Business August 2018

Flexible workspaces

Office-sharing takes off in Tokyo

Imagine a room full of comfy chairs and practical tables, a kitchen off to one side and a fantastic view out of the window. But you’re not at home, you’re in the office. And in your office are any number of individuals getting on with their own work, completely unrelated to yours.

May we introduce office-sharing, the newest working style to hit Japan.

Across the capital and across the country are any number of office-sharing sites, which allow people to pay a subscription fee, and use the facilities on offer as if they were their own. Some offer private booths and boardrooms for meetings; others offer beer on tap and something akin to a small convenience shop.

WeWork opened its first Japanese location in February • PHOTO: WEWORK JAPAN

But what is it that is drawing people to office-sharing locations around Tokyo?

For one office-sharing provider, the answer lies in the Japanese business model. Chris Hill, CEO of WeWork Japan said the model is “currently on the cusp of change. Companies are embracing open innovation over the traditional in-house set-up, and adapting their employment models to cater for the changing attitudes to lifetime employment and flexible working.

“We saw in Tokyo”, Hill explained, “a growing culture of users seeking flexible working arrangements that allow them to pursue their dreams and opportunities to connect with like-minded companies on a global level in order to grow their businesses”.

WeWork currently operates in 74 cities in 22 countries and has some 248,000 members. July 2017 saw the firm enter the Japan market, and February 2018 launch its first shared-office presence in Tokyo’s Roppongi Ark Hills complex. It has subsequently opened a number of other offices in the capital.

Hill said that WeWork’s Tokyo facilities are used by a broad range of people, from “entrepreneurs, small- and mid-sized companies, to large corporations including multinational customers”.

“Depending on their needs, companies may take up a flexible hot desk solution … or private offices. Sometimes companies will send an entire department to work at WeWork’s space, where their employees can benefit from working in an open, collaborative culture and interacting with employees from other companies”, he said.

“In terms of the WeWork Tokyo community, we’re proud to have the likes of BK Japan Holdings, JTB, Mitsui & Co., NTT Communications, Yahoo Japan Corporation and SoftBank Corp amongst our multinational enterprise members”, he added.

WeWork’s shared locations offer users a range of seating arrangements, power outlets for computers and phone charging, a snack shop and drinks. They also put on events for members, and there is an app through which they can interact and connect.

One person who has been converted to the idea of office-sharing is Hakuei Kosato, of British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) member La Ditta Limited.

He spoke with BCCJ ACUMEN at his WeWork shared office in the Ark Hills complex.

“Listed companies are here, entrepreneurs like me are here, small, big, medium companies are here, so it is quite amazing”, he said. “I have met 100 people in the last six weeks and I am probably starting new businesses with at least two or three of them”.

He went on to tell me that, in his opinion, the days of traditional offices are gone. “You see, information, I think, travels with people. There’s all these very interesting people that you meet and then it’s kind of real information. So, if you sit in your own office, you don’t have that access.”

Kosato explained that he began using WeWork on its opening day in Japan, having joined at its first location. There are other locations in places such as Shimbashi, Ginza and Marunouchi.

“It’s no longer about single offices. It’s about collaboration, it’s about cooperation, it’s about doing what you want to do and having a community full of people who are supporting you. And that doesn’t have to be entrepreneurs like me, but even big companies need new ideas and new networks and new collaborators” he said.

I asked whether he had ever tried a traditional office.

“Oh yeah, of course. It worked for that time, but I think it’s just that it’s boring”.

The CEO of WeWork Japan, Chris Hill, said the firm has received largely positive feedback from users in Tokyo. “By tapping into the community and networks of WeWork, it has enabled them to enhance interaction with companies and industries that they were not able to interact with before”.

The firm is looking outside Tokyo for future expansion and, within the next year, aims to set up offices in cities including Osaka and Fukuoka.

New generation
Another firm offering shared workspaces is Servcorp Limited. A recent entrant to the office-sharing market, the Australia-headquartered firm now has 15 office-sharing locations in Japan.

Manami Alberto, sales director for Servcorp in Japan, said membership is diverse. “Some of the companies might allocate a few people here to use, or … a personal businessperson can also use [space] here. … The other point is to have the community meet; we have a monthly event at every location, so the clients can come here for networking and have conversations with other clients”.

She said the Servcorp model of office sharing is proving popular. “It has open space and you can sit anywhere you like, have a conversation with other people, and [it is] flexible as well. The contract is monthly and is easy to use”.

Speaking to BCCJ ACUMEN at Servcorp’s office in the Tri-Seven building in Roppongi, Alberto said the firm offers members a range of services. “They can spend the day here to work on their business, but we also provide the registration for their business and telephone handling [and] answering.”

In terms of the other services on offer, she said, “we have telephone booths if you want to make a private call or conference call of course we have a meeting room; clients can book online”.

As to why people are choosing to work in a shared environment, Alberto said it is down to flexibility. Servcorp, for example, allows users on certain plans and packages to use facilities in other locations.

Like WeWork, Servcorp puts on a range of events. Alberto shows me a flyer advertising an upcoming flower arranging day and an event entitled Present Your Tech Product Night.

Another company offering office-sharing space in Tokyo is Blink, which opened its first Japanese location in Roppongi in June.

General Manager Romain Moracchini said Blink offers “something more international compared to most Japanese grass-rooted shared offices”.

“Our workspace offers exceptional indoor and outdoor event spaces, a large outdoor patio with breath-taking views of Roppongi Hills, and top-quality coffee,” he added. “We are also rolling out services such as translation and interpretation, company set-up and administration, web and social media and other legal and accounting services”.

Moracchini said Blink is trying to take a different approach to office-sharing. “We place a lot more emphasis on creating synergies through aggregating people of the same industries. For Blink Roppongi, the emphasis is on international business, leveraging the international nature of the Roppongi district”.

So, if you’re getting tired of the regular office grind, and fancy revitalising both yourself and your business, you may wish to get on board with office-sharing—Japan’s latest trend.

One of several Servcorp locations around Tokyo • PHOTO: SERVCORP JAPAN