The Future of the Office: An Interview with BOOQED CEO David Wong
Taking a global problem and transforming it into a successful start-up is something David Wong can check off on his entrepreneurial bucket list. Having experienced the lack of office space first-hand when travelling, David and co-founders Charles Oh and Ken Huang built BOOQED in hopes of providing workspace solutions in Asia. Hong Kong is suffering from chronic space shortages, where affordable rent seems like a needle in a haystack, and where space is inefficiently distributed.
Tackling this truth head-on, BOOQED looks to “recycle” underused office space for start-ups, freelancers, and remote workers, providing them with the temporary workspace they need.
As many are aware of, tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple are equipping employees to work remotely. The headquarters is no longer the to-go spot for work, nor is the home a fully furnished office. Hence, coworking spaces are significant right now, despite a lot of buzz about their future in recent media coverage.
We sat down with David (virtually) to talk about the future of the office and the role BOOQED hopes to play in an ever-changing market. Here’s what he has to say.
Context: Trends with CRE and Office Space
Singapore is “shutting down”, Hong Kong is “dead”, and more titles that David strongly disagrees with, especially based on the trends he’s seeing as a business developer. With COVID-19, companies are offering a lot of flexibility to their employees with the help of technology. “Technology has real power in enabling teams to work remotely”, he said, while mentioning BOOQED’s transition to full remote working since March. Apps like Slack and Zoom have made online communication easier than ever.
While a forced transition of work method is unideal, the troubles of transitioning to flexible work are reflective of the inflexible 9-5 schedules most Asian workers are stuck with daily. Now, even legacy tech companies like Siemens are allowing staff to “work from anywhere” permanently. The way people view work is changing, and BOOQED is here to aid that process.
A few considerations on the space providers' and users' ends can be seen from current office trends, noted David. Firstly, the challenges landlords are facing when at-home working means increased office vacancy. Secondly, the question of how companies are managing a new remote team on top of an office switch. Thirdly, the need for individuals to have an alternative to just working from home if that doesn't always work for them.
That’s why BOOQED exists, to help individuals, companies, and landlords alike on their space-related worries.
What is the Role of BOOQED?
“Unbundling of workspace,” David said confidently. What does that mean exactly? It means to make your work life much easier in separating individual office elements for single bookings. When companies are trying to manage a distributed workforce with no main office, BOOQED offers office elements such as meeting rooms, hot desks, and coworking spaces to be booked for just period they're needed. There is no lease stress or long-term lock on having an office, hence, allowing for ease of mind while giving people all the benefits.
“BOOQED is almost like a connector to help companies provide more flexibility to their employees.”
A recent client in news services is looking for a workspace while moving office. Finding a public place to meet while maintaining company confidentiality is troublesome - almost impossible one may say. But BOOQED has helped in providing them with that flexibility and the right spaces for work. “BOOQED connects various pieces together,” said David, “helping companies who are stuck in-between to figure out this new reality.”
“Value” is a word BOOQED holds highly, as one of its missions is to create value for customers. David mentioned two key phrases to the company’s focus: providing flexibility and user-friendly services. On flexibility, BOOQED strives to offer new opportunities for companies in an uncertain market.
In a dark and blurry picture of the future, BOOQED hopes to be at least a battery to the torch that would be helping companies not just adapt, but thrive. With much fewer restrictions on location, companies will be able to unlock greater potential than before. And that also gives their own employees the confidence to do their best work, wherever they believe it can happen.
Based on what he saw in the market, the clients, and his now-remote team, David spoke candidly about what he learned in the past few months. What he’s seeing in the coworking industry, in his clients' proactive feedback, and fellow proptech entrepreneurs is that the office is definitely not dead. Its challenges are instead a bright spot for innovation.
Despite the disruptions in the market, BOOQED is still getting inbound leads for workspaces and meeting rooms. This is echoed by numbers seen from operators like IWG, which report a healthy increase of demand in space bookings, especially in locations that were less popular pre-COVID19.
This is a development in the niche market mainstream media hasn’t picked up on, but will likely be more visible as companies learn how to manage both remote work arrangements and their employees' needs for convenient and productive workspaces.
David also faced the struggles of managing a completely remote team himself but came out of it knowing that it’s possible. The challenges he said are in building and maintaining a strong team culture. He used the phrase “water-cooler conversations” to describe the unintentional team building one does when casually chatting in-person at the physical office. What David has done to mimic that is introduce Friday team building sessions over Zoom, where employees can engage in an hour-long activity whilst bonding.
Even during the peak of the pandemic, a BOOQED survey of its customers conducted in March showed results that supported David's stance on offices. While productivity increased short-term at home, the question is in whether it’ll linger. With the prevalence of small flats, work from home is hard in Hong Kong.
Therefore, David concluded that the office is not disappearing anytime soon, it’s just that “the role of the office is going to change”. It'll be a hybrid experience that gives more choice to its stakeholders than ever before.
And that, is empowering for companies and employees alike, especially in a time when no one can predict what will happen tomorrow.
A Word of Advice
As we’re all frustrated with pandemic-related obstacles, David gave a word of encouragement. None of us know when we can all finally settle into our next normal, but David’s optimistic take is what we think everyone needs to hear:
“Use this pause to improve and work on certain things you may not completed before. Spend time with your family, do groundwork for the future, use this time for self-improvement, etc. Look at this time as a time of positive changes.”
From being a psychology student to a start-up veteran, David has gone through his fair share of business challenges. However, we can see that through even the most unexpected of circumstances, David’s vision to help build the future of how we work and to deliver the utmost value to BOOQED's customers remains stronger than ever.