For someone who’s stayed and worked in three continents, and travelled frequently for work, Matthew James Kenley, IWG’s Head of Partnership Growth for APAC, thinks the Covid-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for him. He finally gets to spend more time with his family and gets the rare opportunity to actually stay put in one place and forge a closer connection with the people there. At the same time, he continues to connect with people from all over the world through online meetings and coworking spaces, something that the company he’s with, has been advocating all along.
Flexible workspaces including virtual offices are after all what IWG (International Workplace Group) through its various brands like Regus and Spaces are best at as the world’s largest provider of flexible workspaces.
Matthew shares with Asian Property Review through an online interview with Kitterick Yiu, actor and celebrity in Hong Kong, about matters that are close to his heart:
Before the pandemic, my travel schedule was travel to 2- 3 different countries within 3-4 days a week. In effect, my office was a plane. Then, I’d thought it would be nice not to be travelling so much, but after one year, now all I want to do is travel! It’s nice to be able to spend quality time in one place.
I won’t say I am a creature of habit because I love the fact what life has to offer in a sense no one day is the same.
I love coffee. As soon as I wake up, I head for the coffee machine and then read up what’s happening in the world. Morning is also the time I spend quality time with my family before I connect with the world.
Half of the time, I will be at the office, if I am working from home. There will be a lot of webinars and screen time; I believe in taking enough time to connect with the world including family and teams of people I work with, and partners as this is critical for success. In this new normal of always being onscreen, how you connect with people is really important because of the lack of face to face connection.
For exercise, I am either at the gymnasium three times a week (hopefully) or run 3 -4 kms outside. I love basketball and try to play a game one day in a week if possible.
Wellness and health are a constant battle with a hectic lifestyle. But these are critical to my mental and physical health.
Philosophy in Life
“Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally but what you do consistently” – this is a quote from Michael Jordan, one of my childhood heroes.
For me, the simple analogy is like climbing stairs. You can’t take five stairs at a time, otherwise you would lose your balance and fall. Life is very much like that. If you want to reach the top of the stairs, you have to take it one step at a time, consistently in terms of your stride. You should do the small things in life every day right. Of course, you may make mistakes and fall sometimes. But doing small things consistently well, and learning every day keep me on track. I keep that quote close to my heart every day.
In general, I am relentlessly optimistic and don’t believe in looking backwards. I genuinely believe that every experience in life is an experience that you can learn from, whether that experience is a success or failure. The key is learning from your experience.
I don’t think I will want to change anything in my life. Life is about learning, a journey, as people say; you try to improve yourself constantly in order to be the best version of yourself.
Having travelled around the world and lived in three continents, I get a real sense what the world has to offer and about the opportunities offered to you and about seizing those opportunities.
One of the things I learnt is how diverse the world is. Yet, despite the cultural differences, people’s need and values are very similar whether it’s Europe, America or Asia. People inherently look for the positive in life and want to connect in the right way. Working in diverse backgrounds has taught me to appreciate and respect cultural differences, and that’s something I find fascinating being able to successfully connect with people, especially in my role of trying to forge partnerships.
Pandemic’s impact on IWG
The pandemic has accelerated the change in how people work. People want to work anywhere at any time. To be honest, we have been telling people for years about the workspace revolution. The way millennials want to work; being able to work on demand, at any office or work from home – are a big driver for millennials. We were seeing that the workplace revolution in IWG. The pandemic has accelerated that to a whole different level including digitalization at different levels. We were on track and things were changing very quickly especially in Asia.
Being at the forefront of the workplace solution, including flexible office space, is a great new story for us. Our business is going from strength to strength. Long gone are the days when companies would demand a huge traditional office space. Since 3-4 years ago, people have been working from coffee shops, homes or wherever there’s WiFi.
That’s critical for the future of companies because they would have to adapt in order to attract new talents who want flexibility in their work location and working hours.
With 3,500 workspaces located in over 1,100 towns and cities in more than 120 countries, IWG has the largest network to facilitate that for any company or individual on a global level.
Despite the huge economic shift due to the pandemic, for example, many companies, both small and big have gone bust, this has instead accelerated the change to a new working norm, and thus, has benefited us in terms of takeup rates.
For example, China has recovered and occupancy rates there have grown during the pandemic versus 2019. We see a similar pattern across the regions where takeup rates are growing in economies that are recovering.
Another positive side-effect of the pandemic is the switching from one central office in the CBD to a ‘hub-and-spook’ model where there are several small offices rather than one large central location.
A good example is Standard Chartered which recently signed a deal with us to give our membership to 95,000 of its workers so they can work from anywhere in our 3,500 flexible workspace locations globally.
In Malaysia, our business has gone from strength to strength in 2020. We are taking this opportunity during the pandemic to ensure our business across all regions is geared up and ready to move forward as economic recovery grows momentum.
