A conversation with M Moser Associates

The following is a transcript of a conversation between TRA and M Moser Associates

TRA - Are there particular trends you see towards spaces like open plan, concentration spaces, café spaces, etc?

Cynthia Chan, Director, M Moser Associates: Ultimately, you can say that the trends we are seeing right now in workplace design are being driven by some big shifts in how companies value their employees, what they expect from them, and how they expect them to work. Basically they’re shifting from pushing maximum efficiency to ‘working smarter’, emphasising innovation and creativity. And as an extension of that, companies are viewing staff members and human capital worthy of investment, rather than as ‘resources’.

The advantages of open plan workspaces – better communication and lines of sight across the space, simplified HVAC and lighting, greater flexibility in arranging and rearranging seating, etc – have made it attractive to more and more companies that perhaps wouldn’t have considered it previously. It is certainly becoming more widely adopted, as well as adapted to a spectrum of very different working cultures and requirements.

Hand-in-hand with global commerce and instant global communication, we are also seeing many workplaces edging closer to becoming almost ’24-hour’ spaces. People are spending more time there, or working there at different times of the day rather than in a solid 8-9 hour shift. It means your work and your life aren’t totally separate things anymore, and the office has to change to support this development. It could mean locating the office within walking distance to cafes, restaurants, gyms, shops and services – or actually bringing those things into the office itself in some form.

We are also seeing offices planned and designed to ensure that people cross paths and interact more, rather than staying put within their team or alone inside their own office. Partly, the purpose of this is to encourage people to share ideas and knowledge with each other in spontaneous and unexpected ways. By isolating people from each other, you may minimise conflict in your office, but you also won’t get any creative friction.

Mobility is another trend that is very much connected with the above. Basically, after a certain number of hours, people just can’t work effectively if they’re sitting at a desk staring at a screen. Their desk may not be the most suitable place for them to perform the task at hand anyway. So what’s happening in many office designs now is variety: a range of different, unassigned work settings for people to choose from as they see fit. Some of them don’t even look like work settings, but lounge areas or quiet rooms or staff canteens, pantries or even outdoor terraces. It’s all underpinned by mobile technology. If you have a tablet or a laptop and Wifi in the office, then why should you just sit at the same desk facing the same wall all the time?

Another thing that is driving change in office design is the demographics of the workforce. It’s rare now in most industries to see an office full of 25-to-30 year-olds being managed by a few 40-to-50 year-olds. There’s much less formal hierarchy now, and more and more diversity of age at all levels. Companies are changing their working culture as well to support things like social networking, in acknowledgement that it’s second nature to Millennials and they work more effectively with it than without it.

The challenge is to design offices that accommodate the habits and physical needs of everybody within this wide spectrum – and to encourage knowledge to be shared across generations rather than just within them. So, some of these people will want an assigned desk, some won’t. Some will need brighter lighting than others. Some are more tech-literate than others. At any rate, if you can design a space to accommodate these disparate needs and effectively support all these different working styles, you’re removing at least some barriers between generations.

Sustainability has become such a mainstream requirement for workplaces that I am not sure whether it can still be called a ‘trend’.

Trends in technology adoption – does it change significantly depending on the office design? Or are there particular staple technologies that are being adopted?

Daniel Leung, Director, M Moser Associates: Today’s workplace technology should be tailored for different type of users – for example, ‘resident’ and mobile workers. For ‘resident’ workers, the technology actually hasn’t changed fundamentally in the past three decades – they still rely on the ‘KVM’ setting (keyboard, video (display), mouse) to execute their work. However, more and more users would like to integrate their own devices to their desktop, and that is leading to an increasing demand on power supply. For example, to support users’ own devices, we need to provide extra desktop power socket and USB-powered connection.

Workplace technologies for mobile users, on the other hand, are developing quite rapidly. This is particularly true in the fields of unified communication, wireless collaboration, smartphones with app-based user interfaces, and cross-platform apps.

Is flexible working more popular in particular locations in Asia Pacific? If so, why is this so?

Cynthia Chan: It is very difficult to say whether it is clearly more popular in one country or city than another. Mostly this is because whether or not you can work flexibly depends to a great extent on the cultures of specific companies, and their particular area of activity.

However we can see an overall trend toward flexible working in the Asia Pacific region. It ties into many of the things we’ve already talked about. Demographically, a large number of Millennials are entering the workforce, and their expectations concerning how and where and when they work are different from their older peers. Also, meeting their expectations is important simply because companies need to recruit and retain their talent – so that gives them an increasingly powerful ‘vote’ on how their work environment takes form. And finally, technology has made it possible for many job functions to be performed outside of the office anyway. You don’t necessarily even have to all be in the same room to hold a meeting anymore.

How do you envision the future workplace?

Daniel Leung: In terms of workplace technology, all future workplaces should be capable of support all types of users. They will be designed to allow people to work and collaborate with anyone, anywhere inside and outside the office. To facilitate this, the workplace will also support any devices they may be using wirelessly. This even applies to power supply – wireless power is ready to go.