Your dream office

HRM delves into the issue of workplace design, and what companies can do to control risks at work, providing staff with safe and effective workplaces

Globally, there is a seismic shift under way in the ways people work. Over the last decade, globalisation and technological innovations have brought the world closer together and fundamentally changed the way people live and work. Young workforce entrants are also bringing new ideas and technology, impacting expectations about the tools and communication styles they use.

“The explosion of collaboration technology and cloud services has also made it possible to be productive, anywhere, anytime,” says Julianne Truda, HR Director – Singapore & Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft. “Freedom and flexibility have created a mobile, global workforce with the expectation that people are ‘always on, (and) always connected’.”

With these developments, the workplace of the future is quickly shaping up to be one that puts its people in the centre. It is therefore critical to understand the needs and lifestyles of staff and potential recruits, and then design a workplace that provides a safe and conducive environment for them to perform their best, says Truda.

Ergonomics at work

In the design of the workplace, care must be taken to ensure good ergonomics for workers. For instance, different arrangements should be made for employees whose jobs require either continuous sitting or standing.

Ergonomics is important as, put quite simply, prevention is better than cure. “Increasingly, I’m seeing patients suffering from injuries and conditions which I believe have been exacerbated by poor workplace ergonomics,” says Dr. Richard Edward Kissun, Principle Chiropractor at Kissun Chiropractic. “In my opinion, over time, the ignorance of ergonomics combined with long hours in a desk-bound job or computer use can have a profound negative effect on an individual’s overall health.”

A study conducted by the Singapore General Hospital on the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among office workers in Singapore found that 73% experienced pain in at least one body part. The body parts with the highest reports of pain were the neck (46%), shoulders (42%) and lower back (42%).

“Gradually and subtly at first, conditions such as neck pain, lower back pain, and headaches will surface,” says Kissun. “As time goes on, these conditions become more obvious and in the worst cases, I have seen the symptoms becoming a constant unrelenting problem in the patient’s life.”

While an increased awareness in ergonomics is being seen among multinational companies and large law firms in Singapore, Kissun believes more can be done to improve and encourage awareness of proper ergonomics in small- and medium-sized businesses. Organisations have yet to fully grasp the importance of good ergonomics on overall productivity and the health of their employees, he says.

For one, HR should actively offer ergonomic assessments to all employees, rather than wait for staff to approach them. HR can also have small information or Q&A sessions with staff regarding ergonomics and conduct workplace assessments annually.

“I personally believe that with the increasing number of hours we spend sitting at our desk and using computers and smart devices, we will see an increase in related MSDs unless employers, employees, and users generally become aware of the correct way to sit and arrange their workstations,” says Kissun.

Workplace design

Workplace design not only revolves around the issue of ergonomics but also around the use of physical office space; that is how well the office design and aesthetics allow staff to collaborate so as to be more productive.

Alternative workplace strategies, such as hot-desking and open-office concepts, are designed to better utilise sometimes scarce office space. This is even more necessary today as commercial rents and demand soar.

Well-designed beverage areas are a surprisingly important contributor to productivity, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a workplace consulting firm.

“In general, when we look at what makes people happy and effective at work, it’s being able to spend time with a close group of people,” says Waber. Social breaks are also important to a worker’s – and company’s – well-being. They reinforce bonds, improve morale, and increase possibilities for collaboration.

For instance, many people may not know that the idea for Gmail was first conceived by a small group at one of Google’s cafes, says Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg, a senior associate on Google’s communication team.

Microsoft Singapore in particular has recently incorporated design elements to make the local office environment more enjoyable and comfortable for employees – a ‘New World of Work’. With creative use of space, Microsoft has been able to provide a variety of work spaces suitable for different work requirements – be they for casual discussions, formal meetings, brainstorms, teleconferencing, or intensive work.

The software giant has also incorporated the use of bright, cheery colours to energise the office space. Sustainability also factors strongly into the design of its new Singapore office.

“For example, many of our meeting rooms are now located away from the windows,” says Truda. “This allows more natural light to enter the workspace, reducing electricity costs and also allowing our employees to enjoy the view of the Singapore financial district as they work.”

Communicating change

It is important for HR to clearly identify the objectives of any switch to a new work environment and work style. “Engaging your employees and maintaining communication with them is essential,” says Truda. “Also, highlight what they are gaining from the transition.”

