Flexible workspaces are the way of the future from an environmental and financial standpoint.
Collaborative workspaces are places where businesses and employees of different companies work under the same roof. Compared to traditional offices, they are often comprised of private offices, hot desks and common areas to allow greater flexibility, foster collaboration and communication among the community.
Since 2017, the sector has seen tremendous growth, with co-working spaces accounting for 15% of the new lettings on Hong Kong Island. They provide companies with an opportunity to reduce their real estate costs to what they can afford. Despite its initial success, the sector has faced a tough challenge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic with office rent in Hong Kong falling by 18% in 2020.
One significant player in Hong Kong’s co-working sector is theDesk. The business first began in 2016, with its mission being ‘Redefining co-work through a collaborative community.’ Now, they have spaces in busy locations including Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Hung Hom Bay, Sai Wan, and Sheung Wan, with easy access to public transport, restaurants, coffee shops and a range of other amenities.
CEO and co-founder of theDesk, Thomas Hui, notes that many small players in the sector shut down or scaled down due to COVID-19. However, he remains optimistic about the future, saying, “portfolio landlords are exploring flex space in their premises in order to keep its competitiveness. Frankly, the flexibility that co-working spaces offer, as mentioned before, is just a baseline. Community is the element that appeals to the market.”
Apart from co-working space, theDesk also provides event spaces accommodating up to 400 people for hosting indoor workshops, product launches, conferences or casual gatherings. Modern interior design and spacious venues make theDesk attractive to entrepreneurs, enterprises and startups alike.
Hui says that what makes theDesk different from its competitors is its collaborative relationship with all the stakeholders involved. He says that it is this collaborative relationship that has enabled the company “to grow even in tough business environments”. The company has seen its membership grow by 65% in 2020, with its latest retention rates reaching about 90%.
According to Hui, what adds to their future growth prospects is the imminent arrival of 5G internet services in Hong Kong this year. He believes that 5G has the potential to enable data collection and decision-making in almost real-time. Specifying 5G’s role in the growth of theDesk, Hui expressed that it would provide the company the infrastructure to build a neighborhood resources-sharing hub.
Balancing Sustainability and Growth
The Business Roundtable in 2019 affirmed the essential role that businesses play in improving societies. It pointed out that business owners should focus on the needs of all stakeholders involved. Referencing this, Hui added that one of the main reasons behind the growth of theDesk, even during the pandemic, is its concern beyond profit maximization.
Hui says, “Sustainability is no longer just a compulsory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaign, it’s one of the core elements in business strategy with proven results.” He emphasized the importance of striking a perfect balance between the needs of the business, the society and the environment to achieve sustainability.
Leading with Empathy
Hui believes that empathy is an integral quality of a good leader. “In a conventional business world, there is always tension between ‘empathy’ and ‘policy’, especially for big corporations,” Hui says. He reiterated that, while following the standard operating procedure (SOP) might be important for maintaining consistency in an organization, it can give way to transactional relationships.
Hui opines, “If they (business leaders) solely follow policies and standard operating procedures on a day-to-day basis, the relationship (between them and their employees) will be very fragile and unsustainable.” He added that an empathetic leader motivates the staff to grow with the business. He firmly believes that a collaborative relationship with the employees can give them a sense of ownership in what they do.
The role of connectivity in globalization
As a participant of the May 2021 Connected Cities Conference by KPMG, theDesk values connectivity as one of the key ways to accelerate development in the post-COVID-19 world. The discussions surrounding the regional connectivity of Hong Kong were the main takeaways of the conference for him.
“Although Hong Kong’s position as an international city is questioned by some people, we believe that Hong Kong can still maintain its unique position when we can establish a close connection with different countries,” Hui says. He believes that Hong Kong’s success lies in the connection between the government across various levels, businesses of various sizes, and even individuals.
Hui remarked that COVID-19 has changed the ways in which people connect with each other. He feels that the increase in online activity has not only opened up global opportunities for businesses but also brought competition. He concludes, “It’s time for the government, businesses, and individuals to think of ways to cope with this emerging trend by enhancing its connectivity to the world.”
Image courtesy of theDesk