Imagine just another normal day at your coworking space.
Maybe it’s a good morning. Maybe you arrived at the crack of dawn, had a refreshing cup of coffee and already made it halfway through your inbox. Maybe you’ve even made some good progress on that new side project you’ve been itching to work on.
You sit back, hands behind your head. Just as you’re about to really get down to business, a group of armed and uniformed police storm into the space and detain you and your fellow coworkers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a thought experiment. It’s exactly what happened to the coworkers at PunSpace in Chiang Mai, Thailand, just last fall. A coworker on-site, Johnny FD, reported the following as it was happening:
I’m sitting here at PunSpace the coworking space in Chiang Mai, and about an hour ago 20 armed uniformed police and immigration officials stormed in and detained everyone. Currently 18 tourists are in a police van being taken to Thai Immigration near the airport.
Coworkers Detained in Thailand
The managers of the space were called by the police, and they arrived to show the officials their state documents and license for the space. They tried to explain that they were operating as “a coworking space which is similar to an internet cafe,” and that not a single person there was working for a Thai company on a Thai salary – “meaning they are not taking Thai jobs or working illegally.”
The first 18 coworkers were taken to a Thai Immigration centre via police van, and the rest decided to follow voluntarily after officials insisted to see their passports and visa documentation. All of the then-resident coworkers were interviewed at the centre, but thankfully that was all; they weren’t arrested, they weren’t fined and they weren’t mistreated. The managers of PunSpace arrived and everything was sorted out in the end.
As it turns out, the Thai immigration officials acted on a set of misunderstandings. This raid was intended to detain and deport individuals who were working for a Thai company without any valid legal right to do so. Johnny FD explains,
It turns out that the reason for the raid wasn’t because we were working online, it was because they thought PunSpace was illegally hiring western staff without work permits. They did not know the concept of a co-working space or why we would pay to use an office and not just check our email at a coffee shop or in our hotel.
Another Day in the Changing World of Work
So let’s think about that for a second: “they did not know the concept of a co-working space.” It’s not so unusual, really. Many people don’t know the concept of coworking spaces. I, for one, have developed an almost automatic response to use in explanation when people have no idea – but something is different here.
These are state police. These are immigration officials who don’t understand coworking, and act upon those misunderstandings.
It is a perfect example of the big changes that the ideas of coworking have brought to the world.
This event puts the rapid development of coworking spaces into perspective. The long-established corporate market-makers and companies who work on salaries, hire employees for years, represent the still-dominant mode of working, especially to governments.
Today, governments are responding quite dramatically and quickly (they have no other choice) to the rapid development of the sharing economy – one only needs to look at the widely publicised examples of Airbnb and insurance regulations in the United States, or Uber and legal issues in Korea.
What this episode in particular demonstrates, however, is the on-the-ground misunderstandings that are happening between political authorities and newly-emergent forms of work and co-habitation. It is a perfect example of the big changes that the ideas of coworking have brought to the world – not just in Western metropoles like London, Paris or Berlin, but even all the way to up-and-coming tech cities in Southeast Asia like Chiang Mai.
We’re very happy that the situation was quite easily resolved at PunSpace, and that there ended up being no legal troubles aside from quite a basic misunderstanding. But, for now at least, this is just another addition to the continual conversation of coworking and its place in a rapidly changing world.
It is progress made apparent through the ongoing development of spaces and work habits, and the ongoing conversation between coworkers, corporations and governments.
Until the next misunderstanding, it’s just another day in the changing world of work.