Shared Spaces and The Evolving Culture In Urban Living And Working
I work in the penthouse floor of a building along Ayala Avenue. My office has a nice reception area, a spacious lounge adjoining a pantry with free-flowing coffee, WiFi, a large conference room with HD equipment for video conferencing and client meetings, round-the-clock security and friendly full-time admin staff who handle anything from printing, answering calls to doing some errands. This is not a plush private office of a key executive at some multinational corporation. I am a design entrepreneur and I hold office at a co-working space—one of the growing number of relaxed and hip work environments that have dotted the business districts of Metro Manila.
A characteristically urban phenomenon, co-working has been around for a few years. Essentially, Co-working is a flexible workspace where equipment, physical space and services are shared by different people and different companies and where use of the facility is also flexible in duration where rent can range for a few hours to several years. The product appeals to small scale businesses, freelancers/“solo-preneurs”, start-ups,business incubators and mobile workers who need a compact space for their operations without compromising convenience, address and level of service. It is the equivalent of gym membership applied to the workplace.
Co-working initially grew out of the need for business travelers to have a “branch office” in various places in the world where they can simply plug in. From the initial business center roots, the co-working space has since evolved into a spectrum of work spaces that range from the hip and casual vibe to the polished feel of executive suites. They now cater to more than just the globe-trotting executives and attract clients that include freelancers, start-ups, small businesses and various collaborative enterprises. Numerous chains of co-working spaces both local and foreign, have emerged such as Clock-In, Acceler8, WeWorkand Regus. All address the need for flexible and convenient work environments and offer more than just a desk for the mobile worker.
The Changing Environment of Work
The co-working space phenomenon, like many other products of the shared economy was triggered and enabled by the confluence of several factors such as urbanization, globalizationand higher user mobility, technology, and the growing demand for more affordable and flexible work space options. A key factor is the emergence of smaller units of production -- down to the level of the individual freelancer or entrepreneur: digital nomads who could work anywhere and anytime whether from home or at a café in another country. Advancement in technology has essentially unhinged productivity from the confines of location and size, allowing productive output at smaller scales of operations. What used to take 10 people to accomplish can now be done by fewer people with the righttechnology. Advancement in communications and Cloud computing has also redefined the concept of presence in the workplace and liberated the worker, enabling greater mobility. Thus, in an environment where work is mobile, files are digital and presence is virtual, the shape and form of the workplace has been disrupted by alternative modes including co-working.
The shared workspace also tends to foster collaboration and professional networking. Bringing together varied specialized companies into a common and relaxed environment expands the professional network of firms where serendipitious encounters can possibly lead to the exchange of ideas, collaboration and cooperation on joint endeavors. The business incubator looking for a graphics designer for his project might meet a freelancing digital artist in a co-working space and may decide to collaborate. Thus, in co-working spaces, it is not just space, equipment and services that are shared, but the larger opportunity to share ideas, knowledge and skills is also present. Several co-working spaces are deliberate in fostering networking and collaboration. Many host seminars, get-togethers and social activities to entice tenants to engage one another.
Shared Privacy and the Concept of Co-living
More recently, co-living spaces is starting to emerge in the property market. An offshoot of workers’ dormitories and hostels that offer convenient and affordable in-city accommodation, the concept of co-living is essentially the same as that of co-working: shared space with a dash of community and collaboration. The lure of the metropolis, which attracts young professionals from all over the country to work in the big city has driven the demand for affordable accommodations. Dormitories, apartments and shared flats have been the alternatives for some time now. But with the growing upward mobility of young professionals, options that are more appropriate to their lifestyle are needed.
Unlike traditional dorms, the true concept of co-living is more deliberate in encouraging interaction among residents by bringing together like-minded, young urban professionals with shared interests under one roof where they can share basic facilities such as kitchens and living spaces but also amenities such as gyms, reading rooms or entertainment areas. Residents sometimes are also co-workers, and in some countries co-living facilities are rented by corporations to house their staff. Similar to co-working spaces, the concept offers more than just affordability and convenience. The appeal of co living spaces is in the opportunities it offers to connect individuals and form de-facto families and communities under a cooperative environment.
I Have Seen the Future Economy, and It Is Shared
While co-working and co-living might seem like passing fads at first blush, they are actually manifestations of a more global economic trend that has been disrupting traditional businesses for many years now. From a larger perspective, co-working and co-living spaces are part of alternative modes of consumptionknown as the shared economy where assets, resources, capacity, space, skills, funds or service are more optimally used across multiple users by matching supply and demand in real time and in smaller time increments, usually through the use of technology. Ride-sharing such as Uber and Grab, bike sharing, co-working and co-living spaces enable the use of physical assets on demand, offering the same level of convenience without the burden or cost of ownership. Products of the shared economy are, all packaged in small units that capitalize on convenience and affordability. Need quick motorized transport to travel 5 blocks? Book a ride with Ankas, or if abroad, rent an electric scooter using Lime. Need air transport to avoid traffic travelling to the next city? You can use AirTaxi or UberChopper.Want to live in a vineyard on your next visit to Napa Valley? You can book a large house beside a winery using AirBnB.
Many products in the shared economy rely on large markets or crowds, hence they work best at the scale of urban settings. The sharing economy now extends into areas such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, knowledge and talent sharing. A common characteristic of businesses in the shared economy is the absence of a middleman and large institutions in the transaction. A customer (demand) interacts directly with the asset or service (supply) without necessarily having to go through the owner andthus reducing hassle, friction and cost. This is the convenience offered by More fundamentally, the economic benefit of the shared economy is in the utilization of unused capacity. Otherwise idle assets are more optimally used across random users since availability is matched with supply in real time, through the use of an application platform. The technology enables the sourcing and the pricing of the product and service at any given time based on real time level of demand. It also allows for service to be consumed in smaller increments. Essentially, the sharing economy allows a person in need of a specific service to connect to the individual willing to provide it. This type of technology-enabled, collaborative, micro-consumption differentiates shared economy businesses from traditional businesses. These new forms of enterprises have disrupted more traditional business across several sectors but have also created new income streams for individuals and more affordable options for consumers. Co-living and Co-working spaces, have challenged conventional ways of living and working by innovating according to emerging market needs.
The Social Aspects of Shared Spaces
Some have said that the irony of globalization, urbanization and connectivity through technology is the increased isolation it creates. Paradoxically, amid rapid growth, society now operates in smaller and smaller increments and higher degrees of specialization whether in terms of time, space or physical size. An increasing number of residents in the city are individuals whose families are in the province or the outskirts of the metropolis. With commute times and costs being a burden in the metropolis, many young workers seek safe, pleasant and affordable accommodation in the city on the weekdays. Similarly, the increasing number of small firms point to a demand for compact and flexible workspaces that offer affordability and convenience without compromising prestigeand address.
The challenge and opportunity in evolving society is equally paradoxical: how to foster and nurture community and connection amid an increasingly individualistic trend in work and life. While people might see the practical benefit to working or living alone, our human instinct pulls us to be alone together--to be connected while being apart and to be large while being small. The underlying appeal of the shared economy in general and of co-working and co-living in particular is precisely that.
Joel Luna is the founder and principal of JLPD, a masterplanning and architectural design firm which he started in 2017.. His firm holds office in Clock-In Ayala Triangle, a co-working space by Ayala Land, Inc, where his small team of 9 people (shared with Archiglobal, Inc.) enjoy its unique vibe. JLPD has been in Clock-In since its founding and hopes to continue to grow there.