Are we ready to do away with traditions at the workplace?
Are Singaporeans ready to give up the structure and order of personal cubicles and offices?
Some companies are trying out a more egalitarian approach to office design that does away with the traditional cubicles, glassed-walled offices, and the coveted corner office suites; which in recent decades have become as much career status symbols as a workspaces.
The pharmaceutical giant Bayer is one such company. According to Ernst Coppens, the Chief Financial Officer and Managing Director of Bayer South East Asia, they were inspired to rethink their offices after a workspace efficiency study revealed that there were never more than 70 per cent of the staff in the office at one time. They averaged just under two thirds on any given day. “We found the people with the most personal space, i.e. private offices, spent the least time in it. Some days half the floor space in our old offices was empty and unused,” Ernst Coppens says.
With a move to Paya Lebar Quarter Tower Three (PLQ3) planned, Bayer engaged interior designers Wolf Studio for a concept that would improve their workspace efficiency.
“Their radical design did away with the individual offices that in most offices occupy the outer walls. Which opens up more space and the floor to ceiling windows to flood the place with natural light,” Ernst Coppens explains.
Bayer had occupied 40,000sqf over four floors at their previous offices at OCBC Centre but thanks to the open design setup they have been able to fit all their staff into just 32,000sqf on one floor of PLQ3. “We are reinvesting some of the rental savings in supplying free tea and coffee, cold drinks, fruit, and other healthy snacks for the staff,” Ernst explains. “Now no one in the organisation, including me, has a dedicated office or even an assigned desk. Instead we embrace the desk sharing way of working. This allowed us to maximise the use of the floor space for different kinds of working zones, collaborative areas, reading spots, phone booths, etc,” he adds.
There are designated quiet zones like those for the ergonomic computer desks, and quite conversation areas like the coffee tables and armchairs by the windows and a range of other seating option from diner—like banquette seating, to tall trestle tables with bar stools, and cosy clusters of comfy chairs, the furniture defining different activity areas.
Ernst Coppens, the Chief Financial Officer and Managing Director of Bayer South East Asia
The pantry/canteen area, which can seat 40 or 50 people for lunch and tea breaks, can be enclosed by walls which fold away when not needed to create a space for larger meetings. Numerous smaller meeting rooms, all equipped with state of the are teleconference facilities, circle the central lift lobby.
“It is a new way of working, no one has an assigned desk, anyone can work anywhere at anytime. This required us to update all the laptops, to replace the desk phones with soft phones (basically a wifi headset), and provide everyone a mouse and keyboard to enable them to plug-in and work at any desk. Using the latest technology has done away with lots of cables and wires and allows us to run a clean desk policy; with everything put away at the end of the day in the only truly personal spaces are the lockers where staff store their keyboards and phone-headsets at the end of the day. All the desks are height adjustable and ergonomic so people can stand or sit. They all have the same large monitors attached to an adjustable arm mount so users can select the height and angle they prefer or turn the screen around to share work with colleagues,” Ernst Coppens elaborates.
Bayer considered accessibility to public transportation and facilities like shops, banks, and F&B outlets when choosing the new location. Paya Lebar Quarter scores highly on all those counts, with malls on all sides, Paya Lebar MRT next door with the East-West and Circle MRT lines and plenty of bus routes. The new office has been well received by the staff who enjoy the more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere of PLQ. “Of course, moving to the East means there have been a few winners and losers regarding commute times but no one misses the morning rush hour crush in the CBD. We have also instituted more flexi-hours and more opportunities to work from home to help people adjust. Now we all mix, the Pharmaceuticals, Crop Science, and Consumer Health teams share the same spaces. It has helped to break down the silo effect that being housed on separate floors in the old office had encouraged, which has improved communications and created a more cohesive team spirit” Ernst Coppens explains.
The experiment is working for Bayer but it remains to be seen if the trend will catch or Singaporeans will cling to their personal offices.
John Battersby has been writing for more than three decades. Combining his love of words and a passion for travelling has taken him to every continent accepted except Antarctica; so, if there are any commissioning editors out there looking for volunteers, he’s your man.
PHOTOS: BAYER SOUTH EAST ASIA PTE LTD
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