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Tech workplaces get makeover for cool vibe

Firms say workplaces that look more like home than cubicle farms inspire creativity and pride

'LIKE A COOL COFFEE SHOP': Venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures has an open concept, a couch for meetings, a bare-brick wall, cement floors and open ceilings.
CREATIVE CULTURE: The office of digital storybook creator Paperplane has nailed the look - from its handmade pendant lights and coffee table upcycled from wooden pallets down to the squiggly, colourful paint on its floors


TECH companies here now are paying more attention than ever before to the physical environment of their work spaces, spending good money to build "cool" offices, in the process bolstering the global office furniture market.

And research firm CSIL has found that this market is no small potatoes; it is worth US$47 billion, and Singapore is one of 60 lead players.

Michael Ptacek, founder of OfficeLovin, a Prague-based website showcasing the world's most inspiring tech-company offices, said: "Tech offices today look like apartments. More have moved away from cold, corporate-like interiors to cosy and hipsterish spaces. We see lots of wood, collaboration zones and recreation rooms with ping pong tables."

Vinnie Lauria, managing partner of Golden Gate Ventures (GGV), said the tech scene in particular is unlike any other in that they work at coming up with creative solutions to problems while using any space available - garages, shophouses and even living rooms.

Taking GGV as an example, he likened its culture to that of a Silicon Valley startup - comfortable, informal and with a relatively flat structure. Its two-storey shophouse unit in Duxton Road does not have a private office for the chief executive; its open concept and big couch used for meetings are designed for people to feel relaxed and to speak their minds, he added.

About S$30,000 went into reverting the space from a mass of office cubicles to what it originally was. Mr Lauria said: "When we first took over, there were drop ceilings and office carpeting - two things that kill the creative spirit. Now, the cement floors, open ceilings and an exposed brick wall give the office a raw feeling, like a cool coffee shop instead of a cubicle farm."

In like manner, the office of digital storybook creator Paperplane has nailed the look - from its handmade pendant lights and coffee table upcycled from wooden pallets down to the squiggly, colourful paint on its floors. The startup spent some S$15,000 in renovations, the result of which reflects its creative, collaborative, hands-on and playful culture, said its founder Chrissy Lim.

"Startups are incredibly personal to the founder. In the early stage, when our passion is burning bright - long may it last - everything is a reflection of our vision, especially the space where we create the product," she said.

An aesthetically inviting workplace helps with attracting and retaining talent in a competitive labour market; it can be a huge sense of pride for employees who, over time, develop a sense of belonging to the place, said Teo Jia En, co-founder of vacation and short-term apartment rental site Roomorama.

At the heart of its Amoy Street office is a large pantry, which holds an "obligatory" foosball table and a recycled-wood dining table where the team meets for daily lunches.

Nick Nash, group president of Singapore-based mobile gaming and communications company Garena, said office design is essential in creating a conducive environment that can bring out employees' creativity, so they achieve the unimaginable.

In six years, the company has grown from a team of 20 into a 3,000-strong, US$2.5 billion regional company. Garena Singapore is looking to bulk up its team to 500 employees, who will work out of a new 80,000 sq ft, two-storey office at Fusionopolis.

Mr Nash said: "Regardless of the individual's preferences and work habits, Garena's inclusive employee welfare programme and wide range of facilities ensure that everyone is catered for." The amenities include in-house massage services, beds for power napping, standing desks, a fully-stocked cafeteria and tea points, and air hockey, pool and foosball amenities.

But not all offices are "cool" this way - or even feel the need to be so. Take real estate startup's, for instance. Its chief executive Darius Cheung is unapologetic about the company's scrappy, largely untreated ground-level office at Blk 71 in Ayer Rajah: "Engineering is at the core of what we do and it shows through our pragmatic, no-vanity approach to our office."

But's did splurge on one thing for its employees - Leap office chairs. Half of the S$25,000 set aside for office renovation went into these chairs by Michigan furniture maker Steelcase; they support various body shapes and sizes.

The company, however, bought them second hand at about S$450 apiece. They retail at about S$1,000.

Said Mr Cheung: "We care about the important things, such as how to make it comfortable and healthy for our team to spend the bulk of their day working, rather than to add frivolous things that are really for show and will lose value after the first-glance."

Last Friday, more than 130 tech companies opened their doors to 3,500 members of the public at Walkabout SG 2015, an annual city-wide open house for technology companies.

Organiser Kristine Lauria, GGV's Mr Lauria's wife, said: "Walkabout enables companies to show why they're an exciting place to work in and meet people with similar interests in a fun, casual setting where they can build relationships without any pressure or agenda."

She added that the event lets the Singapore tech ecosystem flex its muscles and show the rest of the world that Singapore is an important place to be for tech in Asia.

Mrs Lauria quipped: "This isn't the (Silicon) Valley, it's the jungle!"