Co-working spaces (CWS) are taking off in Hong Kong, moving from beyond the start-up stage to become a fully-fledged part of business life, figures suggest.

According to data from real estate services firm CBRE, CWS operators currently occupy 960,000 square feet of office space in the city, and statistics indicate that slice of the office pie is about to get bigger.

In the first half of 2017, operators secured 222,000 square feet of new office supply. On that basis, by the end of December, the total footprint of CWS is expected to increase to more than 1.18 million square feet – a 70 per cent jump year-on-year.

Typical of the new breed of CWS operators is Garage Society, which recently spent HKD5 million (USD649,350) turning four commercial premises – which had been used for storing tea and coffee – into a 7,000-square-foot hub in the up-and-coming area of Sai Ying Pun, west of the Central Business District on Hong Kong Island.

Open 24 hours a day, with a monthly rent of HKD4,000 (USD520) per unit, Garage Society’s new CWS is made up of hot desks, meeting rooms, a coffee shop, and a relaxation area. Clients are typically hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs or creative professionals, who travel frequently and for whom a conventional office – which might be empty two weeks out of every four – makes no financial sense. Part of the premises can also be used as a pop-up store to display products, while weekend concerts or similar events are common.

With more than 7.3 million people crammed into an area of just over 1,000 square miles, living and working at close quarters is a life skill that, by necessity, Hong Kongers pick up quickly. So it’s no great surprise that CWS are taking off and look set to increase even further.

The trend looks set to stay and could well transform working practices according to award-winning scholar David DeGeest, assistant professor, management and marketing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

“The science and psychology behind agile work structures is complex, but the evidence is fairly straightforward,” he said.

“Whatever their size, organisations tend to see positive outcomes in terms of productivity, firm growth, organisational performance and firm survival when they implement flexible and agile work policies. Implementing agile work structures also tends to reduce voluntary turnover and increase employee growth,” said DeGeest. “My perception is that CWS are a logical outcome of increasingly agile and flexible work policies in organisations.”

He added that CWS appeal to people with more flexible work structures as a useful alternative space where they can work when their normal office space is less useful as an option, or for work-at-home professionals who want to work in a shared space.

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