The current crisis seems to be setting the agenda and priorities for many real estate companies as they try to facilitate the needs of a remote workforce. We caught up with David Wong, co-founder and CEO, BOOQED, a digital platform seeking to redefine how businesses find and use space.
Tell us a bit more about yourself and how you founded Booqed?
I’m a serial entrepreneur with experience in Europe and Asia and two successful exits. As a start-up founder, I faced major pain points like flexibility in my work and office arrangements and high-cost environments. I also struggled to find places to meet or work when I was abroad forcing me to either have my meetings in the hotel lobby or a noisy coffee shop. It was out of this frustration that we started BOOQED.
Asia is marked by rapid economic growth and change. The built environment in cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore is marked by high density. Commercial rents are also generally high. Put together, we felt that the market in Asia was ripe for a platform such as BOOQED to gain traction.
How has Covid-19 impacted the flexible office and coworking industries?
Like other industries, the flexible office and coworking industries have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Internally, we talk about this as being a ‘VUCA’ moment: a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. But we also see opportunities for coworking and serviced office providers, as businesses seek to implement measures to overcome the management challenges during this time of uncertainty and to ensure business continuity. Companies are also interested in alternative workspaces for employees who are unable to work from home. This shift is evident in the surge of inquiries we’ve seen for flexible workspace. Our clients tell us that post COVID-19, there will be a shift in how corporates view their real estate needs. Perhaps a smaller footprint for their traditional office combined with a greater emphasis on a mix of strategies including Work From Home, coworking, and temporary swing space for meetings.
How has Booqed responded to this?
We realize that this is a difficult time for many businesses. To help them, we launched an offer around Business Continuity Planning (BCP) starting in Singapore where our fees are waived. We are working closely with our clients and host partners on possible rent deferments and ways to maximize the chances of everyone ‘coming out on the other side’ of this pandemic.
Do you think this has caused a lot of traditional real estate businesses to fast track their digital transformation plans?
I saw a funny image circulating on Facebook of a survey that asked, “Who led the digital transformation of your company? A) CEO B) CTO C) COVID-19.” COVID-19 was circled. There’s no doubt in my mind that COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation at many companies, breaking through long-standing resistance and organizational silos. In markets such as Hong Kong, long a seller’s market for commercial real estate, the pandemic has shifted the dynamic between landlord and tenant as rents in Central are forecast to fall by at least 15-20% this year. Sometimes, a crisis is needed to change people’s mindsets.
Do you see this having a lasting impact on the Real Estate industry?
We definitely see long-term impacts on the commercial real estate industry, with a shift away from purely traditional approaches to workspace, adoption of Work From Home protocols and greater use of flexible workspace. What is particularly notable from our clients is that there is also a greater appreciation that flexible workspace applies to all companies, not just for start-ups.
You can find out more about Booqed at https://www.booqed.com/