A couple of years ago, a quick glance at a co-working space would have given you a good idea of the people who work there.

The low seating, cushy beanbags, foosball tables, and readily available cold brew coffee (and maybe even beer) would tell you that the users were young — think tech entrepreneurs, designers or creative types.

Walk into a co-working space now, and you’ll notice a few differences. The beanbags will be mixed with other ergonomic chairs with adequate lumbar support.

The game room will be complemented with a mothers’ room. The cafeteria will likely serve a variety of food and beverage options to cater to different dietary needs.

If this makes you think that co-working spaces have diversified, you’d be right. The people occupying these spaces are no longer exclusively tech-savvy millennials in creative fields.

Diversity

Today, many older employees are switching gears later into their careers or are launching a company backed by decades of experience in the corporate sphere.

A lot of older professionals also continue to work after retirement, with consulting roles and short-term projects. In fact, a study of co-working spaces by Statista showed that the number of people aged 60 and above quadrupled between 2016 to 2017.

On the other hand, thanks to the new wave of university-operated co-working spaces, it is not unusual to see students using these spaces to do their homework or network with industry professionals.

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The companies operating out of these workspaces are no longer limited to tech and design startups either.

More traditional industries like banking and finance are making the move to co-working spaces, as are big multinational firms.

For instance, Garage Society in Hong Kong fosters a strong ecosystem for investors and venture capitalists as well. Given the sensitive nature of their data and discussions, its co-working space at Beverly House Wan Chai dedicates an entire floor outfitted with private suites and acoustic meeting rooms to these professionals.

Meeting the needs of the community

Modern co-working spaces today don’t just cater to the professional requirements of their members. As the ecosystem becomes more diverse, there arises a need to build a community, create a sense of belonging and foster camaraderie amongst people. Co-working spaces today are evolving to meet these needs.

Life in urban cities can sometimes be isolating, especially for those who have just moved to a new city and do not have a wide social circle already. Some co-working offices are specifically designed to fill this social and cultural gap.

Conceived as a space that would spark conversations, social club 1880, in Singapore encourages people to relax over food, beverages and music, and debate over issues that are close to their hearts.

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It functions as a lounge, a café, a cocktail bar, a restaurant — and a co-working space for those times when a conversation leads to a brilliant new startup idea or fosters an exciting partnership.

Eaton Club, a similar hybrid workspace in Hong Kong, functions as a social fintech work hub. Complete with a bar and a pantry, it allows members to host meetings over coffee or beer, or entertain a client in style.

Operating from co-working spaces with a well-curated culture actually proves to be beneficial for companies. A study by Harvard Business Review  noted that firms largely experienced positive outcomes when working from a co-working space whose culture and work environment align closely to their own.

By 2022, the number of co-working spaces is set to reach 25,968 — a massive 42 per cent increase from 2019. In fact, since 2015, an average of 2,595 new co-working spaces have been set up each year.

In a thriving community such as this, the need for equal opportunities also becomes a pressing requirement — and modern co-working spaces are addressing that too.

For instance, the women-only co-working space Wsquare in Chennai works to support female entrepreneurs in India.

Apart from wellness-led facilities like yoga and life coaching sessions, it also helps ease the mental load when it comes to things like domestic chores and administrative tasks.

From getting chopped vegetables and home-cooked meals delivered to hosting job fairs that help women re-enter the workforce after a maternity break, Wsquare tackles the hurdles that stand in the way of professional success for women.

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Giving back to the community

Co-working spaces are not just at the heart of building community — they function as a hub for those looking to give back to society as well.

Some co-working offices like Impact Hub are designed especially for social entrepreneurs and innovators looking to make a positive change in the world.

Others are home to local activists and non-profit organisations who are passionate about community causes.

Unlike the glitz and glamour of corporate co-working offices, these spaces take a more holistic approach. Take XPACE, for instance, which is opening in Singapore later this year.

Spearheaded by Nichol Ng from The Food Bank Singapore XPACE is a co-working concept centred around food. Designed with all-natural materials, equipped with sustainable furniture and furnished with fittings sourced from small, local manufacturers, the design espouses the authenticity and integrity of the space.

As a community hub, co-working spaces like these allow entrepreneurs to provide mutual support for each other, and connect with mentors and investors who can help realise their goals and ambitions.

Beyond business, economic hubs offer social opportunities to get information and gather together for debates and discussions.

There was a time when marketplaces used to function as the economic and social hub of a community.

As times change, universities and cafés took over this role. Today, with the way co-working spaces have evolved, it is not unreasonable to think of them as the newest social hubs — or indeed, the beating heart of a community.

Richard Baker is the Head of Design at Space Matrix.

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Image Credit: Austin Distel