Co-working spaces are a booming industry concept in China thanks to billions of dollars in funding. But how long before the lack of profits causes a shake-out? Walk into any of the most popular co-working spaces in China and you will instantly understand their appeal. They feel different to the average office, with their stylish designs, open office plans, laidback atmosphere, endless supplies of coffee and beer, and trendy young unicorn-hopefuls bouncing around.
Traditional offices are disappearing—some are being redesigned to be beautiful spaces that employees actually want to come to work in and meanwhile, humbler versions of the Silicon Valley spaces are increasingly popular too. This year, about 1 million people will work in a co-working space. In ten years, that number will top 1 billion. The co-working idea reflects the trend that companies keep trying to move more of their balance sheet from fixed to variable costs, and the supply of office-less workers keeps rising. So which vision of the future will win out—the palace or the co-working hive?
Do you like to work in a café like Starbucks or do you prefer staying in your cubical at the office? Today, fewer people are working in traditional offices, as most administrative work is either being automated or outsourced to cheaper markets, reducing the need for the in-house typing pools and IT services that once took up a lot of room. Young professionals, instead of being assigned to a desk, like to choose where they sit and work. The ideal place should be comfortable, with an open, cozy coffee-shop style. A boss-less office space is becoming increasingly popular.
Inspired by the unicorn WeWork in the US, Chinese entrepreneurs have been starting their own co-working spaces. And renting a spot in a co-working space has become a popular option for startups. At the end of 2015, there were over 16,000 of these co-working spaces in China. Are they being formed because of real customer demand or just inflated by a startup bubble? Can they really save cost? What’s their future? How do they differ from US co-working spaces? Read our interview with Mao Daqing, CEO of URwork, the largest co-working space in China in terms of scale, to find the answers.