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Wednesday May 9, 2012

A Nook to call their own

A co-working space in bustling Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur has opened up new possibilities for freelancers.

LOCATED in a hidden cul-de-sac in bustling Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, is Nook, a brand new co-working space for freelancers who want it all: a comfortable space, access to basic amenities (hi-speed Internet, printers, fax machines, meeting and conference space, etc), stimulation from like-minded individuals and the freedom of working independently.

A joint venture between friends Daniel Yap, Chui Lee and Vince Choo, Nook also offers solo workers a chance to build their social and business networks in the shared office space.

“Co-working basically means bringing different people together to share a space,” explains Yap. “It’s very different from the rent-a-suite kind of operation. Here, co-workers don’t just rent a space to work; they work alongside each other and collaborate on projects that are mutually beneficial.”

Space for rent: Nook is an ideal space for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs to network socially and professionally.

Yap says his desire to set up a co-working space was sparked a couple of years ago when a friend showed him the website of a space called “The Hive” in Britain. At that point, Yap was working in advertising (he was the general manager of Agenda, a digital agency in Kuala Lumpur).

“I thought it was such a good idea. At Agenda, one of our biggest problems was attracting talent. In this digital age, we don’t have a lot of people, especially people in technology, who want to work in advertising agencies. They’d come in, work for a couple of months and then leave. This frustrated me because there was all this talent out there but the programers don’t want to work nine-to-five for an advertising agency or be beholden to a client. They want to work for themselves. When I heard about The Hive, I did some research and realised that this was happening all over the world. I wanted to create an open working environment that could bring all this talent together but at that point, it wasn’t something I needed to do urgently,” shares Yap.

Fast forward a couple of years and Yap was confronted with an opportunity he could not refuse.

“It was this space. We (Yap and his two partners) were looking for a space to open a gym (the three also operate a gym called Crazy Monkey Defence) and we found this building. It was really lovely and so big, so we decided to marry the two ideas ... opening a gym and a shared office space.”

Yap describes himself as a “curator” of the space.

“To a certain extent, I do curate the space. I try and bring in people who will fit into this space. What we are creating is a community and I’d like to have people with different skills working together so that everyone can benefit from each other, should they chose to collaborate. Also, it has to be a space that people trust and feel comfortable in. They have to like to work here. We don’t want any office politics or any kind of disruptive energy in this space,” explains Yap, the chief operating officer of Nook.

The people behind Nook: (from left) VInce Choo, Chui Lee and Daniel Yap.

Just four months old, Nook is already home to about 14 co-workers, among whom are a Malaysian design group called Oh&Ah; a web technology consultant and world-renowned Mongo Press developer Mark Smalley; sisters Suwen Low and Su-Zen Low who run CultureRun, an online marketplace; and Winnie Then, an accountant.

“One of the first people I brought into Nook was our accountant, Winnie. I convinced her to make Nook her base so that we have can have access to her anytime and she can also have access to all our co-workers. Now most of our co-workers are using her services. In fact, I think she has more business than us,” says Yap. “There have been other collaborations, too. Mark needed some t-shirts designed and he got Oh&Ah to do it for him. We have all these resources under one roof so we don’t have to look outside.”

Physically, Nook occupies a 353sqm space on the second floor of a converted walk-up apartment complex in Bangsar. The space looks and feels like home, with a lounge area (a nice comfy couch and a pool table) and an outdoor deck for co-workers to enjoy breaks. There are individual work spaces, which are essentially a desk and a storage locker for each co-worker (the space can accommodate up to 35 people), fully equipped conference and meeting rooms, a high grade printer, photocopier and shredder, high speed Internet access and a stocked kitchen – coffee is free and snacks are available for purchase. Nook is also strategically located; it’s a seven-minute walk to the Bangsar LRT station and Bangsar Village, the neighbourhood’s shopping spot.

“We wanted it to feel like a home away from home. It’s a great location ... close to where the action is but still very quiet and secluded,” says Yap.

One of the best features of Nook, Yap reckons, is its flexible working hours. Co-workers can come in and out of the space all day, seven days a week. This benefit is only available to co-workers who are “permanent residents” of Nook – those who rent a space for at least a month.

“We offer several packages. Freelancers who are looking for a space to work for a couple of hours pay a drop-in rate of RM60 a day. They have full access to our work space, conference facilities, copiers, Internet and kitchen but access is between 9am and 7pm.”

People who need a space for meetings or those from outstation who need work space for a day may find this a convenient arrangement.

“If they book a 10-day package, they pay RM500 and they can use the space for up to two months. We have our permanent residents who pay RM700 a month. If they want a permanent spot – a desk just for themselves, they pay RM850. As a permanent resident, you get an access card which lets you into the premises any time of the day or night,” Yap explains.

The office space is fitted with surveillance cameras and workers have an access card.

“We are the only co-working space in KL that offers flexible working hours. It is really quite cool because you can work whenever you want to. The Oh&Ah designers, for example, all have day jobs and they use this space mainly on weekends or weeknights.”

Sharing an office space with different outfits can be challenging and part of Yap’s duty is to ensure that things run smoothly for each of his co-workers.

“There are no rules, really. Everyone just has to respect that we are a community at Nook. So the same rules that apply in kindergarten apply here – don’t steal somebody’s milk, respect each other, keep the place tidy ... I tell them that although they may be paying me a little money for the space, it is really theirs to be in. They are responsible for the space, too,” adds Yap.

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