Office-based Employment Model

Office-based Employment Model Underpinning CBD Under Threat

SINGAPORE – The office-based employment model that supports the existence of the city-state’s central business district (CBD) is under threat by the rise of the work from home (WFH) trend, reported Bloomberg on Thursday morning (7 October, SGT).

Even before the government re-imposed stringent COVID-19 measures, including the return of WFH as default work arrangement last month, Singapore adopted a cautious approach to reopening.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the republic’s return to the office has been slow. In fact, workplace activity declined by 25 percent during the last week of September compared to before the pandemic struck, based on Google mobility data. In comparison, workplace activity in Hong Kong only fell by 7 percent.

Even before the pandemic occurred, city planners have been thinking of ways to turn Singapore’s CBD into a more attractive place to live and work, but that need has only become more urgent amidst the ongoing health crisis.

Plans to draw new residents and businesses to the area include adding more amenities such as supermarkets and coffee shops, and encouraging a more vibrant bar and restaurant scene. Among the plans to draw new businesses and residents to the financial district is the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) CBD Incentive Scheme, which incentivises property owners to turn ageing office buildings into mixed-use projects with residences, hotels, and lifestyle amenities.

“Past definitions of a successful business and financial district are no longer relevant. The portrait of a successful CBD today is strikingly different from the mono-use office districts of yesteryear,” a URA representative told Bloomberg.

Moreover, the government is mandating property developers to construct privately owned public spaces within the premises of office buildings. For instance, The Cube@Asia Square – which is sandwiched between 2 office buildings occupied by Amazon and Citigroup – houses rows of bars catering mainly to techies and bank employees.

The stakes to transform Singapore’s CBD to retain its attractiveness with multinational corporations is particularly high, as the value of top-notch office space there based on an analysis of developers’ financial reports total more than US$50 billion.

“Failure to reinvigorate the older sections of the financial district would very soon make them irrelevant and unattractive to companies dealing with the new economy and digital finance,” explained Alan Cheong, Executive Director of research in Singapore at property consultancy Savills.

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