Future of Work: It’s Time for Office Design to Change

The best workplaces support a fluid workforce, collaboration, innovation, and well-being. Learn how Hong Kong businesses can take advantage of changing working styles emerging across the world.

July 20, 2017

You cannot design a space without understanding who are you designing it for

Jordan Kostelac, Senior Associate, Consulting

Hong Kong is experiencing many of the changing working styles that are emerging around the world. The city's start-up scene is flourishing, with events such as InvestHK's Startmeup Festival. Co-working spaces such as WeWork and Swire Properties' blueprint are providing new, flexible and collaborative workplace options. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's high smartphone adoption and fast connection speeds are fuelling a mobile workforce. 

So how can workplaces become more agile to embrace mobility and advanced technology, promote work-life balance, and inspire innovation through collaboration? 

First and foremost, companies should dig into their data. 

"You cannot design a space without understanding who are you designing it for," says Jordan Kostelac from our Workplace Strategy team.

The best way to optimise an office's design is by analysing how people like to use the space and what their needs are, as well as what attracts them to work for certain companies. 

But this isn't just about rethinking the physical design of offices. Companies must also shift their culture. 

Traditionally, organisations operated in a "static" fashion whereby work was performed on site. Now, more "progressive" organisations allow people to work anywhere at times convenient for them, to support work-life balance. They encourage collaboration with a combination of smaller focus rooms and larger, open plan café spaces, as well as a range of amenities to safeguard their staff's health and wellness. The next step is "dynamic" workspaces. These balance presence with mobility, and may have the added benefit of lower operational costs as less space and fewer desks are required.

"In the future, these three states will co-exist alongside one another in the workplace," predicts Marcus Foley, Managing Director of PDM, which is owned by JLL.

Soon, we'll work side-by-side with machines, and with colleagues spanning four generations, explains Kostelac. We'll demand workplaces that offer high-tech, personalized tools and services that enhance our Human Experience. That experience can be defined as the impression that an organisation leaves on its people—beyond the physical environment—which results in greater engagement, professional empowerment, and sense of fulfilment. An important element of that is health and wellness. 

"Organisations need to look at how a built space contributes to the well-being of the people working there and how that boosts performance," says Kostelac.  Providing nutritious meals, yoga or a gym on site can reduce sick days and increase talent retention. When pollution levels are high in Hong Kong, the workplace can even be a refuge, with sophisticated filtration systems that provide better air quality than found outside or even in your home.

"Value comes in many forms," continues Kostelac. "Futureproofing—designing a space that is reconfigurable and responds to changes in both your business and technology—is of great value."

One way to achieve this is through flexible, multi-purpose spaces that can be easily reconfigured throughout the day with different layouts for meeting rooms, events, workshops, training or an expanded café during peak periods. "Spaces can very rapidly morph with the furniture, technology and booking systems available today," adds Foley.  

Traditional occupiers could learn a thing or two from emerging office concepts. Co-working spaces offer open plan and agile working environments and provide on-site food and beverage, and this particularly appeals to younger, tech-savvy workers. HSBC has been capitalising on this as it develops the talent needed to meet its digital ambitions. It occupies three floors at WeWork's Tower 535 in Causeway Bay to enable its employees to share knowledge and collaborate with like-minded teams working elsewhere in the digital space. 

Swire Properties' blueprint environment also aims to foster creative thinking. Here companies can book an events floor, enjoy food and beverage, and then split into individual sessions in training rooms. There is also an auditorium, and an 'Innovation Lounge' to explore new ideas and concepts. At blueprint, the New Ventures business accelerator taps into Swire's networks and resources to provide free co-working space and connections and capital to certain handpicked start-ups.  

The spaces, technology and services that a company uses, as well as its values and culture, all play a part in boosting its output and innovation, and attracting and retaining talent. The upshot of that is that operational excellence is now measured by how a work space improves productivity, instead of by the number of employees that can be crammed in. 

"Our advice is to use efficiency gains to create areas for collaborative work and provide amenities that will make your company a more attractive place to work," concludes Kostelac.