Why reimagining co-working spaces is needed for future work needs

By Lim Keong Wee

As the demand for co-working spaces increases exponentially, there is an urgent and possible need to start rethinking how these spaces will look like in the very near future, amid the changing attitudes of workers.

Doing so will also assist governments in spatial planning, so that there isn’t an over-allocation of land for office space needs, given that the working behaviors of individuals have shifted post-pandemic.

The numbers are clear enough to show the trend.

Demand for flexible workspaces in Singapore rose by 25 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021, according to a study by The Instant Group in 2023, with supply not being able to keep up with the trend.

As hybrid working increases in popularity, co-working spaces have emerged as attractive alternatives to traditional office setups. 

Professionals from more diverse industries, like tech startups and architectural firms, may also begin to occupy co-working spaces in the future.

Thus, it is imperative to reimagine these spaces and better cater to the diverse needs of modern professionals. 

Specialised Co-working Spaces for Future Forward Industries

One way to reimagine co-working spaces is by having specialised spaces for specific industries, such as robotics, design, architecture and construction, or even fashion.

The idea for the future would be that co-working space providers can customise facilities and events at these spaces to meet the needs of different industries. 

Furthermore, learning spaces can be made available for upskilling and learning providing specialised spaces for engineers will include production areas equipped with industry-specific tools like 3D printers and laser cutting machines, and a training room where professionals can participate in workshops and seminars. 

This allows designers and engineers to bring their ideas to life right within the co-working space. 

By focusing on the unique needs of a diverse set of professionals, co-working spaces can transform into communities of like-minded individuals, providing opportunities for networking, collaboration and industry-specific support.

The Integration of AI

Given the ever-increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) across sectors, it is also high time co-working spaces integrate AI into their operations. 
Leveraging AI can enhance workspace efficiency and work experience for co-working members in various ways, as it enables the automation of processes and through AI integration with IoT-enabled devices. 
Tasks such as controlling lights and temperature can be automated based on occupancy or time of day, optimising energy usage and helping to reduce costs.
For example, WeWork uses machine learning to predict how often meeting rooms will be used based on factors such as office layouts and other variables. 
This allows WeWork to optimise the allocation of meeting spaces, and strategically plan and design spaces that meet the needs of its members.
Overall, AI integration transforms co-working spaces by optimising operations and providing tailored experiences for members.

A Collaborative Marketplace, Focus on Green

Co-working spaces can go beyond providing physical workspaces and act as a collaborative marketplace. 

They can facilitate connections between businesses and relevant service providers, from designers, engineers to fabricators.

For instance, co-working spaces can serve as additive manufacturing hubs, connecting designers with contract manufacturers within the co-working space to collaborate on projects. 

This collaboration allows designers to tap into the manufacturing expertise necessary to turn their concepts into reality.

The collaborative marketplace concept can extend beyond manufacturing to various other industries. 

Co-working spaces can curate networks of service providers, consultants, and freelancers, enabling seamless collaborations and access to specialised skills. 

This creates a dynamic ecosystem within the co-working space, boosting the potential for business growth.

While co-working spaces inherently promote sustainability through their concept of sharing resources, there are still more opportunities for the promotion of sustainability.

For example, one simple way of creating impeccable co-working spaces would be to incorporate green spaces into their design. 

Indoor plants, vertical gardens, and communal outdoor areas provide aesthetic appeal while improving air quality and creating a rejuvenating atmosphere for workers. 

Research has shown that green spaces can boost workers’ cognitive functions and well-being.

Moving into the Suburbs 

From a city planning perspective, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been pushing for the decentralisation of business districts, by having more workspaces near homes, offering greater flexibility and incorporating mixed uses. 

This forward-looking approach allows various types of work areas to be integrated, combining residential and commercial functions. 

URA also emphasised the importance of incorporating co-working spaces within the community to cater to the growing hybrid and flexible work trends. 

Coworking space operator IWG reported around 34% increased utilisation for its decentralised workspace locations like One North, Tampines, Jurong, Joo Chiat, Paya Lebar, Novena and Changi Business Park.

More spaces, better collaboration opportunities

According to the MapleTree Industrial Trust 2021/2022 annual report, there will be an increase in the availability of business park spaces from now till 2025. 

Between the second quarter of 2022 and 2025, the business park segment is expected to witness approximately 4.3 million square foot net lettable area (NLA) of new completions. 

For example, JTC’s 2.0 million sq ft NLA business park development at Punggol Way is due for completion over 2024 and 2025. Furthermore, the completion of JTC CleanTech 3 and the new Surbana Jurong Campus at Cleantech Loop will add almost 0.6 million sq ft NLA of new stock.

This further presents an opportunity for the development of more co-working spaces, given the increased demand in co-working spaces.  Reimagining co-working spaces is essential to meet the evolving needs of professionals in a rapidly changing work landscape. 

By embracing specialised spaces, integrating AI technologies, forming collaborative marketplaces, and focusing on sustainability, co-working spaces can remain relevant and thrive in the future.

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