Co-working spaces as a solution to the overhang of commercial property

By Kevin Eichenberger

Co-working spaces represent more than just a novel way of utilising empty office space – they are a revolutionary way of incubating home-grown companies and spurring economic growth.

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While national attention has been largely devoted to discussions surrounding homeownership and the over-supply of luxury housing, there is an often overlooked dilemma arising in the amount of empty square footage intended for offices in the Klang Valley.

For every block of high-rise residences that is completed, there is an accompanying podium of commercial space that often goes under-utilised – typically for months following the completion of a mixed development. The problem is even more obvious in business parks and other commercial developments around the valley, where rapid construction typically outpaces the rates at which tenants move into the completed units.

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The conventional approach of filling office space relies heavily on the growth of SMEs in the country, and to a larger extent, on the expansion of large MNCs from around the world embarking on forays into this region. The most recent approach to filling unused office space presently involves attracting global corporations by packaging wide swathes of empty square footage or bundling multiple commercial units at competitive rates.

Somewhere between the traditional role of companies as tenants and commercial REITs is a space occupied by co-living and co-working establishments. These are companies that break up large amounts of square footage into smaller and more affordable units for living or working – and the formula seems to bear fruit.

Co-living and co-working spaces went from being a millennial buzzword to a viable solution to the issue of unused property in a short span of just a few years. Despite coming into existence relatively recently, the change in perception of these hip establishments has been swift – given the unprecedented rate of growth enjoyed by the many new companies that venture into this territory.

Developers of commercial space apparently welcome them – co-living and co-working establishments take on long-term leases for large amounts of space, and with their occupants typically being of lower age, the F&B and retail establishments in the vicinity enjoy a steady stream of customers.

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With negligible investment in trendy décor and a few requisite creature comforts, they attract younger occupants and almost completely rent out all of their smaller packaged units to residents and start-ups – often with waiting lists stretching months into the future.

One example of such a venture goes by the quirky name of “WORQ”, which is currently represented by two bustling communities in TTDI’s Glo Damansara and Subang’s UOA Business Park – with another set to open in KL Gateway by the middle of 2019. WORQ’s UOA Business Park community currently occupies approximately 23,000 square feet and their Glo Damansara community will amount to 18,000 square feet by the time their planned expansion is complete.

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Out of that huge amount of space, only 10% to 15% goes towards shared facilities such as pantries, napping pods, changing rooms, showers, and game rooms. The remaining 85% to 90% of the space is devoted to revenue generation in the form of “hot desks”, permanent desks, and office suites of four or more desks.

Napping pods at the co-working space Worq@Subang.

Napping pods at the co-working space WORQ@Subang.

According to Shabeta Kumar, community manager at WORQ@Subang, the office suites are sized to match the average size of start-ups – which enables new companies to conveniently house their operations for terms of three months or more before moving to larger spaces once they have grown.

Besides start-ups, major corporations have been utilising co-working establishments like WORQ for their own needs. With the options that co-working spaces provide, large companies can forgo moving whole offices and can instead utilise the additional short term space for sub-contractors, employees who live far away from offices, and as neutral ground for boardroom meetings.

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It is not just the technical configurations that warrant the success of co-working establishments such as WORQ. There is an obvious difference between the cultures of these spaces and the way conventional corporations, or even virtual offices, are designed and operated.

Beyond the décor of WORQ@Subang being made to appeal to younger occupants – its entryway draws inspiration from Silicon Valley – the pantry provides snacks in the manner of a hippie commune (on an honour system), and the management refers to their tenants as “members”.

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Given their successes over the past few years, and their appeal to young people, one can expect co-working establishments like WORQ to become more of a norm in the near future.


Read about co-working spaces in China.

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