We visit a few cutting-edge shared office spaces to see how the synthesis of design, digital space, and collaboration are paving the way for a new way of working in China.
Lane 189 is a new shopping mall standing proudly against a backdrop of office towers in the northern part of Shanghai’s trendy Jingan district. Where once the top floor might have been occupied by a gym or cocktail bar, today it boasts one of the newest co-working spaces in the city: Welcome to the Xikang Lu premises of naked Hub, one of the fastest-growing co-working concepts in China.
With eight uniquely designed spaces in the Shanghai downtown area, naked Hub is at the forefront of the new, high-end shared office trend in China. As an established operator of five-star resorts, the company strives to bring the same level of comfort and hospitality to its rental offices spaces.
Cosy in a comfy armchair with her laptop is Lu Ying, CEO of Lumon-Create, whose career has brought her to Shanghai via Helsinki and Amsterdam. Since her return to Asia, she has witnessed the co-working trend take off in earnest in China in the past couple of years.
The pull of positive buzz
While shared office spaces continue to attract freelancers, startups and digital nomads, larger corporations are also responding to the pull of flexible spaces, their networking opportunities and their hard-to-define positive buzz.
These were among the reasons why Ying decided to move part of her strategy team to the naked Hub Xikang Lu office early in 2017. With a steady 20-year presence in both Finland and China, the family-owned company specialising in glass façades comes from a traditional corporate background. Ying, however, felt that to keep her team growing in step with the fast-paced market that China is, they needed to find a more dynamic space.
“Two weeks in Shanghai is the same as two months in Helsinki. The pace is just so different here,” says Ying. A co-working space, with its daily buzz and constant exchange of ideas and insights, is a natural accelerator.
“Everything happens through contacts in China, so having this ready-made network is pretty powerful,” she adds.
“I like the playfulness of these spaces. As we also work in a creative field, it’s good to be surrounded by that spirit in your office,” says Ying.
While co-working was a relatively unknown concept in China just couple of years ago, the industry has mushroomed, with more than 500 co-working sites having sprung up in Shanghai and Beijing since the beginning of 2015.
A global forerunner is WeWork, which now boasts 140 locations around the world, including four in Shanghai and two in Beijing, with two more slated for opening by the end of 2017.
“We opened our first office – WeWork Yan Ping Lu – in Shanghai last July and went to full capacity in less than a month,” says Ole Ruch, APAC managing director of WeWork.
Founded in New York, WeWork’s first aim was simply to provide working space for members. Today, the company’s philosophy is all about fostering a sense of community and encouraging members to interact, and not just socialise but do business with each other.
“Some 70 per cent of our members work together,” says Ruch. “And 50 per cent of our members actually do business with each other.”
Online & offline
Both the naked Hub and WeWork offices host special events nearly every night, from training sessions to mixers for new members. In co-working speak, these interactions in the common areas are referred to as “offline” connections. Alongside them, online spaces are also gaining importance.
For example, naked Hub, has an in-house tech team who monitor and help design more efficient usage of spaces while also fostering interaction via their member app.
“We try to curate the conversation online, helping members connect with the right people and tracking how many interactions are created,” says Paul Hu, managing director of naked Hub.
For Lu Ying of Lumon-Create, this combination of online space and offline spaces is something that Ying sees as becoming more important in the future.
“China is bypassing the webpage phase completely and moved straight to mobile. The new ways mobile apps are used in physical spaces is a rising trend, and I think that with this, China will be a trendsetter for the rest of the world,” says Ying.
5 x co-working in Shanghai
As an experienced resort operator, naked Hub rents co-working spaces at the premium end of the shared office trend in China. With eight locations in Shanghai, all offices boast a café-like common area, green walls, state-of-the-art air filters, and nap rooms. Monthly membership starts from RMB 1800 (€235).
A global forerunner of creative co-working spaces, WeWork hosts four locations in Shanghai, with two more slated to open by end of 2017. Creative interior design, craft beer, bike storage, and micro-roasted coffee are just some of the perks. Monthly membership starts from RMB 1495 (€195). Starting picture of this blog: WeWork’s flagship office on Weihai Road is housed in a 20th-century building that once served as an opium warehouse.
One of the first co-working spaces in Shanghai, Sandbox3 remains the favourite of freelancers, startups and students. With three locations around the city, the use of the common areas is free.
This unique, communal working space stands out as a design-focused space for creative folks. Specialities include an organic kitchen, detox room and personalised cultural events calendar. Single desk rates start at RMB 2300 (€300) per month.
Located in a converted warehouse, ANKEN Green targets companies with an eco-conscious identity. Renting office space by the square metre, additional perks include a green roof with events space, urban farming, and a stylish warehouse café.
Text by Amanda Soila Photos by Amanda Soila and companies
This article is published in the Summer 2017 issue of Blue Wings.