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Office Space: Solving the Space Rent Conundrum

By Sophie Pettit 5 January 2015
It's no secret that anyone looking to start-up a new business in Hong Kong faces two big issues – lack of space and sky-high rents. Whatever industry they are working in and whomever their clientele, these are the first hurdles that need to be jumped over, but luckily for Hong Kongers, resourcefulness has always come second to none, and when it comes to solving the office space conundrum, they are certainly stepping up to the challenge. We took a sneaky peak through the keyhole of some of Hong Kong’s alternative workplaces to see how savvy start-ups are getting it right.

Share Space

In the past couple of year, co-working spaces have been cropping up all around the city, providing an affordable and clever solution to the space/rent conundrum. The concept is not only great news for the local environment in terms of reducing energy consumption and expenditure, it is also fuelling the entrepreneurial community of Hong Kong, nurturing small businesses in their early stages and allowing them to get off the ground and launch to a promising start. Take The Workground, for example, a collaborate workspace harbouring a community of workers, collaborators, and creators in the heart of Causeway Bay and Central. The venue was set up by co-founders Joanna Cheung and Brian Sze (pictured), who recongised the demand for space for younger businesses, freelancers and particularly overseas start-ups looking to set foot into Asia, as well as a chance for them to network with the local community. This sparked their vision to create a way to enable people to work better, collaborate together, and create faster.

"Rent is a constant burden for many businesses", Cheung told Localiiz. "We wanted to nurture a collaborative environment in which entrepreneurs and business owners could focus all their energy on delivering and executing a product or service and not have to be burdened by the high rents this city generally offers. We believe that great ideas arise during spontaneous play between work, or work between play. We want the Workground to be THE home to these moments of genius. We also wanted to be the natural enabler to better network and communication between different stakeholders of the start-up ecosystem - investors, government bodies, start-ups, accelerators, MNCs and others, depending on the vertical.", she added. And they have certainly succeeded in creating such a network, housing over 25 companies and more than 1,000 members within the 4,000 square foot of co-working space. Depending on their requirements, members can choose to use dedicated desks or hot desks, as well as free wifi, meeting rooms, printing and storage services and unlimited tea and coffee, which are available in various packages ranging from HK$300 a day, to HK$5,000 per month.

One such member is Anita Chan (pictured), who recently co-founded her own business, Sam the Local, an online marketplace that connects travelers to locals in Hong Kong, who accompany the travelers on a customised tour based on the traveler's interests and time availability. This allows travelers to see Hong Kong from a different perspective, whether it is seeing local hangouts and trying unique foods, or venturing away from common tourist attractions. "Working at The Workground gives me the opportunity to interact with others in the space and learn more about what is going on in the start-up community. I have the opportunity to ask for advice from the owner or others who work in the space, which could lead to quicker learning and problem resolution", Chan told us. In addition to having a network of support and expertise around her, Chan also told us she benefits from higher productivity, as she has fewer distractions which allows her to focus on her work. She also has the added flexibility of choosing when she works, taking on a Casual Workgrounder package for $2,000 per month, which entitles her to spend 15 working days each month at a hotdesk, where she can use any of the available seats in the open area of workspace. Throw in the benefits of monthly meeting room access, locker storage, printing facilities and unlimited tea, coffee and water, and she has everything she needs, with no wasted expense. She is certainly not alone in her opinion, with like-minded entrepreneurs taking advantage of the co-working spaces which have sprung up around the city, from the five floors of space at The Hive in Wan Chai, to the 8,000 square foot of stylish and slick communal office space at The Loft in San Po Kong, Kowloon, and 14,000 square feet of open, collaborative and creative work space of CoCoon in Tin Hau.

