Making shared office spaces work

Shared work spaces let firms from different industries interact

Ms Juliet Soh (centre), an IT marketer, shares office space with D2D Sports’ Mr Alvinder Singh (left) and Mr Rasvinder Singh (right) at The Office. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Ms Juliet Soh (centre), an IT marketer, shares office space with D2D Sports’ Mr Alvinder Singh (left) and Mr Rasvinder Singh (right) at The Office. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
A model in a red dress practises her walk in front of Fashvacation managers (from left) Chang Zi Ying, Natalie Png and Audrey Ti at The Co. Sharing their office space is Mr Peter Ong, managing partner of a business advisory firm. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Call them strange bedfellows.

With the rise of co-working spaces here - a trend that is believed to have started around 2009 - some firms are finding themselves sharing an office with companies of a vastly different nature.

Some interesting pairs include an IT marketing firm and a set-up that organises soccer events; and a business advisory firm and a lifestyle company that organises events with fashion shows.

So far, however, nobody's complaining.

According to an April report on tech news site Tech In Asia, there are 26 shared offices in operation here.

This is up from about five reported in 2011.

Some work spaces, such as The Hub Singapore at the National Youth Council Academy in Somerset Road, see as many as 200 people working out of a 5,000 sq ft space.

Says its general manager, Ms Dawn Toh, 27: "More people are beginning to realise that collaborating with others who have different expertise can create astounding results.

"For example, an entrepreneur can serendipitously meet a business partner, a student can gain mentoring from a seasoned professional and a creative professional can learn about business from an investor - the permutations are endless."

Generally, co-working spaces charge $45 to $900 a month, depending on what is used, from a desk and chair to meeting rooms and storage areas.

At The Office, for example, 15 firms with a combined headcount of 20 share the 1,740 sq ft office in Chinatown.

Most are one-man outfits - including three accountants, a will writer and an IT marketer - who pay $248 a month to use the space.

But since January, these tenants have been sharing the office with D2D Sports, a firm that organises sports events such as amateur football leagues, futsal matches and team-building programmes.

Says Mr Azahari Aziz, 36, D2D's founder and director: "Sometimes, we talk loudly and can be quite casual with our clients and the other tenants. We like the office to be fun and lively, but we also hope we are not disturbing the other tenants."

Ms Juliet Soh, who runs Living Forces, an IT marketing firm, from the same space, does not mind it. "They are a fun bunch and they liven up the place."

Adds the 43-year-old, whose work includes helping other firms write business plans and meeting sales targets: "If it gets noisy, I just put on my headphones and block everything out."

Working among such a diverse group does take some getting use to, though.

Says Mr Ting Chee Kheong, 43, a will writer in the office: "At first, it was a little weird because the football guys seemed so different from everyone else. But after some small talk, we learnt to adapt to one another, just like we would if we were working in a big office."

Over at The Co in High Street, Mr Peter Ong, who owns business advisory firm Rested Edge Advisory, has been sharing the 26,000 sq ft office with other businesses including Fashvacation, a lifestyle company that organised Fashion In A City. The event was first held at the Avalon club in Marina Bay Sands last year.

A second edition, featuring various lifestyle brands and fashion shows with in-house models, was held at The Co last week.

Says Mr Ong, 45, who bought a ticket to last year's event: "If I weren't based here, I'd be based in a small office, which can sometimes be lonely.

"Here, there are lots of creative people who give the office vibrancy and a 'yuppie feel', which I like."

Ms Chang Zi Ying, 25, one of Fashvacation's three managers, likes the arrangement too.

"It's great working in such close proximity with so many different companies. Whenever we want a fresh perspective, help is just a chair-roll away," she says.

"We are also happy to work in the same office as Mr Ong, who has so much wisdom and work experience. There's a lot we can learn from him."

At SmartSpace in Waterloo Street, 10 per cent of VLV Design & Print's business comes from the other 25 firms sharing the office.

Says Ms Vivonne Soong, 29, owner of VLV, which designs and prints items such as business cards, logos, brochures and posters: "When you work beside one another, a certain level of trust develops and there can be a lot of business potential."

Clubvivre, an online platform for personal chefs which also operates out of SmartSpace, has also collaborated with other firms there.

For example, it sponsored part of the food at a technology conference organised by another tenant that was held at the Singapore Management University last month. It has also used workers operating in SmartSpace on a freelance basis.

Those who operate these co-working spaces say disagreements between tenants are rare.

These offices typically have a system in place to roster the use of facilities, such as meeting rooms, to avoid clashes.

Says Mr Boonk Lim, 35, The Office's business development director: "I've encountered only one inconsiderate tenant so far, who left an unopened drink can in the freezer a year ago. The can later exploded.

"At The Office, we don't want to impose any rules, except to say that common sense should prevail."

Mr James Chan, 32, founder and chief executive of tech incubator Silicon Straits, which operates a co-working space in Ayer Rajah Crescent, notes that most people make an effort to accommodate one another.

"My only bugbear is that the last person to leave the office sometimes forgets to turn off the air-con and lights.

"Sadly, the only way I can resolve this is to nag at them."

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