PCs

No more cubicles or private offices at Microsoft Asia Pacific's Singapore office

As part of Microsoft Asia Pacific's recent Singapore office redesign, the company removed cubicles, private offices, and desktop phones. Find out why.

Microsoft Asia Pacific (AP) recently embarked on a plan to radically revamp its regional office located at One Marina Boulevard in Singapore. Dubbed "Microsoft's New World of Work," the company hopes that its redesigned office will promote greater productivity and collaboration, reduce the office space required, and attract and retain employees from all generations.

Cubicles, designated offices, and desktop phones are out

Local media and bloggers were invited for a media briefing about the changes and for a tour of the new office. Microsoft AP eliminated all cubicles and personal offices for senior staff and managers and converted those spaces into a mixture of non-partitioned desks, as well as other tables and chairs that are more reminiscent of a cafe than an office.

With no assigned desks, employees can sit anywhere they want, or they can opt to work from home; in fact, there is a 2:1 employee/available desk ratio, which means there aren't enough desks for everyone to work at the office at one time. It is the regional headquarters, and staffers are frequently out of town. Interestingly, Microsoft AP says that the number of workers showing up at the office is higher than before the revamp, which suggests the efforts to improve the work environment have been a success.

Not all rooms were eliminated; meeting rooms are still available for booking, with a smattering of smaller rooms that workers can use in situations when absolute concentration and privacy is needed.

Microsoft AP also replaced employees' desktop phones with wireless headsets; this allows employees to work from anywhere within the office using a PC laptop, handset, webcam, or smartphone. I didn't see any desktop computers during my brief tour of the Singapore office.

Transitioning to the new concept

The wide-open office concept does take some getting used to for some employees (it would be unreasonable to expect a switch of such magnitude to be completely seamless). Jessica Tan, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore, mentioned etiquette issues such as not talking too loudly and ensuring that a workstation is properly cleared prior to leaving. To ensure that staffers are adequately trained, Tracey Fellows, area VP of Microsoft Asia Pacific, told us about in-house programs in which employees are taught how to get the best out of the various tools at their disposal.

I shall be writing about the technologies and concept behind Microsoft AP's revamp in my next blog. In the meantime, you can see photos of the offices in the TechRepublic photo gallery Microsoft Asia Pacific Singapore office's new open concept design.

Photo credits Microsoft

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

42 comments
waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

I have been a cubicle citizen for 30 years. My most productive time has been when I was in temporary accommodation where everyone had a closed office with a door. The most junior employees had 2 people sharing one office. Closed offices encourage communication because you can go to anyone's office to have a conversation without disturbing anyone else. The problem is that the savings in open concept offices are easily calculated but the expense of lower productivity is difficult to measure.

jprigot
jprigot

I can remember when the Next Best Thing. was this very concept. Employees would call ahead to have a rolling cart with their materials moved to their workarea du jour. When they arrived, they would be directed where to go. Business would be revolutionized, buildings would become high efficiency work hotels! Unfortunately, people wanted their own space and this faded until now. Of course because it's Microsoft, it's now a revolutionary concept.

GSG
GSG

The chairs look horribly uncomfortable, and in that first picture, too tall so that you legs will dangle. Plus, imagine the load you'd have to haul around, laptop, phone headset, notebook (because you still need to jot things down), other supplies, purse or other method for personal items. In short, it's an ergonomic nightmare.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Just for testing I need 6 computers and multiple monitors on the development system. And distractions, yeah this would not work for a lot of the people I know.

stupid user name
stupid user name

I've seen other "experiments" with working environment changes. With the increase in mobile devices, this just might work.

MrBeck
MrBeck

Having had the job of finding out what the competition was doing on occasion this environment is very helpful. You can overhear some of the conversations but a recording device is better. "Clean" workstations promote a great deal of interesting and up to date information in the dustbins. This sort of arrangement also means a single employee can move around from group to group so is not limited in information gathering to the group to which they have been assigned. I wish them well.

kirkbubul
kirkbubul

So the employees are ciphers like the guys in the background being killed as 007 saves the day. No place for personal items, mementos, personal company awards, or, as Slayer mentioned, work materials that can't be accessed on a tiny little screen. This isn't the office of the future; it's hell. I'm glad to be nearly 70 and free of this nightmare.

hacker_jack
hacker_jack

It must be remembered that this is a very specific situation, an office where the majority of staff spend a good portion of time away from base. That means that the entire job is based round the principle of being mobile from the start. Any regular tasks that prevent that mobility are taken away and given to someone else who is single site based. If you tried to apply this to 90% of offices it simply wouldn't work because the demarcation of those roles is not there.

