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As the first Regus centre gears up to open in this Malaysian business hub, franchise partner Dato’ Leong Sir Ley explains why the virtual office is the future for Malacca
The Malaysian city of Malacca has been an international business magnet for centuries. Situated on the narrowest point of the Malacca Straits – across which lies Indonesia – its potential for trade was spotted by the Chinese as early as the 15th century, while its economic wealth led the Portuguese to conquer the city in the 16th. It remains an important coastal business hub to this day.
However, the city’s melting pot of corporations, startups and entrepreneurs are often transient visitors. While not all want to commit to a permanent office space, this entrepreneurial crowd needs somewhere to call ‘work’ – a place to meet clients, check in with the home team and network.
It was this ever-shifting quality that helped real estate developer Dato’ Leong Sir Ley identify Malacca City as a potential hotspot for flexible workspaces.
Sir Ley, the founder of Sheng Tai International, this month signed a franchise agreement with Regus’ parent company IWG with a view to opening three centres in the city’s Metro Square complex. The first Regus centre will open in July 2021, while a second centre under IWG’s Spaces brand will follow in around four years’ time.
However, unlike most Regus centres, this bricks-and-mortar Malacca outpost will have quite a different function. The aim is to offer a base for members using Regus’ virtual office product – providing the city’s nomadic workforce with a casual, drop-in workspace, accessed by anyone with a virtual pass.
Virtual offices have played a crucial role during the pandemic, allowing businesses to start building a presence in any location without the need for travel. But Sir Ley’s vision for the Malacca centres is more ambitious than that. She believes virtual offices will continue to grow in popularity long into the future – Covid-19 has merely highlighted why they are such an important vehicle for cross-border collaboration and growth into new markets.
In Asia, she explains, many business owners and professionals have been forced to take up new ventures in order to make ends meet, after losing their jobs and livelihoods overnight. “You might see an airline pilot who cannot fly at the moment turning their hand to new ventures,” she says.
“Some of them have done so well that they want to start their own new business.” It’s too much to expect these fledgling entrepreneurs to immediately “invest a lot of money to rent a place, renovate, to hire staff, when business is not there yet,” she explains. “The best initial start is to get a virtual office, to keep the costs low and to try to work out whether the business is going to be a success before making bigger commitments.”
Entrepreneurs and small business owners have even discovered they can successfully run a business abroad, remotely – without the huge overheads usually associated with international trading. The virtual office product taking centre stage in Malacca is designed to support them, providing a fixed business address and landline, with maintenance and office equipment included.
Helping companies futureproof themselves against Covid-related restrictions and similar crises is an integral part of Sir Ley’s plan for her centres. As a bonus, members will receive business coaching from Sheng Tai, including learning new, more efficient ways of working.
But the physical office is still a vital part of business life, she insists. Bricks-and-mortar workplaces such as Malacca’s Regus centre become more important, says Sir Ley, as businesses grow and build their corporate image. The new flexspace centres are also needed to meet the needs of larger companies, which require office spaces on a more regular basis.
In the meantime, Dato’ Leong Sir Ley is excited to see how the Malacca centres energise the local business community. “Virtual offices are the lifestyle of the future,” she enthuses. “We hope once the Regus and Spaces centres open and are a success, we can expand even further.”
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