Advantages of IWG
We are the market leader and continue to cement our position as market leader. The pandemic has given rise to a huge explosion in flexi workspace including virtual office and other solutions for companies. Our approach is to focus on providing the best services, the best platforms, the best virtual office, etc, for companies to make a choice on where and when they want to work and what services they need.
For example, mental and physical wellness are critical and being able to connect to other people in an office environment is crucial especially during the pandemic. IWG offers a big community where we get multiple people and businesses in one location, in our traditional centres which combine coworking space with fixed offices.
Being able to connect at a community level and sharing ideas is a huge part of IWG across our brands, as well as having a platform for companies to connect on a global level. We have been around for 30 years and have developed these platforms to enable companies to set up offices without crossing borders. ‘Crossing borders without crossing borders’ – we have the ability to allow our customers to do that versus any other competitor on a global scale.
We can facilitate businesses to connect to different markets even in the new normal. There is no need to be physically in different countries to do that. With virtual offices, the potential is almost limitless because we can have 100 – 200 businesses using that same address.
We have a service that enables businesses to grow at that pace in a world that’s completely digitalized. We can do that with an app or an account with our platform; so it’s a real enabler for businesses to have additional revenue streams and to diversify their business.
With this economic shift caused by the pandemic, you have to diversify your business and you have to be at the forefront of it otherwise you become the next Kodak.
Also, businesses typically want a business address that’s prestigious, and this is something we can provide. For example, Platinum Sentral Kuala Lumpur and The Sail in Melaka.
Location is critical; but if you’d asked me a year ago, I would say CBD locations are critical because they are commercial hubs. But what we are seeing now is a shift to suburb locations. People want to work nearer their homes and don’t want to spend 30 mins to 2 hours commuting to work especially now that they have experienced working from home for over a year.
So, a lifestyle development or cultural hub within the same development where your home or office is is absolutely important. Being able to live and work within 20-30 mins commute is far more important than ever before. Hence, having a coliving, coworking and wellness centre within a short distance is a plus point. The Sail development in Melaka is a perfect example of that as it encompasses all those huge needs in one place.
We have almost 40 centres in Malaysia and are on track to open a few more over the next few months. We have a growth plan to set up in 100 plus locations across multiple brands in Malaysia in the next few years. Currently in some locations, we are seeing growth of 10-15% in our virtual office business. The growth index in Malaysia in terms of ease of doing business, is going up all the time. As market leader in Malaysia, we want to be in the forefront when Malaysia opens up. We want people to think of IWG across our brands such as Regus, Spaces, and Signature, when they think about office solutions. Malaysia is a critical and successful market for us and we want to continue to lead that transition into a successful business hub.
When it comes to Malaysia, we have very good presence in big cities like Kuala Lumpur. But we have bigger plans for Malaysia – our plan is to be in as many cities as possible where there are people and businesses which need flexible workspace.
The Sail, Sheng Tai’s flagship RM6.5 bil development that is slated to be the future CBD of Melaka.
If you look at Melaka’s population, its industries and potential as a business, trading and investment hub, they fulfil our criteria. I believe in the next 4 -10 years, Melaka will play a critical role in Malaysia’s development in terms of doing business or investment especially ongoing developments. We want to be there first as the leading flexi workspace provider.
One of the big decisions is which partner to do that with. Having Sheng Tai International (STI) as a partner in Melaka, which is doing a fantastic job on a visionary development, The Sail, we have got the foundations of a successful partnership to press forward in Melaka with them.
In the next few years, we will open 2-3 more locations in iconic developments and commercial hubs in partnership with Sheng Tai Group. By partnering with STI and its Founder and Chairman Dato Leong Sir Ley, who are visionary in their efforts in a place like Melaka, we are showing the world that Melaka and Malaysia are open for business.
During pre-pandemic times, about 16 – 17 mil people a year visit Melaka for tourism which is astonishing. Once the pandemic is over, the visitors will come back more aggressively.
At that point, Melaka will have a lot more to offer in terms of business opportunities and tourism activities. The Sail is an iconic development; some have described it as the ‘Marina Bay Sands of Melaka’ – I think it would be better than that. It would really put Melaka on the map from a tourism perspective as well as facilitate new investments and businesses coming in.
Melaka’s strategic location midway between Singapore and KL, and its proximity to the Straits of Malacca with potentially important sea links will also help to cement its position as a critical city to have a business in and visit, not just for the food, culture and history but more importantly, to becoming a trading hub like hundreds of years ago. I believe we will see that accelerate in the next few years.
Real estate as wealth creator
Real estate is close to my heart. Prior to this, I was in hospitality and F & B in various different roles all over the world but the only time I made real money was in real estate. I always put my investment money in property. Currently, I still own property in the UK, Greece and Bali. Real estate to me is critical to anyone’s portfolio. It beats stock markets and commodities – it gives consistent fantastic returns for the right type of development. But as always in investments, you have to invest wisely across multiple countries like I have done so far. By the way, the returns in The Sail look pretty good. I might buy a few units there.