Category Archives: News

Area Guide – Central

LUPA / Compass Offices (Aon China Building) –

As home to some of the city’s leading companies, Central remains unsurprisingly one of the best areas in town for corporate dining, be it for a casual business lunch or gala dinner.

Many of the neighbourhood’s bars, restaurants and cafes have accordingly molded their services, furnishings and cuisine to cater to the needs of the area’s many busy-bodies.

Hearty New York Italian eatery LUPA is one such establishment. The newly opened restaurant has squarely positioned itself in the all-important sweet-spot between casual lunch establishment and formal dining hall. At 5,500 square feet in size, the sprawling interior is equally fitting for large events, particularly when combined with the 2,500 square-foot outdoor terrace, which in and of itself is perfect for a small cocktail affair.

Also new to the district is the latest serviced office complex from Compass Offices. The exquisitely furnished establishment takes up the 16th and 17th floors of the Aon China Building which, situated in the heart of the district, an ideal place to base yourself if you’re in town for a business trip.

The building itself has recently undergone renovation, and now boasts three ultra-posh elevators that are sure to impress even the most pernickety of business clients.

The spaces on offer are each beautifully furnished and offer equally beautiful city views, together with all the connectivity one would expect from a modern office. The shared office facilities include a large private lobby and three well-equipped meeting rooms with comfortable seating for four, six and 14 people.

Compass Offices also houses a banking-grade data centre on site for those with more demanding information technology needs.

Virtual offices are also available and start at HK$598 per month. Meeting rooms on their own go for about HK$50 per 15-minute session. Custom office fittings are also available for long-term clients.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, June 2012

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Area Guide – Singapore

Compass Offices (Singapore Land Tower) / Studio M Hotel –

Being a globally connected, multi-cultural city, Singapore is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dynamic places for work, living and business.

It’s little wonder then that the Lion City is the regional hub of choice for many leading multinationals, a fact that has helped spur many opportunities for local business-support companies.

Serviced office provider Compass Offices is one such entity. Its recently opened central-Singapore branch – it’s fourth in the city – raises the bar in the short-term commercial space arena.

Housed on the 30th floor of the centrally located Singapore Land Tower, it also offers easy access to transportation, with the Raffles Place MRT Station a stone’s throw away.

The 14,000 square-foot facility is fitted with the latest gadgetry. Office clients can use a dedicated reception desk, secretarial and concierge services, communal spaces and well-equipped meeting rooms. The offices can be rented on a monthly, daily or hourly basis.

Another trendy business destination is Studio M, a new hotel from the folks at Millennium and Copthorne Hotels. Designed for the new generation of savvy business and leisure travellers, the venue offers refined accommodation and a high degree of connectivity, technology and top-notch hospitality.

The centrepiece of the designer hotel is an open-air tropical deck with private spaces for informal meetings and corporate gatherings. Most of the 365 loft guestrooms have a view of the deck below, with each of the four types of modish rooms boasting flat screen LCD televisions, free wireless internet and plug-and-play connectivity.

Other offerings include a 25-metre lap pool, an open-air gym and three food and beverage outlets ideal for gatherings such as corporate events. Hotel guests can even have information about dining and nightlife options sent to their mobile devices.

Located in the heart of the Robertson Quay entertainment precinct, the hotel is near the Central Business District, with Orchard Road, Chinatown, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay all within spitting distance.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, January 2012

Interior Design Supplement – Interior Design’s Tighter Space

Though the Hong Kong interior design industry is flourishing, the city currently faces a dearth of well-trained interior designers – and this looks set to continue as work from emerging markets in the region is on the rise. The pinch is being felt across the industry, with even the larger interior design firms finding it difficult to recruit designers.

Offering an explanation for the shortage, Logan MacWatt, managing director of Aedas Interiors, points out that the majority of skilled designers are essentially all fully employed.

Continue reading Interior Design Supplement – Interior Design’s Tighter Space

The Keyless Keyboard

The keyboard that fits in your pocket.

With technology becoming increasingly wireless and more mobile everyday, this projection keyboard was bound to come along sooner or later. Back last year, around the launch of the iPhone 4S when the usual rumours and speculations surrounding any iProduct were close to breaking point, a nifty video came out which depicted a conceptual iPhone 5 device that came with a virtual keyboard projected by the device itself.

Though the imaginary device and most of its features were simply castles in the sky (iPhone holograms anyone?), a few companies took to the virtual keyboard idea and these have since been released.

Celluon has released the best of these virtual projection keyboards in the form of their ingenious Magic Cube. About the size of a pack of cards, the small rectangular-shaped device looks like something straight out of Star Wars, and its amazing laser projection and motion detection technology would make a great travel companion for mobile, tablet, and laptop devices.

