work-life balance.
With growing interest in the working strategy, co-working spaces are becoming big business.
While there are numerous existing co-working companies, a massive Chinese-led US$430 million dollar funding round for the Asia expansion of New York City-based co-working space WeWork raised eyebrows.
It highlighted just how hot the market has become and its perceived value from Chinese investors.
Traditional Chinese institutions are also getting involved in the industry.
As the explosion of entrepreneurship drove the need for co-working spaces, a number of Chinese real estate developers decided to convert their traditional offices to co-working spaces to avoid vacancies.
For example, Soho China Ltd. agreed to help Greenland Holdings Corp. to convert some of their properties to co-working spaces. Soho China itself launched its first co-working space program, Soho 3Q (also known as “Uber for offices”), in Beijing and Shanghai in February 2015.
Likewise, Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Ltd. and China Vanke Co. are looking to offer co-working spaces in Hangzhou and Guangzhou, respectively.
Inside Chinese co-working spaces
Most co-working spaces in China are characterized by large, open spaces. Also important is fast Wi-Fi, large-sized desks known as ‘hot desks, and the presence of other facilities such as kitchens, coffee shops, gyms and swimming pools.
The setup encourages professional communication, team collaboration and personal interaction.
Additionally, almost all co-working spaces strive to build a sense of community for their clients through events and activities. For instance, Soho 3Q frequently invites designers, artists, yoga teachers, physical therapists, musicians to give talks or teach classes.
For the most basic monthly plans, co-working space memberships typically cost about RMB1500 to RMB2000.
Another famous co-working space, UrWork, also celebrates holidays like Chinese New Year with clients who cannot go home for the holidays.
Events at People Squared and Naked Hub are more focused on entrepreneurship, marketing strategies, risk analyses, managerial leadership, and many other essential skills that startups may need.
Although the majority of co-working spaces are occupied only by entrepreneurs and startup companies, there remain a few fascinating exceptions.
Yuanfen Flow is a co-working space in Beijing that is attracting not only entrepreneurs but also artists and designers. The space is designed to accommodate both group collaborations and art exhibitions.
Another example would be People Squared’s ‘Ocean 10′ co-working space that is going to be launched this year in Shanghai. Ocean 10 will target musicians, photographers, and artists and serve as a working and living space for 10 groups. The tenants are also welcome to invite their friends to stay with them.
Growing needs of co-working space workers
Despite better communication and closer collaboration among tenants, one of the drawbacks of an open co-working space is the lack of privacy.
Sometimes, isolated space is needed to store confidential documents or sensitive data. Or, people may want to work alone or with a smaller group.
A recently completed co-working space in Hong Kong has shed light on how to resolve these issues. In addition to a common co-working area with hot desks, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups Jockey Club Social Innovation Center also provides personal lockers and pint-sized business suites that can accommodate 3 to 5 people.
As the co-working space industry grows rapidly in China, planners may have to tackle the challenge of how to balance openness and privacy in designing this new and fluid form of distributed workspaces.
The need to adapt to privacy concerns is a valid problem, but it is also an issue that would not present itself if the idea of co-working spaces never took off.
For entrepreneurs investigating how to popularise co-working spaces, the Chinese market is certainly one worthy of replication.
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