Future Perfect Ditch Your Cubicle and Find Your Own Workspace

SMART·withus, Xiamen, FujianProvince
SMART·withus, Xiamen, FujianProvince | © SMART·withus

You can use the Chinese app Didi to call a car, or use Ele.me (饿了么, a popular Chinese food delivery app) to order food, and if you want to travel, you can download Ctrip (携程, a popular Chinese travel app that can be used to book plane tickets, admission tickets, and hotel reservations). Now, you can even use an app called Mozzos (墨社) to find your own workspace.

Times have changed.The internet has gradually entwined itself with most aspects of people’s lives: from shopping to ordering food, and travel. It’s even starting to make inroads into our work lives, questioning why we should have to go to work in the same office building every day.

In this new age, where you work doesn’t need to be limited to a certain desk in a certain office. Whether you’re a typical white-collar worker or part of the burgeoning class of freelancers, you can work in whatever physical environment you find the most stimulating. Perhaps you prefer the rich smell of coffee, elegant interior decor, or the opportunity to make friends. It helps that the co-working concept has now made its way from the United States to China.

What sort of solutions are available to professionals seeking a flexible and suitable work environment? We interviewed Zhang Fan (张帆), the founder of Mozzos, China’s first co-working social media platform, to understand his vision for the future of office space.

An Office Space Revolution

Zhang Fan – or “Uncle Rice” (fan-shu饭叔, a play on his Chinese name) to those who know him well – arranged to be interviewed at a co-working space. Upon entering the main room, our noses filled with the fragrance of coffee. At the café tables scattered around the room, workers were chatting with each other or tapping away on their computers. On the other side of the room, transparent glass walls delineated several private work spaces, in which a diverse group of entrepreneurs were preparing to start work.

Zhang hadn’t eaten breakfast, so he ordered a cup of coffee and ate crackers as he answered questions. “Excuse me, I was up until three last night”.

In the six years since he founded Mozzos, this sort of exhausting schedule has been par for the course for Uncle Rice. He recounted participating in a market research activity on soy sauce flavours organized by a consulting firm prior to starting his company. “Completing a complicated market study in two hours! How is that possible”? For the study, the consulting firm had invited several experts to a co-working space to brainstorm on the subject of soy sauce flavours.

“Open spaces lead to open thinking. Compared with cubicles in an office building, this kind of public space makes it easier for people to come up with the ideas they want!” Uncle Rice was profoundly inspired by his visit to the co-working space, and the idea soon became an obsession. “The co-working concept should be available to everyone, from white-collar workers and entrepreneurs to freelancers. Sharing makes life more fun, and also makes people more enthusiastic to work. Most importantly, I want to develop the great potential of the sharing economy”!

In order to popularize the co-working concept and provide a rapid, nimble method for people to find suitable workspaces, Uncle Rice, who comes from a software background, assembled a group of partners to create an internet portal: the predecessor of Mozzos. Uncle Rice maintains rigorous professional standards: “I always emphasis this: if we cannot consider problems from the user’s perspectives, then we are programmers, not engineers. We must think about things in a structural way”.

Now more than a year has passed, and Mozzos features listings from more thanone thousand public workspaces around the country, including Hong Kong and Taiwan. These shared workspaces can post a variety of information to Mozzos, including photographs, requirements, and opportunities for collaboration. “The location and function of each space is different. How they present themselves also differs. In essence, we have built a display platform. We are seeking to become an atlas of China’s public workspaces, collecting information that users can search freely. We aren’t a middleman, just an information source”.

  • 3W Shanghai Space © 3W Shanghai Space
    3W Shanghai Space
  • 27 Bund, Shanghai © 27 Bund
    27 Bund, Shanghai
  • baseCO, Shanghai © baseCO
    baseCO, Shanghai
  • COHUB, Shanghai © COHUB
    COHUB, Shanghai

From Individual Physical Spaces to Community

Today, if you open the Mozzos app, you will find a highly intuitive interface displaying a distribution of nearby “offices”. Anyone looking for a place to work can open up the app’s interface and see the location and decor of various offices, as well as information about the individuals and teams already working there – and their reviews of the space. “The app can show you which space is closest to you, how far away it is, and how to get there. It can even help you arrange transportation through by calling a cab or a Mobike (摩拜单车, a popular Chinese public bike-rental app)”.

More convenient searching, faster arrival, more customised search filters: is this enough? There’s more to co-working than merely assembling people in physical spaces. “I want to change the way people work. It’s more than just choosing different physical spaces to work in; it’s also a way to choose to work with different people, a way to demonstrate the abilities of an individual or a team, and even to increase efficiency and reduce costs”.

To this end, every Mozzos user at a co-working space can see the profiles of those around. Why not say hello, have a coffee, get to know each other, and talk about opportunities for collaboration? Basic personal information is clearly presented on Mozzos, avoiding the awkwardness of introducing yourself. If there’s something that you’re still in need of, you can post  within the community, requesting help from other users . This way more people can be connected, and more resources can be shared. “Users can also send invitations, plan parties together, organize art exhibitions, and make friends. We allow more people to become accustomed to this way of working. How fun!”

In the past year, an increasing number of users have signed on to Mozzos, listing their spaces, registering their brands and teams, and allowing Mozzos to recommend suitable workspaces for them. This is the most satisfying part for Uncle Rice. Mozzos now lists more than one thousand public workspaces, including more than six hundred co-working spaces. Recently, the world-renowned co-working space Impact Hub formally announced that it will collaborate with Mozzos on a community innovation project in Shanghai.

In an open letter Uncle Rice wrote: The name “Mozzos” comes from “Mohism”. During the period of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221 BC), Mozi (墨子, ca. 468 – ca. 391 BC), the philosopher and founder of Mohism, suggested that people should communicate with each other and work together to innovate. In a way, he would have possibly been the first person in Chinese history to support the co-working concept. With this in mind, I hope that this social media platform will be able to contribute to society.