For example, Microsoft started actively involving employees in the design process of its new premises before construction even commenced. In fact, staff voted for their choice of colour scheme, furniture and names for meeting rooms.

To communicate the change, HR organised regular face-to-face briefing sessions between staff and the management team.

“We even created a video featuring senior leaders and ‘Workplace Champions’, to introduce everyone to different ways of utilising the new space,” says Truda. “We also commissioned cartoon posters by renowned Singapore comic artist, Sonny Liew, to communicate new behaviours for the new way of working in a fun and engaging way.”

The resulting transition was smooth, and staff had a lot of positive feedback. A recent internal survey revealed that 54% of employees reported an increase in productivity levels. Nearly half (49%) confirmed they collaborated more with their colleagues since the change, while 77% reported an improvement in their new working environment e.

The key takeaway from this transformation exercise: “Always keep an open mind about moving to a ‘New World of Work’,” says Truda.



Microsoft’s New World of Work

Microsoft has redesigned its offices and included the latest technology to facilitate even greater flexibility in its employees working lives. The ‘New World of Work’ is based on the idea that change takes place in three interrelated areas: people, place, and technology.

There are no assigned desks or private offices for managers, and employees can work anywhere in the office by using a PC, handset, webcam, or smartphone.

Office space has been re-designed to allow employees to choose the space that best suits their needs, be it work benches, café style booths, focus rooms, or formal meeting rooms, depending on the activities they need to engage in.

This new style of office space also promotes productivity and collaboration, both in the physical space and using online collaboration and social tools; all while reducing the business’ water and electricity usage, as well as travel expenses. The New World of Work even enables the organisation to put into practice more environmentally-friendly processes.

“People can and do work everywhere. At Microsoft, we believe work is a thing that you do, not a place that you go,” says Julianne Truda, HR Director – Singapore and Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft.

“To bring the vision of a new world of work to life, leadership teams had to establish a culture that was focused on what individuals achieved, rather than how long they spent in the office, and fostering collaboration between employees,” says Truda.

Recent internal surveys indicate that staff have appreciated the new work environment and the promotion of flexible work arrangements.


MSD cases in Singapore

The number of reported Musculo-Skeletal Disorder (MSD) cases in Singapore rose from three cases in 2009 to four in 2010 and to six in 2011. In the first half of 2012, 12 cases were reported, including the following examples:


Type of MSD

No. of Cases


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


Accommodation and Food Services



Transportation and Storage

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Activities

Trigger Finger


Manufacturing – Food, Beverages and Tobacco

Transportation and Storage



Manufacturing – other goods


Source: Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Council



Alternative care

Employees who suffer from neck pain, headaches, low back pain and other such musculoskeletal problems traditionally take regular doses of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to control those symptoms, which have often developed over time due to poor ergonomics. An alternative solution to drugs is chiropractic care.

“Chiropractors take a thorough medical history, conduct any testing necessary and identify underlying causes, after which our natural drug and surgery-free approach is usually a great success,” says Dr. Richard Edward Kissun, Principle Chiropractor at Kissun Chiropractic.

“Chiropractic (care) can not only help alleviate the symptoms but find the underlying cause of the problem. (We) work closely with patients and HR to identify and correct any ergonomic issues as soon as possible.”


Code of practice

To assist employers in designing offices that fit the local population, a Code of Practice for Office Ergonomics, or SS 514, was initiated by the Ministry of Manpower and published by SPRING Singapore (Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board) in November 2005.

The Singapore Standard Code of Practice for Office Ergonomics covers the fundamentals of office ergonomics, including physical (design of office equipment and furniture), environmental (factors such as lighting) and psycho-social (factors such as repetition in work) elements.

Key recommendations for the set-up of office workstations include those regarding:

•        Work tables

•        Chairs

•        Computers

•        Sitting work posture

•        Lighting and glare


Workplace tools

Top five items and office trends that will disappear in the next five years

•        Tape recorders

•        Fax machines

•        The rolodex

•        Desk phones

•        Standard work hours

Top three dream office tools

•        A clone to help you through your day

•        A place in your office that provides natural sunlight

•        A quiet place in our office where napping is allowed

Other creative office upgrades respondents suggested

•        A chair that would generate heat

•        An office tea trolley

•        A ping pong table

•        A room with a number of punch bags


Source: LinkedIn Survey



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