Imagine future offices centred on the pantry

Exhibition aims to get visitors to appreciate scope for change from current office set-ups

Above left: Design Singapore Council executive director Mark Wee and Paperspace Asia co-founder Narita Cheah trying out an interactive exhibit at The Office, Disrupted: Redesigning The Workplace In A Time Of Change at the National Design Centre yeste
Mr Marcus Phua, managing director of Luxspace, which provides lighting solutions, demonstrating how to control the colour and brightness of a smart light with an app. The panels suspended above him and on the wall are acoustic furnishings. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN
Above left: Design Singapore Council executive director Mark Wee and Paperspace Asia co-founder Narita Cheah trying out an interactive exhibit at The Office, Disrupted: Redesigning The Workplace In A Time Of Change at the National Design Centre yeste
Design Singapore Council executive director Mark Wee and Paperspace Asia co-founder Narita Cheah trying out an interactive exhibit at The Office, Disrupted: Redesigning The Workplace In A Time Of Change at the National Design Centre yesterday. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

In the post-pandemic office, the centre of operations could be the pantry. An exhibition on the future of offices, launched yesterday at the National Design Centre, is as provocative as it is timely, coming as more employees are being recalled to their workplaces.

Featuring mood lighting, ergonomic tables and open-concept collaborative spaces, it posits that the office as workers know it has been changed forever by the Covid-19 pandemic, in a "fourth industrial revolution" that will leave those who cannot keep up behind.

The Office, Disrupted: Redesigning The Workplace In A Time Of Change traces the evolution of workspaces since the first assembly line and incorporates interactive games that drive home the frustrations many have experienced working remotely in the past year.

But it is the carefully constructed model workspaces, centring on workers' comfort, that will get visitors to appreciate how much scope there is for change from today's often clinical and alienating corporate set-ups.

Ms Narita Cheah, co-founder and director of consultancy Paperspace Asia, which put together the exhibition, said: "Looking back over the past 50 years, the question around work-life and the purpose of the office had never taken centre stage.

"We accepted a pattern and rhythm of work-life and never quite questioned it till the pandemic revealed what was possible across the globe. Many of us never had a choice or never knew we had a choice, and had assumed the status quo for far too long."

The pantry, for instance, has long been an unwelcome necessity for some companies, tucked into a dark corner of their premises.

The exhibition puts it front and centre, as a welcoming space for employees to relax and talk, where the best ideas are generated in a purposeful setting more conducive to discussions compared with cafes or meeting rooms.

If the exhibition organisers had their way, the pantry would occupy a much larger area, with furniture suited for Asian heights and attractive to even the most hardened of work-from-home advocates.

Soundproof booths, another office feature that has become more prominent amid the prevalence of Zoom calls during this period, are also shown as capable of being a safe space, with adjustable lighting and soothing acoustics that remove any background noise.

Mr Mark Wee, executive director of the Design Singapore Council, said companies and workers must decide how best to balance the desire to work from home with the need to be in the office for social and collaborative reasons.

"How should the office look? The office disrupted is a reality - we all face it. The way we redesign our offices will affect the design of jobs, buildings and urban spaces in the future," he said.

"A whole new world awaits. This is a topic on everyone's mind and perhaps by coming here, we will get new eyes to look at the world ahead as a really fun, positive one."

As part of the launch, companies can try out the redesigned workspace at Paperspace Asia's offices at the National Design Centre for a nominal sum. Company representatives can work in the space for three to four days before giving their bosses feedback on which features would best suit them.

Tweaks can be as simple as lighting, with a little-known fact being that the homogeneous, overexposed lighting of many offices can be tiring on the eyes and stressful to staff working long hours.

Ms Cheah said: "As Singapore... continues to adapt to a post-pandemic narrative, an ongoing journey of change is inevitable. Instead of fighting it, let's embrace it and perhaps lead it."

The exhibition runs till May 13.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2021, with the headline 'Imagine future offices centred on the pantry'. Subscribe