South Korea's Smart Work Centers, by Citiscope

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: July 2014
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Interior office space

According to a June 18 Citiscope article by Frances Heewon Cha, “Is This Office the Future of Government Work?,” South Korean government workers already may be working in “the office setup of the future.” The federal and municipal governments both operate “smart work centers” that enable many employees to avoid long commutes at least several days a week. The centers are “equipped with open cubicles, glass-walled private offices, state-of-the-art video conferencing capabilities and an airy break room with refreshments. Each desk comes with a computer and photocopiers; printers and stationery are also available.” 

The Korean Ministry of Security and Public Administration runs nine smart work centers in Seoul, as well as one in Sejong (to which much of the federal government relocated from Seoul, beginning in 2006) and four more in other cities. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has its own dedicated smart work center; city workers also can use the federal facilities.

“In general, centers located in residential areas are getting less use than ones that are located near transit hubs and cater to people on business trips,” the article notes. “The residential centers have usage rates of between 40 percent and 60 percent. Meanwhile the business-trip centers have usage rates of between 150 percent and 200 percent, meaning that a desk gets used by more than one person throughout the day. A center located in Seoul Station, a major rail hub for the entire country, has the largest capacity and also is the most popular.”

“The National Information Society Agency estimates that each smart work center accounts for $140,670 U.S. in saved transportation costs and 27 tons in CO2 reduction annually.  If the NIA is to be believed, even the birth rate has been affected, rising from a world-low of 1.14 in 2009 to 1.3 in 2012.” Yet “noonchi,” “the fear of not working as hard as one’s boss, remains a Korean cultural obstacle to use of the centers.”