At the newly revamped Millward Brown Singapore office, JLL and HBO + EMTB set precedents for collaborative work culture that puts Activity Based Working at the core of the change. Olha Romaniuk writes.
Not to be mistaken for a typical refurbishment project, the Millward Brown Singapore office revamp is a precedent-setter for innovative workspace solution implementation and design that challenges the perception of a cookie-cutter office and asks, instead, what an effective workplace environment should be. Providing a comprehensive bundle of research-based workplace strategies, employee engagement and design solutions, the teams of strategists and designers behind the Millward Brown Singapore office created an optimally designed workspace that is more in tune with its employees’ needs and the company’s overarching goals.
Working with JLL, a workplace strategy consultant, and HBO + EMTB, a design practice, Millward Brown Singapore began the design process by identifying the existing problems within the old office that hindered the structure and work flow within the company, while also recognising opportunities for improvement in several key areas that affected overall employee productivity and happiness. Among the challenges was the creation of spaces more conducive to collaborative work and elimination of underused spaces for increased efficiency.
“The old office was open plan but it was not conducive to collaborative work and the few meeting rooms that we had were not designed optimally for the right number of people,” says Priti Mehra, Managing Director of Millward Brown Singapore. “The reception and waiting area were not being used and one-third of our workstations were empty because employees were away for meetings or travelling frequently. Employees found their surroundings to be too noisy to concentrate or have phone conversations, when needed. We saw a need to improve structurally and in the way we worked.”
The identification of areas of improvement began by working side-by-side with JLL to understand the old office’s space utilisation rate and Millward Brown Singapore employees’ appetite for agile working. At the same time, Millward Brown conducted a series of employee engagement workshops, discovering that the company’s employees wanted to have more control over how, when and where they worked and concluding that an activity based workplace was optimal for two key areas of the business: “an increasing headcount for the next few years in an already over capacity office and work-life balance for the employees.”
“We knew that a successful workplace change was not determined by the design solution alone,” adds Mehra. “Leadership, engagement and ownership were essential in creating a meaningful and sustainable organisational and behavioural change. Hence, we developed a change management programme that prepared employees for the changes ahead. We facilitated a series of workshops to allow groups to co-create the protocol/behaviours and understand the challenges and benefits of adopting the new activity based workplace. We also had a team of change champions to keep the communication lines open for employees to voice their concerns and for the team to address them.”
Along with implementing the changes in workspace utilisation and in behavioural and organisation structure, Millward Brown Singapore brought in HBO + EMTB to design a new space based on Activity Based Working principles that translated JLL’s workplace strategy for the organisation into engaging and collaborative spaces. “Our challenge was to design a space that not only adhered to JLL’s workplace strategy WPP “Think Design” guidelines and Millward Brown’s colour palette, but also embodied Millward Brown’s brand, culture and values,” says Joanne Morris, senior interior designer for the project at HBO + EMTB. “This meant designing a work space that was vibrant and colourful with a friendly atmosphere, and that encouraged constant interaction yet provided solitude when needed.”
As part of the spatial design approach, HBO + EMTB started with a revamp of the arrival hall and meeting rooms to create livelier spaces to conduct discussions and allow clients to experience Millward Brown’s values and collaborative culture as soon as they arrived at the office. The design team expanded the pantry into a multipurpose area and created spaces for informal collaboration and discussion in strategic locations throughout the office. The team also added a huddle room, to create a more secluded space for quiet, focused work.
With the strategic, behavioural and design changes in place, the result was almost immediate and favourable, changing the core dynamic of the office and aiding in a healthier work-life balance for the employees. “We have been working in our new workplace for two months now and the results have far exceeded expectations,” says Mehra. “We see a lot more use of the meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. Employees are working from home more often, or when in the office, choosing to work in different workspaces that best suit them and becoming more comfortable with the ‘our space’ mindset. Most importantly, we have seen an increase in collaboration and interaction between teams. We are convinced that this is the right way forward for our organisation.”