January 21, 2014 / Filed under: Business / By: Michael Lenz

Co-working spaces are popping up throughout the region, offering diverse environments to help professionals make the most of their day

By Michael Lenz

Business travellers, freelancers and general workaholics know all too well the ordeal that goes along with having to work from a ‘café office’. Yapping baristas, whining kids and bad music often make coffee shops unpleasant places to get things done.

Steady pace: Plusconcept in Singapore was established three years ago. Few spaces like it have emerged recently

This is where co-working spaces step in. For a daily or monthly fee, a co-working space provides tenants with a desk, office infrastructure, round-the-clock operating hours and even coffee-making facilities. These spaces take elements from internet cafés, business centres, serviced offices and coffee shops and roll them all into an innovative business concept.

A group of IT professionals based in California conceived the co-working concept back in 2005 as a way for groups of likeminded people to come together to work.

In Cambodia, Colab is one of the first to enter the market. The “affordable, flexible and fun” space, in the increasingly urbanised Russian Market area of Phnom Penh, plays office to professionals from diverse fields and faraway lands. Canadian web designer and Colab co-founder Justin Pearce-Neudorf said Colab offers tenants “all the benefits of an office”.

Norwegian Ole Rosendahl joined Colab to avoid working from home. “I worked from home for three years. I missed a community,” he said. In joining Colab, not only did he find a community, but also two fellow professionals with whom he has teamed up to work on an internet service provider for a company in Norway.

An entire industry is emerging. There are now online co-working magazines such as; conferences, such as the Co-working Conference Asia; and books being published with titles including: Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Co-working for Indie Workers, Small Businesses and Non-profits.

Amarith Charoenphan, founder of Hubba, a small co-working space in Bangkok’s fashionable Ekamai district, expects a multitude of new spaces to pop up throughout Thailand in the near future. A social enterprises consultant by trade, Charoenphan has already launched a Hubba joint venture in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

In Singapore, Markus Kaub founded Plusconcept, one of the first co-working spaces in the city, three years ago. However, the German business development consultant noted that an initial boom in co-working spaces in the city-state has cooled. “Right now, I’m not aware of any new co-working spaces having been set up in the past six months or so,” he said.

This may be due to a certain diversity in the co-working space business model. Backpacking university students, working on their theses between party nights, find a home at The HUB in Singapore. Meanwhile, a Singaporean oil company, a Vietnamese architect and a public relations firm from Switzerland enjoy the minimalistic design of Glowfish in Bangkok’s glitzy Asoke Towers. More relaxed is Charoenphan’s Hubba, where “freelancers, startups, designers and journalists can use the beautiful garden for a break or take a few stress-releasing jumps on the trampoline”, according to the founder.

Dime a dozen: Independent workers take up every table at a Phnom Penh coffee shop

Fiona Arjandran works from her desk at Paper & Toast, a co-working space in Kuala Lumpur’s business, shopping and nightlife district of Bukit Bintang. The Indian-Malaysian is employed by a fashion company, which pays for her desk.

“I am the only staff here in Kuala Lumpur,” she said, adding that being alone in an office is not her cup of tea. “Sharing an office with people from different industries is inspiring.”

According to Arjandran, her favourite co-worker is the cheerful Kim Choong, editor of Thirst Magazine, an online drinks journal that aims “to improve the drinking culture in Malaysia”. Choong’s role explains the variety of tipples found on her desk. “Sometimes we enjoy a drink together,” she said with a grin.

Back in Cambodia, Phnom Penh’s SmallWorld is an altogether different kind of co-working space. The graffiti-covered house certainly stands out among the huge, newly constructed villas that are common in Toul Kork district.

“We provide work spaces for young Cambodian startups,” said its founder, Rithy Thul. “But our most important goal is to bring them together with investors. We do not target the usual globetrotting digital nomads.”

Networking is a common feature of co-working spaces throughout the region. The majority organise networking events ranging from collaborations with international chambers of commerce to expert panel discussions.

“Sometimes we arrange a movie night or a barbecue party,” said Charoenphan with a smile: “You can make friends or even find the love of your life.”