Forum: Circuit breaker reshaped value of office space

Mr Foo Sing Kheng's view that employees should return to working in the office seems to suggest that the status quo of the past should be maintained (Employees should not oppose return to office, April 6). It is this mindset that has kept Singapore's productivity low.

While I agree with the notion that Singapore's recent history has been one of consistent economic growth, it would be wrong to assume that the "normal" of the past was perfect and that we need to return to that "normal".

Contrary to what Mr Foo says, the hybrid work arrangement is not a privilege but a necessity brought about by a deadly disease.

If Covid-19 did anything for us, it was to highlight certain fault lines in our perspective of "normal".

The circuit breaker showed that it was not office workers who were essential to society's existence, but groups that received little attention, such as cleaners and rubbish collectors.

Last year's circuit breaker also showed us that modern technology has enabled us to work remotely, away from an expensive office in the Central Business District.

In my social circle, I heard from bosses, particularly entrepreneurial business owners, that they found being away from the office "liberating" and "more productive".

It was employees, particularly the administrative workers, who missed the office. The reasons for missing the office were social. Offices are primarily social gathering spots functioning as workplaces.

Having worked in corporate insolvency for the last six years, I have noticed that rent is one of the biggest costs businesses face in Singapore.

How do landlords add value to the economy? They do not make anything or provide innovation that adds value to any business. All they do is provide space.

While this may be a necessity for, say, a retail business or a factory, does a professional firm really need to spend so much on a space where people get together and sit down for eight hours a day to churn out pieces of paper?

Offices will still be necessary. However, we should not force everyone to fill up spaces for eight hours a day, when that time and money could be spent doing things that actually add value to the business.

Reducing the importance of offices will help grow entrepreneurship and, in turn, create a Singaporean core in the job market.

Tang Li

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