Between lugging your laptop from one café to another to conduct your business and setting up your own office is a dynamic option stacked with opportunities – coworking. The framework of this concept is that members operate within a shared work space, using common equipment, facilities and services. At its core is the belief that when like-minded creative people gather and interact, there is synergy, which sparks new ideas and collaboration,
“I believe coworking is here to stay,” says Benjamin Teo Jong Hian, director of Co-labs Coworking, which opened a second space at The Starling Mall in Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya, last August. At 20,000 sq ft, it is five times the size of Co-labs Glenmarie, Shah Alam, set up in July 2017.
Having dipped a toe in and now certain the changing nature of work demands a new style of working, Teo is geared to grow Co-labs, which had 90% take-up of its 350 desks within four months of opening at Starling. He targets SMEs, startups, freelancers and large enterprises.
Co-labs, part of Paramount Property, offers flexible work space options, from premium suites to flexi or fixed desks and modular rooms that can be opened up as a company grows. Units can be rented for a week to a month, or on a long-term basis. A daily pass is available for those whose work keeps them on the move.
Amenities include meeting and recreation rooms, nap pods, storage space and lockers, phone booths to take private calls, a nursing room, hot showers, a pantry stocked with hot beverages and access to member-only events. All the tables and work stations are built using 200-year-old upcycled chengal wood sourced from an old shoe factory in Klang. Safety features are in place as well to ensure the wellbeing of members.
More importantly, “we provide them a proper business address in a very central location which typically is unattainable for many SMEs and start-ups because of the high rental,” Teo says. Co-labs Starling occupies a whole retail floor in a mature mall. This means members have an ecosystem of business amenities at hand, from banks to stationery and printing shops, supermarkets, restaurants and entertainment outlets.
Companies with the resources to set up their own office, on the other hand, may not want to contend with contractors, fixtures and furniture, and then its daily operations. “We solve all that. You just walk in here and focus on your core business. A lot of our work today does not require much beyond a table, laptop and good internet connection.”
Coworking is especially suitable for B2B operations because they are surrounded by different companies, he adds. “It works in your favour in the sense that you don’t have to go out to canvass for jobs. Our community of companies knows you are here and can come and find you.”
Community is a big component in Co-labs and it has a team to drive related initiatives. “We want like-minded people to come together to get their work done and achieve their goals,” says Teo, whose experience leading Paramount Corp’s innovation team equips him for the job.
A shared working environment will appeal to milliennials, whose value systems are different – they want work-life balance, he thinks. Co-labs’ answer to that is a range of holistic activities designed to uplift and educate members as they work, meet new people, discover hobbies and have fun.
Teams involved in new products and services may also see value in coworking because it exposes them to those at the forefront of innovation and disruption in today’s industries, Teo adds.
Entrepreneurs who have gone through the teething process of starting up come in weekly to mentor others at Co-labs. “The start-up scene is close-knit. Lots of people, when they get to a certain level, are happy and want to give back. Operating a coworking space, I like to think that we facilitate serendipitous meetings. You make friends with people you would normally not talk to.”
There is an entire value chain at Co-labs, from entreprenuers to freelancers, architects, property agents, staff from production houses and PR and marketing agencies, fintech personnel and corporates. A property developer has moved in to anchor its Glenmarie space while at Starling, an advertising agency has taken up 160 rooms. The company has confirmed spaces at two new locations which are set to open in June — Sekitar26 in Shah Alam and Naza Tower in Kuala Lumpur.
“Corporates are beginning to see the value in coming to a co-working space and being in a collaborative environment that allows them to be exposed to different viewpoints and ways of thinking. That is vital because they need to constantly adapt or be left out.”
According to SME Corp Malaysia, 98% of businesses set up in the country are SMEs, a figure which gives Teo confidence coworking is set to grow. Besides, landlords who would not give him the time of day a year ago have come a-knocking!
Co-labs is modelled on US-based coworking pioneer WeWork, but is forging its own path, Teo says. With the backing of a property company, “we know how to create beautiful yet functional spaces”.
This article first appeared in Haven Spring 2019.