Stylish offices keep employees engaged

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 25, 2013

GOING to work can be a drudge for many people so it certainly does not help if your office is as drab and dreary as your mood.

Human resource consultants believe firms that make an effort to create a welcoming office environment will lead to people enjoying going to work more - and will bring about intangible benefits like staff retention.

Mr Ian Grundy, the Asian head of marketing and communications for recruitment consultant Adecco Group, tells The Straits Times: "We all want to work in inspirational places that not only are cool - but that also are functional and that support workplace efficiency."

Robert Walters Singapore associate director Joanne Chua agrees, saying: "Having a nice or cool office is evident that the senior management is putting effort into the well-being of employees by ensuring they have a conducive environment to work in."

Companies do not always prioritise the layout and look of their office, often because of budget or space constraints.

But if more effort can be put into creating a better work environment, staff might feel more motivated, especially Singaporeans, who are among the least engaged employees in the world. A Gallup poll in October found that only 9 per cent of Singapore employees are emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their firms, against the global average of 13 per cent.

Gallup polled about 224,000 staff from around 140 countries.

Of course, other factors like salaries or job prospects could account for an employee's lack of motivation, not simply the type of office environment.

Ms Chua says: "More defining factors include the job scope, chemistry with the immediate manager, corporate culture within the organisation, and the opportunities for future growth."

Still, having a pleasant office can whittle down the employee's push factors when considering whether to stay or go.

Mr Grundy says: "With Singapore's tight labour market, hiring companies always need to offer competitive and fair remuneration packages - that's a given.

"However, office environment does play a part in attracting talent - as does the products or services that a company offers."

With that in mind, some employers - Ascendas, Cisco, SAP, Spencer Ogden and Warner Music - are not scrimping when it comes to having an aesthetically delightful design layout. A common theme for these five offices is a bright and cheery setting, with plenty of natural light or vibrant colours that can chase away even the worst Monday blues.

A fun twist to the term climbing up the workladder

FORGET run-of-the-mill, standardised desks or cubicles with high partitions at the office of property firm Ascendas.

Its regional HQ is a model of efficient use of space. Take the two-storey cubes that function as workstations. Much like a bunk bed, you climb a short flight of stairs to the second level of the workstation.

Desks and chairs can be found on both levels, giving staff a choice of where they want to work. The cubes come in different colours and designs, ensuring it is never a dull day at work.

Located at The Galen building in Singapore Science Park II, the Ascendas office has a floor area of about 52,000 square feet.

The lobby also makes optimal use of space, doubling up as a place for people to rest, have their meals or host special events.

Environmental sustainability is another key feature of the office, which Ascendas moved into in 2011.

It lowers its energy consumption by having high window panels to allow more daylight to filter in. Also, furniture and furnishings are made from recycled or recyclable materials where possible.

Chief development planning officer Arthur Aw says: "By opening up The Galen's lobby, integrating the interior space with the exterior, and transforming it into a chic human-centric space that is naturally well-lit and well-ventilated, it has promoted dining, working, and even meeting in an alfresco environment among our staff."

Get your own 'office cubicle on wheels'

RICKETY modes of transport like trishaws seem to have no place at a high-tech firm like Cisco Systems Singapore but they have a role in the office.

The trishaws - spanking new and of modern design - form part of Cisco's unusual approach where staff can pick their favourite spots to work from, including bean bags.

The trishaws function like an office cubicle, but instead of a normal desk, staff can place their laptops on special holders fixed to the trishaw while seated in the passenger seat. For the less adventurous, cubicles with desks and chairs are available at the 120,000 sq ft office at UE BizHub East in Changi Business Park.

Mr Joshua Soh, managing director for Cisco in Singapore and Brunei, says all staff have a broad choice of workspaces and technology tools to do their jobs.

"Employees have the freedom to choose their environment based on the requirements of their current task," he adds.

It is not just about work. The company has various relaxation corners with massage chairs too.

Recreation is not forgotten either. Games areas are available for staff to take a break and try their hand at air hockey and video games, among other activities.

Understanding that the future workspace will not revolve around the desk, Cisco utilises its technology to allow staff to work remotely so they do not even have to step into the office.

