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Companies capitalise on the benefits of virtual workplaces

HONG KONG: Will the trend to virtual workplaces empty office properties and lead to owners going downmarket to find new tenants?

Prospects of a sea change in the commercial property market are real, judging from the report by business centre operator Regus and research firm Unwired.

New technology will have a dramatic effect on how and where work is done, the report concludes.

"Trends such as accelerating the adoption of mobility, virtual workplace portals and the migration to `cloud computing' will see a gradual transition to empty or thin office buildings, devoid of all technology," the report says.

This future will result in companies leasing less real estate.

The report's findings are based on the opinions of property directors from global organisations including Nokia, Accenture, BP, Barclays and the BBC, as well as case studies from Vodafone Group, Macquarie Bank and Interpolis, among others.

The trend towards virtual workstations had been under way for the past four to five years, said Mark Dixon, the chief executive of Regus, and was accelerated by the credit crunch that followed the financial crisis.

With economies now emerging from recession, companies would aim to spend significantly less on office space, usually a high component of business costs, and instead look to increasing headcounts without taking on additional space, he said.

The report found that the target goal for some companies was to cut the costs of desks per head of between US$19,000 (RM70,000) and US$22,000 to less than US$7,000.

"In the next two to three years, you will see a dramatic change in the way we work," Dixon said.

Chartersince Surveyors associate director Desmond Poon Chi-ming said demand for shorter-term hires of business centre space had risen after the global crisis as many firms were thinking of cutting the costs of renting their own office space.

A rising number of smaller companies were trying to reduce the fixed costs of renting or owning their own property, although bigger companies still preferred to have offices, which made it easier to manage staff.

Different cultures also entered the equation, Poon said, citing the example of Hong Kong and mainland staff feeling more comfortable working in an environment in which they can be seen. "The question is: Can they be self-disciplined under more flexible working styles?" he said.

Dixon agreed that flexible workplace arrangements would not be appealing to everyone.

Some businesses required staff to work in a close environment to enable them to collaborate, but for telecommunications and technology companies and government agencies, more flexible arrangements could be adopted. -- Reuters
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