mallen.paralegal
mallen.paralegal

This should be the way all offices are run. The days when it is necessary to have print anything within an office are dead - the 'brain' just has not accepted it yet. As for individual offices and personal cubicles, much of that has to do with the accumulation of political power within a given company - at least in many industries. I've actually witnessed instances of where cubicle walls and office walls are put up that leave a long 6" or 12" gap from the office wall or cubicle wall to the next because people of equal rank within the corporate hierarchy are only allowed a set amount of floor space, regardless of how it makes no sense architecturally. I say find another 'yardstick'.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Maybe no one at MS does work, or they are much more organized than me. But my desk drawers are full of notes and reference materials, my shelves are full of books, and my desk is covered in expense reports and other active work. Having to move that every day would not be practical. Oh, and the shelf directly over my monitors is full of nerf guns and nerf swords, to quickly defend myself from sneak attacks.

jarzola
jarzola

people like their privacy and we should continue to give it to them. "...promote greater productivity and collaboration, reduce the office space required, and attract and retain employees from all generations." The key phrase here folks is "...reduce the office space required...". It is all about squeezing as much profit as possible, nothing more. It is not going to help anything but a bottom line.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... you don't need your office moved--you're carrying it with you in that laptop.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Note that those tall chairs promote posture for good health while including rails to rest your feet--so they're not dangling. You really don't have to carry your home around with you everywhere you go, after all. Laptop, tablet, that's just about all you really need except possibly for that cup of latte in the morning.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Somebody like you could work from home far more easily and have all the privacy you want.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Clean means clean in this case. I don't see any dustbins in the photos and no paper-handling infrastructure. A spy would be a lot more obvious in an office like this.

paulmah
paulmah

Interestingly, I was told by Microsoft that staffers take the initiative to send internal emails to prep colleagues should there be visitors expected for a particular day. And keep a lookout to ensure that no confidential documents are left lying around. I'm not sure how well moving from group to group will work, though there are special rooms when privacy is needed (Be putting it up in a follow-up blog)

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I used to drive 120 miles per day round trip to drop off my wife at her work and then travel on to mine and return in the evening. I quit and became self-employed while she got promoted and was allowed to work from home. Where I once put 20,000 miles per year onto my car, now I barely break 7K for personal purposes, not work. I've saved thousands of dollars on fuel costs--especially now that gas prices are 3x what they were then. Hey, let's get Public Transportation up to snuff to get all these cars off the roads and get our offices into an "attendance optional" form. Sure, sales and manufacturing still need physical attendance, but the office can save the white-collar worker a lot through reduced costs and tax breaks--and yes, you don't have to be rich to get tax breaks.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Cubicles are also denounced as dehumanizing 'gopher towns', where everyone is cut off from everyone else. What do you think the typical office should look like?

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Very few of them even occupy an office any more; they work from home.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Notes go into OneNote or similar app. Expense reports are converted to electronic forms. Instead of having paper spread all over a desk, spread it over multiple monitors. Okay, bound references will be a problem, at least until more of them are converted to .PDF or e-reader formats. On the other hand, I suspect there are probably some bookcases somewhere. My question is, where do I put the picture of my wife and my NASCAR die-casts?

hacker_jack
hacker_jack

I've managed to eliminate most of that by keeping it electronically. I appreciate this doesn't suit everyone but pretty much anything above that weeks scribblings (of which I type the important details up on a Friday afternoon) and a few basic hand drawn sketches (If they would buy me a decent tablet those would be electronic as well) are kept on our servers. Reference books/folders etc. can be centrally stored and used when needed, reducing the numbers needed also.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... to say they are wrong? Most real social advances in history are due to somebody simply trying something different. Maybe you like absolute privacy (yes, I know some people do) but you, if you worked there, could always work from home and not be saddled with working in a friendly, open, accepting environment. Cubicles were turning people into robots; people are not robots and our society has suffered as a result. It's time be become part of society again.

