Coworking Spaces Come Of Age In Asia

Beautiful coworking spaces are mushrooming all across Asia. From Ho Chi Minh City to Jakarta, Google-grade spaces are giving a new face to work.

Dreamplex Ho Chi Minh City

Dreamplex Ho Chi Minh City

In the past 12 months, WeWork has expanded to the fertile markets of China and Japan. It has no real competition in Asia. For a company valued at over US$10 billion, this strategic move received scant attention. It’s a good time to take a second look at the macro environment that WeWork is now operating in.

WeWork’s traditional competitor and predecessor is Regus, a giant of the 20th century. Its office spaces are traditional serviced offices. WeWork keeps a focus on cultivating relationships between members and offering additional services to its members, all through technology of course. EngageRocket, provider of employee engagement survey and analytics, revealed that Lazlo Bock (former Senior VP of People Operations at Google) defined the importance of HR for the technology industry. Their solution is now a common ask for startups and their support organizations like office space providers.

The most visible difference between WeWork and Regus though is simply the aesthetic. Changs, Marketing Director of AgileLab in Singapore, shared that the experience of work is improved through design. It is the aesthetic of coworking that has been copied most widely, and which cements the association between beauty and coworking.

With that, the search volume of coworking space is a useful proxy for interest in the category as a whole.

I’ve looked up the interest for coworking space in Google Trends as well as Google’s Keyword Planner.

I have chosen India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam as the research targets. I wanted to include China but data quality from Google Keyword Planner for this market was too poor.

The Google Trends chart shows the popularity of coworking space in each market. The popularity of the term at any point in time is expressed as a ratio of all the searches within that place at that time. Hong Kong sees a higher level of interest in coworking space than the other markets on the chart, but this does not mean that she sees a lot more searches than a large country like Indonesia. The truth is that Hong Kong is seeing a lot of coworking space search relative to the total searches in Hong Kong itself.

Indonesia and India are so large that searches for coworking space are low relative to the sum total of searches.

Notably, in the past 6 months or so, interest in coworking spaces has reached new highs for all the markets shown except India.

This is why Google Trends is a useful measure of popularity for search terms. Height of these lines are measured against the sum total of searches, giving context to the data.

The increasing popularity of coworking spaces on Google Trends gave me confidence to take things a step further by taking a look at actual search volumes through Google Keyword Planner.

Using the same time window as Google Trends (Jan 2015 – July 2017), I looked up search volume for the phrase “coworking space”. The results are shown in the chart below.


Coworking Space Search Vol (South-East Asia)

The increase is even more stark when we look at the raw search numbers. While search popularity had increased somewhat modestly, actual search volumes have seen a much steeper growth curve, especially in Indonesia. JumboLens founder Jian shared that in Indonesia, the main markets for coworking spaces are Jakarta and Bali. In Malaysia, the market is similarly binary in Kuala Lumpur and up-and-coming tech hub Penang.

Remarkably, pure software or marketplace startups exploiting this explosion in commercial real estate are few and far between. Many new companies entering the niche of coworking spaces are space operators such as Spacemob, or space owners themselves.

There are no companies of the profile of an Airbnb for commercial space within South-East Asia or East Asia like these companies in North America.

If things remain as they are, we will see WeWork become the primary supplier of sales to spaces simply by default. The likeliest challenge to WeWork will come from space operators who decide to expand into lead generation. Outcomes will depend on whether WeWork’s lead generation can outpace the rate of learning by putative challengers from the space operators.

(Wei Leen is founder of Lean Metrics, specialised in advanced SEO, as well as founder of wine delivery site Bottles of Joy and coworking space startup SeekSpaces)