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Woman presenting in meeting
Culture as a business accelerator

Work is a place again - but with a new style and purpose

Our hero: Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann. Founders of WeWork

Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann. Founders of WeWork, the ground-breaking work space and work community business.

Pitching themselves as the ‘physical social network’, they’ve reinvented the workspace, turning it back into a place you go.

In just six years WeWork opened 90 offices in 28 cities across 12 countries. They’re currently capitalised at a staggering 16 billion dollars, making them the eighth most valuable start-up in the world.

Their story: The workspace is dead – long live the workspace

Just when we’d got used to saying ‘work is no longer a place you go, it’s a thing you do’, along came WeWorki and put work back in its place.

Seizing the trend of an entrepreneurial work culture, WeWorkii has pioneered an innovative approach to workspaces and workstyles.

Miguel explains, ‘I think there’s a worldwide move towards entrepreneurial culture. We’ve been able to connect with entrepreneurs but also a lot of small businesses who are really appreciative of open, collaborative environments.’

They offer new ways for entrepreneurs to network with one another and get support from various sources.

But it’s not just for start-ups. They also attract big corporate clients – like Bloomberg in their San Francisco officeiii – which likes to try out new ideas and enter new markets without the commitment of setting up a branch office right away.

The combination of corporates and start-ups side by side can create unexpected energy and ideas, an aspect WeWork member, Artur Fruman, loves: ‘It’s really easy to go from a two-person company to a ten-person company in the same space.’

Innovative spaces for new ways of working

It’s also about the space itself. WeWork’s offices are divided by glass so people can see one another. Every floor has an open common area for people to get together. Every week they host a happy hour for members to stop working and start networking.

There are kitchens with beer on tap, pinball machines, karaoke machines, and studios in which to make films. Members can buy food and drink from unmanned ‘honesty markets’, scanning their WeWork card to pay.

The mix of tenants and physical space makes new ways of working possible. ‘Seeing other people work really gets everybody in the zone, hustling, and making things happen,’ says Artur Fruman.

Seeing other people work really gets everybody in the zone, hustling, and making things happen

This is exactly what they set out to achieve, as Dave Fano, WeWork’s Chief Development Officer, explains. ‘We see people across the world who desire more communal interaction and communal space in the places that they work and live. Our mission is to give our members the space, community, and services they need to create their work lives.’

Catering for different cultures

WeWork also celebrates cultural differences in people’s work habits. Before launching in Shanghaiiv, their research found that Chinese workers tend to drink coffee in the afternoon as a social tool – rather than a fuel to work. So they partnered with a local vendor to supply coffee to their members in the afternoon.

The company also found that Chinese workers tend to nap at their desk, but going to a separate room to nap in, is frowned upon. So the company provides pillows for members to put on their desks.

The changing economy is also reshaping work spaces

When Michael Ma set up Wyndv in 2013 it was the first co-working space business in Hong Kong. He’d recognised that the city’s economy was changing shape – featuring more intellectual and creative industries, and calling for new ways of working.

‘If you’re setting up a co-working space, location is an important factor to consider: it attracts the type of co-workers you will be networking with,’ Michael explains.

Wynd’s location combines business with pleasure. They’re nestled between the traditional business district in central Hong Kong, the entertainment district of Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), and the creative quarter around Wyndham Street and Hollywood Road. This makes it easy for people to both socialise and get to meetings with investors, and venture capitalists – as well as other creative types.

But it’s not just about the location. It’s also about the space itself. Wynd’s open space is a ‘platform to synergize the talents and opportunities offered by Hong Kong for entrepreneurs, innovators, and pioneers’, Michael says.

He and his co-founders were from very diverse backgrounds – finance, law, IT, design, and architecture. ‘We liked the synergies we created together, and we wanted the same idea to apply in a co-working space,’ he says.

‘We thought it would be great to make a place for the city’s new breed of creative entrepreneurs, and nurture all sorts of exciting businesses here.’

The wider issue: The forces at work

What’s been happening?

Much of the change in workspaces and workstyles over the last 20 years has been driven by a desire to reduce operating costs.

Offices have been reformatted with less dedicated space, more shared space, and people have been given the chance to work from home. With fewer people needing to be in the office all the time, companies could manage with smaller offices which cost less.

This was only possible because of enabling technologies, like laptops, broadband, Wi-Fi, collaboration, and conferencing platforms.

But it also coincided with social changes. Women returners, stay-at-home dads, and portfolio careerists all wanted more flexible styles of employment. In fact, flexible working has been made a legal right in many countries.

And workforce demographics have been changing too. Employers need to retain an experienced older generation who are working for longer, and at the same time accommodate the technological expectations of Generation Y entering the workforce.

What’s coming next?

Generation Z – those people born after 1998 – now number nearly 70 million in the US and are growing around the world. And employers should be paying attention to them.

They’re about to enter the workforce or college and soon they’ll outnumber the millennials who companies are trying so hard to please.

The generation graduating from university in five years’ time might have studied for their degrees entirely online. Professor Daphne Koller, president of US online university network Courseravii, says that the next stage for online learning would be leading universities offering mainstream undergraduate courses online, with invigilated exams and full degrees.

In its macro-economic insights report at the end of 2015, Goldman Sachsviii says that Gen-Z is America’s first generation of true ‘digital natives’, incapable of remembering the world without the Internet.

Nearly half of Gen-Z is connected online for 10 or more hours per day

Nearly half of Gen-Z is connected online for 10 or more hours per day, the research says. Gen-Zs are careful to protect their reputations online and their views and preferences on social media are evolving.