The pros are that it connects via Bluetooth or USB, and is compatible with a whole array of devices including iPhones, iPods, iPads, computers, notebooks, smartphones and many tablets. However the cons are that it only projects a condensed QWERTY keyboard layout (there is no right side number pad). In addition, it is not for use with Kindle devices (they do not support Bluetooth or USB keyboards) and the projected multi-touch mouse pad and keyboard can be quite tricky to use. Nevertheless, the unit seems to get more responsive and accurate the more you use it (maybe it just takes time to get used to) and it’s still an amazingly forward-looking and cool gadget.

The future is here…almost.

Video here.

Features:
– 38 x 75 x 29 mm – Communicates and connects with devices wired via USB or wirelessly via Bluetooth
– No drivers needed
– Runs for up to two hours of continuous typing when wireless – Charges when connected via wired USB
– Projects a condensed QWERTY layout with a multi-touch mouse pad
– Keyboard function compatible with any operating system supporting the USB HID class or Bluetooth HID profile. Multi-touch mouse mode for Windows 7+ only. Specific compatible systems include Win XP SP2+, Vista, Win7, Mac 10.4+, iOS 4.3.5+ (iPhone 3GS and later, iPod Touch 2nd generation and later, all versions of iPad), Linux and others supporting standard Bluetooth HID keyboards. Android 2.0+ compatibility limited to phones and devices that include Bluetooth keyboard support.

Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, April 2012

HK employees struggle to maintain work-life balance

The lines between work and personal lives in the city are blurring, according to staffing and human resources consulting provider Randstad.

With detailed feedback from 405 local employees, the new survey – part of their debut Workmonitor Report for Hong Kong – captures sentiments towards local work practices.

Of those polled, 36 per cent said their employers expect them to be available at all times, while 61 per cent reported receiving work-related phone calls or e-mails during their time off.

Commenting on the results, Brien Keegan, director of Randstad Hong Kong, says that they have done similar surveys in other countries, but a notably larger proportion of local respondents claimed to work outside office-hours, a fact he attributes largely to the city’s role as a financial hub.

“We are literally in the centre of the world here in terms of our access to global markets. And to maintain good business relationships, one often has to keep in sync with other time zones,” he says. “This practice puts a severe strain on effective work-life balance and can also have a negative impact on productivity in the workplace.”

The survey also showed that 69 per cent of the respondents said they tended to deal with private matters during work hours, while 68 per cent indicated they handled work-related matters in their private time.

Keegan believes that to counteract this “blurring”, staff and employers should set guidelines defining priorities.

“The balance between working and living is really an individual preference, so employees and employers should set boundaries and expectations and find what is personally and professionally important,” he says.

Keegan notes that striking a balance between work and life commitments can be a good thing for both workers and their managers. Flexible working arrangements, he adds, can increase productivity, aid employee retention and enhance staff engagement.

Nevertheless, Keegan concedes that flexible arrangements are not for everyone.

“While some part-time workers might give 40 hours of work on a 20- hour timesheet, other employees need the routine, support, guidance and social structure of a traditional workplace,” he says, adding that this may explain why 65 per cent of respondents also indicated a preference for face-to-face contact.

Keegan expects work-life balance to become an increasingly crucial issue. “One of the things we need to think more about is how to create a more efficient workforce, especially since the war for talent is about to pick up again,” he says. “Providing flexible work options [for some] is going to be really important.”

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 2011 

Bums on office seats are not always good for bottom line

Employees can probably feel less guilty about tardiness or web-surfing during office hours. At least that’s the implication of the results from a Regus global survey suggesting that flexible working conditions can help increase worker productivity and, by extension, company profit.

The survey, which covered more than 16,000 senior business managers, is one of the largest of its kind to validate the correlation between flexibility, productivity and profitability.

Among those polled in Hong Kong, 75 per cent said that flexibility boosted productivity, while 72 per cent agreed that it could help increase revenue.

Hans Leijten, Regus vice-president for East Asia, attributes the gains to enhanced employee morale.

“Flexible work gives people power to decide when and where they work. This helps them to plan and execute their work more efficiently and to reduce the time it takes to commute and to actually do the work,” he says.

“A more efficient and happier worker will generally deliver better results.”

At 67 per cent, a significant portion of Hong Kong respondents also reported feeling more energised and motivated, thanks to flexible work arrangements. Some 60 per cent even claimed to feel healthier, implying cost-savings on healthcare premiums.

Leijten notes that flexible arrangements can also help cut office rentals. “As a rule of thumb, 40-60 per cent of any office space is underutilised,” he says. “In a city like Hong Kong, where commercial space is among the most expensive anywhere, there are big savings to be made.”

And with many firms still reluctant to commit to large pay rise this year, flexible arrangements can be used as an employee retention tool, Leijten adds. “Staff who work flexibly report feeling healthier, more energised and more motivated, which is good for staff retention and morale,” he says.

