Co-working in Bangkok – misaligned visionsOctober 27, 2016 / By
Co-working spaces are fast becoming a critical component in commercial real estate (CRE) and portfolio strategies for occupiers around the world. However, occupiers and landlords need to overcome a number of barriers in order for co-working to become a mainstay in real estate markets around the world.
We visited a number of co-working spaces around Bangkok, interviewing founders and key staff from leading operators including HUBBA, Colab on Convent, Draft Board, and the Hive. Throughout the course of our travels, it became clear that co-working operators in Bangkok are all facing the same challenge: Finding (landlord) partners who share the same vision.
Each operator we met was able to clearly articulate their vision and longer-term goals. In every case, operators are laser-focused on creating a sense of community for users, where the community becomes the main point of attraction rather than the space itself. Notably, few operators stated that financial gain or brand expansion were particularly important.
Regardless of an operator’s choice of location, there is a drive towards designing unique, comfortable environments that are tailored to the target demographic and neighbourhood in which each space is located. For example, the Hive, a regional brand with spaces in Singapore and Hong Kong, opened its first Bangkok location in the trendy Thong Lor neighbourhood. Thong Lor is popular among younger expats and travelpreneurs as a place to live owing to a rich mix of dining and entertainment while also being easily accessible via transit. It comes as no surprise that the Hive’s clients are predominantly foreign, under 30, and running their own businesses.
On the other hand, The Beaumont Partnership, a leading Bangkok-based design house, recently launched Colab on Convent, a 659 sqm hybrid space in the heart of the Silom business district. The space is open to the general public but is also used by the firm to showcase various design efforts. Profits from the space are diverted to the Group’s non-profit foundation. Given its location in the heart of the city, its design, facilities and amenities cater to a more domestic, over-30 crowd looking for flexible working alternatives. The space is also used by traditional occupiers in the area for meetings and other corporate functions.
While operator-led spaces have proven successful, developers have largely been unable to align themselves with the visions set forth by operators. HUBBA, which is Thailand’s largest and most successful operator, has repeatedly turned down approaches from well-known developers who do not share their community building philosophy. Similarly, the Hive has rejected offers to partner with residential developers who would like to effectively franchise the business model in many of their condominium projects as it does not match with the Hive’s character.
The local evidence suggests that developers who wish to capitalise on the co-working phenomenon must understand co-working operators’ visions and exhibit a willingness for flexibility in order to maximize their chances at turning the co-working trend into a major source of occupier demand.
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