Ever since the co-working trend that started in the US by Brad Neuberg in 2005, it has now spread around the globe like hot-cakes and wild-fire. Start-up companies and major corporations were keen to adopt this office leasing format as it saves office space, encourage staffs interactions and have a flexible lease term.
Major landlords in Hong Kong welcomed this trend as co-working companies continued to snap up sizable office floor space within their portfolio, as it filled up the void within the landlord’s office portfolio. Start-up companies might eventually lease office space directly with major landlords as they have outgrown the co-working office format.
The sign of trouble appeared in mid 2019, when a major co-working company started to slow their office space take up and started sourcing replacement tenants for part of their office space. Then came the Coronavirus that hits Asia in Jan 2020 and is now ravaging Europe and US like a mega-force hurricane.
Coronavirus acted like a needle that pricked the bubble and companies started to view co-working space with a different perspective:
- Co-working is to an extent a subset of Business Centre – with open space planning, fancy interior design and of course the espresso coffee bar.
- All the merits of co-working now seems to be the text written in a “101 guide of what not-to-do to stop the spread of Coronavirus” – avoid staff interactions; minimize social contact, avoid having strangers into your office, avoid large gatherings and keep distance between you and other people.
- There are now voices of staff within companies using co-working space complaining that they could not concentrate to work because there are continue interactions from other staffs or strangers, not to mention, people coming in and out of offices, office chairs pulling in and out as people arrives or leave their desks.
- One issue has always been ignored and rarely mentioned by media is “Office Security”. Imagine staffs working within a start-up company and working on a major project. As they are typing away at their notebooks, how do you minimize staff interactions from staff of competitor companies or strangers also using the same co-working office? After all, it is not too hard for the competitor to gain a quick peep at the Notebook computer if they choose to, unless the notebook has installed an anti-spy filter.
In perhaps one year from now, when Coronavirus is no longer the threat we see it today, companies might not be so keen on leasing with co-working companies that offer only open-plan space instead they might prefer Business Centres that offers both closed office cubical and co-working space. Prospective tenants might also be wary of signing up long fixed lease contract in case they are caught up with another epidemic.