Gen-Z members are also among the first generations with the means and desire to be heard. In an era of social media, crowd funding, and TED Talks, they have avenues to be discovered that previous generations lacked.

Goldman Sachs points out that, ‘Over the past several years, educators, employers, researchers, retailers, and the like have spent significant time and resources dissecting the millennial mindset. But the time has already come to focus to Gen-Z, which promises to be just as, if not more, influential.’

Our opinion: Workspaces for competitive advantage

Tony Walt, Group Executive for End-user Computing at Dimension Data believes companies are changing their workspaces to gain competitive advantage: ‘If you want to improve your competitive advantage you basically have several levers at your disposal. Here are some of the main levers:

  • Attract the right talent: Having the best people is important – but the type of talent many organisations are looking to attract today have different working expectations. You need to find ways to accommodate them in order to ensure optimal output.
  • Optimise your space: Given the high cost of real estate in many cities, finding ways to optimise space is key. This will help you reduce your overheads, which in turn cuts your cost of sale.
  • Improve collaboration: The better your people collaborate, the more innovative they will be. Innovation in the product or services you sell, or in the way you deliver them, will further drive competitive differentiation.’

The better your people collaborate, the more innovative they will be

Tony thinks that people tend to adjust to their surroundings, as opposed to trying to modify them. ‘If people’s surroundings aren’t designed to allow them to be as productive as possible, they’ll become frustrated,’ he says. ‘And, over time, if they don’t see any signs of improvement, there’s a good chance that they’ll either leave, or if given the opportunity they can be an asset in the sense that they can be an agent of change, driving the development of a differentiated workspace.’

Our own space for tomorrow

Dimension Data has developed a way of creating flexible workspaces which use the power of technology to help people be more productive. The approach is proving popular among clients but it’s also been the basis of Dimension Data’s new office in Singapore.

The new, eco-friendly site in Aperia Tower offers a good balance between private and shared workspaces. ‘The aim was to design a modern, attractive space that inspired creativity and empowered collaboration,’ says Bill Padfield, Dimension Data’s Group Executive for Services, and Chairman of Dimension Data Asia Pacific.

‘I’m very pleased with the outcome … we can now truly pride ourselves, having created a workspace that embodies our values and ethos and promotes better productivity,’ Bill says. ‘The feedback from employees, partners, and clients has been extremely positive, and I truly believe happy employees mean happy clients.’

Tony Walt

The main priority has been for everyone to have access to video collaboration everywhere and be able to book it easily. Cisco videoconferencing (VC) units have been integrated into the design of all meeting rooms — as these serve as a phone, presentation screen, and VC device.

Having meeting spaces with the right acoustics and noise insulation was vital. They also created echo-proof huddle spaces, as well as closed and open phone booths. These enable private communications but don’t intrude on the open plan environment.

Employees have wireless access across various devices, including desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, printers, and even projectors. They also have ‘follow me’ printing capability – it doesn’t matter where they are working or what device they are working on, they can print work out.

Back to our hero: What’s next for WeWork?

WeWork’s formula of workplace community, city centre locations, and hip designs are all the rage today, and has contributed to their continued success. In July 2016, at a conference hosted by Fortune Magazine, Adam said he’s ‘not afraid’ to take the company public.

‘If you’re asking me, “Are we as a team committed to monetize for investors and employees?’ The answer is 100 percent,”’ he said.ix

But what kind of work styles might Gen-Zs have? And what kinds of spaces will they want to work in?

Some employers are looking at futuristic offices spaces to change their employees’ experiences of work:

  • Google’s Pittsburg office has a giant net hammock for employees to relax or work in.
  • The Red Bull London office has a giant slide for employees.
  • The Sherwin-Williams office in Malaysia deploys abstract designs in the décor.
  • AirBnB’s office in Dublin resembles and Irish bar.

No-one knows yet what kind of environment the Gen-Zs will want to work in. So the evolution of the workspace looks like it’s going to be a constant work in progress.

But don’t be too surprised if they want to work in an egg.x

egg image
i Oscar Williams-Grut, This $5 billion co-working start-up is taking over London, Business Insider, 1 June 2015, http://uk.businessinsider.com/wework-the-5-billion-co-working-start-up-opens-new-building-in-london-plans-2-more-2015-6
ii Uptin Saiidi, Office Envy: Get inside WeWork's New York space, CNBC, 15 April 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/15/office-envy-get-inside-weworks-new-york-space.html
iii Eugene Kim, Here's What It's Like To Work Out Of WeWork, The $5 Billion Startup That Rents Space To Other Startups, 11 Jan 2015, http://uk.businessinsider.com/wework-san-francisco-office-tour-2015-1?op=3D=1
iv Sara Ashleigh O’Brian, WeWork launches in Shanghai, CNN, 30 June 2016, http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/30/technology/wework-shanghai-china/index.html
v Wynd website, http://www.wynd.hk/
vi Launching The First Co-Working Space in Hong Kong, with Michael Ma, Co-founder of Wynd, Founders Grid, 28 April 2014, https://foundersgrid.com/co-working-hong-kong/
vii Sean Coughlan, 'Top universities to offer full degrees online in five years', BBC, 6 July 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36703778
viii Themes, Dreams and Flying Machines, Goldman Sachs, 2 December 2015, http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/macroeconomic-insights-folder/what-if-i-told-you/report.pdf
ix Adam Neumann “not afraid” to take WeWork public, The Real Deal, 12 July 2016, http://therealdeal.com/2016/07/12/adam-neumann-not-afraid-to-take-wework-public/
x Sarah St.Jules, The Mini Egg House is the Perfect Office for Those on-the-Go, Trendhunter, 9 August 2013, http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/futuristic-office-spaces

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