The number of people in Taiwan who work remotely for major employers is minuscule compared to the US or the UK, but the country does have a growing cohort of freelancers and self-employed specialists who see no reason to rent or equip a conventional office. Many of the latter work from home, but some take advantage of a type of establishment that did not exist before the internet age: the co-working space.
Unlike in conventional offices, those who toil in co-working spaces seldom share employers or even similar goals. They also have very different reasons for paying the membership fees that entitle them to sit there all day—and maybe all night—making the most of the ultrafast Wi-Fi.
Some do it because they find the atmosphere motivational. “Seeing other people working hard helps me concentrate on what I need to do,” said Marvin Kuo, a software coder and regular at Tsohuespace in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City. “If I stayed at home, I’d waste half the day watching movies.”
Freelancers whose home environment is conducive to productivity are sometimes attracted to co-working spaces because they want to clearly separate their work from their free time. Still others hope to network with people whose skills complement their own. This kind of cross-pollination is one of the goals of SD Coworking Plaza in Taipei City.
The facility currently has 10 regular users, and three or four others who come occasionally. “We’ve financial specialists, bloggers, programmers, a manga artist, startup owners and e-traders,” said Tsai Yi-ting, one of the three co-owners. “We aim to increase the variety of our co-workers to make cooperation and creativity among members more likely.”
SD Coworking Plaza is accessible to members 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also offers ergonomic work chairs, unlimited coffee and tea, a microwave and oven, as well as lockers and an en suite room that members can rent when they need to stay overnight. “We’ve invested around NT$2 million [US$62,895], but we feel it’s worth it when our members say, ‘This is the kind of place we dreamed about for so long,’” Tsai said.
Like their counterparts at SD, the founders of Happen in central Taiwan’s Taichung City [where the photo above was taken] wanted to create a platform that could encourage collaboration. “Happen is a space where people can exchange ideas and professional skills,” explained Sandra Chan, project manager at the establishment.
Founded in November 2013, the co-working space occupies the first and second floors of a 70-year-old house in the heart of the municipality. “As well as gadgets like a printer and scanner, we have a shared kitchen so people can prepare their own drinks and snacks, a tatami area where they can take a nap, and shower facilities,” Chan said. Tatami is a type of Japanese-style straw mat. According to Chan, satisfying the legal and licensing requirements for co-working spaces was not difficult. “We’re treated the same way as rented offices, coffee shops and event venues. We’ve passed the fire safety inspection, and we have insurance.”
Afternoons are when Happen is busiest, but it is possible to buy a “workaholic” membership, which allows access 24/7. Conventional members are restricted to Happen’s regular hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday. “We’ve had 82 co-worker members since we opened,” the project manager said. “Most of them are doing design or engineering work, or programming or online marketing.”
Recently, Happen has been collaborating with the Taichung City Government to assist startups. “We’ve expanded our business model to include projects that focus on local culture, and to incubate startups,” Chan said. “We’ve incubated 25 teams over the last two years. Most of them are businesses focused on local culture, or social innovators.”
In Kaohsiung, the local government has played a more direct role in the establishment of co-working facilities, overseeing the transformation of an abandoned public retail market into a base for entrepreneurship and innovation called Digital Art Kaohsiung United Office (DAKUO)...
This article appeared in the January-February issue of Taiwan Review, which is now a bimonthly rather than monthly publication. The whole piece can be read online here.
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