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This is the office of the future

As workers become more flexible and agile, companies are using the workplace to attract, engage and retain talent.

Dread going to work? Maybe you have too much on your plate. Or maybe it’s the workplace itself, where too much noise or visual distractions, insufficient meeting rooms and collaboration spaces can affect your output.

Organisations are increasingly recognising this, and are looking for ways to create the right environment for employees to perform at their best.

Says Peter Andrew, executive director of workplace strategies for Asia Pacific at CBRE Singapore, “Workplace strategy is the alignment of the design and operation of a workplace with the strategy of a business. It’s about understanding how people, space, technology and behaviour come together to optimise how work happens, whilst also optimising the investment in real estate.”

Put simply, from a real estate perspective, companies are looking to optimise the capital expenditure and operational expenditure involved in the workplace. From a people’s perspective, companies want to attract and retain talent, help people get their job done faster and better, and transform culture and business processes.

(Related: Singapore’s coolest office bonding space is now this igloo at Clarke Quay)

 

Not every firm is Google

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as providing cool chill out spaces and free lunches. Derek MacKenzie, managing director at design firm, Designphase Dba, says, “Too many clients cite Google’s workplace as an inspiration. The truth is, Google’s office space is great for Google, but it’s more likely to be entirely inappropriate for the majority of companies.” Neither does it mean that the popular open-plan office is the way to go.

“Each office will have its own idiosyncrasies, structure, history, ambition, operational rhythm, culture and character. If the designer is clever, these issues will be capitalised upon and built into the concept,” adds Mr MacKenzie.

Space Matrix’s director of workplace strategy and insights, Su-San Tan says, “A workplace strategy should be intelligent, intuitive and conscious. It involves a clear set of choices that define what the organisation is going to do and what it is not going to do.”

By ‘intelligent’, Ms Tan means that the design of the workplace has to take into consideration current and future industry trends, how the organisation is run, and how it wants to evolve over time. “Intuitive means that the workplace needs to be simple and make sense, and employees know how to use each space,” she says. “Lastly, conscious means to keep in mind that the workplace must be designed with a human-centric approach.”

She elaborates that “at the end of the day, it is about employees feeling happier. If you want people to be productive and to do the best that they can, they need to have a landscape in which they can flourish.”

(Related: Why Happiness Is Important for Companies to Succeed, Says Google’s former Head of Personal Growth)

 

Cool features to attract tenants

It is not only organisations who are redesigning their workplaces. Beyond changing the physical space, landlords and building owners are introducing new features to attract and retain tenants.

“As the global workforce becomes increasingly mobile, companies and executives are now looking for workspaces with differentiated tech-enabled solutions that integrate community experiences and value-added services,” says Chew Peet Mun, managing director, commercial, at CapitaLand Singapore.

At Funan, tenants gain access to the office building through facial recognition. CapitaSpring at Raffles Place, which will be completed in 2021, will also include provisions for facial recognition access. While there are already meeting rooms that offer skyline views, CapitaSpring will also be one of the first buildings in Singapore to have meeting rooms in a sky-rise garden.

(Related: 7 reasons to check out the revamped Funan)

Over at Capital Tower, senior executives can host exclusive networking sessions in MARK, a luxurious members-only business club.

Mr Chew adds that CapitaLand’s ‘office of the future’ is designed to “engender a culture of innovation, promote talent attraction and retention as well as optimise cost efficiency for tenants.”

He explains that this strategy entails the integration of conventional office space (core) and flexible space (flex) – coworking space being one of the types – into an innovative workplace solution. Under this core-flex model, conventional tenants can book flex spaces and amenities while small and medium enterprises in coworking spaces can lease core workspaces as their businesses grow.

City Developments Limited (CDL) recently launched an app for its tenants at Republic Plaza (RP) to enhance the user experience and convenience. The CityNexus app allows tenants to access a myriad of value-added services such as building access, meeting room bookings, air-con extension requests and building feedback submissions.

For a smooth visitor experience, tenants can also provide their guests with direct turnstile entry and book dedicated VIP parking lots. In addition, over half of RP’s F&B tenants have signed up for an ‘Order-Pay-Collect’ function on CityNexus, where customers can view menus, order and pay for their food from these outlets. Users receive a notification once their food is ready for collection.

