I'm working from boat today

Thailand's start-up scene is becoming more and more vibrant by the year, in part due to the growing popularity of innovative co-working spaces

James Abbot left his office life in 2004 and hasn't looked back since. During his travels to other countries while working on his own projects, the Brit came across a co-working space called Hubud in Bali and was immediately touched by the energy and innovative passion that came from the like-minded travelling freelancers working within the shared space. Finding himself in Thailand later, the experience prompted Abbot to found KoHub, a co-working space located right by the picturesque ocean at Koh Lanta, Krabi.

"Like a switch I realised this is what I had been missing, being around inspirational people is such a positive experience," said Abbot.

Abbot's passion for the atmosphere found in co-working spaces has become the fuel for his next project, one that could quite literally make waves. CoBoat, as the name suggests, is a co-working space that is located on a boat. Abbot has outfitted the boat to provide all the necessary facilities for members to do work, such as internet and satellite connections. Now in its final preparations, he plans to sail the boat to various locations around the world and encourage his fellow travellers to participate in creativity-building as well as social responsibility projects.

James Abbott, Co-Founder of 'Coboat', a coworking space on a catamaran that travels the world.

"We have essentially a floating co-working space with all the facilities people will need to hold meetings, events [or] skill sharing sessions. We also have two community captains who will be organising and encouraging open collaborations," he said.

As businesses and technology evolve, the idea of the "office" has grown from its traditional cube-like place where white-collar employees toiled away. The 2010s has seen the rise of new trends in the job market: greater mobility, freelancing freedom, flexible hours, new working environments, and all of that converges with the idea of the co-working space.

Stories of office workers leaving their routine 9-to-5 jobs behind in pursuit of the coveted freelancing lifestyle can be found on many Facebook feeds and Pantip threads. Interest in independent contracting and start-up entrepreneurial projects brings with it the increased presence of co-working spaces, establishments that can be broadly described as for-rent workplaces with a focus on community and collaboration.

The idea took off in Thailand a while ago -- there are several well-known co-working spaces in Bangkok, which charge members by the hour, day or month and more in cities like Chiang Mai and Krabi, where work and leisure can go hand-in-hand, especially for foreign workers/travellers.

"The start-up scene in Bangkok is very vibrant thanks to co-working spaces like Hubba," said Abbot. "It is one of many leading the way and creating a very creative young and disruptive environment for Thailand.

"There is a good mix here, affordable living, a friendly welcoming culture and of course great food!"

Hubba, one of the premier co-working spaces in Thailand, has made a name for itself by cultivating a friendly and productive environment for its members, most of whom work in the tech and digital media industry. One of the founders who is at the forefront of Hubba's success is Amarit Charoenphan, deputy managing director of the co-working space and one of the pioneers behind Thailand's start-up scene.

"The idea for Hubba started in 2011, when I was having some difficulties finding a programmer to work on an app idea I had," began Amarit. "I visited many so-called 'co-working spaces' in order to network and possibly recruit a programmer for my business idea. It really bummed me out when I arrived at these places to find that they're really just coffee shops with a co-working space sign in front. No one was networking, let alone speaking to each other. It was nothing like the vibrant, energetic environment I had read so much about. That's basically why I started Hubba. I wanted a real co-working space, one that actually encourages and cultivates a community of collaboration and creativity."

"Coboat" is a coworking space on a catamaran that travels the world. Co-Founders are: Karsten Knorr, James Abbott, Gerald Schoembs, Tommy Westlin. Picture: Tommy, James

According to Amarit, the working model of co-working spaces is not just its physical set-up -- tables, desks, computers, Wi-Fi -- but an emphasis on collaboration and the sharing of knowledge between members from different fields, a point of view that clashes directly with the conventional understanding of modern day office life.

"Back in the dawn of civilisation, humans had to work together using their individual specialities to service the group as a whole. Hunters hunted, farmers farmed and builders built, but in the end, everyone was working towards a shared benefit for their village. That is very similar to the concept of co-working: people with different skills working collaboratively towards a single shared goal, as opposed to the industrial model, which just lets people do the same things over and over again, like a machine in service of a CEO. That's not saying the industrial model isn't efficient, but it no longer provides the level of fulfilment and variety the latest generation of working adults seek."

Hubba's dedication to collaboration and community has proven to be a boon for many emerging businesses such as Storylog, a blog-like story sharing site that has garnered over a million users in the six months since it was released. "Working at Hubba rarely feels like work," says Pramewith Sreechattiwong, who created Storylog.

"There are so many activities and people here, its almost feels like college all over again. You're here to work, but you're also here to see your friends and meet new people and possibly even learn new things. Hubba has always treated me more as a friend than a customer."

'Coboat' is a co-working space on a catamaran that travels the world. Digital nomads, founders or freelancers are able to book one of the 20 available spots by week. The ticket includes a accommodation, catering and high-speed internet. Additionally, Coboat enables inspiration and knowledge exchange, as well as the chance to experience the world on water.

When all is said and done, however, the concept of community and working can still be tough to reconcile for those who are more attached to the traditional mindset of working. Some people simply want a space outside of home where they can work in relative peace, with as little distraction as possible. Kliquedesk is a co-working space that seeks to provide a quiet environment for members who want to work without distractions, a far cry from the socially-focused model of Hubba.

Located in the busy Asok area of Bangkok, Kliquedesk seeks to provide a prime location for freelancers and independent businesses to work, focusing on efficiency as opposed to community.

"Kliquedesk isn't so much a co-working space as it is a cluster office" said Nattamon Limthanachai, managing director of Asialife Media and Partner of Kliquedesk.

"The space isn't so much about collaboration and community as it is a safe financial choice for small-team businesses looking for an office. Most start-up teams only consist of three to five members, with no guarantee of how long the business will be able to stay afloat. It wouldn't be as efficient for them to lease an entire office for themselves, so cluster offices like Kliquedesk give them a short-term, cost-effective solution."

James Abbot, founder of KoHub.

To make the transition from a routine office job to the freedom of independent working can be jarring for many, who may find it difficult to work as efficiently. In fact, many conservative members of the workforce can even view the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing as a sign of the decreasing discipline of the new generation, without even considering the amount of discipline needed for someone to choose to do work even when there are plenty of distractions around them.

"It takes a lot more discipline and focus to be a freelancer or independent [contractor] and manage your own time," said Abbot.

"Just because we have the added element of community, doesn't mean we devalue and ignore the need for focus and efficiency. Like with everything, a balance needs to be found."

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kanin Srimaneekulroj
Position: Reporter