WeWork is one of the world’s biggest coworking operators. “Flexibility is always one of our major positions as a flexible workspace operator in New York,” says Nancy Yip, Territory General Manager, Hong Kong and Taiwan at WeWork.
Members expect a level of flexibility from the financial side, whether in lease terms or the ability to adjust office size at any time, but due to the pandemic, occupiers are also enquiring for flexibility beyond the financial. “They are asking in terms of physical space, how they will be able to get the space in a very, very short term notice. So, the level of accessibility has changed.”
“As a flexible workspace operator, we always emphasise the importance of building a community for our members,” says Yip. “However, in the past 12 months time, because of COVID-19, physical interactions have become so difficult. We are tasked to provide new ways of interaction and engagements for members, despite the physical constraints.”
Example of a thriving coworking sector in APAC is Mainland China. “Greater China is definitely one of the regions that is doing very well in driving the future of work, and the new normal at work has pushed forward the transformation of workspace that prioritises the employee’s health and safety,” says Yip. “They have set up a very good example, in terms of how we are supporting our members going back to work at our space, adopting enhanced operational standards such as increased sanitisation, modifying shared spaces or layout to practise professional distancing and placing signage strategically to guide foot traffic flow or buffer seating.”
Yip adds, “Some space and measures about the physical layout dictates the conversion of our office from a relatively open plan into de-densified space or the use of partitions if applicable [to comply] with social distancing guidelines.”
Yip points to two major parts of their operations, a “hardware” and “software” side, referring to their physical space and services respectively. “What we are changing includes both the hardware and software side. On the ‘hardware’ side, we quickly converted some of our locations to cope with market demand.”
On the services side, considering the challenge of limiting the physical interactions, operators have to follow government social distancing guidelines. A space that was previously used to accommodate 100 people can now only accommodate half the number of participants. To maintain member interactions and engagements, the knowledge exchange events, wellness activities, mini competitions and other events have all become virtual.
WeWork’s major mainstream members included MNCs, startups and tech companies. “But as time goes by, we are seeing that local or the more traditional companies are realising the benefits of coworking or flexible workspace. They will try to explore how they will be able to deploy the flexible working model for them. Because of COVID-19 everybody has proven that working from home, work from anywhere, remote work, or hybrid work arrangement is feasible. It's possible for every industry across the board. So they are very keen to come to us and for us to propose ideas as part of their real estate strategy.”
The success in WeWork’s business model relies on consistent user experience and a unified operating model or structure. “One core part of our operating platform is in innovations and technologies. That really helped us in reacting rapidly to change, including new requirements from our members.” Their space booking system, which is mobile enabled allows members to make arrangements based on daily ad hoc needs, is already part of their DNA technologies prior to COVID-19.
Their technology offers analysis of meeting rooms and hot desk usage, evaluates members’ satisfaction toward different event types, and sophisticated and secure access control and guest registration. In case of a suspected COVID-19 incident, an immediate response plan will be deployed by reviewing access records and area identification for disinfection and deep cleaning as per local health authorities’ COVID-19 guidelines.
Yip finalises, “Everybody would agree that 2020 is the year of change. No matter where you are. I can say that the new normal definitely has accelerated the adoption of flexible workspace solutions in Hong Kong and in the region, and also or even globally. And that's the reason why I am confident about the future of this industry in Hong Kong, in this market and in the region.”
Creating unique business values
One aspect of COVID-19’s impact on the flexible workspace is that trends in development have been accelerated in Hong Kong. “Companies who want their team in flexible workspaces don’t necessarily want to be signing new leases because of the many uncertainties for the future,” says Constant Tedder, founder of the Hive...