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I recently attended the first Asia Coworking Unconference hosted by the very cool coworking space Hubud in Bali in January 2015 (surrounded by paddy fields). It was co-organised by some of the biggest and most pioneering coworking spaces from Southeast Asia such as the Hub Singapore, Comma in Indonesia, Hubba in Thailand and the Hub Australia and attracted 135 participants from existing or upcoming coworking spaces over 30 countries.

These three days of discussions and sharing ideas about the future of work have pointed out some major issues the coworking spaces are facing now, 10 years after the phenomenon started and its worldwide exponential growth.

Asia, with its young and dynamic population, growing entrepreneurial scene, and so many demographic, environmental and social challenges, is a very fertile ground for these communities which have been popping up across Southeast Asia in the last few years.

In Singapore alone, we can find 20 different coworking spaces, with big ones that have recently launched (BASH/Blk79, Working Capitol) or being extended to other markets.

Also Read : Surviving in the jungle of Singapore’s coworking spaces

The need of a collaborative culture where ideas can be shared and challenged, problems solved and relationships developed is much more inspiring and stimulating for the new generation of entrepreneurs. The proximity and brainstorming of like-minded people generate a level of synergy, increase productivity and foster creativity.

But even if the communities are growing, low profitability remains a key issue. Successful entrepreneurs are volatile and coworking spaces are struggling to break even.

Creating successful partnerships with the public sector and large companies is key to sustain their business models, but what was discussed during the different sessions at the unconference is that this it is key for the public sector and large companies to turn to new work models to encourage innovation and attract the new connected generation in their own sectors.

The cold corporate offices where everyone is isolated and interaction only occurs at the coffee machine will become obsolete. Generation Y is now looking for a way to feel connected to each others.  Brad Krauskopf from the Hub Australia showed us this amazing figure, that today, “only 7% of the generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 (they’re also called Millennials) is willing to work for a Fortune 500 company. By 2025, they will account for 75% of the workforce.”

Coworking spaces will be more and more legitimate in our digital, mobile and fast economies, as Grace Sai, co-founder of The Hub Singapore, shared in her introductory keynote, “technology and budget airlines have made the world smaller. As a result, there is more consciousness in the world. The current generation of leaders and doers are reversing the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, aiming to self-actualize first and leaving a legacy from a young age”.

Large companies and governments are starting to realize the benefits of giving employees access to a more collaborative and flexible space, funding several projects intended to reshape the work environment.

  • In the US, Zappos funded the Downtown Project in Las Vegas and invested 350 million of dollars in the revitalization of a district of this city, mostly famous for its tourism and gambling. The objective is to fit with the culture of the company, and create an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship to attract new talents.Also read : Zappos corporate culture : innovating for employees, clients and the ecosystem.
  • Tribe Wanted in the UK helps burnt-out managers and corporates to retrieve energy and taste for life through retreats and collaborative programs, such as camps with no technology in forested areas of the UK or abroad.
  • Cowerks, based on the New Jersey seashore at Asbury Park, picked up $240k funding from the state Economic Development Authority. The investment will go both to an expansion of the spaces and of the programs.

But what is the role to be played by coworking spaces in that future evolution? For Alex Hillman, a community builder that manages of one of the best resource blogs on this topic, coworking spaces have to go outside their own comfort zones – the space they  own and manage and help corporates to adapt to the future of work. “Don’t try to get the corporates into your collaborative workspace, focus on where people are and help them create a new experience in their own place. Try to find where people have a hard time of finding each other and go help them,” said Hillman.

Large firms and the public sector start also realizing that having a foot in the local entrepreneurial milieu and keeping an eye on initiatives and startups emerging from these creative hubs is key for their future innovations. At the Hub Singapore over the span of 2 years, about 70 CEOs, mayors and ministers paid a visit to learn how to innovate faster with the help of collaborative communities.

Some successful partnerships have emerged between coworking spaces, large companies and governments as the INSEAD Entrepreneurship Bootcamp program between DBS, the INSEAD school and The Hub Singapore, or the Sparks program in Australia between PWC, the government and the Hub in Melbourne.

Also read: The Future of coworking : coworking visas, corporate partnerships, real estate specialists.

Hopefully we should see more of these successful collaborations emerge in the next few years. I’m looking forward to attending next year’s Coworking Unconference to see how large firms and public sectors have embraced this challenging new generation of collaborative and flexible work environments.

The views expressed are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. 

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