Up until 2020, more and more co-working spaces in Seoul started to spring up. Coworking spaces in Korea overall experienced a huge rise in popularity before the pandemic, mostly because entrepreneurship has been on the rise in Korea over the past decade. However, once COVID-19 hit Korea, many startups in Korea had to leave these coworking spaces and consider working remotely. While many startups were able to adapt, many lost out on the many benefits these coworking spaces provided. Coworking spaces attract freelancers and other independent professionals who want to work in a shared, communal space. Therefore this was a great way for entrepreneurs to network and potentially find partners and clients.

Why Entrepreneurs in Seoul Flocked to Coworking Spaces

Koreans for decades wanted to work for a big corporation and get a stable office job. That mentality started to change in 2010 as more and more people embraced entrepreneurship in Korea. This movement hit its peak in 2019 as co-working spaces allowed startups and small businesses to scale up as they go without having to commit to long leases. However, by the start of 2020, COVID-19 really slowed down the movement. Many coworking spaces in Seoul are struggling to keep their business afloat. Startups might never come back to these spaces if they feel they are just as effective working from home. Times are continuing to change, and coworking spaces have been a huge part of that shift.

Korean coworkings spaces in Seoul

In Seoul alone, there are over 50 co-working spaces. Some of the most notable include WeWorkFast FiveFab Lab, Google for Startups CampusMaru 180, and the most recent HEYGROUND. There is also a new Blockchain co-working/co-living space called nonce that opened up near Gangnam Station. You will find entrepreneurs working on projects they really care about in Seoul in all of these co-working spaces. Sadly many of these coworking spaces in Seoul are in danger of closing down due to the coronavirus. Most will not be able to recover.

Entrepreneurs in Seoul Thrived in CoWorking Spaces

CoWorking spaces in Seoul brought a lot of benefits to the startup community. It was not just about networking, free coffee, and comfy furniture. Many Co-working spaces in Seoul pride themselves on the strength of their community. An offline community has a stronger impact than an online community. Those who have meetings on Zoom understand just how less effective it is compared to face-to-face. In addition, many of these co-working spaces offered great networking events and startup events that provided a great way to connect with other entrepreneurs in Seoul

It is highly unlikely the major co-working spaces will close down. It will come down to whether they can come up with an agreement or a middle ground that will not put the landlord of these huge office buildings in Seoul in a complicated situation. It is in their best interest not to lose the coworking space. Korea is most likely to recover faster than other countries because they have flattened the coronavirus curve over the past few months. However, the future for many of these coworking spaces in Seoul is uncertain. For now, many are looking for ways to be innovative and build new communities online. 

Traditional Office vs Co-working Spaces

Co-working spaces allow entrepreneurs to work next to people doing different kinds of things. Traditional office work in Korea is looked upon negatively. Everyone is working on the same project, and there is a lot of internal office politics. It is very difficult to grow your network and learn from others. The culture of just doing your job and staying in your lane shifts while working at the coworking space. The working culture of helping each other out and being a part of a community is attracting a lot of Korean office workers who feel trapped. They want to be a part of something. There is a growing social movement to change working life in Korea, and many Entrepreneurs in Seoul that work in coworking spaces feel like they are a part of that movement.

Entrepreneurs in Korea want more Flexibility

Many who worked for a Korean company might already know this but working hours can be brutal. 9 to 6 does not mean 9 to 6. It is frowned upon to even be a minute late and to leave at exactly 6 pm is unheard of. It is all about working harder and not smarter. Most Korean startups in co-working spaces bring a different work culture. People can decide whether to put in long hours when they have a deadline or can take long breaks during the day. Most co-working spaces in Korea are open 24 hours a day. Therefore most Korean startups allow their workers to take a few hours off work to take care of personal needs. They can even choose where they want to work, whether it be a communal space or a quiet space to focus on.

Entrepreneurs in Seoul want to be a part of a Community

Seoulz is a part of the Seoul Global Center Community and it has brought so much value to our company. Koreans like most people like being a part of a community. However, they have the stereotype of wanting to be left alone in tight cubicles or working from home alone. While Japan and Korea still have this stereotype, times are changing. Each coworking space in Seoul has its own identity, and the managers do a great job of cultivating unique experiences.

HEYGROUND does meetups and panel talks that bring in speakers from outside of Korea. These events and meetups are not mandatory. Members can decide whether or not they want to participate. Just the fact that there is a potential for interaction is key for most Koreans to break out of their shell. In addition, many of these entrepreneurs can help you get settled in Korea, help with South Korean Visas, help find the right lawyers/accountants, and introduce you to potential clients. 

Coworking Spaces in Seoul post-COVID

There are many startups in Seoul that are switching from their full membership to holding memberships during COVID. Many already know about the issues facing WeWork as they are facing a lot of pressure on short-term finances while also having to deal with questions regarding their long-term business model. COVID has made things worse not just for WeWork but for all coworking spaces. However, an argument can be made that COVID will make coworking spaces more important for entrepreneurs than ever before.

Think about it from this perspective. Companies in Korea are asking employees to work from home. Therefore, not just entrepreneurs but company employees are getting used to the idea of remote working. The average Korean worker spends over 90 minutes a day commuting to work. There is a chance that many large corporations will use co-working spaces as satellite offices for their employees. Therefore, instead of coming into the office, they can go to the nearest coworking space. In addition, history has shown a rise in entrepreneurship after a recession.

Coworking Space Korea

What Korean Companies can Learn from Coworking Spaces

Entrepreneurs in Seoul want purpose and meaning in their life. Most office workers in Korea complain about having no real purpose and are stuck in their routine office life. Workers should have more control and flexibility in their work environment. One way Korean companies can do this is just simply by setting up areas for collaborative work and spaces for quiet work. A bold idea is to actually make a portion of the office a coworking space. Bring in one or two Korean startups to enhance community and innovation.

The trend of more and more entrepreneurs in Seoul moving into co-working spaces in Seoul is not slowing down anytime soon. With high office space prices in Gangnam, co-working spaces are even becoming an option for Korean companies. This is a good thing. The working culture in Korea already has a bad name but with co-working spaces, this can and will change.