Question: ‘An office has 55 desks and 51 workers. Each desk can comfortably seat 1 worker at a time. 27 new workers are expected to join. How would you fit 78 workers in the office without adding desks?’

While this may sound like a tricky PSLE math question, this is in fact, a real life scenario that the Office of Patient Safety and Quality (OPSQ) faced last year in August 2022. 

For the last five years, SGH Value Driven Care team was part of OPSQ, both reporting to Medical Board. When the team grew to form the new Office of Value Driven Care (OVDC), there was one catch – their shared/common work area at SingHealth Tower did not have room for expansion. 

‘We were given the option to move some colleagues off-campus to Connection One, but we felt that would affect the team dynamics and culture building between OPSQ and OVDC. So this idea was rejected,’ said OPSQ Head & Senior Manager, Jillian Ang Andrada. 

After brainstorming, they came up with the idea of ‘flexi-desking’, which was to combine flexi-work arrangements with hot-desking. This was only possible because the team had adopted the hybrid model of working from home and working in the office. 

The team was enthusiastic in sharing their experience because they believed that other departments could face similar issue and this model of work has potential for scalability. Jillian added that, “adopting this new way of working allows us the best of both worlds – helping the hospital optimize resources in the future ways of working while maintaining camaraderie among teammates.”

Surveying the lay of the land
Staff were surveyed to find out what were their reservations with flexi-desking. “Where do I keep my personal items?” “How do I interact with my teammates if there is no structure for us to be seated in the same areas?” Taking these main concerns into account, the team planned for these features:

  • Shared concept: Co-owned workspaces and office equipment like laser pointers, portable microphone/speakers to facilitate hybrid Zoom meetings in smaller meeting rooms. 
  • Infection control: All desks are regularly cleaned.
  • Digital-first: Approval was obtained from Chief Medical Informatics Officer to grant staff access to SCM HVPN when working from home 
  • Lockers: Storage space for everyone to keep their personal items safely.
Neighbourhood-concept: Teammates can choose to work at any desk within their neighbourhood to maintain rapport and communicate with each other. There are 6 neighbourhoods all together, each clearly labelled. The photo shows the ‘neighbourhood’ of OVDC

Same look and feel: Most workspaces are equipped with computer monitors. Having bigger screens is especially important for colleagues who deal with data. 

To store common work files, compactors were made available, explained OPSQ Executive, Emily Eu, who was involved in the project. Everyone also did their part in decluttering which allowed them to use cupboards as additional storage spaces.

Low pedestal cupboards, previously used as extension of each work desk, were moved to form common storage under lock and key. 

Waste Not, Want Not
OPSQ made their office with 55 desks and 51 workers fit 78 workers by adopting a flexi-desking model dependent on a hybrid model of working. In addition, to add more numbers in the mix, with the flexible work arrangement, the landline utilisation also decreased and staff doing more calls outside of office increased. Hence, the team evaluated and reduced the number of landlines costing $45 per month in favour of mobile allowances for staff, at $33 per month saving an estimated $3000 annually. The offices also reduced their paper usage as access of systems from home meant people got used to printing less documents.

The model was implemented in November 2022, with positive reactions from teammates. OPSQ Clinical Risk Management Manager, Swati Prakash, shared, “Flexi-desking has helped me be adaptable to change, open-minded to new ideas and have a more productive work environment.”

“Flexi-desking gives us autonomy to choose the seating area that is most conducive to us. And not forgetting, flexi-desking also means more pantries area in each neighbourhood”, said Hou Po Yum, Senior Associate, Office of Value Driven Care. 

Melinda Khoo, Executive from OPSQ Clinical Governance and Quality, also shared that flexi-desking torn down the social barrier/wall in the office and promoted collaboration and relationship building amongst colleagues.

Emily added that this could have only worked with support from many quarters, from senior management to colleagues from Facilities Management & Engineering; Fire Safety; Environmental, Health & Safety; and Call Centre and Telecommunications. The most important success factor was the colleagues affected, who were willing to change the way they work.