Technology and a younger workforce are spurring a revolution in office design across Asia. Traditionally a region known for conservative and conventional workspace, companies are now drawing inspiration from flexible workspaces, co-working centres and incubators to attract talent and maximise the use of often limited space.
Simon Gunnis, Managing Director of Project Control Group, says the historic split between East and West is changing.
“When you consider the dynamics in terms of ‘polar extremes’, the South Pole is what we regard as the traditional workplace solution or ‘allocated real estate’, whereby every employee has an assigned desk or office which is a paradigm dating back to the industrial revolution. The ‘North Pole’ by contrast, would today have to be the purest form of activity based working(ABW) whereby there are no assigned work points and employees match their accommodation needs to the activity demands of the daily schedule,” Gunnis says.
Now, despite traditionally being “a laggard in the adoption of emerging global workplace trends”, Asia is now “moving to the North Pole”. Gunnis cites several trends that are influencing this.
First and foremost is the continuing urbanisation and “densification” of Asian cities. This calls for the creation of innovative new architecture, engineering and technology solutions. India and China alone account for 40% of the global population growth to 2025.
Investment in Asian tech and R&D is another key influence. Local and multinational corporations are expanding their global workforces into Asian countries introducing new work styles including an understanding of and appetite for activity-based working. Governments are also investing heavily in technology. Hong Kong’s government announced HKD $15 billion in investment for the Tech, Media and Telecoms sector earlier this year. HK$4.4 billion is being given to the Hong Kong Science Park to incubate startups in co-working spaces.
Mobile and internet penetration approaching saturation further facilitates change. Singapore holds the top position of 85% adoption per capita, and tech savvy South Korea comes in a close second at 80%. By contrast the USA and UK remain under 60%.
Finally and perhaps most critically, the “rise of the co-working accommodation industry” to meet the demand for flexible working is forcing change.
“This is the year we’ll see over 10,000 co working spaces open by the end of 2016 with New York’s largest commercial tenant, ‘WeWork’ now well established and doubling their original leasehold footprint in Singapore. The emergence of this sector has arisen from the inability of traditional providers of building stock to address and respond to the demand for flexible working space,” Gunnis explains.
Employers and workers no longer want to commit to long term leases. They prefer flexibility, despite co-working space in many instances being more expensive per m2 than traditional leasehold space. But it’s “office space ‘at call’” which is in demand.
Adrian Yap and Thomas Hui, co-founders of Hong Kong’s new theDesk workspace, both see a huge opportunity for co-working space.
“Both Thomas and myself have been researching the co-working space industry over the past year, and we see Flexibility, Productivity and Community as the most crucial factors for co-working space nowadays,” Yap says.
“It is a new form of workspace that caters for new businesses rather than old and traditional ones. We believe the economic environment is dynamic and fast changing, the visibility of success and failure are low, hence we need very flexible workspaces to cope with this situation. Workspaces need to have different zonings to separate activities in order to enhance productivity. Finally we need a community to cultivate ideas and bring freshness to the business.”
Yap says co-working space in Hong Kong has grown around 20-30% over the past six months alone. This is in accord with figures from Instant Offices who report flexible office market growth of 50% over the previous two years.
But even as Asian offices adopt the flexibility and agility of western workplaces, cultural preferences still impact aesthetic design.
“Our experience extends to designing and managing projects in Korea , Malaysia, Singapore, and China for western MNCs. These projects have all involved the careful and sensitive interpretation of global accommodation standards into their Asian cultural settings having due respect for aesthetic and religious paradigms and how each impacts upon the workplace environment,” Gunnis says.
“Whilst the Western world has and continues to enjoy by comparison, an extremely high standard of workplace environment to the Asian region, the global harmonisation of workplace standards and work methods underpinned by a globally mobile work force is closing the gap resulting in a truly international aesthetic.”
*Feature image via Homepolish