Spaces that work

Enter The Great Room, a newly opened co-working space in the Central Business District, and you may feel like you are standing in the lobby of a luxury hotel.

Large leather couches and plush armchairs sit on patterned rugs in vibrant hues. The desks have timber and brass details. Through the windows, take in views of the Singapore River and other landmark buildings.

With co-working spaces getting more popular here, having an attractive design is one way these spaces are setting themselves apart from the crowd.

The Great Room in George Street, for instance, is designed by Hassell, an international multi-disciplinary practice at the forefront of office and hospitality design.

Ms Jaelle Ang, 36, chief executive and co-founder of The Great Room, says: "We wanted the design to be led by a hotel designer, not an office designer. So when Distillery Studio (a hotel and restaurant designer) merged with Hassell, we ended up with the best of both worlds - a beautifully designed space with the business efficiencies of an office."

Coworking Singapore, a local website which lists the spaces, says there are now more than 30 co-working spaces here. A Business Times report in 2011 says there were at least five such spaces then.

Some co-working spaces come with attractive amenities and facilities. The Working Capitol in Keong Saik Road takes up three storeys and has a beer garden, shower facilities, changing rooms and a cafe that seats up to 70 people.

Then there are those which cater to certain types of workers.

Worklor in Upper Cross Street and Woolf Works in Carpenter Street are for women only.

At Trehaus in Orchard Road, there are childcare and learning facilities for children aged six and younger.

Its co-founder Rachel Teo, who is in her 30s, says: "We want to provide a space where parents can work just metres away from their kids and have peace of mind that their children are well taken care of."

Each co-working space has its own membership options and prices. The Great Room, for example, offers a $70 one-day membership, which includes unlimited access to its hot desks, lounges, phone booths, high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi as well as free coffee, tea and filtered water from its pantry.

If members want more features - such as a private locker, free printing and access to events organised by other members - they can sign up for longer memberships, which can cost up to $1,260 a month.

Users say the main draw of a co-working space is the flexibility.

Mr Jose Camacho, 35, chief executive of Bansea, a home-grown angel investment network which operates from The Great Room, says: "With such flexibility, we can organise sessions with our partners on demand and this is more efficient than having a regular office."

People who run the spaces say they offer more value than conventional offices.

Mr Paul Lee, 38, chief executive of Workcentral, a co-working space in Dhoby Ghaut, says: "A $2,100 monthly budget will let you rent a 300 sq ft office around here. But the same amount at my co-working space can give exclusive use of a 85 sq ft office and free access to 2,600 sq ft of communal areas."

Associate Professor Trevor Yu, 39, from Nanyang Business School's division of strategy, management and organisation, says not all companies are suited to operate from a co-working space.

"Some businesses need higher levels of privacy to safeguard information and ideas that give them a competitive advantage in their industry," he says.

"A co-working space may not be able to provide such privacy, since there are so many different parties sharing workspaces and facilities."

'No need to pay for furniture or Internet'

Beaucre Singapore, which brings in South Korean fashion brand Lapalette, used to have an office in International Plaza. In January this year, it moved to a co-working space.

The company decided that a co-working space would be more cost-effective and offer greater flexibility.

One of its directors, Ms Julie Baek, 44, says: "We are mostly at our retail stores and do not spend much time in the office. So it is simpler working from here than renting our own office. Here, we don't have to pay for the furniture, electricity or Internet."

The company, which has been here since 2011, has 25 employees. Three of them are based at co-working space Workcentral in Dhoby Ghaut, while the rest work in the four Lapalette stores here.

Their 85 sq ft air-conditioned suite at Workcentral costs $2,100 a month. The Beaucre staff have access to a library, boardroom and cafe.

Ms Baek says a co-working space also allows for easy communication and collaboration with other companies.

"Even if there are no official tie-ups, we can bounce our ideas off people from other companies."

While she notes that others sometimes speak too loudly on the phone while in the communal work spaces, she adds that it is a small problem.

"If it is too distracting, I will highlight it to the managers of the space, who will ask them to quieten down. On the whole, we have been very happy here."

'Getting work done close to children'

Parenting website Sassy Mama Singapore has grown from a three-man operation to a team of nine, but it does not see any need to rent an office space.

The team, mostly mothers who used to work from home, cafes and town clubs, have been operating from two co-working spaces - Trehaus in Orchard Road and The Hive in New Bridge Road - since the beginning of the year.

Managing director Emilie de Cannart, 36, who is behind the website, says: "More companies are putting large teams in such an environment. It's a smart business decision as the rental obligations of such spaces are more flexible compared with fixed long-term contracts."

She declines to say how much the company is paying for the spaces, but says they have been great for the business' needs.

She adds: "It gives a more professional feel - with dedicated meeting spaces, a receptionist and a pantry area where we can serve clients beverages and snacks."

Since the space takes care of most office logistics, such as fixing broken printers, her team can focus on building the business.

Mothers on the team, in particular, appreciate the familyfriendly facilities at Trehaus, such as a play area for children which is supervised by early childhood specialists.

Ms de Cannart, who occasionally takes her three-year-old son and six-year-old daughter to Trehaus, says: "It is a great way to get work done and still be close to our children."

But she admits that there are some downsides, such as a lack of brand identity since members cannot decorate the space themselves.

'Becoming part of an ecosystem'

For the Singapore team of global job search portal, deciding to work out of a co-working space was an easy decision. After all, most of its overseas offices are operating from such spaces.

Mr Steven Gong, 36, market manager for the Singapore team, says: "Co-working will allow us to be more connected with our clients and tech companies, many of which also operate from such spaces.", founded in 2012 in San Francisco, has more than 200 employees worldwide.

The Singapore team of three will be working from Collision 8, a co-working space that will open on July 18 in North Bridge Road. Previously, the staff were working either from home or informally at co-working spaces.

The rent for Collision 8's studio offices starts at $1,000 a person a month. will operate from a 101 sq ft studio which has a private phone with unlimited local calls, high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi. Every month, the staff can use the meeting room for four hours and print up to 100 sheets of paper in black and white for free. They also have a free flow of coffee, tea, water and snacks in the pantry.

Mr Gong says the best part of a co-working space is the feeling of being part of an "ecosystem".

"We hope to adopt best practices from other successful companies that share the same space."

This article was first published on July 03, 2016.
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