To rise as a Smart Nation, Singapore must disrupt the workplace

By Andrew Chung

Singapore is well underway in its quest to be a Smart Nation, through the deployment of technology and innovative solutions to old problems. Since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined his vision to turn the young country into a Smart Nation in 2014, Singapore has been making impressive progress, both in terms of hardware and software.

And while the nation-wide adoption and human capital are vital to development, space has been an issue. In the Office Space Around the World 2014 report, Singapore is ranked as one of the most expensive office rental markets in Asia. The report said that the country saw a rental growth of 22 percent every year. And CBRE also ranked Singapore as the 14th most expensive office rental market in the world.

This could be a major obstacle to the growth of the country’s startup ecosystem, as small to medium-sized companies will not be able to afford renting expensive office spaces. Young people might need to work from home or in locations that are not favourable to their business development, as according to the law in Singapore, one needs an office address in order to register a company.

First, the positives: Singapore’s startup scene is currently ranked at 10th globally, according to the Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015 report. Prime Minister Lee’s vision includes promoting the use of IT in daily lives, and encouraging young people to come up with creative ways of using technology.

In 2014, Prime Minister Lee said that nine of ten households in Singapore were already wired with broadband, and 85 percent of the population has smartphones. The government has been encouraging the public to subscribe to e-services, from taxes to passport applications.

This means that Singapore is well poised in accomplishing its goals as a Smart Nation, provided it can solve the space issue. Luckily Singapore has seen the demand for flexible work spaces that could accommodate the needs for young startups and a smart workforce, which Prime Minister Lee called the vital ingredient for building a Smart Nation.

Recently, Forbes forecast six major trends that will take the development of flexible working spaces to a new era in 2016. They include niche communities, multiple locations, larger spaces, new services, corporate partnerships and beyond work.

Singapore appears to be on top of this trend. For example, the country now has 30 co-working spaces. Besides creating a harmonious working environment that comes with not only chic design and office services, many flexible working spaces in Singapore are offering various kinds of extra services such as coaching mentorship programmes, a family-friendly space that provides childcare services for working parents, industry networking events, and even public relations and marketing services that help boost the reputation and businesses of tenants.

It is expected that the growth of flexible work spaces in Singapore will continue, according to CBRE, and it will encourage more landlords to utilise their properties in a smarter way to partner with operators or even revamp their properties into co-working spaces. The growth of flexible work spaces in the country will be key.

In his speech, Prime Minister Lee said that to become a Smart Nation, Singapore must be “willing to try new approaches, disrupt existing ways of doing things; try, fail fast, learn the lessons, turn around quickly; constantly pushing the boundaries, inside the Government, outside the Government.” For sure one of the first steps will be to disrupt traditional ways of viewing how work should be done, through the rise of flexible work spaces. 

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