The promise and the potential
As Saudi Arabia’s economy continues to diversify and change, workplace needs are also shifting from traditional office spaces with long-term contract commitments to a more sophisticated and flexible working environment. As such, demand is growing for co-working spaces where freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can share offices and services in flexible, affordable ways. Such spaces, which have become increasingly common in countries such as the U.S. and U.K., have a relatively low penetration rate in Saudi Arabia. This presents a significant opportunity for investors to convert some of the kingdom’s available commercial properties into co-working space.
We have identified the challenges of establishing co-working spaces in the kingdom, related to capabilities, design, services, awareness, funding, and information. Investors who can overcome these challenges would address the urgent need for more co-working spaces and potentially benefit financially. Moreover, by creating environments in which entrepreneurs and SMEs can thrive, developers and investors could play a key role in realizing the longerterm Saudi Vision 2030 objective of diversifying the economy.
The growth in co-working globally is in many ways a result of the clear benefits that co-working locations provide to companies and individuals.
Co-working spaces are cheaper overall than traditional office space. In a co-working environment, users rent space that best fits their needs. This could range from a single desk to a full floor. Co-working spaces also offer basic, affordable business services on an as-needed basis, such as front desk services, executive assistant services, printing, access to meeting rooms, and mail service.
Co-working spaces are flexible and their size can be quickly increased or reduced. This is particularly useful for SMEs. These companies can struggle to match the size of their offices with their current workspace needs. Often they are either underutilizing their space or suffering a shortage of it. Such mismatches cause inefficiencies, and can lead to major disruptions in the workplace.
Co-working spaces provide occupants with the ability to mix and network throughout the workday, which can lead to a creative exchange of ideas, collaboration, and exposure to technology. A typical coworking space includes a mix of open space and closed offices. In r ecent years, there has been shift in preference to open spaces and larger common areas, particularly among millennials.
The best co-working spaces offer a variety of training and community events that keep members up-to-date and connected to the latest innovations and business trends. These could include speakers, workshops, or startup demo days. Some co-working spaces also offer support specific to startup and SME needs, such as incubation/ acceleration programs and business clinics.
Investors have an opportunity to build co-working space in Saudi Arabia to meet demand from freelancers, entrepreneurs, and SMEs, and help the country’s pursuit of Saudi Vision 2030 and a more diverse economy. A strong working relationship between the regulator, other public entities, and the private sector can address ecosystem needs and open the door to the development of these valuable centers of business innovation and diversity.