Flexibility, hybrid work draw larger firms, MNCs to co-working spaces


SINGAPORE: Ms Mildred Ang, who works at Klook Singapore, will sometimes head to a “hideout” at the co-working space where her company is based, for some alone time to think about “abstract stuff”.

This hideout could be a wellness room or an outdoor rooftop garden, where she can be away from her co-workers for one or two hours, she said.

“I then have the ability, or the flexibility, to come up to our team to continue the discussion or have a different brainstorm session,” said Ms Ang, who is the travel e-commerce firm’s partnership and affiliates lead.

“I think that’s one of the greatest benefits.”

Klook, which employs about 100 people in Singapore, has been leasing one floor from a co-working space here for the past two years. Employees can also use desks at all the branches of the co-working chain, which Klook requested not to name.

Ms Cary Shek, the firm’s vice-president for people and culture, said that when Klook entered the Singapore market a few years ago, employees worked out of a shophouse. But as the team expanded, that became impractical.

It wanted a space that would better facilitate collaboration and mingling among team members, and found that a co-working space could also provide more flexibility compared with leased office premises.

“As a fast-moving company, efficiency is so important to us. Time (is) required to set up a new office and … maintain it. We do need to make a call – where do we want our people to focus on,” she said.

“A co-working space provides us with the scalability … (and) allows us to optimise the space, like when our business keeps expanding.”

MULTINATIONALS, LARGE COMPANIES

Besides companies like Klook, multinational companies are also shifting to co-working spaces.

Mr Michael Sim, vice-president and head of JustCo in Singapore and Korea, said that half of JustCo’s members are from MNCs, while the other half are a mix of start-ups and SMEs.

“Unlike a few years ago, nowadays we have observed more and more MNCs embracing flex space as a primary option for their office space usage,” he said.

Standard Chartered Bank’s 10,000 employees in Singapore can work at offices nearer their homes, provided by flex space provider IWG, while the bank maintains primary offices at Marina Bay Financial Tower 1 and Changi Business Park.

“The way we work has evolved during the pandemic and through actively listening to our colleagues, we have taken a more agile approach to our real estate strategy,” said a bank spokesperson.

Through its arrangement with IWG, the bank’s workers have access to 3,000 IWG office locations around the world.

Mr Brian Richards, Standard Chartered’s head of resourcing in Singapore, said he meets up with colleagues at the bank’s primary offices, and at times, uses co-working spaces as an alternative to working from home and for team off-site meetings.

“I appreciate the availability of diverse conducive spaces to support my various work needs, and the change in environment is refreshing and boosts productivity,” said Mr Richards.

DEMAND FROM DIFFERENT SECTORS

IWG said that there is increased interest from companies of all sizes – MNCs, SMEs or start-ups – for co-working spaces.

In Singapore, IWG’s on-demand membership sales rose by 85 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022.

“In fact, 83 per cent of the Fortune 500 use our services, and a fair share of them have multi-market presence that includes Singapore,” said Mr Darren Rogers, country manager for IWG here.

WeWork, which just opened a new 220,000 sq ft space at Collyer Quay, has also seen demand grow. In the second quarter of this year, it had close to 90 per cent occupancy in Singapore, a 25 percentage-point increase from the previous quarter, said Mr Balder Tol, general manager for Australia and Southeast Asia.

And enterprises make up more than half its business in Singapore, Mr Tol said.

“What I have noticed is that companies of all sizes are still in the process of redefining their workplace strategies,” said Mr Tol. 

“What we are seeing across all businesses is the preference for flexible leases to reduce their reliance on traditional real estate, driven by rising operational costs.”

Like IWG, their clients range from MNCs and large enterprises to SMEs and start-ups. Both firms said that there is great demand from the finance and tech sectors.

In addition, Mr Tol noted that there is also interest from the pharmaceutical industry and even government agencies, for example the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is using flexible space at WeWork.



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