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Narita Cheah on Money FM 89.3

Narita Cheah, Paperspace Asia’s Co-Founder and Director, was featured on Money FM 89.3 on 4 June, 2018. You can find the summary here. Read on for the full transcript!

Elliott Danker: Our next guest has over 18 years of experience in work change management and this involves engaging businesses to transition into structural and behavioral changes to support the business goals.

Yasmin Jonkers: Very interesting. Her name is Narita Cheah, co-founder and director of Paperspace. Narita, good morning!Thank you for joining us in the studio.

Narita Cheah: Good morning.

YJ: Elliot’s just gonna break through with this first question of his.

ED: Because we’re talking about workplace productivity, does a bar in the office aid workplace productivity?

NC: Well, I think it’s not to jump straight into whether having a bar lends itself to productivity though I do believe it does in some sense. I think the whole bar in the workplace really came about from the idea of having destinations in the workplace that brings people together and if you look at the workplace sort of decades ago it was really you just sitting at your desk doing 9 hours of work and that’s changed a lot.

ED: It’s interesting how you say that bar will bring people together because in SPH radio the bar exists in the general manager’s office so everyone gathers in the general manager’s office

YJ: It’s his way of getting the staff together, yeah. It’s his way of getting us to cross his threshold into his room. Narita, at Paperspace your goal is to build, nurture and connect design collective leaders as a catalyst for innovation. Can you tell us first of all a little more about Paperspace and what sort of innovation are you talking about here?

NC: Sure. I’ve been in the design practice for about 20 years and once upon a time you had to do workplace design and kind of specialize in say the legal industry. Today the workplace demands from the client have changed tremendously so the technology clients are asking you do you know about retail? The developers are asking you do you know coworking? And so there’s a mishmash of all sorts of requirements that they want from expertise, and the way that we run Paperspace, essentially, we represent about 17 studios, 70 designers in the region, and we pick and choose and curate the teams for the client, because as you know, with disruption and technology happening quite a fair bit, the only thing that sets us apart is the knowledge of the people coming together to kind of bring the ideas to the table.

YJ: I see. So your designers aren’t just based here in Singapore? They’re around. You must know their work pretty well in order to know who is the right designer for the right project.

NC: Yeah. Strange enough, most of the designers that I’m collaborating with right now, we’ve known each other all about at least 15 years – I’ve tried to hire them or we’ve worked on other projects together and it’s a time when a lot of designers with experience are coming out on their own, running their own practices.

YJ: They’re being disruptive as well. Long gone are the days when you just belong to that one firm and you work for them forever and ever.

ED: Shared offices began because start-ups and freelancers want to avoid the cost of the traditional set-up; or even the hassle of the long-term lease, right? Is this the latest trend today and is there demand from bigger companies?

NC: Absolutely, I think it’s beyond the hassle of putting up and making sure the internet works. If you’re a small practice of up to twenty or thirty person office it can get pretty mundane just walking to the same space all the time, having the same conversations. So innovation is driven and sparked by having new conversations with new people and finding out what they are doing. I think the phenomenon of coming into these kinds of flexible space will continue to grow.

YJ: You said 20 to 30 people, is that what you consider a bigger company, Narita?

NC: I think that would be more of the SME companies; but the larger technology firms that you see predominantly in the US have started to move a big chunk of their workforce into coworking operating spaces.

YJ: I’m wondering, if you were a tech company and you wanted to move into a coworking space and you know another tech company is in that particular coworking space, would you still go ahead? I mean there’s such a thing as your staff crossing paths and privacy issues. Narita, what do you have to say about that?

NC: So there’s obviously a concern around privacy, confidentiality certainly, but i think more and more, big corporate technology enterprise realize that not being part of that ecosystem where  you’re at the heartbeat of startups and new innovations and ideas also kind of puts the business at risk. So they are selecting the right teams to go into these spaces.

ED: Okay, you mentioned tech companies, but what are the industries that utilize such spaces.

NC: You see a lot of the media industries moving into coworking, and you also see a lot of startups within predominantly, technology, seem to be taking the first position in terms of deploying in spaces like that.

ED: Technology, because it’s advancing so rapidly, how do you use it in your coworking spaces and how does it exactly help in businesses that rent out the space?

