There was a time when the benchmarks for innovative and inspiring workspaces in Singapore were the offices of multinational tech giants such as Facebook and Google. Recently, more companies are rehauling their offices to help employees feel more relaxed, encourage collaboration and for them to come up with creative ideas.
Mr Brendan Khor, executive director of integrated design and build company ID21, which specialises in corporate and workplace interiors, says space planning used to be about fitting in headcounts and achieving an efficient work flow, but “it’s just not that simple anymore”.
“Workplace strategy is now focused on creating spaces that allow employees to realise their potential. Companies are applying more focus on collaboration between teams and breaking down silos, while bringing diverse expertise and backgrounds together,” he says.
As a result of these new wants, certain design trends have emerged. One is to have flexible areas, where meeting rooms can be opened up to create gathering spaces for townhalls or to host events. Another is having informal collaboration spaces with writable walls and which are usually positioned close to personal workstations for quick discussions to take place. Yet another popular feature is a cafe-like pantry that has more than a water point or a microwave oven. Revamped pantries are stocked with food and beverages and are spaces where people can relax and refuel.
Employee wellness is a key focus, says Mr Benjamin Breen, managing director of design and build consultancy Space Matrix, because offices can attract and retain talent.
“By providing new amenities such as a gym, game rooms and relaxation zones, the workplace can be turned into a destination employees look forward to coming to.
“If staff enjoy spending time in the office, they will in turn be more productive, innovative and creative,” he says.
Because clients are more willing to experiment, design firms say they have done projects that have resulted in unusual features. These include indoor cricket pitches, a sports bar, treadmill desks and even scooters and tracks marked out on the flooring to encourage staff to get moving and have fun.
Big On Nature
You can take a nap – openly – at work if you are one of about 1,000 employees at insurance firm Prudential Singapore, which opened its new corporate office at Marina One East Tower earlier this month. Staff can do so in rest pods that look like magnetic resonance imaging machines, and which provide the user with privacy. There are also three mothers’ rooms across the 80,000 sq ft office, which is spread out over two floors. These rooms can be booked ahead of time, so mums need not stress about whether they can keep to their milk-expressing schedule because the room is occupied by someone else.
Such new amenities are a result of the company’s attempt to transform its workplace into a “Workplayce”, where work and play are integrated.
Mr Gaurab Banerji, head of digital and office transformation at Prudential Singapore, says the new office promotes a work culture where “everyone has the autonomy to decide on how, when and where work gets done”.
In other words, an open work environment where the walls of hierarchy are broken down and where creativity and collaboration are encouraged. Prudential is one of the top life insurance companies in Singapore, operating here for the past 86 years. Its old premises was a typical office with cubicles and a fixed desk structure. The new one has no assigned desks for staff – not even Prudential Singapore’s chief executive Wilf Blackburn.
If they wish to refuel, staff can head to a “barista bar”, a cafe that serves anything from fresh fruit juices to sandwiches. It runs on a pay-as-you-wish scheme and all funds collected are donated to charity. The renovation was done by local design and build consultancy Space Matrix. Nature is a key inspiration in its plans. Blue and green accents bring to mind water and forests. Located at central linkways are a water tunnel and a lush green tunnel. The former has water cascading down the sides of the walkway, while the latter showcases an array of plants and motion sensors set off sounds of birds chirping.
Other nature-inspired nooks include reflection pools surrounding elevated meeting rooms, which give the impression that the rooms are floating above water.
Space Matrix’s managing director Benjamin Breen says: “Design elements can help turn normal spaces into a destination that encourages connectivity and collaboration to boost productivity, and help to create a relaxing environment for employees.”
Work Meets Play
Influences from the region are worked into the interiors of Danone’s six-month-old Singapore office in Tanjong Pagar. Occupying about 29,000 sq ft across an entire floor at its Guoco Tower location at Tanjong Pagar Centre, the office serves about 200 employees and opened in April this year. Danone is a multinational food product company, which owns famous labels including spring water brand Evian and manufactures milk brands Dumex and Aptamil. The new office is separated into two kinds of spaces: dynamic spaces which comprise a mix of both formal and informal areas that allow for conversations, meetings and brainstorming sessions; and residential spaces that house individual workspaces, lockers and quieter areas for better concentration.
All the spaces are meant to provide employees with “a homely feeling and a sense of pride”, says Ms Chetna Manglik, talent director of Danone’s Asia Pacific and Middle-East region. At the bright and cheerful Singapore-themed pantry, which features Peranakan tiles and a foosball table, staff can help themselves to snacks such as energy bars, biscuits, yogurt and water from brands affiliated with the company. A Japan-themed informal area comes with sofas and cabinets in the light pink shade of cherry blossoms, while delicate origami birds float above a seating area. The China-themed informal area is decorated in red, with Oriental-inspired furniture and bamboo decor. The area also hosts two stationary bicycles which, when in motion, can power mobile phones.
Formal areas also have a chic feel. Take an Indonesia-themed meeting room, for instance: It comes with muslin curtains and blue and white upholstered chairs, while woven rattan baskets pattern the walls. To encourage employees to think out of the box, there is a creativity room with large beanbags and suspended swings in place of seats around a meeting table. A chair hangs upside-down from the ceiling and employees can pen down points on writable walls.
A Sense Of Place With Bursts Of Colour
The five coloured dots in hotel website Agoda’s logo – red, yellow, green, purple and blue – are put to good use at its new office in Guoco Tower at Tanjong Pagar Centre. Near the entrance is a colourful seating area that is designed and shaped to look like the five dots. The five colours also find their way into furniture, carpeted areas and the backdrops of meeting rooms and other spaces in the 18,000 sq ft office that has been home to about 100 employees since January this year. Wallpaper depicting local attractions and scenery are seen throughout the space.
One scene depicts skydivers descending towards the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay. Another shows the iconic Old Hill Street Police Station building, which dates back to 1934. Its windows used to be grey, but are now rainbow-hued following a transformation project in the late 1990s.
“We wanted to have a sense of place and connect the office with Singapore,” says Mr Peter Allen, managing director of Agoda Outside. Agoda Outside is the company’s public affairs arm.
Other noteworthy features include writable and collapsible walls. The latter allows for spaces to be opened up and converted from meeting rooms to townhall-style spaces within minutes. Offices of higher-level employees are also deliberately located away from the window perimeter, so that the privilege of having good views and natural lighting is shared by all.
This story first appeared on www.straitstimes.com