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A friendly office, aimed at reducing employee stress

Singtel Callcentre

[Singtel Callcentre] Singapore

SingTel made a complete change in the office environment of its call center.

In Singapore in general, the work at a call center is tough, and is seen as a low-level occupation. The typical image is like that of a factory where the entire focus is on efficiency. At times, staff has to deal with the unreasonable claims of customers, so they are in a constant state of excess stress.

Because of this, call center work has an incredibly high job turnover rate close to 100 percent annually. In other words, the entire staff will change over the space of a year.

What SingTel wanted, then, was a way to reduce employee stress by creating a new office where people would have more fun and stay employed for longer periods of time. Senior Commercial Manager Gabriel Lim says that the key is in improving communication.

“We analyzed why it is that employees without even three months with us would suddenly leave,” he says. “The results showed us that the amount of money being paid or whether or not they had technical training really had no connection to this. Young people, in particular, value the enhancement of human relations and social life in the workplace. So for them, being scolded by someone else is taken very negatively, and results in built-up stress.”

A space symbolizing improved communication is the Coaching Room, used for the instruction of employees. The previous coaching room had no windows, and, surrounded by walls, created a feeling of being cooped up. “Staff who were taking coaching in that room really felt like they were being punished,” Mr. Lim says. A new coaching room with an effective design with glass walls where people could see in and out was created.

“Coaching is not about punishing employees,” Mr. Lim says. “With good communication, it’s all aimed at improving performance and helping them out. We want employees to understand that.”

Exterior of the building. It is located in a suburb about 30 minutes by car from the city center. It is surrounded by companies, research centers and apartment blocks.
http://singtel.com

A space used for providing instruction to employees. The previous room gave a cooped-up feeling, an environment that added to employee stress. In the new office the walls are glass, and the feeling is much more open.

  • The floor is painted with an F1 racing motif. The “course” connects all areas.

  • The Huddle Area, a relaxation space for employees. This one has a park theme.

  • Another view of the Huddle Area. Because there are many employees with different values systems, a variety of spaces are available to choose from to spend break times.

  • Breakfast meeting in the Easy Room. To increase engagement with the company, teams are holding these kinds of activities.

  • The Magnet space provides a pantry, coffeemaker and other items. The design style is reminiscent of a park where people gather.

The design was based on the feedback received from employees. Something that is a little different from an office emphasizing on efficiency came when employee feedback requesting something more active and sporty was recorded by an outside designer, who included these in a concrete plan. The office furniture was also selected through employee voting.

“We managers wanted to listen carefully to the opinions of the employees, and show that we were very serious about this,” Mr. Lim says. “Through this, we got the sense that many people also wanted to be involved in the design process. Something like selecting the furniture for one’s own home. I thought that if that was true, then people would have a friendly feeling toward the workplace.”

Five hundred employees work in the call center. To help release them from stress there are several playful spaces in the office. The Huddle Area communal space was designed with several motifs, including park, beach and living room where people can take a moment and forget about work and see other employees with relaxed faces.

Looking at the individual desks, you immediately see decorations such as teddy bears and balloons. The company recommends that employees personalize their own desks. This really draws a line with other call centers, as it is very friendly and cozy.

The company also wants to increase engagement, and is supporting all-company team building activities. For example, the company is supporting activities such as teams competing to name the different meeting rooms, or managers providing their staff with a budget for team activities such as breakfast meetings or bowling tournaments.

At the end of the fiscal year, all managers also receive evaluations from their staff on whether or not their team is engaged. If the points received do not reach a certain level, a recommendation is received from upper management stating that they should definitely transmit to the employees the seriousness of the company on this matter.

There was also a change in the desk layout. The size of the desks is smaller, making the people around seem closer. This is also so that team leaders can quickly provide support whenever help is needed. Are there actually more cases in which employees were helping each other?

“From the start, the work of a call center means that you’re always learning,” Mr. Lim says. “It’s very difficult for any one employee to be able to answer all the questions asked by customers. When there are cases that the customer is difficult, it’s ideal if the team can share ideas. With the space where people can help each other, perhaps we are closer to that ideal.

“When people work in a fun environment, we also anticipate that employees can provide better service to customers,” Mr. Lim adds. And, in fact, customer satisfaction scores have increased. A clear improvement in productivity has not yet been seen. In fact, with employees being encouraged to take longer periods of relaxation there is the possibility that simple productivity has in fact fallen. However, this is not much of a problem.

“In a workplace where people feel stressed, it’s much easier for employees to make mistakes,” Mr. Lim says. “This is definitely true. If incorrect information is given to the customer, they may also forget to make a return phone call. But since we have moved to the new office, it seems that employee stress levels have improved, and I can say that these kinds of misses have decreased.”

Consultancy for Work Style:in-house Interior Design:SCA Design (a member of ONG & ONG Group)

From WORKSIGHT 06(2014.10)


Gabriel Lim
Senior Commercial Manager

Rommel Baluyut
Senior Designer SCA Design


The team members are closer together in the new office, creating an environment where people help each other.


A team competition for decorating desks. Managers judge the results and present awards.


Personal or family photos can be posted and shared in the communal space. It’s one of the secrets to solidifying team unity.


Personal or family photos can be posted and shared in the communal space. It’s one of the secrets to solidifying team unity.

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