Start-ups, health habits and sunlight in Singapore

The 2015 edition of WORKTECH Singapore featured a trio of keynote speakers looking at entrepreneurial, lifestyle and architectural challenges in the region

Can David beat the Goliaths of the corporate world at their own game? According to Grace Sai, founder of The Hub Singapore and keynote speaker at the WORKTECH Singapore 2015 conference, of course they can. ‘In total, how much money have our Hubbers raised?’ she asked delegates. The answer is US$40 million in less than four years.

Sai is the founder of a collaborative working community that is today Singapore’s largest co-working space – it is an innovation space in which entrepreneurs and start-ups rub shoulders with corporate giants in an open, community-style environment.

Speaking about what the corporate world can learn from start-up communities, Sai explained that employees of companies worth over $1bn share space and events and network with solo entrepreneurs at The Hub. Sai’s venture is now funded 50 per by start-ups and 50 per by corporations and government, making this a very equal community.

Sai believes that corporations are starting to realise that they are unable to innovate as quickly or as radically as start-ups, so are turning to start-ups for collaborations. Crucially, they are outsourcing some innovation activities rather than simply buying and absorbing start-ups, which has traditionally been a source of friction between the two.

Proactive health

What the big corporates and the small start-ups share is a quest for a healthier workstyle. Duncan Young of Lend Lease, another keynote speaker at WORKTECH Singapore, addressed emerging trends and the importance of wellbeing in the workplace. ‘59 per cent of us are overweight or obese. 83 per cent of us don’t eat the right food. We know that only 46 per cent of us get half an hour’s exercise a day,’ he told delegates.

Young argued for a change in how we approach workplace illness. This means taking the focus of workplace health away from reactive health programme aimed, for example, at stopping smoking and towards proactively changing the workplace to enhance our health.

Sitting was a key focus of Young’s talk – not only is sitting down associated with a range of health problems but it may well stifle creativity. According to Young, people experience the most divergent thinking when they stand and walk, and the design of office spaces should reflect this.

Movement should be built in to our natural work cycle instead of being seen as an additional exercise. Walking meetings, different transport options and even shaping social norms should all have a part in this.

Young concluded that we should pay far greater attention to what we eat, how much we sleep and our movements at work in order to address one of the great health challenges of our time – obesity.

Spaces for people

Speaking from an architectural point of view, James Grose from architects BVN presented a case study of the ASB Bank building in Auckland. The design of this building is focused on the people within it and their intrinsic social nature – for example, open spaces promote feelings of freedom while an atrium criss-crossed with walkways exposes everyone to sunlight.

Grose pointed out that buildings are only about human behaviour, as they are simply objects without people. Human behaviour is what transforms a building into a community, and so it makes sense to design a building that is based on the people who will inhabit it.

The WORKTECH Singapore conference’s mix of entrepreneurial, lifestyle and architectural concerns certainly reflected the make-up of the city itself.

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