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A Space Odyssey

Rising above the venerable Hung Hom ferry pier on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor, the vast Kerry Hotel is a luxury property which offers that most sought after of luxuries in crowded Hong Kong – space. Billing itself as “an urban lifestyle resort,” the new hotel emphasizes its generous size in every aspect of its design, from the sweeping vistas of the curvilinear glass-and-marble lobby to its park-like outdoor areas.

But Hong Kong is a city that’s all about business, and the Kerry has not forsaken this fundamental tenet of life in the Special Administrative Region. In addition to a set of expansive traditional ballrooms and other facilities for meetings and events, the hotel is home to the latest value add in hospitality, coworking space.

Located on the second floor of the Kerry, the 7,000-square-foot Kafnu Hong Kong is high-design shared work spaces, meeting rooms, common kitchen areas and private sleep pods. It even sports a craft whisky bar. The coworking enclave is the brainchild of Next Story Group, a Singapore-based company that designs, manages and markets hotels and blended lifestyle space.

“The new generations in Asia live in shades of gray: working, playing, living, learning and resting all blend together in their worlds,” explains Morris Sim, chief marketing officer of Next Story Group. “Kafnu is a concept designed precisely for their lifestyles. They have different needs, so we built a different space just for them.”

In fact the workspace needs of this new blended style of working and living have given rise to a whole new concept of what it means to be at the office. Instead of cubicle farms bathed in bleak fluorescent light, coworking spaces are creative, cool and often quirky; the Kafnu at the Kerry Hong Kong offers 24 big tables shared by clients, plus meeting rooms and, perhaps most important, communal lounges.

Simplify and Multiply

It’s the word ‘communal’ that marks the key distinction underlying the entire premise of coworking: It’s less about sharing space and more about sharing the entrepreneurial experience. The idea got its start, unsurprisingly, in San Francisco in 2005, when a serial entrepreneur named Brad Neuberg came up with the notion of combining the independence of freelancing with the social structure of an office space.

To express the idea, he came up with the word “coworking” – with no hyphen.

In the dozen years or so since its inception, coworking is burgeoning, with an estimated one million spaces now available worldwide. In Manhattan alone, companies that provide coworking and other third-party flexible space now occupy 9.2 million square feet of office real estate, according to the latest survey from industry analysts CBRE. The sector, which includes 65 different flexible space companies that operate more than 260 locations in New York, has grown by approximately 600 percent since 2009, CBRE research reveals.

Although that total only accounts for 2.5 percent of all of Manhattan’s immense office inventory, the sector’s expansion is accelerating, with nearly a million square feet of additional leases signed in the first quarter of 2018. Highest profile among them, the announcement late last year that the legendary New York department store Lord & Taylor is shuttering its century-old Fifth Avenue flagship store and selling the 676,000-square-foot building to the workspace company WeWork.

The idea is to create an environment to simplify the working life of the professional who doesn’t have access to a routine office. These may include freelancers, small- to medium-sized enterprises or even individual businessmen who are looking for inspiring environments to help them focus on their goals and concepts. More recently much larger companies are beginning to explore the benefits of locating in these shared office environments. Fortune 500 corporations Verizon, IBM, Microsoft, Airbnb and Amazon are listed among the clients of coworking providers like WeWork, Alley and the tech learning community Galvanize.

The goal for these technology giants seems to be three-fold: It’s a great place to recruit rising talent, keep an eye out for potential acquisitions, and – in a nod to the old adage about keeping your enemies closer – monitor the start-ups who are creating the next big tech disrupter.

Accommodating Change

Even as coworking reshapes the traditional office real estate landscape, the movement is also branching out from traditional office buildings to meet demand in other venues, from storefront shops to airports and hotels. For example, last year, global workplace provider Regus announced the opening of its new drop-in business center at Mumbai International Airport. Outfitted more like an arrivals lounge, it is fully equipped with shower facilities where passengers can freshen up and a cafe where they can enjoy breakfast before they head out to meetings in the city. Sprawling over 4,000 square feet, this space can accommodate more than 100 business travelers at a time.

