Financial services: Can a traditional industry adopt modern office design?

Photo credit: Balyasny Asset Management, Singapore

Financial services: Can a traditional industry adopt modern office design?

Modern businesses are more dedicated to understanding the link between work environments and employee performance. The financial services sector is often seen as a conservative one, with traditional office design that tends to be muted and sombre. Despite their traditional reputation, businesses in this sector can and should consider how office design can make a difference to both employees and clients.

Financial services tends to be a fast-paced and high-stress industry, and office design can go a long way in motivating employees and improving productivity. How can companies incorporate modern design elements while still retaining formality?

We look at three important elements of office design that can be considered. Two case studies, namely, DHFL and Balyasny Asset Management are used to illustrate how best these elements can be incorporated.

1. Creating an atmosphere that reflects company brand

For an industry that heavily relies on image, design is essential in creating the impression that each company wishes to convey to both clients and employees. Sleek and formal may inspire confidence in customers, but creating a warm and comfortable environment can also be effective.

DHFL, one of India’s leading housing finance companies, wanted to shed their old-school image for their new office. They wished to embrace a more modern, technology-oriented, open office environment. In order to make sure that their teams could comfortably make the switch to an open office work culture, the space was intended to be warm and inviting.

Therefore, the design concept revolved around the warmth and comfort of a home. This would help to create a sense of belonging. The double height ceiling in the heart of the cafeteria and large open skylight floods the space with natural light during the day. It also brings the openness and feel of an open sky to the courtyard.

Another important element in creating an image that best represents the company’s brand is the materials used. Balyasny Asset Management is a high-end wealth management and investment firm operating in Hong Kong and Singapore. As they cater to high net-worth clients, it was important for them to maintain a relatively traditional working style. In this instance, high-end materials such as marble and timber helped to create a look of luxury that would make an impression on their wealthy clients.

2. Incorporating flexibility to cater for sudden changes

The demographic of the workplace is quickly changing as a new generation of tech-savvy millennials join the workforce. With multiple generations working alongside each other in one place, the financial sector needs to address the needs of all their employees. Catering to technological advancements can improve productivity, but the working style of older employees also needs to be catered to. Hence, office design needs to be flexible.

Having fixed spaces such as formal meeting rooms are not cost efficient as they may not be utilised enough. Instead, it makes more sense to have a range of rooms that cater to various needs. In order to balance openness with privacy, these spaces can range from open areas for collaborative work, to private booths for concentration. A private storage area for sensitive documents is also a common consideration for financial service firms.

As the financial services sector is fast-paced and teams or use of space can constantly change, the office needs to reflect this. In the case of DHFL, the workplace was segregated into ‘neighbourhoods’, with each neighbourhood catering to each team. The teams have their share of privacy, proximity to amenities and services, and the spaces are interconnected and free-flowing.

The use of modularity is also important, whereby workspaces can be segmented into smaller areas or joined to create a bigger collaborative space. This ensures flexibility in converting or modifying an area as per future needs.

3. Ensuring employee well-being

For Balyasny, despite being in a traditional and conservative industry, they wanted to ensure the happiness and motivation of their staff. The main issue with the existing space was the lighting in the office. As lighting can make a big difference in overall feel of a space, Space Matrix worked to change the lighting such that the whole office was brightened up.

Additionally, Balyasny wanted to provide areas for rest and recreation for its employees. In its Hong Kong office, employees voted for a cafeteria and fitness centre. In Singapore, the team went with a karaoke and game room. This room, named The Library, also comes with dimmable colour-changing control to suit any mood. In a high-stress environment, providing a space for a few moments of rest can help to keep motivation levels up.

Incorporating nature into the workspace is also an increasingly popular trend. For DHFL, biophilic elements were introduced to bring the outside in. A small garden overlooks the client experience area, providing soothing relief from the busy street outside. A homely lounge overlooks a deck which transitions into a green lawn and gives a warm and inviting touch to the customer waiting lounge.  

The open skylight allows employees to experience the changing of weather, such as the thrumming of raindrops during the monsoon. This seemingly small touch allows for more meaningful human experiences which tend to be forgotten during busy work days.

These features not only improve employee health and wellbeing, but also help to create a next-generation workspace where workers and clients can feel at home.