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Veli Aghdiran in Q&A with Human Resources magazine

6 April 2018

Veli Aghdiran, our VP of Learning & Culture in APAC, was recently interviewed by Human Resources magazine for their "Spacial awareness" series. The article only appeared in print but you can read the full Q&A below:


Since opening its doors in 2013, Essence Singapore has grown at such a rapid pace the media agency has had to move offices four times. In August 2017, Essence relocated to a sprawling new office space on levels 10 and 11 at 158 Cecil Street, taking up a collective 14,000 square feet. Its meeting rooms and mothers' room are on a level 10 while employees are seated on level 11.

The office was aesthetically designed by Three-D Conceptwerke, inspired by the concepts within a design brief crafted by its "Pirates" team, the learning and culture team and the Singapore office manager, to reflect Essence's people experience philosophy – "Invested in. Engaged with. Cared for."

Upon entering the office, staff (Essentials) are greeted by a "happy or not" feedback machine – a fast and anonymous way to check the real-time happiness levels of Essentials. This arms HR and the management team with real-time data, by region, allowing them to take action and anticipate daily ebbs and flows.

Taking the phrase "work hard, play hard" seriously, the office's green chill zone called "Nasi Padang" serves as a space for Essentials to unwind and brainstorm, while the play room is equipped with a pool table, dartboard and foosball table. The office also boasts a well-stocked pantry full of exotic snacks, beverages and even alcohol. In an exclusive conversation with Jerene Ang, Veli Aghdiran, regional Learning and Culture Director for APAC at Essence, highlights the importance of a comfortable working environment.

How does an innovative interactive workplace help with the culture?

Veli: Our people proposition commits to creating a workplace where Essentials feel invested in, engaged with and cared for. The working environment we create for our employees is an opportunity to deliver in all of those areas. It's important to create a space where people can work comfortably and concentrate on the task at hand, a place where they can have fun and relax, and a place they're proud to work in. Fundamentally, we want to create an environment where people feel like they can be themselves. The office environment we create is there a manifestation of our values and a space that encourages our behaviours.

Does having an engaging office space help improve productivity, and why?

Veli: If we're given the opportunity to work in a place of comfort, an environment in which we feel positive and engaged, we expend less energy on negative emotions (like getting irritated that you're surrounded by clutter or getting embarrassed at the state of the meeting room for a client meeting) and more energy on the areas where we add value to our clients and to each other. There's no doubt in my mind, therefore, that an engaging office space can enable greater productivity.

I understand that Essence has a relatively low attrition rate. Do you think the office space helps with that?

Veli: We know there are two reasons people love working (and continuing to work) at Essence: they love what we do, and they love how we do it. Essentials get to work with amazing clients across the world, and they get to work with other smart people who really care about what they do. Sure, people like working in a nice office. But a nice office space alone is not enough. It's the strong culture and exciting challenging work that keeps people here.

What redecoration advice would you give to other companies?

Veli: It's easy for your office to become a cliché – a disjointed mash-up of cool things you've seen in other fancy offices or a space that could be anywhere in the word. The ideal office reflects who your company is. Done right, it's a daily reminder of why your employees continue to choose to work at your company, a space that they're proud of and that feels special to them. One bit of advice: don't be afraid of asking your employees what they want from an office space. You'll get valuable information and people will feel engaged in the process."