One of the pioneering players in the coworking spaces industry, this Belgian service provider operates a network of 2,800 collaborative business centers across 106 countries and 977 cities.

“At Regus, we understand the requirements and challenges faced by executives and professionals the world over,” says Harsh Lambah, country manager at Regus in India. “Over the past year in India, we have worked closely with organizations to provide them with support for various workplace requirements.”

In fact for the global business travel community, the availability of flexible space at every stop along the journey is more than an amenity – it’s an expectation. And perhaps no other sector of the travel industry is better suited to accommodate coworking and other third-party providers than the hotel industry.

“Hotels are becoming the equivalent of the world’s largest office building,” says Mark Gilbreath, founder and CEO of LiquidSpace, a real-time workspace marketplace. “What’s really interesting is that we’re seeing hotels not just offer up their existing, under-utilized meeting rooms, we’re actually seeing them reconfigure other areas of their properties to create additional workspaces that meet the demands of a growing mobile workforce. Coworking lounges, a private office staged poolside, workspace on roof decks – these are just a few examples of the new range of hotel workspace options offering all of the professional amenities one needs to be productive.”

Fast disappearing are the fabulously ornate hotel lobbies, designed to impress but offering not much usable room. These grand spaces are being repurposed – or eliminated altogether – in favor of open spaces that offer amenities like high-speed WiFi, gathering places, natural light, plenty of outlets and charging stations, and comfortable, work-oriented furniture.

Beyond the lobby, hotels around the world are setting aside precious space to host dedicated coworking  areas. In Bengaluru, The Waverly Hotel & Residences is  located in a multi-use complex called VR Bengaluru. On the top floor of the boutique hotel is The Hive, an unconventional coworking space that spans more than 100,000 square feet with 1,000 desks. Amenities include high speed Internet, dedicated phone lines, conference rooms, printing services, and quirky London phone booths in a corner where tenants can take personal calls on their mobile phones.

“Designed as an ecosystem to nurture and grow the next generation of businesses, The Hive provides customizable modern workrooms comprising private offices and collaborative workspaces; complete business support services and a connected technology platform for community networking and managing the membership plan,” says spokesperson Ankit Samdariya. Tenants can access attached suites and residences at The Waverly, Tribe fitness club, spa and salon, a rooftop pool, lounge bar, microbrewery, PVR cinema, even retail outlets.

Hotels in all corners of the world like the Waverly in Bengaluru and the Kerry in Hong Kong, along with global brands such as Marriott, Wyndham, Holiday Inn, and Hilton are finding value in offering space for coworking concepts. “Kerry Hotel Hong Kong is delighted to partner with Next Story Group to bring Kafnu’s shared space concept to life,” notes Nicholas Smith, the hotel’s general manager. “It perfectly complements our hotel’s lifestyle and meeting facilities and will benefit both our hotel guests and the local community.”

Combining shared workspaces and the hotel business seem to be an ideal collaboration. Among the worldwide wealth of imaginative applications:

• The Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay has outfitted a private room in its popular Catch restaurant with a boardroom table for up to 14 people overlooking the marina. The room runs $74.90 an hour and includes WiFi and a large TV/monitor.

• The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC, offers a private meeting room with WiFi and views down Connecticut Avenue for $35 an hour.

• The Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East recently redesigned its 12th floor, creating two coworking spaces. A seat at one of the communal tables runs $25/hour.

“Our innovative Workspace on Demand program, powered by LiquidSpace, offers mobile workers spaces in over 430 hotels,” explains Glen Harvell, VP, strategic solutions and business development at Marriott. “With our renovated lobbies and public spaces, we are inviting guests and people working and living nearby to connect, meet and get work done.”

Flexible working hours, affordable rents and an inspiring community in the midst of an uplifting atmosphere are only some of the reasons today’s mobile professionals desire these innovative shared work environments. Whether you’re a business traveler on the road for a few days or a budding entrepreneur on the lookout for a creative hub, the array of versatile coworking spaces won’t disappoint.