Chance to innovate amid new workplace normal: Chan

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and founder and chief executive of JustCo, Mr Kong Wan Sing, checking out the Switch work booth yesterday.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and JustCo founder and chief executive Kong Wan Sing checking out the Switch work booth on Dec 16, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Since the end of October, almost 30 soundproof work booths have been placed across nine malls in Singapore as Covid-19 fuels new demand for flexible workspaces.

Customers can pay $3.60 an hour to work in these booths through an app called Switch, which was developed by Singapore-based co-working firm JustCo.

The changing nature of work and workplaces has created a new market where Singapore business can innovate, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

He was speaking at JustCo's outlet at The Centrepoint, where the company launched its Digital Future of Work Platform to showcase its new digital technologies.

Mr Chan elaborated on what he saw as the "three disruptions" brought on by Covid-19 to the traditional idea of work.

First, he expressed his belief that the nature of work has changed, particularly with regard to the need for fixed office space.

Also, the advent of remote working and the fast technological cycle means many companies are "increasingly less willing to commit to long leases for office space".

"Many of the companies may also want... to scale up very quickly, (for) which the traditional business model of taking long leases for huge office spaces may not be the most appropriate," said Mr Chan.

The third disruption centres on traditional retail.

Mr Chan said e-commerce has changed the relationship between tenants and landlords, and that conventional malls such as The Centrepoint will have to re-evaluate how to optimise space and maximise value for shareholders.

Thus, there is a need for continued innovation so that Singapore can distinguish itself in the new normal, said Mr Chan.

At the event, JustCo also announced a spatial analytics tool, SixSense. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide real-time assessment of JustCo's co-working premises, to ensure crowd control and adherence to safe distancing.

SixSense, which comes under JustCo's suite of new smart workspace technologies, will also help the firm design better workplaces.

Mr Kong Wan Sing, founder and chief executive of JustCo, said millions have been invested in these innovations, which were designed by REinvent, a proptech innovation studio owned by JustCo.

Although Switch and SixSense were conceptualised last year, the onset of Covid-19 accelerated the pace of work on these projects.

"People are looking to work on an on-demand... and flexible basis," said Mr Kong. "This is where JustCo comes into the picture... to provide all these flexible solutions."

JustCo is just one of many companies that are looking to reinvent their workspaces post-pandemic.

Earlier this month, Germany-based company Infineon announced that it will spend $27 million over the next three years to embed AI into every job function within its Singapore hub.

Digital banking is also on the rise, with licences being awarded to tech giant Sea and the Grab-Singtel consortium.

"Of course, the jury is still out on how Covid-19 has transformed people's work patterns," said Mr Chan.

Still, he called for more companies to see this fast-changing time as a chance to pursue innovative ideas and seize new opportunities.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2020, with the headline Chance to innovate amid new workplace normal: Chan. Subscribe