GSG
GSG

Most people need more than just a laptop and/or tablet. I find the tall chairs, even with the foot rail, uncomfortable and limiting. I would guess that you're a rarity in that you'd only need your laptop, tablet, and a latte. I know that I have too much stuff, but even if I pared down to the essentials, I couldn't lug it around. I bet a lot of people find that atmosphere cold and impersonal. I don't know of anyone who doesn't want to personalize their space in some small fashion. It tells the employee, "We value you so much that we won't even give you a desk. Just find anywhere and work there." It reminds me of the airport. Just plop down anywhere you can find a power outlet and gaurd it like a rabid pitbull.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm 5'6"; it's everything I can do to get up into one. The feet at the end of my 26" inseam legs often don't reach those rails. Then there's the issue of everyone having to adjust each chair each time they move to a new one. I want full-sized monitor(s), mouse, and keyboard. I'm not interested in working from home, so a laptop instead of a less expensive desktop is a waste of money. Ever notice that when you take a class, people quickly develop a favorite seat? I bet that happens here - that the employees soon begin using the same desk repeatedly, to the point of calling 'mine' and being unhappy when they have to sit somewhere else.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm in a manufacturing plant. The people I support work in the building. Not just the people on the line bringing up drawings and instructions; not just the warehouse people moving inventory; but the engineers who have to support the assembly process and the quality control types who have to check each step in the process. Design work can be done from the house, but that engineer has to come see if what he came up with can be built on the existing equipment. Personally, I wouldn't work from home even if my job was suited to it. I can't get in a working frame of mind at home. There are too many distractions and excuses to do other things.

andrew232006
andrew232006

I like cubicles. If I want to talk to someone, I'll get up and go talk to them or arrange a meeting. Ideally I would have my own office but I realize that isn't feasible. My next choice would be large offices divided into cubicles and a few open spaces for meetings. Barring that, give me the gopher town. People are distractions and if I can't get a few hours to focus on my work without listening to someone tapping their feet, clicking their pens, typing loudly, having long conversations or stomping down the hall then my productivity is severely diminished. Maybe these open environments work for managers who MS made this for since their work is people? But managers, please don't push your preferences for open offices and 'open door policies' on those of use who's work is at our computer.

TNT
TNT

I can't imagine this working for a service desk situation, or sales, where you have multitudes of people talking on the phone all at once. That would be a horrible cacophony. Cubes do help absorb sound. To that end, I'd like a picture of the ceiling of this new office space, I'm betting there are sand bags or some kind of sound proofing installed.

Slayer_
Slayer_

There probably is no perfect solution. I guess if I started off completely mobile, I wouldn't have accumulated so much stuff to haul around from desk to desk. Heck, I just got my own office (hurray for employee attrition :) ) and now I have even more stuff. And some plants and stuff on my desk. I would find it very irritating to have to haul around 3 monitors every day.

Seotop
Seotop

They may combine this work, doing it at office and from home... Why not?

GSG
GSG

You're right about OneNote, but with multiple people supporting what I'm building, and the need to keep the original specs through multiple iterations of the product, it's just been easier to write what we're doing next to the requirement in the spec. Maybe if we could afford the pro version of adobe, we could edit the document with our comments, but we're a small not-for-profit, and have never gotten appproval for it. With onenote, I could copy the paragraph, and reference page numbers of the attached document, but sometimes expediency triumphs and we do it the old way. Plus, for some reason, I'm the only person that will even use One Note. Everyone else hates it. I'd have loved to have something like this in college to manage my classes.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I don't want anymore, I'm going to die of radiation poisoning at this rate.

GSG
GSG

I have reference manuals that are only in paper. To be honest, I prefer them that way. It's easier to have the manual by my side as I'm referring to it, rather than flip between windows. Plus, when I'm building to a spec, I make notes in the spec manual exactly what I've done. But, that's just my personal preference. Edited to add: but it's sure convenient to open the electronic version and do a search on a key word!

Slayer_
Slayer_

Would have been a pain to have to run out of the firefight and find my guns in a central location, instead, I just reached up, grabbed my nerf gun off the shelf, and started shooting.

Slayer_
Slayer_

At my height, they feel "normal" sized.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... it was perfect for everybody. Obviously it's not, but just as obviously it is perfect for some.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

At least there you can control the environment. You also get a tax break by having dedicated space for an office as well as saving all that gas money. Of course, if you absolutely HAVE to interact at the office, there's always virtual conferencing.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

You'd have your answer. The place looks, as described, more like a Cafe than an office.

paulmah
paulmah

Though admitted, only five (including my laptop) are currently connected. Switching to a desktop soon to solve this problem! :)

hacker_jack
hacker_jack

I agree about making notes on a paper version of a spec, I do that as well, the key then though is typing it up in a meaningful manner before I forget what the notes mean. I've actually found that it leads to a lot less ambiguity later.