Spicing up the Workplace - Part 2 Asian Cities are Feeling the Heat

Spicing up the Workplace – Part 2
Asian Cities are Feeling the Heat

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Continuing urbanisation and densification of Asian cities is a catalyst for innovation

In the first part of this blog series, I laid out the four major socio-economic factors driving innovation in both business and design within Asia.  In this instalment, I focus on the first of these factors, the continuing urbanisation and densification of Asian cities and how this might drive design innovation.

The significant investment in infrastructure and social services required to accommodate growing urban communities precipitates the creation of innovative new architecture, engineering and technology solutions.

By 2025, nearly 2.5 billion people in Asia will live in cities, accounting for almost 54% of the world’s urban population.


India and China alone will account for more than 40% of global urban population growth to 2025.

Higher density of development in cities can provide a range of benefits, including more competition in markets, higher productivity, more efficient and sustainable resource allocation and social inclusion. Increased density has been a critical component of the movement to higher growth and quality of life in cities such as New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo, and other Asian cities are looking to harness urbanisation to drive business and social benefit.

Rapid Asian urbanisation is crowding cities and taxing infrastructure

Street food vendor in Beijing, China


How will urbanisation generate new ways of working – both virtual and physical – within cities and within organisations?

One avenue for workstyle innovation is already evident through the evolution of co-working communities and third places.  Although most of the earliest models were developed in Europe and the US, it’s been in the past 5 years that the concept has really taken off in Asia with some distinctly local elements.

New business models are being developed by independent operators, asset developers, and organisations in related industries which increasingly also provide business and community services.  These entities seek to help solve local issues which government may traditionally have been responsible for but may not now have the agility, resources or the political clout to do so.

One of the first Asian models was Xindanwei, which literally means “new work unit”, which was established in Shanghai in 2010.  This work community combines a highly functional and productive workspace with a real time, hybrid social media platform and social, creative hub.  In a uniquely Chinese approach to eligibility,

membership of Xindanwei is evaluated and adjusted based on the value of each member’s contributions and interactions within the community.


The explosion in co-working spaces across Asia has created new forms of integrated virtual and physical work environments such as startup/touchdown cafes (for example Comma in Jakarta), venture accelerators (such as HUBBA Thailand), co-working spaces (The Collective Works in Singapore), community centres (for example HUB Australia) and membership-based entrepreneurs clubs (such as Z-innoway in Beijing).

In their quest for sustainable business models, how might co-working spaces influence public and private sector organisations in adapting to the future of work in cities?


Recent research in Europe and the US by MIT on co-working indicates companies are indeed examining community-based, entrepreneurial business models for inspiration.  Flexible, collaborative, informal spaces have been part of the corporate design agenda for over a decade, particularly as a critical element supporting activity-based or flexible work programs.  But this is not why they are looking at coworking spaces.  What companies are intrigued by are the apparently high levels of  engagement and commitment of coworking community members.

The first and most obvious reason for this has nothing to do with physical design and everything to do with the fact that they are made up of freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent professionals who find meaning in their work, feel connected to a broader community movement and have control over their work-life.

Although these cultural conditions for high engagement conflict with the way many organisations currently operate, what companies can do to improve engagement is visibly commit to employee empowerment through their workplace strategy.  This could be as simple as expanding the diversity and accessibility of alternate places to work in the office, providing access to external coworking sites, or

creating internal workplace approaches that more closely resemble privileged “workstyle clubs” than taylorist desk-sharing programs.


Distributed coworking communities are just one example of workstyle evolution generated by rapid urbanisation and technology innovation.  As Asian cities become increasingly denser, the lines between home, work, community and social experiences are likely to blur further.

This is the second of four part of my series “Spicing Up the Workplace“.  In case you’ve come through to a later post, you can start at the first section here.  I hope you are finding this series useful, and I’d love to hear your comments and questions below!