Singapore slings the joy of work into a heady mix of new ideas

From connecting technology, people and space for innovation to creating the right vibe to spark culture change, WORKTECH Singapore 2017 highlighted key trends circling workspace

The latest edition of WORKTECH Singapore, held on 19 September, once again managed to provide a refreshing platform for diverse topics to be shared within the real estate and workplace community – and the game is changing all the time.

At last year’s Singapore event, one of the recurring themes was building and workplace analytics. But, this time around, instead of focusing on the data it provides for the building or space owner, the new angle was the sociability of the workplace.

Philip Ross of UnWork kicked it all off. How can our digital presence help guide us not only where to have our meetings, but who to have them with, or who would we benefit from having lunch with? Workplace apps, explained Ross, can help identify the people around us we should meet with.

Fostering innovation

Along with abundant data, technology proved to be consistent theme as a tool for innovation. Tobias Puehse from Mastercard shared the experience of using technology solutions to build an innovation culture within the organisation and bring start-up companies and clients together to drive solutions, connectivity and relationships.

The creation of a tech hub space within Mastercard, linked across global locations, drives real world experiences into the workspaces to support change and innovation. Puehse explained that the problem with innovation is not necessarily generating ideas, but how to execute them.

Innovation as a ‘must-have’ organisational outcome is not a new theme, but Tobias managed to give it a different angle, indicating how there might be interplay between technologies, workspace and how we work together to better nurture the very difficult execution of innovation.

Designing agile working

Agile working also figured at the conference. Jessica Carr and Alex Przybyla from Haworth explored different types of workspaces, from open plan to Activity Based Working (ABW), and the ability to support different ways of working and managing people, through flexible furniture solutions.

Vince Asdagi from Collaborative Design meanwhile discussed design thinking as an innovation platform when focusing on creating agility in business. This highlighted the differences between the commonly misunderstood terms of agile working and agile methodology. The latter refers to a specific methodology mainly utilised in software development projects, and not another generic term for flexible and mobile work styles.

DBS bank’s journey to rewire the organisation through digital transformation was high-lighted by Caroline Burns from Workplace Revolution and Erwin Chong from DBS. This journey has led to a significant change in the workplace driven by a deeper understanding of culture and leadership, and its impact on how the work is done. DBS’ workplace change management starts before the space design begins, and it is the culture change that drives the whole process.

Creating the right vibe

Culture also emerged as a recurring theme for other speakers. Stephen Pill from Fitch Design explored ‘The Joy of Work’, using his experience from retail and the idea of stimulating different ‘mind states’, concluding that the design process is ideally in a ‘constant state of beta’. Stella Gwee from Shophouse & Co went further by exploring the ‘Soul of a Workplace’ – how can ‘placemaking’ create the vibe of a space?

GlaxoSmithkline’s recently built office building in Singapore picked up the more traditional theme of space utilisation by illustrating how the company had managed to deliver GSK’s most efficient facility in terms of costs and utilisation. Yet, at the same time GSK also managed to ‘delight its customers’, providing an environment that leaders can use as a stepping stone to drive culture change, innovation and staff development.

‘Successful places happen when community, culture and vibrant spaces are interconnected’- Stella Gwee, Shophouse & Co

The message is that organisations can have an efficient and environmentally green building while also focusing on creating an environment designed around a human-centric approach, which provides the organisation with a lever for culture change.

A particularly refreshing development was the sign that the workplace community has begun to acknowledge that culture change cannot be delivered by changing the workspace alone. Culture needs to be defined and understood to be successful. Ramesh Gopalkrishna of Facebook strongly believes the biggest barrier to a thriving workplace is getting the right culture.

The rise of coworking

Coworking has become a buzzword in real estate, in Singapore as elsewhere. Jonathan O’Byrne of Collective Works shared his four principles of what it means to cowork: co-location, collective working, sharing economy and subscription. O’Byrne drew upon the legacy of Bourneville as the first example ‘lifestyle employing’. The same objective applies to today’s coworking arenas. Employers are increasingly expected to take accountability for their employees’ needs, this what will draw Millennials to the workplace and gain the company legacy.

Chintan Raveshia of Arup Architects took this point further with his idea of a ‘campus as a city’. People expect workspace to cater for all needs, whether personal or work-related. The campus as a city places all needs in one place with a reach of no more than 400-metre radius. The Arup HQ Tanjong Pagor in Singapore has incorporated the 400-metre rule so everyone walks through streets with no barriers.

‘You have to think beyond the red line boundary set by clients’- Chintan Raveshia, Arup

A panel comprising of Rhian Windridge of CBRE, Meng Chew Ching of Unilever, Richard Paine of Lendlease and Will Myles of RICS discussed the uncertainty of the future and what this means for the future workforce. There is a demand for a different type of FM to take the role as a curator of space where people want to go and create a business story. However, the demand is currently ahead of supply.

The future of work is evolving into a holistic people-centric entity where culture is key to a successful organisation. But even if culture eats strategy for breakfast, as Ramesh Gopalkrishna told the conference, it is still the individual and collective behaviours that drive results.

Maybe the time is now right to begin a more thorough exploration of how culture impacts behaviours, how these are nurtured and managed, and how the built environment aligns with the ‘behaviour-culture spectrum’. Singapore 2017 certainly set the ball rolling.

Click here for the WORKTECH Singapore Review page

Speaker Interviews

Rhian Windridge, Director, CBRE Project Management, APAC

Stephen Pill, Digital Strategy Director at FITCH Design

David Hutton, Managing Director of Development at Lendlease

Niels Kemp Rasmussen is founder and director of Kemp & Associates, Singapore
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