Building better ways to work together

Employees in HubSpot's trendy office can choose to work anywhere that best suits them. Such concepts allow better collaboration and build a strong sense of community, says its managing director. "Not even our chief executive has his own office."
Employees in HubSpot's trendy office can choose to work anywhere that best suits them. Such concepts allow better collaboration and build a strong sense of community, says its managing director. "Not even our chief executive has his own office."PHOTO: HUBSPOT

Creative office spaces can improve work output, but also risk being white elephants

Workplaces, they are a-changing.

Reports that Apple is spending an estimated US$5 billion (S$6.74 billion) on its new flying saucer- shaped campus or Amazon putting up tree-filled "spheres" so staff can hold meetings in forests are making waves in Silicon Valley.

In Singapore, many companies are also embracing creative and innovative workplaces - like cubicle-free workstations, recreational areas and even mindfulness rooms - to motivate staff and lift productivity.

Experts see benefits in having these new-age office spaces, but warn against facilities that may end up being white elephants.

"Brighter and colourful workplaces can help to lift moods and motivate staff," said Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore.

A good example is Denmark's Lego Group with its glitzy new building with an indoor prairie, open space and yellow staircases, as well as a mini-golf course on the roof.

  • HUBSPOT'S OFFICE

    Electronic desk spaces that convert from sitting to standing position at the push of a button

    Employees in HubSpot's trendy office can choose to work anywhere that best suits them. Such concepts allow better collaboration and build a strong sense of community, says its managing director. "Not even our chief executive has his own office."

    Nomad desks enable employees to work from a space they choose

    Mother's room

    Employees in HubSpot's trendy office can choose to work anywhere that best suits them. Such concepts allow better collaboration and build a strong sense of community, says its managing director. "Not even our chief executive has his own office."

    Kitchen stocked with various snacks

    Dedicated quiet space

Lego boss Jorgen Vig Knudstorp said it was the firm's answer to staff who had outgrown their offices.

Google, too, will have a futuristic design for its headquarters, described by some as a "spiderweb canopy utopia", while Airbus just inaugurated its Wings Campus with a big canteen, fitness centre and collaborative office space.

And it is not just the big boys that have copyright on the cool workspace.

Salesforce, a provider of customer relations management solutions and business software on the cloud, has adopted new design standards that include a green carpet that blurs into gravel-like paths, natural wood desks, social corners and mindfulness rooms on every floor where employees can take a break from their hectic work and meditate.

"We embraced core (design) principles that felt warm and collaborative," said Ms Edweena Stratton, the company's vice-president of employee success in the Apac region. Their office space focuses on creating a standard that promotes fun, sustainability and employee wellness.

The company will adopt the same design concepts for its new offices here by next year.

Talking about the benefits of an open-space culture, Mr David Jones, senior managing director at Robert Half Asia Pacific, said that besides being cost effective,taking away physical boundaries makes it easier for employees to interact and bounce ideas off each other.

"This doesn't have a positive impact only on creativity and innovation; it can also further enhance employee engagement and boost office morale," he said.

One firm that closely follows open-plan office spaces is HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform that recently opened a Singapore branch.

HubSpot's trendy office includes electronic desk spaces that convert from sitting to standing position at the push of a button, nomad desks to enable employees to work from a space they choose best, a mother's room, a kitchen with beer-on-tap facilities and a dedicated quiet space.

"HubSpot holds transparency in the highest regard," said managing director Jeetu Mahtani.

"Not even our chief executive has his own office." He pointed out that open spaces in the office promote collaboration and build a strong sense of community.

Many offices have also permitted other perks such as a relaxed dress code, unlimited vacations (as long as one gets the job done) and flexible work times - changes that seem to coincide with more and more millenials entering the workforce.

Many firms acknowledged the role millennials have played in changing workplace culture, but emphasised that ways in which employees live and work have shifted across multiple generations.

Experts also said that office designs are dependent on the business nature and employee profiles of a firm, and open plans may not be everyone's cup of tea - like consultancy and finance firms who want to have a more grounded image. Some offices may also maximise space efficiency by doubling their use for activities like seminars.

"The key is what exactly employers want to achieve with the space," said Ms Teo. She said fancy spots may impress clients but have limited impact on employees who have no time to utilise them. She gave an example of massage chairs, which may be pointless if employees can enjoy them only during lunch time.

"Employers shouldn't be putting in recreational spots which could potentially end up being white elephants," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Building better ways to work together'. Print Edition | Subscribe