It is 10am and Ms Nadia Albahar turns up for work at a shophouse in Joo Chiat. She says hello to Mr Francis Teo – seated at another desk – but they do not work for the same company. Mr Teo is the director of Bluelambda, a boutique online marketing firm, while she is in business development with Activistar, an online store that aims to work directly with manufacturers to bring their products to the market.
Welcome to the world of co-working, a new buzzword in Singapore where folk from across industries share space and amenities.
In the past two years, about 10 co-work spaces have opened here. The set-up could be housed in a factory, a loft or, in the case of Cowork@SG, a two- storey shophouse in Joo Chiat.
Cowork@SG, for example, offers 20 desk spaces, a long meeting table, a pantry, free Wi-Fi and, if you are hungry, a putu piring (steamed rice cake with a centre of melted palm sugar) stall around the corner.
“You can call co-work spaces the halfway house between office and Starbucks, or home and Starbucks,” said Mr Daniel Tay, 38, co-founder of Cowork@SG.
A co-work space is an escape from compliance with work norms in a corporate office, the isolation of plugging away at home alone or the din in a coffee joint which may not be conducive to meeting clients, said tenants.
As Ms Mary Wong, 26, a freelance fashion designer who is looking for a co-work desk in town, said: “The coffee joint is too loud. My house? It’s too isolated.”
Rates can start from about $25 a day to between $150 and $2,200 a month. Another option is membership or residency contracts at an affordable rate for long-term users.
According to operators, such facilities are growing in popularity among the start-up community, especially among the twenty- and thirty-somethings aiming for a work-life balance.
Sociologist Paulin Straughan said while savings on operational overheads are a big carrot, another draw is the opportunity for networking among like-minded users.
At co-work spaces, individuals are known to share information, exchange ideas and help each other out, even if they are in the same industry.
Mr Jeffrey Paine, 36, a co-director of co-work space provider FoundersHQ in Ayer Rajah, said: “You see collaborations form before your eyes. Sometimes, there are even mini takeovers.”
Operators of such spaces said they are not in the game essentially for profit, but also see it as their mission to help the fledgling start-up community here take flight.
Associate Professor Straughan’s take on the growing take-up rate of such spaces is that “we may be witnessing the rise in creative entrepreneurship among younger Singaporeans”.
These folk, she noted, do not see climbing the corporate ladder as the only or ideal way to further their aspirations.
She added that the attraction of pursuing their own interests without formal organisational constraints outweighs the uncertainties of running an independent business.
“I think the additional benefits of perceived control over their work-life balance are also a key attraction. As their own boss, they can work when they want and however long they want,” she said.
In anticipation of growing demand, operators – some of which are global names – will be opening more co-work spaces at the start of next year.
One of these is The Hub, a global social enterprise providing co-work spaces for people who want to tackle the world’s pressing social, cultural and environmental challenges.
It is headquartered in Austria and 26 Hubs have been opened to date in cities like Melbourne in Australia, Johannesburg in South Africa and Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Ms Bernie Chew and Mr Daniel Tay’s Cowork@SG is an office set-up with 20 desk spaces for rent.
It goes beyond physical space
It is not your typical corporate office but Cowork@SG has retained two of its familiar elements – a gossip corner, where the water-cooler stands, and a pantry.
Cowork@SG, which opened on Oct 27, occupies a Joo Chiat Terrace shophouse – once home to a bridal shop – which was refurbished at a cost of about $100,000.
“We were priced out of Chinatown and, being Peranakans, Joo Chiat seemed the natural choice,” said its community manager Bernie Chew, 36
Having spent 10 years in Silicon Valley building and managing websites and online communities, she did not want a 9 to 5 routine when she came back.
“I wanted to work on my own time and at my own pace. I also needed a space that could accommodate my flexible hours,” she said.
She started out from home, launching her social media marketing and creative agency work, but soon got lonely and felt isolated. She then decided to get together with her friend, urban planner Daniel Tay, 38, to start Cowork@SG.
Said Mr Tay: “Co-work is beyond just the physical space. It’s about filling up the hardware with the software – the socialising, the collaborations, the sharing.”