Forum: Bring back 'container office' cluster concept

A container building seen on the website of Chinese company China International Marine Containers.
A container building seen on the website of Chinese company China International Marine Containers.PHOTO: CHINA INTERNATIONAL MARINE CONTAINERS

It is distressing to read about the troubles and service gaps that are ailing the shared workspace industry in Singapore.

There could be opportunities to bridge these service gaps by bringing back container offices - recycling and repurposing shipping containers as offices - to meet demand for co-working space cost-effectively.

In the early 2000s, during the dot.com boom, there was an incubator cluster for start-ups where The Metropolis business park is now situated.

Located beside the Ministry of Education and opposite Buona Vista MRT station, this cluster - called the Phase Z.Ro Technopreneur Park - of mainly Internet and IT start-ups consisted of shipping containers converted into offices.

It was practical, cost-effective and, painted in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colours, aesthetically appealing.

It was a vibrant start-up ecosystem, with the close proximity of container offices enabling effective meetings and supporting robust innovation and ideation.

Such a container-office business model is consistent with the "core plus flexible" concept and with smaller firms' desire to lower fixed costs and ease business expansion, and will be well supported by demand for co-working space from entrepreneurs, freelancers and start-ups. It has the potential to greatly benefit the co-working community.

With some financial engineering and not a little ingenuity, it could even potentially be collateralised or otherwise monetised as innovative, Reit-like financial products for discerning investors.

The relevant stakeholders should consider bringing back these container offices to meet demand for co-working space more cost-effectively, further enhancing Singapore's start-up and accelerator ecosystem, as well as supporting the gig economy.

Woon Wee Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline 'Bring back 'container office' cluster concept'. Print Edition | Subscribe