For many Singaporeans who work in an office (like us), coworking spaces are an area of curiosity.
We’ve visited a couple of them and published a few photo-tours before, but we’ve never tried actually working in one.
Until, the Vulcan Post editorial team recently got a chance to switch up our usual office routine to spend a day at JustCo.
JustCo is a Singaporean coworking company founded in 2011, and one of the largest operators in Asia Pacific.
They very kindly extended 20 single-day passes to each of us, which allows us to use the hot-desking seats at any JustCo centre.
For starters, the three of us headed down to JustCo Marina Square for our first full-day experience.
Seating Up To 1,000 Members, From Freelancers To Corporations
The Marina Square centre is one of JustCo’s newer spaces, opened in July 2018. One thing that makes it unique is its location right in the heart of a shopping mall, instead of the usual office towers.
Covering 60,000 square feet, the centre has a pretty expansive capacity for more than 1,000 members to cowork together.
In terms of decor, it isn’t overly fanciful to the point of being distracting. Rather, its design is clean and simple, with plenty of light wooden accents and indoor plants to cosy up the place.
As we kicked off our day with a quick tour, the first thing we noticed was the row of private offices running along both sides of the centre, and a few more at the back.
Usually, when we think of coworking spaces, we think of freelancers, gig-workers and startups.
However, we learned that more than 50% of JustCo’s tenants in Singapore are actually large enterprises, while entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs together count for the other 40-50%.
Some SMEs and large corporations lease offices in JustCo centres for terms ranging over one to five years.
A number of JustCo’s bigger tenants at Marina Square have been located there since the day the centre opened.
One of them for example, a luxury interior design firm called Wilson Associates, has a full-fledged office within the JustCo centre, entirely renovated to fit the company’s own branding and house its 200 staff.
We also quickly spotted some familiar startup names on the walls of other private office rooms, including cash back and payments startup Fave and beauty booking platform Vaniday.
JustCo has an average occupancy rate of 90% across all centres, with an increasing demand from large corporates and Fortune 500 companies.Kong Wan Sing, Founder and CEO, JustCo
Among JustCo’s regular occupants, more than half come from business service industries like marketing, design, recruiting and legal management.
Information technology, digital finance and insurance companies make up another 20% of JustCo’s tenants.
Let’s Talk Expectations
Ever since we heard JustCo was able to offer us a trial, the team was full of anticipation.
It’s not that we don’t love our own office, but a change of environment was exciting and refreshing!
Before the day itself, we had already built up some expectations of what we thought or hoped coworking would be like.
The highest criteria on our lists was to enjoy freedom and a variety of workspaces that would cater to different needs; whether we wanted to share open-concept areas with other people, or tuck ourselves away in a booth with more privacy.
Zafirah’s idea of coworking was that it gives workers more autonomy, as you can pretty much “set your own working hours” and sit wherever suits you best.
Along with this, there should be enough options for rooms that can let you conduct private discussions or larger meetings when the need arises.
Melissa also wanted to find out if coworking spaces really helped you meet new people and network more.
I myself wanted to see if the environment would be good for productivity.
On top of that—not gonna lie—we were also looking forward to perks like free coffee and a great pantry!
Let’s see whether reality matched up with our expectations.
We Were In The ‘Zone’, Most Of The Time
In the morning, we first settled ourselves down in one of the more ‘serious’-looking hot-desking areas to get to work.
It was uncluttered, with a few neat rows of desks that could seat three or four people on each side, ample power sockets, and no distractions.
This, along with the quietness of the morning, made for a fantastic environment to keep us focused.
By the time we lifted our heads from our screens to head out for lunch, the three of us were sharing in agreement that we had been in the ‘zone’ all morning.
During the second half of the day we decided to explore different seating options to truly get a grasp of hot-desking, and to see if we could find the ideal workspaces to suit our different tastes.
Melissa and I opted for a booth seat tucked away in a corner to fulfil our need for isolation, while Zafirah chose a sofa seat where she could comfortably lounge as she works.
There were also plenty of meeting rooms of various sizes, and even bigger rooms that members can use to hold events and town halls.
