National Design Centre exhibition imagines future offices centred around pantry

Mr Marcus Phua, demonstrating how to control the colour and brightness of the light with an app. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - In a post-pandemic office, the centre of operations could be the pantry.

An exhibition on the future of offices at the National Design Centre launched on Thursday (April 8) is as provocative as it is timely, coming as more employees are being recalled to their workplace.

Featuring mood lighting, ergonomic tables and open-concept collaborative spaces, it posits that the office as we 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 drives 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.

Said Ms Narita Cheah, co-founder and director of Paperspace Asia, the consultancy which put together the exhibition in just eight weeks: "Looking back over the past 50 years, the question around work-life and the purpose of the office had never taken centre stage. We have 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 for some companies long been an unwelcome necessity tucked into a dark corner of its 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 than cafes or meeting rooms.

If the organisers of the exhibition have their way, the pantry will 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, yet another office feature that has become more prominent amid the prevalence of Zoom calls during this period, is also shown to be capable of being a safe space with adjustable lighting and soothing acoustics that remove the distracting background buzz many have become accustomed to while taking their calls outside the office.

Guest of honour at the launch Mark Wee, the executive director of Design Singapore Council, said companies -and their staff - have to decide how best to balance between the real desire to work from home and the need to be in the office for social and collaborative reasons.

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

"A whole new world awaits. This is a topic on everyone's minds and perhaps by coming here, we will come up with some 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 at a nominal sum.

Soundproof booths has become more prominent amid the prevalence of Zoom calls during this period. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

A boot camp of sorts, representatives from these companies can work in their space for three to four days before giving their bosses feedback on which features are best suited for their work.

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

By confining the brightest points to a specific area, employees' eyes get more exercise and consequently might be more productive at work.

Ms Cheah added: "As Singapore opens up its economy and continues to adapt 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 will run till May 13.

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