Trend & Insights

Hong Kong and the future of co-work

VUCA
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VUCA was first defined by the leadership theorist Warren Bennis in 1987. 

V = Volatility:               the dynamic nature and unpredictable speed of change
U = Uncertainty:          the inability to accurately predict the future
C = Complexity:          the difficulty of mapping the cause-and-effect chain
A = Ambiguity:            the multiple and contradictory interpretations of reality

Employed by the US Military to explain the post Cold War world, it is increasingly used to explain systemic and behavioural successes and failures in organizational performance.

How does VUCA impact Hong Kong?

Recently, Hong Kong has had to wrestle with the impact of political protest, the US-China Trade War, and the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus. Unfortunately this might be merely a taste of things to come, especially during the digital transformation of work and society.

Countries that have digitally transformed feel the effects of VUCA more dramatically than those that haven’t. The US and the UK self-report as being the most digitally transformed societies in the world. In recent years, they have experienced political paralysis, social division, and ideological protest as their digital technologies spread cyber-enhanced emotive interpretations of reality. As one of the most developed societies in APAC, Hong Kong is likely to experience similar phenomena, with unavoidable impact to business life.

Hong Kong also has to cope with the Handover for another generation. While negotiated with the best of intentions, it amplifies the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding the future.  It is complex and emotive, and will have a growing impact on business in Hong Kong.

What to do about it?

We believe the answer is a shift away from the command and control, mechanistic methodologies of workers implementing management planning towards an integrated system of psychological safety, collective intelligence and collaborative practice. Such methods have consistently been successful in many countries for decades, from the food industry in the US, to banking in Sweden, nursing in Holland, and white goods in China.

There is no reason why they can’t also work in Hong Kong.

While we have confidence that Hong Kong can embrace such methods, we think it will require incubation and cultivation.  As part of this process we believe that well-run coworking communities can become centres of collective intelligence, collaborative practice, and strategic alliances.

Why recent coworking trends prevented this from happening

Coworking community has become synonymous with yoga, beanbags, craft beer bar tops, bro-culture, and new-age spirituality. Such things became the vogue because they helped attract and retain digitally-savvy millennials who wanted more from work than “just a job”. But this doesn’t mean they enable collaboration.

Neither does workplace design, lean staffing and the “community Apps” that were supposedly going to generate collaborative and creative cultures at low cost.

While a useful short-term solution to employee disengagement and high turnover during the War for Talent, nobody wants to permanently outsource their culture to a third-party. Knowing that people management lies at the heart of long-term success, many Corporates are redesigning their premises to meet and exceed coworking chic.

SEE ALSO: The Importance Of Attracting Talent In An Evolving Business Landscape

Prior to being millennial-catnip, coworking communities were built on the idea of collective intelligence and shared interest.  At the heart of coworking was the belief that a community of differently-thinking but like-minded individuals could come together to experiment with and explore ways in which to do meaningful business together.

However, in the midst of the coworking frenzy of 2017-19, this foundational belief has been forgotten.  The strategic possibilities of coworking have been swallowed by the more recent focus of selling cheap space for mundane operational purposes.

For coworking to thrive, community needs to be cultivated, activated and energised so collective intelligence and collaborative practice evolve in business-useful and strategically beneficial ways. In 2020, this comprises:

  • Business agility – how to rapidly respond to as yet unknown threats
  • Disruptive business models – how to rapidly develop as yet unknown opportunities
  • Leadership development – how to rapidly develop future-ready leadership skills
  • Accurate talent mapping – how to find, attract and retain high-potentials

Well-run coworking communities in 2020 and beyond will provide members with low risk opportunities to explore and experiment with the above.  Instead of housing cost-intensive and output-light innovation labs, they will be people-enabling spaces where participants can collectively find meaningful signals amidst the VUCA noise.

Successful coworking companies will not just provide rest and relaxation activities such as yoga or happy hours. These merely assume that coworkers need time to recover from their jobs and that the coworking office is the best place to do it.  This is ridiculous.  There are many better places to recover from work than the place you work!

Instead, coworking companies will help members to work well. A well-run coworking community will rigorously manage its resources and data in line with members’ needs. They will help members meet others in the business community who can help them. They will give members access to cutting-edge thinking and top-quality talent in the things that matter to them. They will deliver content and advice that helps members cope with the turbulence of the VUCA world, work in ways that best enable the business, and grow their people as quickly as their business.


roundPegza community of disruptive thinkers working with theDesk to try and help community members develop excellent work practices, deep industry knowledge and meaningful relationships in today’s complex and competitive world. 

Text by roundPegz fellow: Richard Claydon

Guilds – Now more than ever, the business community needs to work together to overcome the challenges it faces in the short and long term. At theDesk, we believe in the power of collaborative communities. Guilds is designed to expand your knowledge, improve your professional performance, and increase your network of industry experts. Find out more >

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