The choices available were decent, and we never had to fight for a seat even when the centre got quite crowded in the afternoon.
But we did experience a couple of drawbacks.
While the booth worked in a pinch to keep us somewhat obscured from external stimuli, Melissa thought it would have been better if there were a few small rooms available for individuals who really want to shut off from the world.
The centre only offers one phone booth as a private space to step in and take a phone call or Skype conference.
Another issue we faced was that the more ‘non-standard’ seats we chose this time didn’t provide power sockets, and it felt slightly disruptive to relocate when our laptops started running low on juice.
It also got a bit noisier when people played ping pong in the centre, but it’s not a huge problem as you can easily drown it out by plugging in your headphones or earpieces.
Overall, we enjoyed the varied seating options and found the environment conducive most of the time, after we settled down from moving around.
Sharing A Working Space Gives You Chances To Build Relationships
When it comes to networking, we didn’t get to experience much of it.
Of course, this was no fault of JustCo’s, since we were only there for one day.
While we didn’t get to meet anyone new, we did notice there were plenty of efforts to facilitate mingling and exchanging ideas among the members.
Firstly, JustCo regularly organises events and workshops. We were actually invited to join an intimate sharing session on ‘Mending Relationships’ after work, but were unfortunately unable to attend that day.
Secondly, JustCo provides product display stations all around the centre that gives members a chance to showcase their products or services to the community, a feature that’s unique to Marina Square.
The centre also has a dedicated area for startups under its incubator, JustCo Innovation Labs. Besides having access to tap on JustCo’s resources to grow their businesses, the incubation area also serves as a common ground for entrepreneurs to meet one another.
One interesting thing I observed throughout the day was that as I passed by members in the centre, I frequently overheard snippets of conversation where someone was earnestly sharing about their startup, perhaps interviewing a new talent or pitching to a potential partner.
Considering that this happened a couple of times in one day alone, I gather it should be a pretty common occurrence!
It’s Important To Keep Members Happy With The Little Things
Now, as minor as it may seem, perks and amenities definitely make a difference.
JustCo checked off one of the boxes by providing coffee machines and a selection of teas at the pantry, and we were thrilled about this.
But they were lacking in the snack department. In the middle of the afternoon, we ended up going shopping for our own snacks (at least we were in a shopping mall!).
It was nice to see that there was some entertainment available, such as a ping pong table, mini golf corner, foosball and board games, which can help you decompress when you need a quick break.
JustCo also provides lockers for members to store their belongings safely, so that they can leave the centre with a peace of mind, and wouldn’t find their hands full whenever they shifted seats.
There are also printing services, mail-handling services, and a nursing room for mothers on-site.
The centre also provides 24-hour access for members, with security round the clock.
In all, they’ve taken fairly good care of the little things that makes the space friendlier for members.
Would We Try Coworking Again?
For us, the experience confirmed that the appeal of coworking is no illusion.
Whenever we used to see pictures of people in coworking spaces, hard at work and exuding an upbeat, motivated energy, we wondered how realistic they were.
The truth was, members who were paying to be there were definitely making sure they made full use of their time and money.
Zafirah described the atmosphere as “constantly buzzing with an intense, quiet focus”.
And this bounces off onto you.
“I liked the fact that I was surrounded by strangers who were all also working hard on their own stuff. I felt more motivated too,” said Melissa.
The short answer: Yes, we would try coworking again!
However, there are more factors to consider if you are thinking of using a coworking space for the long term.
In terms of cost, a membership that gives you 24/7 access to a hot-desk at various JustCo location starts at S$398/month.
Pricing is definitely something to think about especially if you’re a freelancer paying out of your own pocket.
Personally, we felt that it would be most ideal to work in a private office, where we could have some privacy, but still have the option to go out and enjoy the perks and flexibility in the rest of the centre.
Starting from S$800/month, it also seems like it would make good economical sense for small companies.
Renting a private office would also better cater to some teams with specific needs. For example, our video team would need to do their editing work on desktops, which was the reason why they weren’t able to hot-desk together with us.
We’d like to thank JustCo for the opportunity to experience their coworking centre!
- To find out more about JustCo, their locations and membership plans, click here.
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Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post