Emerging technology in co-working: what’s next for Hong Kong?

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Hong Kong’s once-booming co-working industry has gone under the spotlight this year. When many had expected further growth across the city, its future became uncertain when KR Space – one of China’s biggest co-working operators – surrendered its lease in Wan Chai in April, a possible indicator of trouble ahead. But, since then, some co-working leaders have indicated that there could nevertheless be growth – and emerging technology and its application, which can maximize productivity and idea-sharing, could be a key that unlocks a prosperous future.

By Matthew Fleming

New technologies are key

The use of emerging technology is important in any modern business if it wants to thrive and survive. Co-working, in fact, may never have got off the ground if it were not for its emphasis on new technologies – these are often spaces for innovation that attract members by giving them access to a range of tech they may not have enjoyed in a more conventional office.

Hong Kong’s co-working industry, with its 68 co-working spaces providers, isn’t even a decade old yet. Between 2014 and 2017, it grew by 36 percent annually in Asia Pacific, according to JLL. The real estate services firm’s director of Hong Kong markets, Michael Glancy, tells us that more office space is being re-thought, re-fitted and re-leased as co-working spaces in the city all the time. He says this gives ‘flexibility to companies in terms of means they can adjust and grow as needed’ and that there are ‘fewer upfront costs and the ability to use different sites across Hong Kong’.

The industry could keep growing but considering the popularity and proliferation of co-working – and in such a short time – many operators are looking at emerging and niche technologies as a means of standing out from the crowd, such as the Spacecubed Platform that uses new advances in augmented reality (AR). Brodie McCulloch, founder of the Spacecubed co-working space in Perth, Australia, says that over the past six months, the company has invested in the development of the platform. McCulloch says: “[The platform] allows for a more personalized and seamless experience for members to connect with potential collaborators, better manage their membership, get access to learning opportunities and relevant events in the community.”

“The platform,” continues McCulloch, “also enables members to engage with the physical spaces through augmented reality. Members simply use their smartphone to look around the co-working space to book meeting rooms and desks on demand, see who’s working around them and what skills they offer, or purchase amenities such as coffee and snacks.”

The niche tech trend

AR may be one of the most exciting emerging technologies open to Hong Kong co-working firms but more niche, purpose-built technologies are also making their way into co-working spaces. From global blockchain concepts like Primalbase to spaces like Israel’s Sarona Space, which places much emphasis on its ‘unique ecosystem where robotic meets virtual reality as well as new technologies’, niche innovations are becoming crucial to co-working success.

Laser technology is one such niche technology that can draw members in. Over the past few years, Duke Studios in Leeds, UK, has invested in its #motherfrickinlaser, an in-house laser cutter that was used to help build its first studios out of corrugated cardboard, as well as create the signage. Now, the laser can be used by members to help turn their design concepts into something tangible. Amy Balderston, community manager, says: “The creative industries have now moved far beyond the needs of a basic meeting room with a table and pencils. There is now an expectation for screens, hook-ups, clickshare, sound and lighting. We work incredibly closely with our residents to figure out what they need to continue to thrive.”

Elizabeth Varley, founder and CEO of TechHub in London, looks to the future. She thinks we’ll see ‘user-tracking software and recognition technology so that the workspace can understand which areas and services are being used, when and by whom’. “Really seamless tracking,” she notes, “helps workspace companies offer their members more tailored options and pricing.”

AI and the workplace

In Hong Kong, co-working space operator is also utilizing tech. its new United Centre space in Admiralty, it has launched a new office feature ‘smart lighting’ powered by a motion sensor that also monitors CO2 levels and detects temperature. This technology gives members full control over their private office through a user-friendly interface that allows the members to control their office environment. Thomas Hui, the CEO and co-founder of says: “The new feature is a big step forward for us. It shows how we are using the latest technology in a way that gives our members the best working experience during their day.”

Situated in a prime location, AdmiraltytheDesk new co-working space offers a range of private offices, hotdesks, and robust opportunities to connect with theDesk’s members and neighbors.

“Hong Kong is a forward-thinking city,” continues Hui, “and many companies here use the latest technology to great effect. But there is a lot more emerging tech that we can adopt from across the world as I see that as being key as we appeal to new members and grow in the future. From AI to recognition technology, expect to see great new developments in Hong Kong and across Asia over the coming years as the co-working industry hopefully booms once again.”

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