What’s the story behind Banyan Workspace?

Interview of Rasheed Shroff, founder of Banyan Workspace

The environment in which you work is incredibly important. As somewhere that you spend the majority of your waking hours, it needs to provide a comfortable yet professional ambience, a place that reflects your company’s values and where you can be confident welcoming clients. Creating the perfect workspace is something that many startups and small businesses struggle with, often lacking the funds, time or expertise, and many are forced to settle for offices that don’t meet all their requirements.

Working out of a coworking space can provide a perfect solution. When done well, they can fulfil all your requirements with very little effort. Flexible desk and office arrangements are combined with meeting rooms and break-out spaces, allowing you to simply turn up to work and reap the benefits. 

Banyan Workspace is a new arrival on the Hong Kong coworking scene, and has already made a big impact with its premium offering, delivering a luxurious and sophisticated aesthetic at a competitive price. But what makes them different is their passion for their twin core values of sustainability and giving back, incorporating it into all aspects of their business model and sharing its benefits with its members. 

FLYDESK was privileged to sit down with Mr. Rasheed Shroff, founder of Banyan Workspace, as he shared his views on coworking, the future of work and his organization.

[FLYDESK] What inspired you to create this working space?

[Rasheed] Eighteen months ago, I left a large multinational with the intent of starting my own business, and started looking for an office. I knew that a coworking space would provide the flexibility that I needed, but for one reason or another, I never really fell in love with any of the different places that I visited. They tended to fall into two camps – either stuffy and overly-corporate or open-plan and overly-trendy. Neither of these options felt like the sort of place I could be both comfortable and productive. So I ended up working from home for several months. As many people have recently learnt, while there are a lot of great things about WFH – the sweatpants, the sofa, the stocked fridge – there are also a lot of challenges. The kids and dogs were in and out, the TV was too close and the vacuum cleaner was my nemesis! I felt that there should be a third option for coworking, a place where we could take all the things that we loved about a home office and marry it with all of the practical necessities of an office. That was our starting point for Banyan Workspace.  

[FLYDESK] Where did you get your design inspiration?

The aesthetic you see at Banyan is a balance of East meets West, which is very much my life but also the life of most people here in Asia’s World City. I was born here. My wife arrived here as a child, we have chosen to make Hong Kong our home. My father was Indian but born in Shanghai. So East meets West has always been something that has naturally been a part of my family. I think this is true for a lot of people in Hong Kong due to the history of the city. When we found the space at Eastern Harbour Centre, we fell in love with its incredible views and high ceiling, and we were lucky to find an amazing designer who understood our vision and took it to the next level. It was an incredible experience seeing the space evolve.

[FLYDESK] What makes Banyan Workspace unique?

[Rasheed] There’s several things that make Banyan special. The environment is definitely one of them! Walking through our wooden doors, people are always struck by how warm and welcoming it is. I put this down to not only our elevated design, but also the people we have on our team. They are personable, professional and passionate about Banyan’s values, and we’re lucky to have them.

Our commitment to our values also makes us stand out from the crowd. One of the things that I really wanted to do when I started this journey was to give back to the local community. This has been an enormous part of who we are from day one; connecting with local non-profits, sourcing materials and supplies locally, working with small businesses and supporting them where we can. We also donate 2% of our membership fees to one of four local non-profits that we partner with, something that I believe is unique in Hong Kong’s coworking industry.

We also try to operate as sustainably as we can. Our environmental impact was a big part of our renovation brief, particularly with our sourcing. The majority of our fixtures and fittings were locally found, recycled or upcycled. All materials in the space were carefully chosen. We have an extensive recycling programme, including composting and electrical waste disposal. All the small details, such as our oat milk cappuccinos, organic and plastic-free teas and locally-sourced snacks, make a difference and our members appreciate the choices we make. It is part of what makes us true to our original vision. 

[FLYDESK] Do you have a particular client profile you would like to host in your space?

[Rasheed] You know, we get asked this a lot, it’s very interesting! Many coworking spaces seem to be focused on this industry or that industry. But at the end of the day, it’s people who make the decision about where to base their business. Banyan seems to speak to like-minded people who share our values and beliefs. Our giving back, our sustainability, our environment, our authentic approach to what we do… all of this resonates with people. So instead of a demographic or particular industry, I like to say that we appeal to a type of person rather than type of business. And I think this is key to building a strong community.

