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Unassigned Seating: Is It Feasible In Design Studios?

Yes, says Ben Breen, Managing Director SEA of Space Matrix. He talks about the change to unassigned seating at the Singapore studio, and the digital transformation that supports it.



BY Narelle Yabuka

9 January, 2019


Gradually, designers are starting to practise what they preach when it comes to workplace design. And that includes switching to unassigned seating – something that would have been unthinkable just a handful of years ago.

Digital transformation is of course at the heart of the change. And at the Singapore studio of Space Matrix, the switch to a flexible seating system has been underpinned by substantial technological investment over a decade.

We quizzed Ben Breen, the Managing Director South East Asia of Space Matrix, about why they made the change and how well it’s been adopted by the team.

Space Matrix Singapore studio workspace 3

Ben Breen, seated front right, with team members

 

What drove the decision to change to unassigned seating in the Space Matrix Singapore studio?

With many clients regularly visiting our office, it was important for us to showcase how our design can improve the way we work. In accordance with shifting working styles, today’s workspaces are becoming increasingly comfortable and flexible environments that inspire creativity. We also wanted to promote collaboration between our business units to improve communication and performance. 

How well have people adapted? Did you expect it to be a challenging transition?

With any change comes resistance and as creatures of habit we still have a few hurdles to overcome. We were lucky to have an opportunity to move into a coworking space, thebridge by Ascendas, which incidentally, was also designed by Space Matrix during our six-week renovation period.

thebridge served as a good transition space, as it allowed employees to get used to a new style of working which we would be implementing. Much like in a coworking environment, the new office would not have assigned seats. Instead, there would be different work settings introduced such as informal lounge seating, height-adjustable desks and private phone booths. This would allow employees to choose the best setting for their working style.

Space Matrix Singapore studio lounge 3

What’s changed in terms of how design is practised these days to make an unassigned seating arrangement viable?

With our teams constantly interchanging from one project to another, we incorporated ‘project tables’ into the design of our new office. These tables are meant to encourage teams to reconfigure themselves on a project-to-project basis. They have a writable surface and mobile screens in order to make it easier for designers to collaborate. The tables allow designers, project managers, procurement and quantity surveyors to sit together, hence opening the lines of communication. This in turn boosts productivity.

Space Matrix Singapore studio workspace and lockers

Have you found that there are some things that work well, and others that don’t work so well?

The project tables, additional collaboration spaces, and phone booths are being well utilised and deemed successful. As for not having assigned seats, employees do tend to gravitate towards the same desks but will move if requested. We tried to implement a clean desk policy and provided mobile sample trolleys, but designers by nature are hoarders and like to leave their mark wherever they go.

Space Matrix Singapore studio meeting room

I understand that Space Matrix has its own intranet. What’s the advantage of that?

Over the last decade, Space Matrix has invested heavily in new technology that can improve the way we work. Our intranet is a centralised platform for us to provide company announcements, quick links to the various business applications and tools our teams use on a day to day basis, as well as links to our internal and external social media. 

Did you need to establish any new positions (tech-related for example) to enable the unassigned system and the mobile digital basis of the studio to function well?

We did not have to establish any new positions as we already have a strong digital applications and IT team in place.

Space Matrix Singapore studio phone booths

How do you think the way designers practise will evolve in future?

Technology will soon automate a lot of mundane tasks designers have to currently do manually. In the future, designers will have more time to be more creative. We are targeting designers to have 80 per cent of their tasks automated so that they can focus on the critical 20 per cent to allow them to truly add value to the design outcomes for our clients.

Is it feasible for designers to work remotely? Why or why not?

Absolutely. We have set up our infrastructure so that our designers have the ability to work from anywhere – whether travelling to another country where the project site is, or visiting another Space Matrix office to collaborate with another team.

Space Matrix Singapore studio corridor to meeting rooms

What else would you like to highlight with regard to the digital transformation of your studio?

As part of our digital transformation, we’ve implemented various smart digital tools in our office including:  

  • Interactive smart boards
  • Ability to cast presentations onto the meeting room screens, wirelessly.
  • Each meeting room is equipped with mini PCs. This allows for designers to login directly without having to bring their laptop to the meeting room and ultimately helps reduce our internet usage and cost.
  • Digital room booking system using iPads allows for easy access to view the schedule and book the room directly.
  • Cloud-based music in the office that designers can control from a mobile app.

 

Photography by Caleb Ming/Surround.

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