Peak progress for Hong Kong as workplace transformations gather pace

One of the world’s most dynamic cities has not turned heads in the past with its workplace design. WORKTECH Hong Kong 2017 gave four reasons why all that may be about to change

Hong Kong’s famous penchant for novelty and spectacle has not really found expression in its approach to workplace design in the past. Its real estate sector has largely played it safe on the global stage. But today, one of the great world cities is seizing the initiative in the world of work, as WORKTECH Hong Kong 2017 demonstrated.

The conference, held at stylish coworking space Eaton House on 5 December 2017, proved symbolic not just for its choice of alternative venue but also for its choice of subjects and speakers – all of whom positioned Hong Kong as on the cusp of big changes. Here are four reasons why the tectonic plates are moving under one of Asia’s great creative and commercial hubs:

1: Coworking now an asset class

Coworking is big news in Hong Kong right now, with market growth of nearly 30 per cent in the past two years and 283 venues offering services, Sean Lynch of The Instant Group told the conference.  Two-thirds of local landlords think coworking will impact their business and many are starting to offer their own coworking solutions. According to Instant’s survey, providers are consolidating as the weak fail – and niches are springing up, from men-only ‘broworking’ venues to We Live and We Grow by WeWork.

What’s more, this is no ephemeral trend. Jonathan Wright, Head of Flexible Workspace Services at Colliers International, was keen to bust some myths about coworking: 60 per cent of users are aged 30-50 (it’s not just the kids); 80 per cent of offices are private (it’s not all community hub); and the average stay is now two years (it’s not all chop and change). As Wright explained: ‘The coworking sector is no longer a disruptor, it’s an asset class in its own right. And the disruptor is now being disrupted – by landlords doing their own thing and by corporates moving in and diluting the original spirit of creativity.’

2: Design practice is disrupted

Design practice is also facing its own tech revolution, as processes move from paper to digital. Architect James Law of Hong Kong-based James Law Cybertecture presented an exciting vision of new data-driven design processes – from Building Information Modelling (BIM) to augmented reality, robotic construction and, further down the line, 3D printing of concrete and steel. Architects have been held back by traditional ways of working and technical constraints, explained Law, but not any longer.

This was a viewpoint endorsed by Stephen Pill of designers Fitch, whose Hong Kong office is active on the scene. Pill talked about a ‘constant state of beta’ with office design being constantly tested, analysed and tweaked as part of an ‘ongoing dialogue between people, space, environment and business’.

3: Corporates embrace digital transformation

Hong Kong companies are getting to grips with digital transformation. Tony Reynolds of Cathay Pacific explained how the digital employee experience is being enhanced at the airline, while Audrey Zaimeche of architects M Moser took us through the new office for the South China Morning Post, one of many global news organisations reinventing themselves in a new media landscape.

‘Digitally advanced companies are different,’ Caroline Burns of Workplace Revolution told the conference during a session on Citi’s digital workplace. Her message: large firms with traditional hierarchies find it almost impossible to respond effectively to digital revolution. It is a message that Hong Kong’s biggest players are increasingly likely to take on board.

4: Asian tech gears up

The final reason why the Asian workplace is on the move was revealed in the closing panel debate at WORKTECH Hong Kong. This discussed a new report from Colliers International on tech trends in Asia. As technology in Asia develops rapidly and tech companies gear up for expansion, so investment in workplace facilities and strategies is gathering pace too.

A key area of concern is the acquisition of tech talent in the region, which might hold back the advance. Could this be where the dynamic, vibrant city of Hong Kong, with its flexible space culture, innovative design scene and digital-savvy companies, steps up to make the difference?

View the official WORKTECH Hong Kong website here.
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