In the near future, CityNexus users can make reservations at RP’s F&B outlets, saving them the need to queue. CtyNexus will be introduced in other CDL properties.

Sherman Kwek, CDL’s group CEO says, “Beyond infrastructure and space efficiency upgrades, we leveraged innovation and technology to redefine user experience through CityNexus, transforming RP into a smart workplace of the future. The app interface is intuitive, bringing convenience at the touch of a finger.”

He adds, “we have seen positive rental reversions at RP and achieved strong committed occupancy of over 90 per cent, with the retail space fully leased after our asset enhancement initiative.”

Just like how CDL has CityNexus, property firm Lendlease has an app for tenants at Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ). The PLQ Workplace app integrates all tenant and visitor services through a single platform, tailored to address the occupant’s needs in a future grade workplace. The app allows cardless access to the building, and tenants can stay connected to PLQ’s workplace ecosystem with key updates, resources and offers exclusively for tenants.

Technology aside, the firm has also invested in amenities for tenants that encourage active mobility. For example, PLQ provides ample bicycle parking spaces, shower and locker services for tenants who ride to work.

PLQ’s general manager Audrey Balakrishnan says, “A healthy environment supports a sense of wellbeing and encourages productivity, which is why initiatives to improve health and wellness are now a priority for many companies.”

She adds, “Research shows that considering occupants’ health and wellness in building design offers long-term financial and health benefits.” PLQ’s office towers are also the first in Singapore to register for WELL Core & Shell certification, the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on increasing the wellbeing and productivity of occupants.

(Related: City Developments Limited: Outstanding properties in Singapore)

 

Giving the workplace that human touch

Organisations and building owners who want to enhance the user experience for their tenants but don’t know where to start can turn to First Contact.

The Australian firm brings premium hotel-style services into the corporate world. Its CEO, Paul Schmeja says First Contact helps with both visitor and employee experience.

When the firm first started in 2006, it offered building owners a front of house concierge service. Mr Schmeja explains that back then, the first person that visitors saw was often a security guard.

“We felt that the first point of contact could be better presented and be more welcoming,” he says.

First Contact only hires top personnel from the hotel and airline sectors, as they have strong hospitality skills.

While the firm started as a concierge service to help visitors, it has seen a shift to enhancing employee experience. Mr Schmeja says that as workplace thinking becomes more agile and automated, it’s more important to nurture a sense of security, belonging and community. “Our Workplace Concierge concept lends the ‘human overlay’ workplaces today need to help employees navigate the complexities of the modern office, and form an emotional, social connection in a world that has become increasingly digital.”

What this means is that organisations will hire First Contact, and have their staff be the concierge for company employees. The concierge can be tasked to help employees with little details such as troubleshooting an IT problem, setting up a big screen for presentations, to scoring hard-to-get restaurant reservations and even concert tickets.

“It saves the employee from having to figure out how to log a job, or who to speak to. They only need to go to the concierge,” says Mr Schmeja.

(Related: The rise of co-working spaces)

 

A case study

One organisation which has seen positive change since moving into a new workspace, where tech and the human touch are both equally important, is property firm JLL Asia Pacific. At its new premises in PLQ, snazzy features have been put in. There is no formal reception; instead visitors step up to a concierge desk, and JLL’s community managers help to host them. There is a coffee bar where employees get their caffeine fix, and another bar, where beer is served on tap.

Inside the proper work areas, all employees hot desk, and there are different types of work settings enabling employees to move to ‘desk for a task’ versus ‘desk for a day’.

Employees use an app to access their lockers, book meeting rooms, and to see where empty desks are. There is a studio where free yoga and meditation classes are held, and a comfortably-furnished room for nursing mothers and a prayer room.

Its CEO, Anthony Couse says response to the new office has been positive. Some changes he sees are employees chatting with those not in their department more frequently, and preferring to lunch in the office rather than going out.

Mr Couse believes that the new workspace will result in greater productivity and efficiency. “It is still too early to say, since we have only moved in a month, but I’m confident that the profit and revenue tagged to each staff will grow,” he says.

“We want our employees to treat the office as their home, be happy here as they would be in their own house,” he says.

(Related: Office Reconstructed: To network with top minds, head to co-working spaces)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.