Space-starved Hong Kong’s private work and study room business is soaring
By Daphne Li
There is warm light, soothing music and space – 1,800 square feet of it – and that, according to Linda Chan Wai-shan, makes this study area the ideal place to settle in a cubicle and prepare for her actuarial exams.
The 25-year-old goes to this wood-themed study space three days a week because she believes she can only really get her head down away from home. Chan particularly likes the atmosphere, for it is a getaway from her “agony of revision”. “I like its freedom and convenience. To me, revision is already depressing. I don’t want to make it harder by going to a more depressing place,” she says.
That depressing place in her eyes is one of the public study rooms, familiar places to many Hongkongers. According to the Education Bureau, there are 213 study rooms operated by the government which provide about 15,200 seats this year. Meanwhile, the number of students studying for the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), which determines university admissions, is around 60,000.
These public study rooms provide a lifeline for students to study, especially those living in crowded homes. To maintain order, the authorities forbid study room users from eating, drinking and sleeping, and those who leave their seats unattended for more than 15 minutes are not allowed to use them for the rest of the day. Many who are not fans of public study rooms, and who have the means, turn to the commercial study rooms that have sprung up in the last few years, where fewer regulations are imposed.
Chan finds private study rooms a better fit for her than public ones. “They do not allow us to eat and drink in there. Only water is allowed. I couldn’t even bring my coffee in. There was a time when I was taking a nap at my desk, and a staffer came and woke me up immediately,” she says. In a private study room, however, Chan can leave her seat to take a stroll, or even walk away for two hours for a session of Muay Thai nearby.
Apart from these considerations, Chan has to take air quality into account. She says the poor air quality in public study rooms triggers her nasal allergy whereas at WooderSpace, a private study room where she usually goes, there are air purifiers, which prevent her allergy and help her stay focused.
Unlike the free public service, private study rooms usually charge HK$55 to HK$115 for a day pass, depending on its services, location and the day of the week. Chan, who has a job, believes the HK$85 entry pass for her weekend stay is a fair price.
While public study rooms have existed in Hong Kong for over 20 years, private study rooms are a novelty. Public study rooms are widely available, but are often in short supply during the public examination period. Borrowing the concept of shared space, private study rooms aim to provide space for working people and students. Their targets are usually students and working people who want to prepare for their jobs, professional exams, or studies. In Hong Kong, the private study room business started to take off over the last few years, with an influx of companies trying to tap into this new market.
Gloria Lau Kun-ying, one of the co-founders of the WooderSpace study room, believes Hong Kong has a huge study space market. She says the co-working space in the United States and South Korea focuses on business professionals and students, but most Hongkongers look for a different service. “Hongkongers need [personal] space. Some of them don’t even have a bedroom, let alone a study room,” she says. Sensing Hong Kong’s space shortage to be a grave problem, Lau started her study room business in May.
Lau says she did not set up the study room as a workplace because she believes that customers need to escape their normal fast-paced lifestyle and enjoy a quiet open-plan space. “The study room is not just a place for revision. In fact, we want to encourage more Hong Kongers to relax amidst their very hectic lives,” she says.
She has adopted a Japanese minimalist interior design to create a warm and homey ambiance in the study space, with facilities such as study rooms, step seats, a tatami room, a lounge and a coffee bar as well as a multi-purpose room. She says some customers not only go there for revision but also to read, watch movies, or even play video games because of the study room’s homey and comfortable atmosphere.
Eric Chan, a co-owner of another work-study space called MyBASE, points out that the service gives students a chance to share space with professionals, which may provide
them with some added motivation. “Work-study spaces provide users with a sense of synergy because people around them are all working towards the same goal,” he says.
Chan and his co-founders, who come from architectural and engineering backgrounds, started their business in January after observing that 50 per cent of customers in the many cafés across the city are students, freelancers, and even professionals. He notes that a café is not a proper place for study or work because it is too noisy. Seeing an enormous demand for proper working space in Hong Kong, they looked for a business solution to this problem.
“Home is also not a good place for revision. There is a lot of distraction,” Chan says. He explains that for an ideal working environment which helps users to stay focused, each user should have a desk with a minimum size of 60cm by 90cm and sufficient lighting. He adds that having enough fresh air is also important because too much carbon dioxide makes the room stuffy, hindering users from concentrating.
Interior designer Keith Chan Shing-hin also stresses that a café is not an ideal place for work and study. Apart from the noise, Chan says the yellow lighting in cafés tends to make a person feel sleepy so it is only suitable for casual chatting rather than working. For a proper working space, white lighting should be installed to enhance users’ concentration.
Chan says a relaxing and meticulously designed study room can help studying by improving communication. “You need to talk to people when you are revising, or else you will just end up cramming for an exam on your own. There are individual [cubicles] and long desks [in these private study rooms], and this allows for more communication and interaction,” he explains. Chan believes shared study space benefits students as they get to meet different people in the space, instead of just burying their heads in textbooks.
Although there is an increasing demand for relaxing study spaces, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has no plans to refurnish the 35 students’ study rooms which are operated by the Hong Kong Public Libraries.
While working people may find the price of a private study room reasonable, students may find it pricey. Form 6 student Harry Yap Shee-yau says he and his friends visited a private study room three or four times because the public study rooms were all full, but he will never go again. “I would go there more often if they could charge less. Even though they charged us HK$108 for three hours with unlimited tea and snacks, HK$108 is still too much for us.
”And while some may find private study rooms relaxing, Yap, for one, does not like them. “I came to the study room for revision and to strive for better results. Therefore, I prefer a plain, monotonous and quiet place instead.”
Edited by Jennifer Leung