Go Virtual

So you have your own business, you have your own space, but what do you do when a client calls for a meeting or a potential investor requests a presentation? When space is tight for visitors but adding more square footage to your monthly bill is not a practical option, more companies, particularly start-ups, are turning to virtual offices to solve the equation. Providing all the benefits of a traditional office, with only a small fraction of the cost, these remote working environments are proving a popular option for start-ups operating from home or overseas, looking to break into a new market whilst maintaining a professional image. All in all, they enable companies to run their business anywhere in the world with more cost and time-efficiency. One such provider, Bridges Executive Centre provides 10,000 square foot of space from its location in Central, along with a package that offers a business address, use of high-end meeting facilities and support services such as telephone answering and managing daily mail. "The changing trends in Hong Kong has required even more virtual offices to open up than ever before" Fion Sen, the co-founder and Managing Director of Bridges told us. "People just don’t need a fixed place for working as much as before, especially if their suppliers or employees are located at different countries in the world. A flexible workplace suits their needs more. For example, the entrepreneurs can use a virtual office for running their business, and also subscribe to some hot desk packages (certain hours of usage per month) to get a physical workplace when they need. As an international commercial city like Hong Kong, with limited space and high rental fee but lots of business opportunities, more virtual offices are opening up to chase after the latest work trend." Keen to take on the challenge of turning the impossible into the possible, Sen set up Bridges in 2003 at a time when business centres were still not widespread in Hong Kong’s mass market, but those that existed only provided basic property solutions such as a serviced office or virtual office. Rather than only offering property or venue rental services, Sen wanted to provide a business hub ready to offer one-stop-shop assistance to entrepreneurs planning to get their dreams off the ground in Hong Kong. Sen has certainly achieved that goal, helping over 8,000 clients from international, local and China regions incorporate and grow their business in the city over the past ten years. Offering everything from company formation, accounting and tax filing to sorting working visa and investment visas, the Bridges team takes care of all their client's basic and advanced needs as a start-up. “Our job satisfaction comes from seeing our start-up and entrepreneur clients succeed," Sen explained. "Bridges is always committed to them and treat them as our business partners, which means their growth is our growth, their success is our success."

One client who has definitely benefited from taking the virtual office approach is Marcel Ekkel (pictured) who ten years ago, set up his "one man band" business SynergySynQ Ltd, a project and change management consultancy company supporting MNC’s in delivering benefits through change as well as supporting start-ups to grow. "Most of my time is spent working with clients and mostly at their offices or when working with start-ups somewhere in town, but having a virtual office allows me to use the space when I do need it, whether it's for a meeting that should not be taking place in a coffee shop or just having a desk to work at for part of the day. On the other side it provides a respectable homebase for my clients and government. A conventional office would increase my cost base without providing the flexibility I have now, besides the fact that a rented office would be empty most of the time." "Bridges provides most of the back office services that I am in need of when running my project and change management consultancy business for corporates. A central location, easy to pick up mail that gets stored in a mailbox, a friendly voice answering my business phone calls, providing premium meeting space at a good location when needed. All this besides taking care of all the regulatory and government stuff that comes into play when running a business in Hong Kong. This allows me to focus on developing my clients."

Work from Home

When it comes to tackling the issue of renting a place to work, many entrepreneurs are taking the 'kill two birds with one stone' approach and running their businesses from the confines of their own home. One such man is graphic designer Alan Lee (pictured) who for the past four years, has been operating his company Monogum Creative from his single room apartment on the 46th floor of a 60-storey skyscraper in Tung Chung on the outskirts of Hong Kong. In true Hong Kong style, his 380 square foot apartment is compact, meaning his office space doubles up as his living room, where he not only works, but eats and spends his leisure time either reading or playing his guitar.

But working from home certainly has it's benefits. "The biggest benefit is saving travel time", he told us. "At morning 8am, everybody's rushing to get on public transportation like zombies without facial expressions; and now I wake up at 7am every morning and start working instantly. Life is easier and simpler to work at home." In addition to increasing his productivity because working alone means he can concentrate without the distraction of chatty colleagues, Lee has also discovered health benefits to his work style choice, replacing dining out every lunchtime on "greasy food in restaurants" to making himself a light and healthier meal. But perhaps most importantly, it has allowed him to reach a perfect work/life balance in which his work and private life have perfectly blended together. He told us that he even likes to go running outside in the afternoon once he has completed his work. Whether you are a budding entrepreneur or looking to go solo and be your own boss, we hope our view through the keyhole of these local business owners has given you a reassuring boost that when it comes to solving the rent space conundrum, there are several savvy solutions right on your doorstep.  

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Sophie Pettit


Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.