This view is echoed by Martin Cerullo, the global director of resourcing communications at Alexander Mann Solutions. “The ability to work flexibly makes up an important part of the overall employee value proposition. Employers who allow staff to work flexibly are really saying, ‘I trust you to make the decisions about the time and working location that are right for you.’ Naturally, this sends an appreciative message,” he says.

Leijten notes that the Regus survey findings help reaffirm a common practice in Hong Kong, particularly among smaller nimbler companies where implementation is easier.

“Flexi-working is the future of work,” says Leijten. “If you manage your employees by line of sight, all you can evaluate is bums on office seats. The best companies manage people by results, and flexible working clearly helps employees improve their results.”

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 2011 

Architecture Supplement – Building Blocks of the Future

Hong Kong has always been an architectural hub, with some of the best talent in Asia and the world, and, today, its architecture industry is alive and vigorously kicking.

“With its mixed international pool of architects and proficiency gathered over time, the Hong Kong architecture industry is perfectly set up as a hub to serve the region,” says Dominic Lam, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA).

“In fact, more than 50 per cent of Hong Kong architects end up working on projects outside Hong Kong,” he adds.

The CEO of architecture global giant Aedas, David Roberts, shares the same sentiment, describing Hong Kong as a “strategically-placed business destination”.

“The proximity to Southeast Asia is important,” he says. “A lot of clients [from there] look to Hong Kong professionals to provide provisional services for their projects. Hong Kong has a huge advantage in terms of its geographical location.”

However, this regional market is dwarfed by business in China, which has surged two-fold in the past few years. “The workload from mainland China has been increasing, and 60 per cent of the work in our Hong Kong office is from the mainland,” says Roberts.

“Ten years ago, this would have been only about 10 per cent and, looking ahead, the 60 per cent might become 70 per cent soon,” he adds.

This is felt throughout other practices in Hong Kong, too. Kenneth Lui, a director with the P&T Group, even points out that increasing mainland work is putting pressure on local and international architects to learn Putonghua.

“One of the most important things for an architect in Hong Kong now is language – even locals need to learn Putonghua,” he says. “One must also be willing to travel and to work on the mainland.”

Lucy Richardson, managing director of Bespoke Hong Kong, is seeing the same trends at her local architect and designer recruitment firm. “At the moment, 80 to 90 per cent of candidates we place are Chinese, and this is mainly because of the language factor,” she says. “We are finding it more and more difficult to place international architects because they don’t have the language skills.”

Candidates need to know more than just Putonghua though, as Richardson points out. “Those who are most in demand are the locals who have trained overseas, who have had experiences with international practices and are returning home to the mainland or Hong Kong,” says Richardson.

“Although graduates are of interest, the Chinese market is looking for broad-minded architects who have done two to 10 years in a practice overseas, and have come back with understanding, training and experience.”

Richardson also points out that while there are some strong candidates coming out of local schools, Hong Kong-educated students are slightly weaker than their international counterparts.

“I think that the brief set in universities here is a bit basic, and does not really get people thinking – it is a lot more challenging at Australian, British and American universities,” Richardson says.

P&T Group principal designer Remo Riva agrees, adding that creativity is somewhat disregarded in Hong Kong.

“At universities here, they teach that management skills are very important and creativity is more a by-product because it is not so needed or expected,” Riva says. “Even at the University of Hong Kong, the emphasis is not so much on teaching or on creativity, but about training for management skills.”

Creativity is also lacking in the field, where developers dominate and tough regulations restrict architects. “Basically, to be approved, the architecture has to work around and within the regulations and demands of developers, which reduces creativity. In other places, you look at buildings and you can see the developers are more open,” says Lui, of P&T Group.

He adds that developers are also snapping up talent, which means that local demand for architects remains strong.

Nevertheless, HKIA’s Lam says that the architectural scene is healthier than it has ever been, and fresh graduates can expect to start at a competitive monthly rate of HK$30,000 minimum, which is the highest that entry-level salaries have been in the sector.

Roberts of Aedas has the same positive viewpoint. “Hong Kong has been able to grow domestic talent through the universities and educational establishments here, while also attracting international talent, even as markets are quiet in places like New York and London,” he says.

“We have some of the best infrastructure, and investment is continuous with strong all-round optimism and energy levels. This is certainly the place to be right now,” Roberts adds.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 2012

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Industry Insider – A matter of trust at Withers

Priding itself on its difference from other companies, Withers Hong Kong is the only law firm in the city that places equal focus on wealth and asset preservation, as it does on wealth planning. It has also made significant additions to its Putonghua-speaking team. Managing partner Marcus Dearle explains that this is essential as many mainland Chinese clients wish only to do business in Mandarin.

What is the ‘Wealth Preservation Group’ and why was it set up? 
Formed in 2011, the work of Withers Hong Kong Wealth Preservation Group has attracted considerable interest due to the wealth planning industry’s recognition that family discord and divorce is a clear and present danger to family wealth.

