Singapore’s big three priorities: tech, talent and transparency

Companies in Singapore face many challenges generic to the global workplace but are addressing them through a unique cultural lens, according to the 2019 edition of WORKTECH Singapore

Workplace transformation in Asia is currently focused around three key areas: the rapid development of technology, talent attraction and retention, and new ways of working. These areas present both challenges and opportunities for organisations, which were discussed and debated at the WORKTECH Singapore 2019 conference.

The event, held in Capitol Tower in Singapore on 17 September, offered a unique insight into how Singapore is tackling the global trend of workplace transformation within the context of its culture. Asia’s diverse work culture was discussed alongside how we can design ‘standardised’ offices which are respectful of local culture.

A game of catch-up

One of the core challenges that Singapore faces in workplace transformation was discussed in the first panel of the event: the disparity between technology evolution and real estate. The panel, consisting of Stephen Banks of BP, Roland Felber of Avaloq Sourcing, Will Myles of RICS, Chew Peet Mun of CapitaLand and Katherine Harvey of Unwork, talked about the disconnect between the life cycle of technology and real estate. When technology takes months to respond to workplace shifts, real estate can take years.

This sparked discussions on the role Virtual Reality can play in marrying tech and real estate. Can we play out future workplace scenarios in VR to predict outcomes without significant upfront real estate investment? While this is already in practice in some areas, this conversation still went in circles of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’.

Consensus on flex space

The one definitive solution which was unanimously agreed on by all speakers throughout the day was the implementation of flexible space.

‘The upfront investment needed to bridge the gap between physical workplace and technology’

Samit Chopra of International Workplace Group explained that flexible space is key to respond to shifts in ways of working and the utilisation of office space. At any one point, 55 per cent of office desks are empty and there is 3.6 billion sq ft of unutilised space globally. This will see 30 per cent of workplaces implemented flexible spaces in the next five to ten years.

Transparent leadership

New ways of working has become of the biggest drivers of workplace transformation. It has led to many companies implementing activity-based working into their organisations, but given the relative infancy of designing for ABW we are only starting to understand successful change management policies and best practice for design.

A panel discussion between Iolanda Meehan of Veldhoen + Company, Martin Low of Sennheiser Asia, Ronald Kleer of BPG and Alexandre Ung of Edenred discussed their own experiences within their organisations of ABW implementation. Low explained that at Sennheiser there was a very high success rate when the company moved to ABW with 81 per cent reporting they were happy with the change. This success rate was only achieved because it was driven by senior management and a feedback culture was developed where staff had a safe space to report back to leadership about the space they had been moved to.

Attracting talent through experience

Different ways of working also comes with different attitudes and behaviours to work. Community has become the key word of 2019 with increased evidence showing that millennials want to be near their managers to learn and they want to be in neighbourhoods to foster a sense of belonging within the organisation. Rick Thomas of Collier International explained that creating communities helps manufacture collaborative environments.

Simon Bell of designers Fitch Singapore suggested that learning employees’ emotional needs and creating a sense of belonging can be done through branding of space and curating unique omnichannel experiences across a series of touchpoints. This is crucial because the cost of replacing talent is far greater than the cost of renovating space.

While Singapore is essentially facing the same challenges as many other countries around the world, WORKTECH Singapore demonstrated that these challenges are not being tackled with the same blanket approach. While broadly they are focusing on flexible space, workplace experience and successful change management, companies in the region are tackling these paradigms through a different cultural lens, bringing unique solutions to conventional challenges.

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