NC: Technology comes in two forms, one is to operate the space a lot more effectively, so we’re working towards trying to harness the behaviours, where people are spending their time through our infrastructure. The other big piece about what’s important in our space is how people work together almost virtually so we deploy two very distinct technologies, one to harness collaboration so people don’t have to be face time, real time all the time, and it’s also about sharing files and working on things simultaneously whether you’re in the space or you’re some other location.

ED: Do you see a trend of a lot of people, and I don’t mean to throw you off guard here, preferring to work at home perhaps, would that be a consideration?

NC: It’s a huge demand from the workforce today in most of the enterprise and corporations – if you think about how you work productive are at home, you don’t think about going from the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom, and more and more, I think that’s where people find their most productive time at work where they’re not distracted by their coworkers when they need to get a particular task done.

And then reflecting that in the workplace, That one desk to do nine hours of work doesn’t work anymore because  people do different things throughout the day.

YJ: That style of work has been disrupted for sure.

ED: A coworker is a distraction now!

YJ: Oh my goodness, what would I do without you? That doesn’t apply here in the Breakfast Huddle.

YJ: What are the pros and the cons of coworking spaces. Take us through some examples, and let’s take some time to flesh it out.

NC: Sure, I’d like to start with the Pros, naturally. I think one of the pros of coming together in a shared environment, we started out actually, sharing a studio with another design firm when we first started out. One of the things you realize is conversations among particular entrepreneurs or leaders, you can’t really have it with your employees and when you share that burden with other entrepreneurs, you realize that you’re not so alone.  It’s the same struggles that are quite common, and difficult times feels like you’re supported by a community. So I think that’s one of the reasons where the new refreshing conversations happen.

The cons I think is really about trying to build spaces that then make sure you do your best work. I think very often,  your own space, it’s just too noisy and you can get distracted by these conversations – there are concerns about that as well. I think there needs to be a lot more thoughts in terms of the transitional spaces that’s built within these environments.

ED: How important is design when it comes to workplace productivity?

YJ: Besides the bar.

NC: Well I think users these days are really aware, with social media, what you see happening in the big technology spaces. I think for employees or people who come to work, the workplace and how it supports them is a big criteria in whether or not they take up a job in a particular place. Are they going to be with the company? So it does play a big factor because it demonstrates what sort of organization you are and what you’re allowing your teams to be in.

YJ: Can you tell us what the big no-nos are when it comes to workplace design and what exactly do you encourage in your consultations.

NC: Sure. I think again, going back to workspaces  two decades ago, if you have a hundred people you put in a hundred desks, that’s probably the biggest no-nos in workplace design today. Back to your point, Yasmin, you don’t always spend time at the desk. You’re socializing at the bar, you’re having meetings, a lot of us spend half of our time in closed rooms, the other times you’re out having meetings with clients. And when you do come back, you don’t want to be found because you want to focus and do a particular task.

So it’s a big no-no, I think the one desk per person is not going to be the way forward. It’s about creating the desk for you to work in, the bar for you to collaborate with other people (or the pantry), a closed space for having private conversations – so it’s about creating diversity and variety.

YJ: What are the big trends in pantry design? What do people want in these fancy offices besides that fancy coffee machine?

NC: I think they want a place where the coffee machine and all the other peripherals kind of becomes an events space. You could set it up so it’s where you can get your coffee in the mornings, and more and more, an events space (which aren’t in enclosed facilities anymore). It’s almost like a large meeting room that jives with a coffee bar and that big space becomes that communal space for events. And you’re going to see that more and more because people are wanting to be in less formal environments.

ED: Yasmin herself was on a worktrip last year observing other business radio stations and one in particular had an open pantry – a really big island and every morning there was breakfast there. It was right in front of everyone. There was no divisions and whatnot. That’s pretty cool. I want to get your thoughts on this. My partner, she has a lot of meetings whenever she’s at work and she can’t find time to sit down and get stuff done and so i suggested to her, in fact, why not suggest to her office to create a No Disturb Room. People can go in there and get work done for an hour. They might be more productive that way?

NC: Yeah, I mean it’s not uncommon, these phone booth, quiet rooms have already been created. So it is important to have those spaces whether you’re on a conference call or if you need to focus and shut the door and say “please leave that five minutes for later.”

ED: It’s understood, you can not go in and disturb the person who’s there. Just don’t go in there and sleep, lah.

YJ: You know when there’s abuse, it becomes a problem.

Narita Cheah, thank you very much for joining us. Co-founder and Director of Paperspace. We look forward to more beautiful offices thanks to people like you.