Singapore

Working on a people-first workplace

A holistic work environment is key to attract and retain talent

In tandem with cultural shifts and advances in modern technology, the design of city districts and buildings is evolving to factor in new lifestyle possibilities and preferences.

One of the most significant areas of change is the workplace.

No longer is it sufficient that a new building impresses. Rather, the trend is moving towards a complete work ecosystem designed to seamlessly integrate work with other activities, connecting people beyond their workspaces at various cultural, recreational and nature spots.

Mobile technology is driving this more fluid approach to the physical workspace, allowing ideas to move between desks and boardrooms to terraces, cafes, parks and restaurants.

By tethering ourselves to work but not the workplace, we accelerate productivity.

With the adoption of an informal and collaborative ethos by the next-generation workforce, the line between work and community continues to blur.

The cultural shift in the work environment from hierarchies to communities promoting innovation and productivity supports the demand for progressive real estate solutions and mixed-use environments.

Many companies fall into the trap of rehashing what is trendy - rows and rows of hot-desks with a few meeting rooms scattered throughout - instead of adopting a people-first approach to take full advantage of the modern open-plan floor plates available to create a conducive, collaborative and energised work environment.

In the future, the ability to create a community will be the valued strategic competency.

Successful placemaking is what ultimately enhances user experience and an important part to helping companies attract and retain talent, especially with the incoming cohort of millennials.

By 2020, 60 per cent of the world's millennials will reside in Asia, and more than 45 per cent of Asia's population will be millennials.

A holistic, not homogenous, environment, with quality retail, a wide range of dining options, parks and wellness facilities and infrastructure will form the basis of the people-first workplaces of the future.

Retaining a healthy and happy workforce is also a shared goal of urban communities and business organisations.

With around 90 per cent of a business's operating costs being staff-related, a modest improvement in the employees' physical and mental well-being can have a significant financial implication for employers when there is reduced absenteeism, staff turnover and medical or insurance claims.

BUILDING BLOCKS

People-first considerations, such as enhanced air filtration, abundant natural lighting, greenery and end-of-trip facilities for active commutes, are essential building blocks for a progressive workplace designed around enhancing the employees' well-being.

Recent research data has shown that improved views, lighting and daylighting can increase productivity by up to 5.5 per cent, and improved air quality can help to reduce sick leave by up to 35 per cent.

The Building and Construction Authority, in Singapore's latest Green Mark certification, takes into consideration occupant health and well-being with enhanced criteria on indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics, going beyond energy savings and ecological assessments.

Progressive employers will also have to rethink workplace design through the lens of their employees.

To create a conducive and collaborative work environment, the concept of agile working is becoming the new norm.

The progressive workplace has open spaces for collaboration and isolated nooks for focus work, providing the option to select the environment based on the task at hand instead of staying put at a fixed desk.

Agile working also means that employees are free to take work outdoors.

Employers will have to rethink workplace design to create a bespoke environment that not only maximises performance and productivity but also meets the needs of the business and, most importantly, the people behind the business.

Done right, agile, people-first workplaces will serve as a morale booster to employees.

Apart from enhancing the employees' sense of well-being, these workplaces instil a sense of community, improve morale and create a happier, healthier and ultimately more productive workforce.

The writer is managing director of Paya Lebar Quarter by Lendlease. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

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