No excuses when technology fails
While the cost savings of serviced offices are known, their potential downside cannot be ignored. For example, when workplace technology goes haywire, will the staff on hand know what to do, calmly, professionally and quickly?
The experience of John (not his real name), who owns an investment banking and technology recruitment company, is startling. Two years ago, he started his company and rented office space at a swanky Central location.
'The internet kept going down for four days in a row,' he says, recounting the costs to his fledgling start-up from having no phone or e-mail access.
'As a serviced office provider, it is inexcusable to let them down on this front,' says Lovey Chin, marketing and communications director at Compass Offices. 'If we supply an internet connection to a tenant, it must be reliable, fast and secure. This is a non-negotiable part of serviced office solutions.'
Many serviced office providers have a dedicated team of professionals to provide tenants with fast and effective support to deal with issues ranging from keyboard replacements to server backups.
More gripes concern how phone calls are handled on behalf of tenants, who may be travelling frequently, and the charges made for phone use. One technology entrepreneur, who did not wish to be named as her clients include serviced office providers, says that 'despite writing the script for them', receptionists often can't effectively handle phone calls. 'They either have poor English or can't be bothered.' According to Chin, the solution is to hire competent people. 'Hong Kong's standards of English are actually still very high,' she says. But she adds: 'It takes more than just good English to be a good receptionist. Combine that with a culture that is service-oriented, internationally exposed and highly responsive, and this means that one doesn't have to look very far to locate world-class receptionists.'
Phone dexterity and etiquette aside, there are also additional charges to bear in mind. John says his provider charged close to HK$100 just to itemise his monthly bill.
'A slippery salesman will promise everything and usually fail to deliver ... get everything in writing,' he warns tenants. 'Whatever they promise you verbally won't happen.' He says he was erroneously overcharged for calls to the United States and India.
There is also the issue of rental costs because serviced offices are not necessarily less expensive than traditional leased offices, Chin says.
'If a company has hundreds of staff and stable and predictable space needs, a regular office is probably the right solution.'
It is something that John - now overjoyed to be in a regular office - knows all too well, having experienced '50 per cent monthly increases' in renting serviced office space. 'Many [tenants] were as frustrated as I was,' he says.
Chin says prices basically reflect market values but concedes that short-term customers do take on a higher risk. 'If a customer comes to us seeking a month-to-month arrangement, then there will be a higher risk of price changes. The longer the term, the lower that risk.'