Over the past few years, the workplace has undergone a number of changes resulting in technological advancements and traditional corporate ladders beginning to be replaced by linear structures in which employees can now speak more freely with one another regardless of position. With flexible hours becoming more common, employees can enjoy the benefits of working from home or work outside traditional hours and attend business meetings and talk to colleagues virtually thanks to the accessibility that cloud-based collaboration software and social media provides.

One fascinating example of how these changes have made their way into industries is the case of libraries. A centuries-old institution that has largely remained unchanged over the years has undergone drastic change. Crafting more learning experiences, more collaboration-focused spaces and comfort zones all highlight the modern library experience. These changes reflect the new ideas in both education and in how the workspace have progressed from traditional spaces.

These changes can also be found not only in the workplace itself, but in the classic breakroom. No longer do breakrooms contain of a few couches and a small pantry, many breakrooms are becoming similar to cafes and restaurants. Massive companies like Google have their campuses loaded with fitness centers, premium coffee, and entertainment rooms – a stark contrast to the more mechanical, assembly line-like setup that had previously been the go to look for offices.

 

Forces of change

Among the driving forces behind these and many other changes are real estate companies and the new design principles by which they operate. Their extensive experience with modern technology improving the way they do business gives them a unique look that enables their designs to influence the creation of new workspaces that are suited to the new millennial workforce.

This millennial workforce is another piece of the puzzle. Millennials are efficient, tech-savvy workers who are said to be impatient with slow processes and old restrictive hierarchies. In response, many companies have begun rolling out wellbeing strategies, which improve employee’s productivity along and happiness.

Already users are finding that coworking is rapidly becoming a viable alternative to the traditional office, and more people are finding the option to work from home being a major factor in selecting employment.

 

Professional opinion

In the context of Hong Kong, these changes are slowly but surely being felt. Space is at a premium, so it’s no surprise that coworking spaces are taking off, with their low prices and shared resources. We sat down with a pair of real estate professionals who have shared their insights on the evolution of the workplace, and what it means for the traditional serviced office marketplace.

 

Jonathan Wright from Colliers:

1/ Within the coworking/real estate industry, have you seen an overall change in how coworking spaces/office spaces are designed in the past several years?   

The flexible workspace sector has been repositioned in recent years, primarily through the emergence of coworking spaces. In terms of density, you will find that most operators have the exact same number of desks per sq. ft. as traditional serviced office providers, but the space has been repackaged. You will find more breakout areas, more amenities and a wider range of meeting spaces, together with private offices capable of hosting larger teams. Aesthetically they are a little more modern and trendy too. However, the split is usually less than 20% of a space that is actually coworking in it’s true sense.

The traditional serviced office operators have reacted by remodelling their spaces too. Hence the term flexible workspace as it is very difficult to distinguish between serviced office and coworking.

 

2/ With HSBC taking over a large number of desks in a coworking space. How have other existing corporate companies and coworking spaces reacted to the trends?

At Colliers, we believe that the HSBC deal is the tip of the iceberg and that more MNCs will adopt this type of space moving forward. There has always been take-up of serviced offices by MNCs whether for branch offices, project teams or swing space, but we will start to see longer term deals, particularly for tech, innovation or sales teams.

There are cost savings to be made, especially if taking up space for a team with a volatile headcount. Given the current economic client we expect generic mid office functions to start using this space.

There is definitely more to come from MNCs, which will underpin the growth and the scale of flexible workspace operators globally and we fully expect Asia to see significant growth in the coming two to three years.

 

3/ You have stated that we are seeing traditional serviced offices are beginning to remodel and accommodate a more modern look. Do you have any tips for offices looking to change the working environment that their employees work in?    

It is very difficult for organisations to re-create the environment internally, even with creative workplace strategy you cannot recreate the community and hence why MNCs will take up space with operators rather than simply recreating the funky space. The flexible workspace sector is about people not about real estate and while you can create a beautiful space the dynamic is created by a well curated community – something difficult to quantify, but vitally important.

 

Peter Northcott from Flyspaces:

1/ Flyspaces lists coworking spaces from different countries, have you seen an overall change in how coworking spaces are designed in the past several years?   

Lots of changes. Generally, spaces are offering more services, focusing on community aspects as benefits to their members, launching frequent events - all adding value outside of pure workspaces. Singapore has been a leader from a design and innovation perspective in the coworking space, many high end and unique spaces

 

2/ With more and more start-ups/coworking spaces opting to have an open plan office to suit the rising millennial workforce from the beginning. How have existing companies reacted to the office trends?

Different rate of adoption across the world. Obviously quicker in NA with more mature market, large companies and multinationals are slower to adopt in SEA. I think open office plan 'desire' is a myth; people are proven to prefer their own spaces. Hence services such as Thinkpods at Regus. Open plans are good for community aspects, networking, but not so much for working, necessarily.In Singapore companies such as Unilever are opening their own coworking space, which is also accessible to other companies. FlySpaces have seen companies in our operating markets trying products such as Passport, which offers flexible workspace bookings across cities (piloting in Manila). There is interest and demand from companies looking to provide additional non-monetary benefits, such as workspace flexibility. Especially in a congested city such as Manila where traffic can make or break whether or not a potential candidate chooses your company or another closer option. It is a real and tangible concern for workers not only in Manila, but other large SEA cities.

 

3/ Do you have any tips for offices looking to change the working environment that their employees work in? 

Listen to your staff, try new solutions, empower department heads to manage their teams and workspaces in more flexible terms. A one-size-fits-all solution is rarely applicable these days. There are many tools out there which can enhance the ability to collaborate, such as Slack, driving quick and transparent conversations across the organization. There are also many workspace solutions out there as well, with FlySpaces being one of the few platforms which encompass multiple options and flexible terms across many markets. It is this flexibility and depth of options which we have always been striving to provide to businesses, as we are always listening to our clients' concerns and are looking to stay ahead of the demand.

 

The Road Forward

There is a clear set of trends moving forward that will possibly make the old ideas of what an office should be out of date, but at the same time it’s not as though there will be a single answer to those ideas either. Rather, the new office will be born of a design process that is tailored to the needs of its tenants, while carrying the collective and open characteristics that will reflect the values they adapt.

Serviced offices and real estate companies are responding to the challenge now by developing workplaces perfectly suited and personalised based on their clients’ needs. In time, we may see that every office will become a unique creation, a careful balance of form, function and technology.

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