Manila holds first Coworking Forum

-by Dani Austria

A gathering of innovation gatherers, the first Coworking Forum tackled increasing demand and meeting the ever-changing needs of co-workers

BGC – In the Philippines, and really the rest of the world, coworking is becoming the new norm and a fast maturing industry. When ASPACE opened in 2013, it was only one in a few in Metro Manila; now, coworkers are spoiled for choice at every turn in the different CBDs, and it seems demand for spaces will only continue to grow.

Founders and chief innovators of some of the biggest co-working spaces in the metro, as well as investors and partners, gathered for Manila’s first Coworking Forum to engage in productive discussion about the present and future opportunities of coworking in the country. MHeld August 23rd at ZenDesk’s Bonifacio Global City office, the forum kicked off in high spirits and with a quick introduction by the creator and moderator, Max Henry – founder of Hong Kong-based Entreprenr.

Here are highlights from the forum:

    • Demand for co-working spaces continue to rise.

The next few years will see continued growth for the local co-working community, but we’re bound to see changes in where the demand comes from. Right now, it’s necessitated by the booming BPO and IT industries and the startup community, but creative-types are also coming in, says KMC Savills chairman and co-founder Gregory Kittelson.

To meet this demand, co-working spaces must be ready to scale up. Kittleson continues to say that flexibility is key, and that means having the capital, the technical capability and the expertise to serve clients and their needs.

Hot desks and dedicated seats are also not enough to keep business afloat. Flyspaces.com founder Mario Berta reveals that real profit comes from private offices (HQs, as they are called in ASPACE), not shared spaces.

In terms of competition, they will come from everywhere – including real estate giants who are already starting to see the profitability of co-working spaces. Morgan McGilvray says landlords in the Philippines are likely to partner with existing operators first, then open co-working spaces themselves. McGilvray is the director of tenant representation and office agency at Santos Knight Frank.

    • Design for People.

“For us, it was people first,” ASPACE founder Matt Morrison reveals. He adds that designing for people means understanding their complexities, and just like how people evolve, a co-working space has to continuously adapt to their changing needs. “What’s good for one may not be good for another. What’s good for someone today may not be good for him tomorrow.”

Denise De Castro, principal architect of DDC Architecture Studio, echoes this principle and then some. Work habits and preferences may change or vary, but ultimately the important thing is to have a space that allows work to be done. Aspiring co-working designers, take note: Successful work spaces are designed for both productivity and collaboration. “Look at interaction points and touch points” to come up with a design that works.

Perhaps, co-working spaces can look at Commune for design inspiration. While the cafe wasn’t designed to be a co-working space, it might as well be. (At least most people already think it is, says owner Ros Juan.) Like most co-working spaces, the Poblacion haunt holds events and workshops, all while serving coffee and food that draws customers from all over Makati. Whether you’re one to sit at a connecting table and swap stories with strangers or you’d rather space out in front of a window, Commune is designed to welcome everyone.

    • Get to know your community; then engage them.

On the community-building aspect, ASPACE Cebu lead Paula Bernasor, co.lab Exchange director Love Gregorie Perez and Office Project co-founder Shumate Royo agree that while events are a must for engagement, finding the right balance is key. “Know your community first and their needs, and gravitate all your events on what really helps them grow,” says Paula.

Managing a space for different personalities, conflicts within the community are almost unavoidable. Almost. Perez shares that by “deliberately trying to build a culture of collaboration and respect for each other,” maintaining peace is possible.

    • Next stop: Everywhere.

While most co-working spaces still congregate and proliferate in the Makati CBD, quite a few have also sprouted in neighboring cities. co.lab is in the largely residential Kapitolyo, popular among creative-types and foodies. Builtable is in nearby Shaw Boluevard; Launchgarage represents Northern Metro Manila in Bagumbayan. In 2016, ASPACE opened a branch a little farther away – in Cebu.

According Berta, other areas to watch out for are Manila Bay and by the strip of casinos in Pasay.

    • Introducing “co-living”.

A trend that’s slowly creeping in the region is “co-living”. While the general concept has been around for years in the form of coops and dorm-sharing, modern co-living steps it up a notch. Aside from merely having a place to rest, the aim of co-living is to build conscious communities through shared resources and spaces. A bedroom or a bathroom can be shared or private; living and dining areas, and the kitchen are communal. In lieu of rents, spaces offer membership. If the co-living space has branches elsewhere, it’s like having an address in different parts of the world. Usually built with or on top of co-working spaces, it also supports work-life blending.

Co-living is already a thing in countries like China and Japan. The idea is yet to come alive in Philippines.

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The Coworking Forum in Manila was organized by Entreprenr with the help of ASPACE, Chain Media and Zendesk. Other speakers who gave insights were Adriel Tan, co-founder of Builtable Coworking; Eli Yaneza, manager for BD, property planning and office leasing of Fort Bonifacio Development Corp; Jay Fajardo, founder of LaunchGarage Innovation Hub; and Raymond Rufino, chairman of Urban Land Institute.

Commune and Green Pastures provided refreshments. ⧇

For more of what went down during the Coworking Forum, search for the hashtag #CoworkingMNL on Twitter.