The feng shui factor: health and wellbeing in Hong Kong’s co-working spaces

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Practiced in Asia for thousands of years, feng shui is the Chinese art of positioning objects and buildings in harmony with nature to bring about balance in a space – and in your life. It is borne out of respect for the environment and many Hongkongers believe that good feng shui can bring about prosperity. As a result, experts are consulted on everything from new apartments to office floor plans. Now, co-working companies are looking at the practice alongside space’s natural environs when designing their offices. But why?

By Matthew Fleming

There’s a misconception that feng shui is rooted purely in superstition. The truth is, much of the practice speaks to intrinsic human nature – what we’re comfortable with and what we react to psychologically in our surroundings. That’s why things as simple as working in a clutter-free environment and having strong back support are examples of good feng shui. In short, health and wellbeing are central, physically and mentally, to the practice.

The foundational idea of balance is based on the flow of energy in the universe – ‘qi’ – and on patterns of yin – associated with shadows – and yang – which represents brightness and growth. The two, working together, create balance. Broader than that, though, it is a means of connecting with nature and surroundings. Many Hongkongers crave natural environs, with greenery and calming objects, at home and at work. Even for those who don’t buy into the spiritual aspects, there are extrapolatable psychological techniques like color association – yellow for creativity and red for physical – that can promote certain activities. Changing your surroundings to influence your thinking is a staple of feng shui.

theDesk OHA - co-working space
More and more offices are opting to include greenery in the office areas. Close proximity to nature can have health benefits for employees, along with the inclusion of more natural light.

DIY feng shui

Examples of good feng shui in the office can include getting wires out of sight and ridding desks of clutter for a clear mind and positioning chairs facing the door to signify being open to new possibilities. Avoiding sitting under beams is also important so a worker doesn’t have the stress of the structure above weighing down on them – as is not facing a staircase, which is an energy point and can redirect a worker’s attention away from the task in hand, dragging their performance level literally ‘downstairs’. There’s plenty of other actionable ideas out there that don’t require wholesale changes in your environment – some examples be found here.

Hong Kong feng shui master Thierry Chow argues that craving for a connection with our environment is of utmost importance – especially when in a large, collaborative space like in co-working. She says: “Keeping a balance with lighting and colors is essential – warm lighting and neutral, warm colors are recommended. It’s also important to have a relaxing space or communal area as it’s good to create a sense of community and friendliness. Also, bring life into space – place more plants or water features.”

Familiar with the rigors of creating a harmonious working environment, Zebb Pavlisin, director of sales and operations for MTM Solutions in Hong Kong, material fit-out suppliers for offices – including co-working spaces – further reinforces the ideas brought forward by Thierry Chow. He says: “Bringing the natural environment into the workspace can only be a good thing. That feeling that a co-working space’s natural surroundings have been integrated into the work environment – such as plants, green walls, and natural lighting – can only improve wellbeing, which can increase productivity. I see this trend in a lot of offices in Hong Kong, including co-working. It enhances the elements of the characteristics of the surrounding area of an office and I really believe it increases the feeling of camaraderie of the people in the office.”

A natural solution

Creating ‘natural environs’ can bring balance, an escape from the city and promote good health and wellbeing. Thomas Hui, CEO and Co-founder of theDesk, says the Hong Kong co-working company’s six spaces in Hong Kong and Shanghai, have been designed with a keen eye on creating an environment that brings about balance and nature. He says: “Four of our spaces connect with outdoor terraces – with a fifth later this year – and we also include elements of greenery and a sense that our interiors are away from the crowd, rather than in it. We feel this relaxes our members, so they can focus on their work and increase their productivity. This is important to us – and we find that many co-working spaces are adopting the same approach.”

theDesk Leighton Centre - terrace - co-working space
theDesk Leighton Centre contains two large outdoor terraces, one of them overlooking the green rolling hills over Happy Valley which makes you feel away from the crowd.

“There’s a buzz around health and wellness in the co-working industry in 2019,” says Zebb Pavlisin. “Creating a clean and healthy environment is going to increase productivity and improve the wellness of workers. As an example of this, we used to see static workstations in offices but now co-working spaces have ergonomic chairs, flexible workstations and sit-stand options. Some co-working businesses are striving to create the most progressive and flexible spaces they can that help the health and wellness of their members.”

Feng shui in co-working

Although there are fundamental changes that can be made by a co-working space, feng shui can be a fulfillment of personal goals. Steps can be taken by the individual that will make a difference. Chow says: “You can think about the location of your desk for the day. For example, if you want more creativity, you should pick a space that has more view or action. If you want focus, then stay away from hallways or aisle seats. If you want more productivity, pick an area of more natural sunlight or greenery.”

Pavlisin concludes: “The buzz words in 2019 are not ‘creating workspace’ but ‘creating human space’. Creating a space that improves the wellbeing of people and gets away from a transitional, corporate office environment to one where you can effectively problem solve and brainstorm. The co-working industry in Hong Kong is no different – and I expect to see this trend developing much further in the future.”

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