The concept of 'working from home’ or ‘remote work’ has been familiar to many people since before the pandemic, especially to freelancers or outsource services. But in the past two years, this concept is no longer a trend but has become a necessity for businesses to continue operating during the peak of the pandemic. The wave of working from home makes investors reconsider their office space in the long term.
As employees are gradually returning to work at the office, some companies have quickly come up with long-term flexible working plans that can help employees strike a balance between work and life. While many initially welcomed WFH as it created new opportunities for work-life balance, it also presented productivity challenges as time went on. Those families with children at home were especially impacted by space constraints. What’s more, the smaller the residence, the harder it’s been to come by dedicated home office space.
In response to these constraints, two markets known for their modest domestic space availability, Singapore and Shanghai, have introduced a third space solution—office pods. Office pods are easily accessible rentable spaces structured around a pay-as-you-go or subscription basis. By establishing pods through both urban and suburban areas, professionals are given the flexibility to choose where they work—whether that’s closer to home or closer to where clients and colleagues may be located.
Switch, a Singapore firm, has been leading the creation of these office pods, which they call the “world’s first workplace on-demand platform.” With more than 30 locations established, their office pods can be rented at $US2.73 per hour and related rentable spaces include locations from retail malls and hotels to offices and co-working spaces. Property development firm Shui On in Shanghai has also developed an office pod concept within their managed spaces. Shui On is already seeing positive signs of adoption, with pods being occupied for an average of 4.3 hours per day, including significant weekend usage.
For an innovative model like this to have found a home in traditionally-minded China speaks to a remarkable shift in attitudes towards flexible working practices, supported by a recent survey which found that 71 percent of Chinese employers would consider adopting a WFH home platform.
Trang Bui, General Manager of Cushman & Wakefield Vietnam shared: “With commercial space increasingly competing for customers and tenants alike, investors and landlords could benefit from adding the office pod solution to their properties. A hotel, for example, could replace its business center with office pods, making them available only to loyalty-program tiered members or at a discounted rate for guests. Installing these office pods provides the bonus of helping the hotel improve the health and wellness of its business solutions users. The retail operators can also utilise this model to fill up the empty spaces in shopping malls for residential retail podiums.”
This service also brings footfall to the surrounding shopping and dining facilities outside of working time. This model can even be combined with a cafe and coworking space to provide a space that can provide both privacy and comfort. In China, the cost to build a pod is around RMB 2,000-3,000 per sqm (roughly USD $309-464 per sqm). When it comes to revenue generation, office pods could be rented for around RMB 1,000-1,500 per sqm/month (roughly USD $154-232 per sqm/month).
Effective design and environmental factors are critical to making office pods a success. Third spaces need to provide optimal working conditions for their users. Requirements include:
- Soundproofing: Especially important in high traffic areas, office pods are almost entirely self-contained booths that shield the work from the clamor of the public or shared spaces where pods may be located.
- Clean, Temperature-controlled air: Since office pods contain ventilation fans, workers are protected from infectious microbes to a degree.
- Ergonomic design of both space and furniture: If you’re leaving the comfort of your own home to work in an office pod, they need to be comfortable and promote wellness as well.
- Lighting to boost focus and wellbeing: Lighting has the power to transform a space from energetic to cozy to natural, with the flick of a switch. It can set the mood for your pod and your day.
- High-quality technology: All current and future technology needs should be considered including fast Wi-Fi, USB + standard charging stations, and hardwiring and data capabilities.
According to data from the Research & Consulting department of Cushman & Wakefield Vietnam, as of Q4, 2021, the total supply of Grade A & B office space in Ho Chi Minh City reached VND1,360,000 m2. New supply in the quarter reached about 11,400 sqm. The average rent in the quarter was US$39.4/m2. The average occupancy rate is around 90%.