Programme manager Kwok Wai Mui appreciates the flexibility of working from home when needed.

The married mother of two has the freedom to run her errands in the day and before working again after dinner. "I still work a full eight-hour or 10-hour day, but I'm in control of my time," she says.

Facilities galore for rest and recreation

FOOD takes a central role amid the clean, modern-looking furnishings at the SAP Asia-Pacific Japan office at the Mapletree Business City in Pasir Panjang.

There is an in-house cafe that serves a variety of food and drinks throughout the day and spacious pantries are on all levels.

The software solutions firm also holds regular functions like wine and cheese tasting classes, healthy cooking workshops and beer festivals for staff to unwind.

Senior executives often pop by the pantries to interact with employees, helping to raise the participation rate in executive dialogue sessions.

Colourful furniture that breaks the monotony of normal meeting rooms also helps facilitate discussions in work areas.

And if employees are worn-out after a hard day's work or just need to lie down after a full lunch, they can do it legitimately in the office, which occupies about 134,000 sq ft across 31/2 levels.

SAP has installed a sleeping pod - a contoured couch with a cover that can be drawn over the top half of the body - for staff to take power naps.

If employees prefer physical activities instead, they can opt for workouts on a whole body vibration fitness machine. Alternatively, they can go to a games area to play pool, video games or foosball.

SAP Asia-Pacific Japan chief operating officer Adaire Fox-Martin says much has been done for the staff as they are the firm's greatest asset.

"We help the world run better because SAP employees run at their best," she adds.

Boardroom? This firm has a 'not so bored room'

IT'S almost a walk in the park when you step into the office of energy recruitment agency Spencer Ogden.

Astroturf takes the place of carpets as the floor covering, helping to bring the outdoors into the office and establish a sporting theme in the building.

The company also holds a daily "power hour", where employees are not to sit down for 60 minutes. Instead, they shoot hoops, play football or cycle around the central area of the office.

"We wanted the Singapore space to be organic and earthy, too, not cold and sterile. We wanted the employees to feel energised by the office environment," says design director Bonita Spencer-Percival, who is married to the firm's co-founder and chief executive, Mr David Spencer-Percival.

The 4,000 sq ft office on the 23rd floor of The Central building in Eu Tong Sen Street has floor to ceiling windows, giving a bright look. It also has an open-concept where over 50 employees work from what the firm calls "the Knights of the Round Table" seating arrangement.

The round tables were chosen to demonstrate equality among the staff.

Mrs Spencer-Percival said: "Everyone is equal at that table and works just as hard."

An opium daybed takes centrestage in the company's boardroom, which Spencer Ogden labels the "not so bored room".

An office that's in tune with music mission

YOU would expect the office of Warner Music Singapore to be a bit out there, a bit edgy - and you would not be disappointed.

The modern, clean industrial-style look is paramount, featuring cement-rendered floors and walls to suggest the same vibe you might find in a warehouse dance club.

Unconventionally shaped workstations add to that youthful exuberance. Employees sit in three clusters, each shaped like a boomerang and angled at 120 degrees, so everyone has a clear view of one another at their workstations.

The aim is to encourage staff collaboration, says interior designer Christopher Kwek.

His firm, Forward 50, was hired by Warner Music to do up the 2,235 sq ft office at MOVA Building near Jalan Bukit Merah.

Mr Kwek notes that staff often work closely together on projects rather than individually, so parts of the office were set aside for casual "hang-out" discussion zones.

Efforts were also made to create a homely feel in those areas, with lounge chairs and couches for staff to sit comfortably.

Mr Simon Nasser, general manager of Warner Music Singapore, says that homely, earthy ambience is evident at the reception area. Bricks and recycled wooden railway sleepers line the walls of the reception area, giving it a rustic feel.

Mr Nasser says staff welcome the features: "Coming to work is no longer a drag. Sometimes, they don't even want to go home."

Employees enjoyed the office environment so much, notes Mr Nasser, that instead of partying during Halloween, they stayed back to eat and watch horror movies together.

The design is such a hit that Warner Music intends to replicate the concept across its other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 25, 2013

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