Firms modifying or doing away with office space in new normal

Creative agency DDB Group Singapore has removed old cupboards and closed off pantries to create areas for "pods", or mini rooms, for employees to make video calls with more privacy. PHOTO: JEFF CHEONG
Creative agency DDB Group Singapore has removed old cupboards and closed off pantries to create areas for "pods", or mini rooms, for employees to make video calls with more privacy. PHOTO: JEFF CHEONG

Some companies are modifying their office space in the light of the increasing prevalence of people having to work from home.

Take creative agency DDB Group Singapore, whose office is in the Kallang area.

The firm has removed old cupboards and closed off pantries to create areas for "pods", or mini rooms.

The pods, which were completed last week, allow employees to make video calls in private, even though only 10 per cent of the company's 300-strong staff come into the office. Everyone else works from home.

Deputy chief executive Jeff Cheong said building the rooms was part of a number of physical changes to the office as the firm adjusts to the new normal of having split teams for what may be a very long time.

"Everyone holds video calls for meetings all the time now, and it can get very loud and distracting if people are shouting into their microphones," he said.

"Some changes to the way the office is designed are necessary as we adapt to new ways of working."

Staff will also hot-desk rather than have designated desks as most of them do not need to be in the building.

Other plans include reducing the total office space - now spread over three levels - by up to 15 per cent, which will bring rental reductions, he added.

Such changes come after Education Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairman of the multi-ministry task force fighting Covid-19, advised companies to make work-from-home the default mode for many months to come.

Human resource technology firm PeopleStrong did away with office space altogether after its lease at co-working space WeWork expired recently. Its staff of around 10 now all work from home.

 
 
 
 

Mr Adrian Tan, the company's practice leader for the future of work tech, said: "It didn't make sense for us to pay for an office that we won't go back to, at least for an indefinite period of time."

But associate professor of management and organisation Sam Yam of the National University of Singapore Business School warned: "Removing physical office spaces does save money from a short-term perspective, but at what costs?

"Research has shown that positive social interactions with colleagues and supervisors build strong social relationships, which in turn leads to higher levels of satisfaction and commitment, and lower levels of turnover.

"All of these factors contribute to the long-term success of any firm."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2020, with the headline 'Firms modifying or doing away with office space in new normal'. Print Edition | Subscribe