At a time when Blackberries and smartphones are erasing the standard notion of an eight-hour workday, pop-up office spaces have emerged as a popular phenomenon among China’s transient expats, international travelers and eager entrepreneurs.
The idea behind establishing offices for mobile workers lies not just in providing a place with more reliable wireless internet than a coffee shop, but actually offering an environment suited to a Fortune 500 CEO or a mid-level executive. In fast-paced and constantly evolving China, though, offices aren’t necessarily suites in skyscrapers. Companies are obliged to be more innovative, forging flexible approaches and redefining office solutions for mobile workers.
Demand for different kinds of work spaces is booming, said Hans Leijten, East Asia regional vice-president for Regus (RGU.LSE), a workplace solutions provider. "The whole idea of staying static doesn’t apply anymore," Leijten said.
Regus, for example, recently partnered with serviced apartment providers Frasers Hospitality and Oakwood Asia Pacific. The companies have established a joint offering where Regus customers in China can find accommodation in Fraser or Oakwood serviced apartments at preferential rates, and close to a business centre.
"There’s a synergy between what we do," Leijten said. "We’re the work side of it and [Frasers and Oakwood] represent the life side. Expatriate workers are often being posted on assignment for just two to four months, so they need a place to stay and a place to work that fits this mobile lifestyle."
While packages combining work and living space needs may help business travelers and expatriate staff, virtual offices also allow executives the freedom to work from anywhere. Virtual office services include a dedicated receptionist, international access to board rooms and business lounges, and a registered business address for a company.
A number of office solution providers offer this option to international clients, including Servcorp Global (SRV.ASX), where virtual offices account for 40-50% of total business. "The beauty of virtual office spaces is that, at a minimal cost, a company can have a real fantastic presence in another city to give them an international advantage," said Michaela Julian, senior manager of Servcorp’s China region.
Taking an alternative direction, Shanghai-based Xindanwei (or "New Work Unit") builds on the rent-a-desk concept at its lane house office building in the city’s French Concession area. Targeting the creative and technological community, the open-office workspace is designed and operated to encourage face-to-face interaction with other Xindanwei members.
The office space is not simply used for catching up on emails and holding conference calls. Instead, Xindanwei organizes different programs to foster a sense of community among its members which, in turn, may help provide a source of inspiration.
The office provider’s "design to change" initiative, for example, is intended to connect designers, artists and architects with social non-governmental organizations and enterprises. In addition, an individual’s membership costs are evaluated based on his or her social currency, which increases in return for contributions to the creative community through holding events or exchanging ideas with others.
"We’re not a business center, not an incubator," said Xindanwei’s CEO Liu Yan. "We host an inspiring space that’s professional, but helps establish networks for people to get connected and cultivate ideas."
Going beyond the idea of a physical environment to accommodate the everyday suit and tie business person, Xindanwei combines hot desking with the aim of fostering China’s creative entrepreneurs.
"It’s not just about a space, but a platform to support out-of-the-box thinkers," Yan said.