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How the pandemic worked in favour of co-working spaces

With organisations and professionals rethinking work and the workplace, co-working spaces may just be the most appealing solution to the hybrid working model in a post-pandemic world.

How the pandemic worked in favour of co-working spaces

The Great Room Afro-Asia, Library, in Singapore.

Co-working spaces have sprung up like mushrooms over the last decade as they offer the flexibility, low commitment and style that most traditional office spaces don’t. In 2018, Statista reported over 16,000 co-working spaces in operation globally, and this figure is predicted to cross over 40,000 by 2024. But the COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably disrupted this growth in 2020, with the market questioning if this unprecedented situation would be the death of coworking spaces.

With social distancing and working from home staunchly practiced throughout last year to mitigate the spread of the virus, the future of co-working spaces was looking very bleak then. The idea of strangers working together in an open, shared space at their convenience felt like a horror story waiting to happen. 

The Great Room Afro-Asia Stateroom coworking space
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Stateroom.

Fast forward a year later, as many countries transition to an endemic phase thanks to the uptake of vaccination, this horror story is beginning to appear more and more like a fairy tale as employers and employees have collectively experienced the benefits of remote working. 

With the hybrid work model heralded as the future of work, it will become commonplace for people to split their time between working from home and going into the office. More companies are looking to incorporate flexible workspace options for their employees where in-person collaboration can still take place when needed and companies can save on operational costs. Needless to say, coworking spaces are uniquely positioned to fulfil these demands.

The Great Room Afro-Asia Drawing Room 01 coworking space
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Drawing Room.

Most recently, coworking group The Great Room opened its fifth and largest Singapore location at Afro-Asia along Robinson Road, which I had the privilege to experience for an entire week. Working in a 3400+ square-metre space that spans three floors is a far cry from working at my dressing table and dining table interchangeably, for the last 19 months – and counting.

Housed in a certified green building, the hospitality-inspired space conceived by Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang features various meeting areas: from the Studio (an open space for up to 24 pax), to the Stateroom (an elegant boardroom for 14 pax), or the eight meeting rooms that cater to groups of four to 14 pax each.

For more private yet intuitive workspaces, the Workhall houses a variety of hot desks and offices, private phone booths, and cosy lounges that integrate seamlessly across the floor. Members can also utilise the fully-equipped Podcast Room (up to 3 pax) for thoughtful conversations. 

The Great Room Afro-Asia Studio coworking space
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Studio.

At the heart of the coworking space is the Drawing Room that resembles a five-star hotel lobby more than a workplace by blending professional needs with residential sensibilities. Soaring ceilings and windows flood the space with natural daylight, coupled with soft, jazz music playing in the background, making it a conducive environment to work in. A long communal table by Roger&Sons serves as a community anchor point here, complemented with various seating options and quiet nooks where members can gather for private discussions or socialise with one another.

In most co-working spaces, personal space is aplenty compared to traditional office settings, which inadvertently works in favour of current social distancing guidelines. Likewise, The Drawing Room, Conservatory and Library at The Great Room, Afro-Asia became my expansive office space for the week – moving from the sofa to the booth seat as if sampling delectable treats on offer. Though most of the time, I found myself heading towards the bar for my tea or coffee fix and subsequently chatted with the members there. 

The Great Room Afro-Asia Conservatory coworking space
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Conservatory.

By the end of the week, I felt at home at The Great Room, Afro-Asia, and acquainted myself with the barista, staff and members. Should I have been there longer, who’s to say that I would not foster deeper connections with the people there, who are open to knowledge sharing or could potentially be lifelong friends, clients or business partners? This truly exemplified co-founder Su-Anne Huang’s perspective that “the role of the office is about activity-based working for the different functions – a place of collaboration, decision making, and the modern agora for learning.”

True to her words, The Great Room regularly organises meaningful after-work sessions such as Spend The Night With… a fireside chat series with international opinion leaders on topics ranging from climate change to women’s empowerment. Apart from knowledge sharing programmes, there are also regular networking events such as Great Thirstday, a monthly social event for members to network over drinks. 

The Great Room Afro-Asia_Drawing Room 02
The Great Room Afro-Asia, Drawing Room.

As an answer to companies looking at ways to promote employee morale and job satisfaction. The Afro-Asia location also features a Nursing Room and a dedicated Wellness Room (up to 5 pax). The latter, which is a first for The Great Room, is designed to boost members’ wellbeing through restorative activities such as yoga, sound healing and breathwork exercises. Concerns over hygiene are also put to rest as thorough sanitation is conducted daily.

While many organisations are still developing a resilient approach to work and the workplace at a rapid pace spurred by the pandemic, co-working operators like The Great Room has already established progressive ways to embrace flexible team working, while ensuring workplace wellness and sustainability are met.

Based on first-hand experience, it’s hard to dismiss that coworking spaces may help reduce pandemic fatigue and offer a semblance of normalcy, where face-to-face interactions can be had. In the long-term, they keep professionals recharged and energised in an environment that inspires creativity and prioritises well-being. Companies can also save on operational costs by eschewing big, long-term office leases.

The Great Room Afro-Asia Phone Booth coworking space
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Phone Booth.
The Great Room Afro-Asia Lounge
The Great Room, Afro-Asia Lounge, photography courtesy of The Great Room.

Joyce Wang

The Great Room

We think you might like this comment piece on the flexible office by Tom Crocker of WeWork.

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