WeWork’s relentless growth continues

By Cecilia Chow & Charlene Chin / EdgeProp | June 15, 2018 9:00 AM SGT
On a Friday morning on June 8, WeWork at 71 Robinson Road is bustling. And it is not just people sitting around drinking coffee and looking ornamental. Discussions are taking place at various seating spaces, while other parts of the communal areas are taken up by those sitting solo with their coffee mugs and laptops. There are also phone booths for those making Skype calls. The glass-enclosed office suites are mostly occupied, with people glued to their screens, chatting at doorways or huddled around a white board or screen.
It is a typical workday in an atypical office. According to Turochas “T” Fuad, WeWork managing director for Southeast Asia, the space at 71 Robinson is already more than 90% taken up. That is quite a feat, considering that it is WeWork’s second and biggest space in Singapore by far, with 1,400 desk spaces, spanning four floors and occupying a total space of 60,000 sq ft.
The new WeWork 71 Robinson is the company’s second and biggest space in Singapore so far, with 1,400 desk spaces (Pictures: Samuel Issac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
The flagship Singapore WeWork space at Beach Centre was officially launched last December. Its 690 desks across three floors in the seven- storey Beach Centre on Beach Road is fully taken up.
In the next month or so, WeWork is opening two more spaces in the CBD. One is a shophouse at 22 Cross Street, which is part of China Square Central complex and has a total space of 28,700 sq ft. The other is a 20,000 sq ft space at Mapletree Anson, 60 Anson Road. Next year, WeWork will be opening a 34,000 sq ft space at City House on Robinson Road and 40,000 sq ft at the new Funan.
The aggressive growth streak is unlikely to slow. “I don’t think we have enough WeWork spaces yet,” says Fuad. “We’re offering more than just co-working space. It’s about building our global network and community to create something bigger than ourselves.”
Global community
This explains why WeWork, a New York-based start-up founded in 2010 that popularised the concept of communal office space, is now valued at US$20 billion ($26.7 billion). It has a global presence in 253 locations and a community of 248,000 members — roughly the population size of Tampines.
Fuad: It’s more than just office space. It’s about changing the way people work, live and play.
Besides Singapore, WeWork is also aggressively growing its footprint elsewhere in Southeast Asia. In Jakarta, it is opening in two skyscrapers in the CBD: The WeWork at Revenue Tower has about 2,000 desk spaces across five floors; and the one at Sinarmas MSIG Tower will have about 800 desk spaces. WeWork is also expanding into Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Manila next. “It’s part of the global playbook to be right smack in the CBD,” says Fuad.
Exponential growth
More than 90% of flexible workspace centres are still located in Singapore’s CBD, with 200 centres currently operating in the Central region, according to global flexible workspace specialists The Instant Group in a report on June 6.
Singapore’s flexible office market grew 22% last year, making it the third fastest-growing market after Melbourne and New York, according to The Instant Group.
Co-working and hybrid space in Singapore have quadrupled over the past four years. With an average desk cost of $558 a month, Singapore’s rate is said to be significantly lower than in other key cities in Asia, such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, and 57% cheaper than in New York. Singapore is set to see even further growth as new operators set up in key locations, says The Instant Group.
This year, the flexible workspace market in Singapore has already seen a 17% increase in the number of centres offering co-working, flexible and hybrid office space.
Mobile working
The mobile workforce is also a growing trend. A survey by International Workplace Group published at end- May found that, in Singapore, 63% of employees work somewhere other than in the office at least one day a week. About 47% work remotely for at least half the week, while 10% work outside their company’s main office location five times a week. “People from Seattle to Singapore, London to Lagos no longer need to spend so much time in a particular office,” says Mark Dixon, founder and CEO of IWG. “This is a huge shift in the workspace landscape globally, and businesses are now looking closely at what this means for their corporate real estate portfolios.”
The communal space at WeWork 71 Robinson
According to The Instant Group, businesses can save up to 73% by choosing flexible office space over conventional leased space in the world’s major cities. They are also able to set up in prime locations that may otherwise be inaccessible. With larger companies seeing the benefits, demand continues to grow. The proportion of office space occupied by flexible workspace in Singapore is projected to increase steadily as more operators try to meet this demand.
‘Powered by We’
With office rents on an uptrend, more companies will seek out WeWork, reckons Fuad. Incidentally, another business offering is “Powered by We”, which is basically offering office space as a service — construction, fitout, decoration, operating and managing the space on behalf of a company. WeWork employees will also be on site to help with community programmes.
In the US, WeWork is reportedly managing buildings for companies such as IBM, Airbnb and Amazon. In Hong Kong, Standard Chartered Bank’s office is going to be “Powered by We”. It will become, by extension, a node in the WeWork global community, says Fuad. And it will be able to tap the WeWork global network and applications available to members.
According to Fuad, WeWork is currently in discussions with several MNCs and local corporations in Singa pore on adopting Powered by We.
In the US, WeWork has launched co-living spaces called WeLive. Late last year, it opened its first lifestyle gym branded Rise by We. In an attempt to identify and groom budding entrepreneurs, WeWork is entering the education sector with a pilot elementary school programme targeting five- to eight-year-olds. Interestingly, WeWork has also invested in Spain-based Wavegarden, a maker of wave pools. “We’re changing the way people work, live and play,” says Fuad.
A room for me-time at WeWork
As such, he sees no other Singapore co-working players as the company’s direct competitors. “We are offering more than just space. We have ‘Powered by We’ and a lot of different offerings. For us, it’s about bridging the different communities around the globe.”
Nevertheless, WeWork is expected to be the biggest co-working space operator in Singapore by year-end.
Localisation and adaptation
For Fuad, adapting to local traditions and customs is also important. There will be prayer rooms at We- Work spaces in Jakarta and, in the future, in Kuala Lumpur. The interior design of the space also incorporates the character of each neighbourhood that WeWork is in.
For instance, the WeWork at 71 Robinson Road has a “British and Peranakan feel”, with hardwood flooring and artwork by in-house WeWork artists. On Beach Road, given its location in the vicinity of conservation shophouses, the colours are more vibrant, with concrete flooring and arches reminiscent of the shophouses.
Most WeWork spaces already have a mother’s nursing room, shower facilities and recreational areas. There are also cosy meeting rooms for those who want privacy. Besides coffee and fast Internet speed, WeWork now offers its own craft beer on tap. “Underpinning that is our community, which is something we focus a lot on,” says Fuad.