A young discipline: Chinese coworking

Coworking in China 50002-preview_low_3593-2_50002_sc_v2com

SOHO, a real estate company, has opened more than 30 coworking spaces in China in the last four years. The coworking pioneer dove into this adventure in August 2014 after having surveyed over 30 internet companies and their working styles in the United States.

Coworking in China

As there were almost no coworking spaces available in China at the time, the first two SOHO Q3 spaces in Beijing and Shanghai that opened in February 2016 served as starting points to test the waters and market for this new concept.

Coworking in China

The announcement of the Chinese government that called for “mass entrepreneurship” in 2015, which started a surge in start-ups and created a steady demand for flexible small-office spaces, helped with the expansion of coworking.

Furthermore, the lure of technological advancements, cost-effectiveness and flexible-lease terms added to the instant success of the increase in these workspaces as well as the arrival of a new breed of work force–the millennials. Hence, the Chinese coworking culture grew quickly and steadily over the last three years.

Coworking in China

The idea of coworking is not new and has been practiced around the world for centuries by artists, artisans and other crafty entrepreneurs. The modern version of it embraces community, openness, collaboration, accessibility and sustainability. The self-directed work in a shared workspace encourages interaction among the members of the shared space.

These shared spaces provide work environments that spark inspiration and creativity with access to shared resources, e.g., WIFI, printing, meeting rooms and more. After the rapid growth in the early years in China, though, building these inspirational centers in 2019 has become more challenging.

Coworking in China

The competition is fierce with WeWork, Prototype, DayDayUP, URWork and other players in the market trying to grab their share of the pie. Recently the industry has seen more consolidations and market exits that can be traced back to rising vacancy rates, tighter financing and a slowing economy.

With these challenges ahead, interior design, corporate identity and branding become more important to attract customers. From the start, SOHO had engaged anySCALE for the interior design and corporate identities of their Q3 centers to make them stand out and unique. 

Coworking in China

Whereas early coworking spaces (in the U.S.) were in revamped factories, the Chinese ones are placed in office buildings and look more like design hotels often found in the cities’ business districts. The operators offer not only innovative environments but also add a slew of services and more customized solutions, including individual office space and conference rooms, to keep their clients and attract new ones.

SOHO Q3 now offers 115,791 square meters of coworking space with 18,000 workplaces in multiple locations around the country. 80 percent of its properties are located in the company’s own buildings. In Beijing, SOHO Q3 is situated in the Wangjing SOHO building that was designed by Zaha Hadid and is LEED-certified. Some of the middle floors are designated to the Q3 coworking space.

Coworking in China

In general, the Q3 spaces are in existing shopping malls, office towers or mix-use buildings. This put the design team at anySCALE to the test. Reimagining existing structures for a modern, new concept asked for creative and innovative solutions.

The standard office building layout typically has relatively low ceilings and many walls. They had to be transformed into spacious, open and flexible floorplans where comfort and efficiency reign. Lower level spaces, sometimes underground, that were originally used as food courts, had to be reimagined. The spaces also needed to function effortlessly as working space and lounge zones with good lighting.

Coworking in China

According to the anySCALE team, another ingredient for a successful coworking space is color. SOHO China’s corporate color is white and lent itself beautifully as canvas and backdrop for the Q3 centers. It is easily combined with wood and concrete. The addition of splashes of fresh colors such as orange, yellow, red, green, pink and blue complete the warm, inviting atmosphere.

Compared to the United States, where the shared spaces are more masculine with heavy and dark elements, the Chinese market looks for more feminine designs. The coworking spaces needed to be airy with light wood generously applied to floors, walls and custom-built furniture.     

Coworking in China

The old shopping malls and retail podiums in SOHO’s portfolio offered another exciting opportunity to redesign spaces that were previously used for other purposes. The high ceilings and wide-open spaces gave rise to creative design ideas and executions.

The underground spaces and former food courts lacked natural light but had other interesting aspects for room designs. Reimagining these utility spaces as comfortable and efficient coworking spaces tested the designers’ skills.

Today China is the leader in the shared economy movement. According to a recent JLL report, flexible office space represented by coworking spaces will contribute to about 30 percent of the office spaces nationwide by 2030. The country continues to strive to transform from the factory to creative innovation-centered workplaces.

While the U.S.A. is still the leading place for coworking in the world, China and Asia are catching up fast and are expected to overtake within the next few years as the global number of coworking spaces triples from 14,000 to over 30,000 by 2022.

Are you in the mood for some art? Check out the UCCA Dune Art Museum in China.

Source: photos are courtesy of v2com

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