[FLYDESK] How do you help your members overcome their challenges?

[Rasheed] I believe we have created an environment where people are proud and happy to come to work each day, and employee satisfaction is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in any company. This ‘feel-good factor’ comes not just from the comfort of the workspace itself but from the knowledge that their company is doing good for others as well. One of the things that businesses increasingly want improve is their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and that can be hard for many small businesses without a dedicated CSR team. This is where we can really make a difference. 

Our members can choose which of our four partner non-profits they would like their 2% membership fee donation to go to, enabling them to tie it in with their own company values. Beyond this financial contribution, we also look for ways to help our members engage with the community. Although it’s early days, we have a large pool of non-profits we’ve already engaged with, and we arrange ‘Giving Back Days’ where members can participate in volunteer work. We’ve had a really good response to that. We have also explored the possibility of facilitating links between members and non-profits who are looking for some skills-based support.

[FLYDESK] How do you envision the future of work?

[Rasheed] Well, there are a couple things that jump out at me. The first one is flexibility. People today are looking for that balance between their work and their personal life. Technology means that you can work anywhere, so offices need to be flexible and tailor their services to each individual company. It’s not just about providing desks and meeting rooms. That level of personalization is something that we certainly provide at Banyan. We’re a small, passionate team who work for the benefit of our members and I think that gives us a lot of advantages.

Another thing I think companies are becoming increasingly aware of is that they have a role to play in the local community. As I said earlier, this is something that we are focused on offering our members and something that I think they truly appreciate about our model.

[FLYDESK] What are the keys to success for an entrepreneur like you?

[Rasheed] That is a flattering question! It’s hard for me to answer this as I don’t think we can tick the box that says we are successful yet. We are on an incredibly exciting journey at a very disruptive time for business. As someone who has worked in business for a number of years, I’ve always believed that the only way to drive sustained success is to have a strong team of people who passionately believe in what you’re trying to achieve. I don’t believe a lot in hierarchy within an organization and have seen this stifle creativity and ideas. I actually think growing too fast can really come back and hurt you depending on the industry you’re in and what your goals are. But if I had to say one thing, I would say that your people are your most important asset. If they believe in your mission and are not stifled, they will bring more to your business, and in my view this is critical to being successful.

[FLYDESK] How would you describe your organization culture?

[Rasheed] We have a lot of fun with a small, passionate and authentic team. Everyone is very committed, embraces the values of Banyan Workspace and is encouraged to contribute ideas. It’s not that you come in at eight and you leave at six, it’s more like if something needs to be done at 9pm then it’ll get done at 9pm. We’re quite a relaxed culture in many ways. But that comes down to the fact that we have a group of people who connect with each other and take ownership of the business. And so, it’s relaxed and fun, but it’s professional.

[FLYDESK] Do you have expansion plans in the coming months?

[Rasheed] Looking at the incredible challenges thrown at all Hong Kong businesses over the last few months, one of the biggest advantages that we have had is that we’re small. It has allowed us, so far, to ride this difficult period and keep things ticking over. Being small also means that when you come into the space and you meet us for the first time, you know you’re meeting someone who is part of the team that started this journey. And I feel like if we grow too fast, we will lose that feeling and also open ourselves to other risks. I don’t have any desire to have hundreds of spaces. My goal is to make this one work, make this one what we want it to be. But yes, I love it when people tell us how surprised they are with what we have created and how they can see themselves at Banyan Workspace. Once the situation today settles down and we feel our model is fine tuned, we’ll see what we can do next. In the back of my mind, I see the potential for expansion outside of Hong Kong, with perhaps one Banyan Workspace in each of the major Asian cities. Asia will always be my home. It’s what I know and it’s what I’m passionate about.

[FLYDESK] A last message for our readers?

[Rasheed] Coworking is an incredible solution to the universal problem of finding the ideal working space as it comes with so much flexibility and is ‘ready to go’ when you are ready. We believe that Banyan Workspace has taken this concept to another level by creating a holistic workspace with a warm, inviting community that both looks good and does good. Click here to learn more about this coworking space.

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