Localisation, expansion and competitive products: WeWork's Southeast Asia MD on the future of work

WeWork’s approach to every market has always been localisation and operating with flexibility.

When WeWork was looking to enter Singapore in 2017, a group of teams with different functions landed in the Southeast Asian country to do due diligence before the co-working space giant came in.

They looked at real estate, where life is, where transportation is accessible, the bars and the gyms. It also sent its designers down to understand what the local look and feel is; what cups do people in the country use and the kind of materials they use.

This is a critical part of WeWork’s approach to every market, which has always been localisation and operating with flexibility, Turochas Fuad, managing director at WeWork Southeast Asia tells The Drum at the launch of its flagship space in Singapore at Robinson Road in June.

In addition, the team is armed with a huge amount of big data from WeWork’s eight years of developing workspaces, such as how space is being used, how it divides up the communal space and how big the size of the meeting rooms are.

“All of it boils down to really on the sales side itself, like which members that we work with. We work closely with the global members that we have around the world, telling them we are coming to Singapore and what can they do to help us out," explains Fuad.

The competition and expansion in SEA

There is no shortage of co-working spaces in Singapore, with players like The Working Capitol and JustCo, but Fuad, who founded Singapore-based co-working space Spacemob before it was acquired by WeWork, reiterates that WeWork’s localisation strategy will set the company apart from the competition.

For example, he explains that as localisation comes with knowing where the favourite locations of the companies are. In Singapore food is an important thing, WeWork selected places like 22 Cross Street in Chinatown, which is close to a lot of food that are ranged from low to high prices. For its Robinson space, it targeted a more professional crowd, while its Beach Centre space has a lot of media and startups because it is on the outskirts of the central business district.

“In Jakarta, where we are building a WeWork in the Sinarmas MSIG Tower, there are a lot of media companies and e-commerce startups, so we are targeting the right segment and market to allow people to come to WeWork,” Fuad adds.

What keeps Fuad up at night though, is WeWork's expansion across SEA because he admits it will be tough as it will take a lot of hard work, time, coordination with the team in the region and globally. He says what works in the West, may not work in the East.

“It all boils down to the experience and what the members want. It is not about being the biggest, it is about developing the best product and service to our members, both large and small, to allow them their ambitions,” he explains. “There has been a saturation in the market, but it is about getting companies to adopt and understand the future of work, which is already happening. It is about helping companies understand how to plan expansion, how to plan to hire and serve beyond their real estate needs.”

Launching its other products in the region

WeWork is focused on its bread and butter of providing co-working spaces in SEA at the moment, according to Fuad, because its basic foundations has to be right.

However, WeWork is open to bringing its other products, such as its Labs, which is its startup accelerator and Powered by We, where instead of a company taking space in a building owned or leased by WeWork, it will pay WeWork to manage its existing space for it.

“We just launched WeWork Lab in South Korea, which is a product that we offer that helps companies like startups to expand and grow within the WeWork community. We help them with the right programming, events and the right process to get them going,” says Fuad. “That is something we are looking at bringing to different parts of Asia, especially SEA.”

As Singapore’s office rental growth is set to see strong overall growth over the next three years, it is a competitive space where property management companies like Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) and Knight Frank are major players.

Fuad admits Powered by We as a product is ‘kind of blurring the lines with property developers’, but argues that WeWork is not the first to create a collaborative space as every single market that it goes in, there are similar local products. He also points out that Powered by We is very much focused on what the enterprises are asking WeWork to do, which is to bring WeWork to their location and make their location into a WeWork-feel environment and design.

“In terms of how we work with JLL and different partners, we currently have a lot of partnerships with them in which they help us find locations around the world, real estate and sales organisation or placing companies of different sizes into WeWork,” explains Fuad.

“There is some sense of competition in terms of their facilities management and how Powered by We works, but our products are unique and disruptive in a way where we are not just designing and building, but also pulling the programming - the services that our community managers put on.”

The Indonesian also feels Powered by We is a step higher and a more holistic offering, compared to what its competitors are offering. “The fact is that we are very focused on what we are trying to do, which makes us uniquely different. It is about changing the world, impacting how people, enterprises and small companies can work together,” he adds.

Future of work

Fuad believes WeWork has evolved from a purely co-working space to a technology company as well, as tech is at the heart of everything it does as it prepares for the future of work.

It uses heat maps and sensors to define how it can optimise its space, so for example, if WeWork knows that a meeting room is very popular or least popular at a certain time of the day, it can do something to encourage people to use it or send them to another room.

Aside from the Internet of things, WeWork also uses artificial intelligence and emerging technology like virtual reality, using a VR sets a sales tool for unfinished spaces. It also has installed a technology team in Singapore to develop its global product because the country is becoming a technology centre.

“All this information is very important for Powered by We because it is very important to the facilities team, knowing exactly where and how people work within their space, which is important because it fosters collaboration between workforces,” says Fuad. “Our spaces in Jakarta are not completed yet, but sometimes it is not safe for people to tour unfinished products, so what we do is use VR for people to take a walk and see what the place will look like.”

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