With digital technology enabling us to work from anywhere in the world and a surge in the number of people using co-working spaces, the traditional office setup is steadily being replaced by more collaborative working spaces, where brainstorming pods and lounge areas decked out with sofas encourage employees to innovate before recharging their batteries.
When staff step into the workplace, they should feel motivated to do their best work, says Janice Siu, Executive Director for Landor & Fitch Greater China. “The architecture and design of spaces at some of the top creative agencies is very inspiring. When I was younger and went for job interviews, I’d be really impressed by them.” This kind of modern workplaces used to be more associated with the creative industries, but are now being seen across the board, she says. “They not only create a good impression on clients but also act as a real showcase for your brand while keeping employees motivated.”
Siu’s own workplace deftly demonstrates that Landor & Fitch realises the importance of providing an agile working environment not only for clients but also its staff. It recently moved into Foundry 852, a WPP campus, at K11 Atelier in Quarry Bay, which is home to 15 different agencies. The new workplace has encouraged Landor & Fitch to work closely alongside other agencies, and there is a rooftop where people have brainstorming meetings. “We have a great communal space on every floor, and there are creative ideas on the walls, like sketches and video clips of our recent creative work. There’s a sense of renewed purpose, and we’re utilising our space much better. It’s a lot livelier than before,” she says.
This shift towards a more collaborative way of working is being embraced by firms across all industries, Siu confirms. “One of our clients was the largest real estate investment trust in Asia. Their office used to be all cubicle desks, a bit like a government office, but they had a vision to bring people together. They moved to a new office and it was completely different — open plan, with a sharing culture, green walls, and the promotion of healthy habits at work. They also encouraged people to work from home.
THE AGILE EMPLOYEE
Siu says employees in Hong Kong are generally open to a more agile way of working, although ultimately it all depends on personal preferences: some crave the structure and routine of working in the same office every day while others enjoy a mix of workplace, cafes and home office. Employees can work more efficiently when they’re not in the office subject to the usual distractions, says Siu. “When I’m travelling, I usually spend a few hours in a coffee shop to catch up on work, and I find it very effective.” Some managers may ask, ‘how do we know if employees are working the full eight hours?’ But to me it’s not the activity but the productivity that counts, and management has to accept that,” she believes. Nevertheless, some firms have platforms in place to monitor workflow and measure productivity when staff are out of the office.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen many Hong Kong firms adopt a work from home policy during the past few months, and employees have had to adapt accordingly. “With more people working from home of late, many have been using digital platforms such as Zoom to do conference calls and stay in touch with colleagues. That’s beneficial, as they’ve started to become more familiar with this technology.”
REFLECTING BRAND VALUES
Businesses should recognise that the workplace provides an opportunity to connect employees to the brand’s core values, says Siu. “Workspace design is a discipline and mindset that connects office design to the brand. It dictates the journey, the overall experience and ensures that the brand’s values and function are reflected in the physical and digital space.”
Creating a workplace that reflects your brand means you must first decide exactly what you stand for, she says. Once that message is clear, firms can create an internal brand engagement programme, which may include recognising, rewarding and incentivising staff who embody your brand values. Brand engagement activities like town hall meetings, installing brand image walls, and brand videos will additionally reinforce the message, she adds.
Communicating brand values across isn’t always about grand gestures, or elaborate campaigns. Siu recalls that when she went to visit BP’s HQ in London, it had an aloe vera plant in the reception area to express one of its core brand values of being green. Ultimately, it’s all about reinforcing the brand promise. “If you do it consistently, you create a sense of belonging. But it’s a journey, and you have to make sure that the employee really understands your brand.”
Siu believes that employees play a key role in getting the brand message across. “I think people are your brand. If people enjoy working for you, they naturally become your brand ambassadors. Your staff are your working brand. And if the brand experience is positive, they will embrace, walk and talk the brand.”
Managers looking to transform their workplace should appreciate that the benefits are from cosmetic. “Remember that workplace design isn’t just about looking more modern, or even making the space more agile. It’s the flashpoint of your brand, something that demonstrates your brand promise and culture.”
Case study: Microsoft Asia-Pacific HQ, Singapore
How Fitch experts created an agile, brand-conscious workplace for one of the world’s biggest brands
Designed by Fitch in partnership with SLA, Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific HQ in Singapore at Frasers Tower is intended to reimagine the future of working environments by catering to individual employee needs and empowering a collective culture within the workplace. It embodies an approach usually used in flagship retail, where people ‘walk into the brand’ and the employees are part of the brand experience.
To create a workplace that breaks away from traditional and corporate spaces, Fitch created an interior based around unique ‘villages’ to give each area more identity and a human scale. As technology is at the heart of Microsoft, Fitch and SLA designed a Growth Core, an interactive digital & physical content wall that runs vertically through the six floors to connect the Microsoft community, communicating everything from its values and philanthropic initiatives to its service and product developments.
The company also enabled staff to have a sense of ownership of their new workspace by letting them choosing furniture, name meeting rooms and showcase personal photography within the space as artwork. Murals by local artists and peranakan-inspired design, meanwhile, add local flavour.