Tall storeys: three challenges facing Hong Kong’s workplace

As emerging smart districts change the dynamic of China’s leading cities, what can Hong Kong do to remain relevant? WORKTECH Hong Kong’s 2018 conference looked at the key challenges

Hong Kong has long been a hub for China’s financial, law, retail and property markets, but emerging smart districts in such cities as Shenzhen and Beijing are overtaking as centres for innovation. While these emerging urban areas now boast superfast broadband, innovative hubs and talent development programmes, Hong Kong is searching to find its place in this new ecosystem.

The WORKTECH Hong Kong 18 conference, held at the Eaton Club in Champion Tower on 5 December 2018, highlighted the key challenges that the former British colony faces in its workplaces today.

A question of trust

In times of flux, the knee-jerk reaction is to pull the reins in tighter to regain control. Yet the emerging working generations crave trust and autonomy, so this method could have adverse effects. A panel at WORKTECH Hong Kong debated the changing expectations of future leaders in the workforce; inevitably the thorny issue of trust versus micromanaging arose.

Generation Y and Z are currently led by the generations of leaders who were expected to work in the office, at their assigned desk, for an assigned amount of time. As future generations start to become leaders, they are changing the scope of what is expected. Instead of rigid hierarchies, new generations expect flatter organisations which promote autonomy and trust.

Emerging leaders are encouraging freedom within boundaries and mentoring instead of managing. This change will be a tough pill to swallow for Hong Kong’s affluent finance and law-centric businesses, but it is one – if executed correctly – could be transformational to its organisations.

Psychological safety

On average, people spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. It is therefore important that organisations create spaces which make employees feel safe and comfortable, because when people show up to work they are also bringing with them their current state of health. A space which considers wellness and work-life balance conveys the message that the company cares about their employees, and in return the employees will reciprocate with better productivity and engagement with the company.

Lale Kesebi, founder of, told the conference the secret to creating high-performance teams in the workplace. The secret was psychological safety. She claimed that without safety we cannot take on challenges – when people feel safe they will open up with breakthrough innovation and creativity flows. The organisation that creates environments which harness psychological safety will cultivate better performing, more collaborative teams.

Flexible space

According to real-estate expert Colliers International, 30 per cent of workspace in Hong Kong will be flexible space. Traditionally only SMEs and start-ups used coworking and flexible spaces, but as the research becomes more robust and arguments about value become firmer, corporates are now also seeing the business sense in moving into flex space. As physical space becomes decentralised, landlords are looking into flexible services to stay relevant in the market. But how will this shift impact the workforce?

‘Issues surrounding engagement and a sense of belonging may begin to creep in…’

Flexible space means flexible work and talent, according to Rob Van Alphen, founder of School of Disruption. Companies will be in search for staff on demand who are more cost effective and more diverse than permanent employees. Instead of committing to and investing in one individual, companies will have access to a large talent pool which they can pluck from at will.

This allows organisations to have flexibility and employ people on a project-by-project basis, and it enables workers to develop different skills and sample a diverse spectrum of companies. While this sounds like a winning solution, issues surrounding engagement and a sense of belonging may begin to creep in.

While Beijing may be monopolising the AI market and Shenzhen is making waves on the global technology scene, Hong Kong still holds a fundamental place in China’s dynamic innovation ecosystem. Its niche in finance, law and real estate means there is real opportunity for Hong Kong to disrupt the fintech and proptech markets as everyone goes digital.

The challenges presented at WORKTECH Hong Kong 18 are opportunities for Hong Kong to exploit to keep its place as China’s leading business city.

Find the review site for WORKTECH Hong Kong here.
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