Shared offices are fast catching on in Korea now that more and more work moves online and into the cloud while all that is required for a workplace is good internet access, a desk, and some company.
Start-ups like Korea's FastFive and the U.S.' WeWork boost the number of shared office spaces, and even big corporations like Hanwha Life, Hyundai Card and others are jumping on a bandwagon.
WeWork, the world's No. 1 shared office provider, now operates in 21 countries and plans to open its 10th office in Korea in downtown Seoul near Jonggak Subway Station in early September. That expands its total available space to 15,000 desks.
WeWork opened only four shared offices over the last year and six months but is now opening a new one almost every month this year. It opened one in Gwanghwamun downtown Seoul in March, and another will be available in May near Seoul Station capable of serving 2,500 workers.
FastFive is the frontrunner in the shared office market in Korea. It opened its 11th and 12th offices in January and plans another one in Seongsu-dong in eastern Seoul.
Hanwha Life converted its own 15-story office building near Gangnam Subway Station into the biggest shared office space in southern Seoul, big enough for 2,500 workers. And Hyundai Card opened a shared office, also near Gangnam Subway Station, early last year.
As demand grows, the offices are getting bigger, and they are springing up not only in central business areas but also on the outskirts.
"Capacity was 100-150 when we first opened in Gangnam, but that increased to 1,500 in the offices we recently opened," a FastFive staffer said. "Now our locations are also expanding to Yeouido and the Hongik University area."
The trend is mainly powered by proliferating start-ups. The number of venture companies in Korea stood at 28,000 in 2012 but had soared to 35,000 last year, up around 25 percent. For them, not having to rent an expensive office building is a godsend.
The effect of similar businesses gathering in one location is also an advantage. Plus it improves the value of commercial property.
A WeWork staffer said, "Shared offices housing start-ups improve the environment of a building, and landlords prefer such arrangements because they can lease several floors at a time. Now we’re going to open shared offices in landmark buildings in Seoul."
But there are signs that the market is overheating. "We can't expect the number of start-ups to grow indefinitely and supply is rising too quickly," an industry insider said. "We have to cast around for new demand."
A workspace in a shared office (top) and a communal space in another shared office, both in Gangnam, Seoul.