Business

How coworking works in Sri Lanka

By Kanishka Weeramunda

Coworking has become a global trend in today’s business world. From New York City to Seattle, from Berlin to Amsterdam, from Singapore to Shanghai, you can see new coworking spaces being opened on a regular basis.

Small businesses, young entrepreneurs, tech start-ups, distance workers, and freelancers are the major crowd who prefer coworking to traditional offices.

To those of you who don’t know what coworking spaces are, it literally means a place which has the necessary facilities of an everyday office, which people can rent out (for a day, month, or even year) and get their work done.

While in Sri Lanka, there were a few unofficial coworking spaces available, there weren’t any that stood out and were affordable to start-ups.

In 2016, Michael Moonesinghe’s initiative to start Entrepreneur Hubs, now known as Business Hubs, was one of the first official national networks of coworking centres. Michael was motivated to start Business Hubs when he attended the Disrupt Asia conference in July, 2016, where he heard hundreds of entrepreneurs present at the event complain about the lack of access to affordable office space in convenient locations. These aspiring entrepreneurs were also burdened with massive expenses such as advance rentals and security deposits. Therefore, Michael decided to confront the issue head on and start Business Hubs, which very quickly grabbed the attention of the many entrepreneurs, small businesses, and digital nomads.

With the growth of the start-up industry in Sri Lanka, a number of coworking spaces have now been set up already. So if you are a start-up looking to find some space, here is a list of a number of coworking spaces across the country that I’ve come to know of and that you can approach.

· Hatch Works Colombo (Hatch)
· Colombo Cooperative
· Business Hubs
· HomeTree Coworking
· Hub9
· Likuid Spaces
· Loft 1024
· Coco Space
· Hubpoint
· Basecamp Colombo
· Vinsey Space
· Hatch Kalam (Hatch Jaffna)
· GrandSpace
· Connect @ Shangri-la
· NCIT Business Incubation Center (Jaffna)
· Honeycomb Creative Spaces
· WeHive

Coworking definitely has a lot of benefits and advantages, but it is not a perfect solution either. If you are still wondering whether you should move your business to a coworking space, this article will help you in making a decision! With my experience and knowledge in the industry, here are some key points that summarise the benefits and drawbacks.

Pros

1. More flexibility
One of the most important features of coworking is its relatively lower price as compared to normal offices. Flexibility in membership is also essential: You can pay for different desk options like hot desk, designated desk, or even private office, depending on how much freedom you need. Flexibility also exists in the time span of your membership: Maybe you want to work for a few months and move to another space, in that case paying for a monthly pass is ideal for you. Some companies want to be more stable so they can opt for the annual membership option. Nowadays there are even some coworking spaces offering daily passes. Almost any company can find a plan that is fitting to its needs.

2. Opportunities to network with start-up founders
Building a start-up can get kind of lonely sometimes. No matter the phase of growth, there are always new things to learn, do, and evaluate. Surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs can help take the edge off when things get rough. Coworking spaces host plenty of events for mingling, networking, and learning from fellow cohorts. Whether in the form of happy hours, educational workshops, or guest speaker events – situating yourself in a workspace where you can’t help but meet other entrepreneurs could make a difference for your start-up. Working alongside like-minded people will help your start-up grow.

3. Amenities and services
When moving to a new office, people want to get to work immediately without worrying about setting up the printer, the scanner, or even the coffee maker. Coworking spaces take care of all of those errands for you, and more: Most coworking spaces today also offer to handle mail and incoming packages, and pay electricity and internet bills, among other things. Essentially, you pay your membership and then do not need to worry about any administrative aspects; just get to work!

Top coworking spaces offer things such as:
· High-speed WiFi
· Free printing and scanning
· Complimentary beverages
· Full kitchenettes
· Mail distribution
· Onsite support
· Privacy nooks
· Meeting rooms

Cons

1. Distractions
Everyone has lighter and heavier work days, and you can’t keep asking the jovial group in the lounge to “keep it down” in case of the latter. Of course, you could minimise noise distractions by renting a private office, but noise travels, and you may still encounter a fair number of distractions when forced to interact with others behind the door. Since coworking spaces feel less structured than traditional offices, drawing the line between work and socialisation may sometimes prove challenging for you and your team.

2. Competition under the same roof
In an open seating culture, there is always the possibility of speaking around those you’d rather not have hear you! By generally shopping around for an environment suitable for your type of work, you’re potentially going to run into people you’re competing against for business. However, this could turn into a perk if your goals are like-minded and perhaps collaboration is more beneficial to you. But if you aren’t interested in working together, there could be some uncomfortable moments.

3. Lack of customization
One of the coolest aspects of having your own privately leased office is branding it. The walls, furniture, and even the lighting can all be customised to represent your unique preferences. When it comes to décor in shared workspaces, the more you’re willing to pay, you will get a more aesthetically pleasing environment. With that said, just because a space is well-decorated doesn’t mean it’s really you.

Nurturing Company Culture

For any growing start-up, it’s important to cultivate a unique company culture. This company culture represents the heart and spirit of your start-up. In the coworking environment, your company’s culture might transform to match the culture of the workplace. Before investing in a coworking space, consider the values and beliefs that the space follows or adheres to. Do these values align with your start-up’s culture? If not, it might be difficult to find common ground with members.

However, if you love the coworking environment you’ve found, you could use it as the foundation of your company culture. With success comes growth, and it’s quite possible the coworking space is a temporary stepping stone on your path to bigger and better things.

Conclusion

If you are a start-up or need flexibility in your business, coworking is certainly a more advantageous option for you. On the other hand, if the nature of your business involves sensitive information and great secrecy, then evaluate the privacy factor before you sign up for a coworking space. However, a coworking space is an ideal solution for the majority of start-up companies and freelancers as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Most of the coworking spaces listed above have not been around very long, and there’s a lot more that can be done to develop a culture for the entire concept. Although Sri Lanka just has a handful of coworking spaces, the good news is that the number of these spaces is growing. Several have opened up in 2018, and there are more scheduled to open up this year, so there will be plenty of opportunities for start-ups to find the space they need.

Kanishka Weeramunda is the Founder/CEO of PayMedia, and Entrepreneur in Residence at Square Hub. He was recognised as the ICT Leader of the Year 2018 at the ICT Awards organised by the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL), and Best CEO of the Year as well as Best Future Leader of the Year in the Small and Medium service sector category at the CMI Excellence Awards 2017.