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Wacky workspaces: why offices must catch up with modern business

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​26 May 2014

Wacky workspaces: why offices must catch up with modern business

Where did you have your last great idea? At your desk? Probably not. Quirky offices may be in fashion but installing a slide might not be the best productivity solution. It’s subtler than that, explains JLL

All eyes on ASEAN

Millions of office workers worldwide spend their days tethered to a desk inside a cubicle. If you’re one of them, have you ever wondered why you’re behind a wall? The answer is very simple.

In 1964, Herman Miller designed an L-shaped cubicle – it was a revolution and shaped the modern office.

But today, technology has evolved. We no longer need huge spaces for computers the size of a small car yet workplaces, largely, remain the same.

“We’re untethered by technology, we have laptops, tablets, phones, we continue to build workplaces that keep us caged in cubicles and it’s absolutely pointless,” says Su Lim, Head of Workplace Strategy, Asia Pacific, at JLL.

In major cities, head offices are evolving to support one critical business buzzword: innovation. Banks, for example, are behaving like tech companies, placing more of an emphasis on R&D. As the complexity of everyday work intensifies, prime city-centre space has been forced to adapt to support creativity rather than back-office business functions, which are often outsourced.

Cultivating creativity

In an online poll of almost 400 business executives at organisations worldwide, JLL discovered that 74 per cent spend the majority of their time fielding emails. This is not a surprise. However, just 6 per cent of respondents said they felt this time-consuming task added value to their organisation. Instead, the real profit-making activities were water-cooler moments and corridor conversations. And these moments, generally speaking, are not supported by traditional office space.

“We had a lightbulb moment in realising that many workplace strategies are designed around how space can support the activities people spend most of their time doing, as opposed to the tasks that create value for their companies,” said Su.

In the recent adaptation of an entire floor in the Singapore HQ, JLL sought to better serve the creative endeavours of staff. At first glance, it may not seem ground breaking - there are no ball pits or free food - but the subtle solutions are designed to create value, whether that’s for a business or for clients.

Technology takes over

From the furnishing to the technology, functionality and green credentials are paramount, says Tom Kruse, Head of Procurement, Asia Pacific, Project & Development Services, JLL.

“The carpet has unique air-filtration technology, it absorbs noise and it’s designed with a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach: it’s recycled material that the supplier will take back from us when it’s time to replace it, in order to recycle it again,” he added.

The lighting technology is the first-of its-kind in Asia. Sensors on the ceiling connect the lights and the automated window blinds to control the light output throughout the day. This can save up to 40 per cent in lighting electricity expenditure.

The meeting spaces are informal and cushion-covered benches promote a relaxed, creative space, which Gen Y staff find appealing, according to research. ‘War rooms’ with movable walls offer a shared workspace, where different business functions can come together to work on, say, a pitch. While white boards allow space for people to record and retain conversations.

The Google effect

“Google is often referenced and it’s become the ultimate expression of ”innovation” but the Google approach won’t work for every company,” says Su.

Google designs its offices like a university campus for a very specific reason: to take away life’s other distractions to allow employees to concentrate solely on their work. For days on end, Google’s software developers may work around the clock to crack a coding solution. By supporting their work with on-site dry cleaning, free food and areas to sleep, the business profits.

For a company like JLL, you’d be hard-pressed to encourage a senior executive to conduct a meeting on a beanbag.

Cultural considerations can dictate a workspace, too. In Japan, organisations are typically more hierarchical than western companies so individual offices are sought after. However, something as simple as not assigning individuals with specific desks can encourage people to mix with other members of staff and, in turn, break down cultural barriers. In China, where there’s a strong cultural tradition of taking one-hour lunch breaks, office lighting typically switches off at lunchtime to save power.

So what will offices of the future look like? Su says we’re in the process of going full circle, back to the flexibility of the post-Industrial revolution, where business was conducted out of the office: “Lloyds of London began in a café and stockbrokers brokered deals in the street, where their customers were,” she says. “When did you last have your great idea? Nobody ever says ‘at my desk’ so that’s what we need to keep in mind when creating effective and innovative workplaces.”


JLL’s latest report ‘Forget the workplace... for now’ outlines how you can start the journey toward designing a workplace strategy that drives real value for your organization.

To talk to us about workplace strategies please get in touch.​