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Revealed: top co-working spaces in the Gulf

Work-life balance: employees spend on average eight hours a day on screens

Demand for co-working spaces is on the rise in the Gulf as business communities evolve to support the shift towards knowledge-based economies and nurture a new generation of startups driving a different way of working.

Spaces are opening up across the region to accommodate a different breed of worker that prioritises flexibility, low rates and a ready-made environment without the commitment of a long-term lease.

Despite being a hub for business in the GCC, the UAE’s co-working market is still in its infancy, with only 1.74 co-working spaces per 100,000 people, according to a 2021 study by Tide. Most of these are concentrated in Dubai, which has 120 entries listed on coworker.com, compared with 33 in Abu Dhabi and six in Sharjah. Elsewhere in the region, Bahrain and Qatar both have 13 venues listed on the site, while there are 51 in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which has seen a rapid rise in co-working sites. 

Previously, complex regulations and licensing requirements made it hard for co-working spaces to gain a foothold in the region, but this is changing in light of the global pandemic and the new trend for remote working with businesses and startups increasingly seeking alternatives to expensive office space. 

Seeing the opportunity, hotels and property developers are starting to carve out areas for co-working spaces, and new venues are also opening their doors, with international names including WeWork and Regus alongside regional brands such as WitWork and Letswork. 

Best workplace for networking: Workinton Alfardan Centre, Qatar

All members are entitled to use any of the 23 Workinton branches around the world, including in the US and Turkey, alongside three branches in Qatar. The Alfardan Centre in Doha supports the company’s collaboration ethos with a layout and structure designed to promote networking among the various startups, investors, SMEs, freelancers and corporates that use the eclectic space.

Best workplace for cost value: A4 Space, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

Dubai’s creative hub (below) is home to one of the city’s best-loved co-working spaces and, unusually, it is free. Artists, gallery owners, designers, entrepreneurs, techies and others go there to brainstorm ideas, work on private projects, get businesses off the ground, network or simply catch up with friends. The coffee may not be free, but it still works out cheaper than a standard membership.

Best workplace for funding access: Hub71, Abu Dhabi

Hub71 has raised more than AED185 million ($50.4 million) in capital for new businesses since its launch in March 2019, building its pool from 35 startups in January 2020 to 102 start-ups a year later. Hub71 supports Abu Dhabi’s drive to foster tech innovation and the UAE’s ambition to become an entrepreneurial nation by 2031 by connecting founders with investors and funds.

Best workplace for flexibility: Diwan, Bahrain

Private desk or communal table? Swivel seat or armchair? Desks on demand or permanent private space? Diwan in Bahrain is set to support all types of co-worker, from those who want to plug in at intervals to start-ups seeking a calm, creative environment to launch a new business. 

Best workplace for start-ups: Spaces The Front, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Choose between flexible membership options with different degrees of access, including pay as you go to drop in and use the stylish, contemporary space, or a fully serviced private office for those working around the clock to get their business off the ground.

Best workplace for work-life balance: Nest, Dubai

Located on the first floor of TRYP by Wyndham Dubai, this is a space that blends work and relaxation, with access to the hotel pool and gym, restaurant dining discounts, preferential room rates and free valet parking. The airy space continues the holiday vibe with comfy sofas, cosy reading corners and communal wooden tables as well as private desks overlooking the city through floor-to-ceiling windows.  

Best workplace for sport and wellness: Nook, Dubai 

A one-stop shop for those starting a sports business, Nook by Duplays offers members 100 percent ownership of a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Dubai’s DMCC Free Zone. Support with all the paperwork is included, along with access to the gym and studio, co-working area, private offices, meeting rooms and event spaces, and ample opportunity to mingle with others in the industry.

Best workplace for inspiration: Space 340 Diplomatic Area, Manama, Bahrain

While some co-working spaces offer facilities more suited to a five-star resort, Space 340 (pictured above) sticks to the brief with a focus on nurturing creative talent and social entrepreneurs. Monthly workshops feature speakers from diverse industries on subjects such as marketing, Arabic sign language or finding your purpose in life, while the amenities cater to the artists, entrepreneurs and young professionals that frequent the space with photography equipment, DJ kit and podcasting tools available for use.

Best workplace for digital nomads: Witwork, UAE

Those who like a change of scene can work in a different space every day, while tapping into the Witwork network of like-minded entrepreneurs, attending events and workshops and accessing a range of facilities in hotels, cafes, restaurants and lounges in 32 venues across the UAE (below).

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