It is of great interest to high-net-worth individuals, and this part of the world. In some high-net-worth cases, spouses may lose up to one-half of their wealth on divorce. But, there are steps that can be taken against this.

We provide advice on pre- and post-nuptial settlements and dynastic trust planning, to help restrict attacks against assets.

We also “stress test” existing documentation to check that all is in order – for example, examining if a will is properly drawn up and attested, to avoid hugely expensive and acrimonious scenarios.

How do the mainland Chinese regard wealth preservation? 
An increasing proportion of high-net-worth individuals come from mainland China. As with wealthy Hong Kong Chinese clients and expatriates, some have become concerned about the big cases that have recently hit the headlines.

Is Withers trying to expand the idea of wealth preservation into China?
We are trying to push wealth preservation in China, using our intermediary contacts and referrals from private banks.

How important is the mainland China market to Withers?
We have been attracting more mainland clients in recent years, which  is the same as other Hong Kong firms. Hong Kong is often the first jurisdiction that mainlanders look to; Singapore is another.

We will be increasing our footprint in Asia when we open our new Singapore office this year.

How many Putonghua-speaking staff do you have, and do you plan to increase this number?
We are certainly looking to hire more mainland Chinese lawyers in the future. Currently, we have six fluent Putonghua speakers in our team.
One of our recent successful mainland recruitment stories is Lian Fang, a registered foreign lawyer brought up on the mainland, who attended Nanjing University and Columbia University School of Law.

Any international law firm that doesn’t appreciate the importance of mainland China risks losing valuable business now and in the future.

Is there a different way of dealing with mainland clients?
I think Hong Kong Chinese clients, like expatriates, usually have a basic understanding, for example, of the concept of what a trust is.
Mainland clients have often become very successful over a short period of time and won’t have come across the concept of a trust – the idea of putting your money in the hands of other people.

This is very unfamiliar territory to them, so this is all the more reason why we need to have people in the office who are able to win their confidence, and explain the intricacies of the law to them.

A lot of mainland clients only want to deal with Putonghua-speaking lawyers.

What is the hiring outlook for Withers in 2012?
We are currently expanding our litigation and wealth planning arm, and are recruiting for our new Singapore office, with a major focus on personal tax and trust lawyers. There is a big demand for wealth planning from clients in this region.

A mainland China office is definitely a future target as well and our first mainland-bred lawyer, Lian Fang, will hopefully be the first of many.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, February 2012


Mainlanders boon to travel and hospitality industry

Despite a subtle sense of apprehension regarding the economic situation in Europe and the United States, things are looking up for those in the travel and hospitality industry.

A recent survey by TMS Asia-Pacific has found that travel and hospitality executives in Hong Kong boast the highest average salaries in the region.

This was the second year in a row that Hong Kong topped the survey, and also the second year that Singapore ranked in second place.

But the situation across the border is looking slightly worse, with salaries dropping over last year, largely due to rising labour costs, inflation and a steadily appreciating yuan.

Commenting on the dominance of the Hong Kong market, TMS CEO Andrew Chan noted that Hong Kong has seen an unprecedented number of monthly arrivals recently – the bulk of which he attributed to visitors from the mainland to the north.

“The romance of travel has really bitten mainland China, and this is propping up the region,” Chan says.

“In Hong Kong, there were record arrivals in short-haul flights, and a lot of these were from carriers that operate between Hong Kong and China,” he says.

“The city’s proximity to Macau, meanwhile, further enhances its ability to attract mainland tour groups,” Chan adds. “The resulting rise in the number of arrivals has undoubtedly driven up travel-industry salaries, while also making the hiring landscape more competitive.”

The survey also found that – in contrast to previous years – the number of employees working in their current companies for 12 months or less has increased by 40 per cent, which “suggests that workers are starting to shop around a bit more,” according to Chan.

Meanwhile, the growth of new hotels and regional offices in the region has also driven up recruitment and competition for staff.

“The war for talent is driving up wages. So, while companies in Hong Kong are making more profit, much of it is being passed on to employees in the form of higher salaries,” says Chan.

To combat the situation, more companies are focusing on employee-retention strategies and creative ways to engage their staff, while also offering more flexibility and training to motivate them, Chan adds.

As to how the continued economic uncertainty might affect these trends, Chan says that the focus is still on recruitment for now, but that companies may start to look at retrenchment if the situation in Europe gets out of hand.

While this is not expected to have a hugely adverse effect on travel in the region, Hong Kong could be more greatly affected, due to its position as a business hub in the Asia-Pacific region, Chan notes.

In terms of the effect on travel industry salaries, Chan says that a European crisis would not have any drastic impact on the region at large.

But he says that Hong Kong could be more shaken due to its role as a centre of trade.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, January 2011