Much to the surprise of many, co-working is not a new concept in Singapore. There are many players in the scene (have you read about the hottest co-working spaces in Singers here?) and amongst many is Workhouse – a sacred space for many new start-ups that’s transforming office culture. The brainchild of K.Pawa, Workhouse is a fresh new co-working office located in the heart of Little India – a place where an individual joins to become part of a greater we. Here, the community is a catalyst where entrepreneurs cut their own trail and Workhouse helps to facilitate that by providing a conducive and encouraging space. We sat down with the man behind this back-alley haven to discuss his thoughts on co-working in Singapore, and the perks of having other people around.
Hi K! Tells us more about yourself.
I was born in Singapore and grew up here until my teens when I relocated with my family to Florida to pursue tennis, because there was a very strong platform for the development of sports in the States. I wasn’t very good at it in the beginning but somehow my trainers saw a lot of potential in me and I trained very hard for 10 years and even went on tournaments around the world. After that I decided to take a break and had wanted to start a career in finance. My family has a strong business background for over 30 years now, with the shophouse owned by my family and the front of the shop now still being used for the family business so naturally, I developed a business personality and started to get more involved in the family business.
As I dived deeper into the family business, we were looking for investment opportunities overseas and we met with some lawyers who were operating from a co-working space in New York. And that was how I got the idea to bring the co-working culture over to Singapore.
That’s amazing! Share with us your inspiration in setting up Workhouse.
Well, the lawyers we met were a three-person law firm and they were based at WeWork in New York. There, they worked together with DJs, graphic designers and all sorts of people from different walks of like. WeWork has over 30 locations in the United States and they started in New York where people were constantly in search of their own personal space. So then I thought about Singapore and how we have the shophouse here, and that there was an opportunity for us to embark on the same sort of venture. So my cousin took more of the supervisory role while I was in charge of the design development, branding and research of the co-working market in Singapore.
Starting Workhouse, I wanted to give small companies a chance to grow without having huge financial burdens. I also liked meeting new people, understanding what drives them, why they do what they do, and I wanted to get people from different backgrounds to come together and collaborate. We’ve provided a space that’s not exactly an open co-working concept, so we built outlines of houses to give our tenants a sense of belonging and somewhere they can call home.
What was the process and research like when you were setting up the space?
The more I did my research on co-working in Singapore, the more I realised that I was further behind in the race. It appeared that co-working is very established in Singapore and at that time in 2013, there were already 15 to 20 players in the industry. So we gathered more information on how we wanted to position ourselves and how we wanted to differentiate ourselves from tech companies because we realised that tech companies were more focused on working around each other and we wanted to strongly separate ourselves from that market. I was always more interested and passionate in diversity.
Are you selective about the tenants in Workhouse?
We’ve actually been very fortunate that the people here all come from different backgrounds. The main selective criteria for us is just to ensure that everyone respects each other. We wanted our core to be based around respect and trust and in terms of industries and so far, we haven’t encountered people from conflicting backgrounds. In fact, now we have someone working in nightlife and menswear, and they’re already looking to collaborate in more ways than one. We also have video editors, 3D designers and many more.
Would you say that people who come to work in co-working spaces are those in the creative fields?
Initially, yes, I think so. But it’s hard for me to say who’s creative and who’s not. I strongly feel that if you’re running a successful business then you’re doing something creative. For example, we have a company here that provides Enterprise Resource Planning. Maybe you won’t define them as creatives but I think they’re providing different solutions to problems and that’s one of the finest examples of being creative.
Can you share with us the design process behind Workhouse.
FARM seemed like the perfect people for us to work with because they have worked on a lot of shophouses before this but what we found really interesting and what really struck us to work with them was the fact that they’ve never done a co-working space before. They were very open and receptive to ideas and they always knew how to work around the space. Design-wise, the industrial look is a very popular concept and when we first decided to go with it I was a little hesitant because I felt it was overdone but we did a few things differently, for example our concrete walls are textured versus just it being plain plastered concrete walls. And if you look at the beams, we grinded it down to portray a raw image. Everything from the furniture to the outline of houses, which I think has become a trademark of Workhouse, is designed with great care and detail.
What do you think makes a co-working space work?
What makes it tick is the community. The most important thing is for people to be open and respectful in a sense that you have to be willing to share and network with others or so call ‘chill’ with others; but you also have to be aware of the benefits of co-working which is bouncing ideas off each other. There may be differing opinions when you’re in your own company and you never find another way to look at your own problem but over here, somehow you make yourself a cup of coffee and you see someone in the pantry and you both start talking and just like that you might just be inspired to approach your problem differently. People can get very single-minded and wrapped up in their own bubble and that’s what you can get out of a co-working space; a different perspective.
How do you feel about Workhouse being located in Little India?
When we were first starting out the project we were a little hesitant and started to wonder why would people want to move and work in Little India but when we looked at it more closely, we realised that it’s a really cool place and wanted people to know that this place has so much more to offer. Workhouse is really a celebration of Little India and this area has a lot of character – there’s flower shops, great food and so much more! And as for walking in the back alley, we knew it was not for everyone but somehow it appealed to a lot of people. The character and culture in Little India is something that you can’t find in other areas, except only in other heritage spots like Chinatown or Geylang.
What’s the biggest challenge that a co-working space face in Singapore?
I think it’s the reserved community. Sometimes I have people sitting next to each other for a week and they don’t know each other’s names; they’re really nice people but they’re just a little reserved and hesitant to talk to each other.
What’s your favourite feature, room or place in Workhouse?
I like the reception hall. The idea of having an open entrance that overlooks the courtyard entrance with very nice natural light is very soothing. I’m also very proud of the house outline feature that I feel has become a trademark for Workshouse, it encloses the space for each company.
Is there anything you would have done differently for this project?
If we had the chance to rewind, I would have probably built a space to cater of large events simply because people require a multi-functional space that can be used for training seminars, workshops and presentations.
Where do you see Workhouse in the near future? Any plans for expansion?
I definitely think we would like to expand and stick to the shophouse model or location just because it’s a very unique identity and architecture of Singapore. There’s so many other shophouses in Singapore that can be converted into co-working spaces and that’s definitely an area that we’re looking at in the future.
Special thanks to K.Pawa for this interview! Workhouse is located at 2, Veerasamy Road, Singapore 207305, www.ourworkhouse.com.