How do We Design More Innovative Workplaces in the New Normal?

For many companies in Vietnam and abroad, innovation is a key pillar to grow and be competitive in the market. However, how can office design create more innovation? And how can innovation create better offices? To uncover this topic, Dreamplex partnered with AIA Vietnam to host the “Innovation at Work” webinar series and discussed the issue with key experts across the Asia–Pacific region. 

Across Workplaces, People, and Technology, Dreamplex explored the why, what, and how of “Innovative” Workplace Design. In the first episode covering the topic “How do we design more innovative offices?”, Dreamplex discussed the issues with 3 guest speakers: Jessica Carr (Workplace Director APAC, Sodexo Singapore), Tuan Le (Founder at Lab Saigon, who designed the AIA Head Office) and James Woodburn (Head of Real Estate Asia, WPP Hong Kong).

A New Definition of Innovative Workplaces Design

According to global management consultant McKinsey, innovation is at the top of the business agenda and it’s also clear that it will play a key role in social and commercial recovery from the pandemic. Good workplace design pays, therefore tech companies all over the world invest heavily in the design of their workspaces to enhance creativity. 

To clarify the concept of innovation in the workplace, at the beginning of the webinar, Daan van Rossum, Chief Experience Officer at Dreamplex raised the question: “What is innovation in the workplace?”. From guest speakers’ experience in creating innovative workplaces in Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam, they shared different perspectives about innovation that can’t be found elsewhere. Not only creativity and ideas, innovative workplace design is also the harmonization of 3 critical criteria:

  1. Effectiveness: As Jessica Carr said: “Innovation is something new, such as a product, service, process change which helps people become more effective.”  
  2. Authenticity: From the experiences of setting up AIA headquarters, Tuan Le shared: “It needs to be authentic to your culture, to your company, to your vision. Think about innovation in the longer term: it’s a process. It should be authentic. Doesn’t make sense when creating an environment-friendly office when selling plastic.”
  3. People:Really for us, innovation is the people who are doing it” – James Woodburn revealed his wisdom of creating innovative workplaces for corporations with more than 30,000+ employees.

Contrary to the normal norm, the definition of innovation at work is not only thinking of new ideas. It’s a logical process of combining three perspectives into one flow: Innovation at work is to become more effective, focusing on employees’ needs first and being authentic to the company’s vision.

What is The Core Factor of Innovative Workplaces Design?

There are hundreds of factors to keep in mind to design an innovative workplace, but everything has to start with a few core elements. Talking about the most essential factor of designing an innovative workplace, Jessica Carr shared her secret leading to successful projects for large Singapore companies: “Let’s begin with what’s the key moments that matter in a person’s day. When thinking about office design, we think about physical space. Obviously, it’s to think about because it’s tangible. But now let’s think broadly. What factors can support people doing their best work? What do they need to get their work done? Don’t forget the services that activate it, such as creating a coffee that encourages people to meet in groups.” 

Besides, Jessica emphasized on creativity: “It doesn’t need to be brand new entirely. It could be new to you. Not to your neighbor or the next-door tech company.” Last but not least, don’t rush and lose patience in the creative process as Jessica concluded: “It takes time to mature and innovate at work.” 

How to Convert Employees’ Key Moments into Effectiveness?

Effectiveness at work is always a concern and headache of CEOs and senior managers and is also a key goal of workplace innovation. Therefore, designing a workplace that makes people more effective is a must-have. On this topic, James shared his simple but spot-on answer accumulated in his process of designing offices across 19 countries: “To enhance effectiveness, after gaining employees’ key moments in a day, let’s create seamless interaction between them backed by technology”. 

The seamless interaction means that employees can work in a smooth flow in 8 hours without a hitch. Technology plays a key role in making this possible. For example, automatic doors help employees enter the office smoothly and eliminate unnecessary movements, therefore their minds can focus on daily tasks immediately from the moment they walk in. 

Another is that the company data system automatically synchronizes information, from desktops, laptops to employees’ phones to help them stay in touch with colleagues and update the latest changes of the team, and suggestions from their boss. 

In fact, seamless interaction has proven to be amazingly effective at work, with Apple as the most vivid example. By creating the smoothest experiences across their devices, from iPhones to iMacs, they have raving fans from all over the world.

3 Steps to Design an Innovative Workplaces in The New Normal? 

Over a year has gone by since the WHO declared coronavirus as a pandemic. Thanks to numerous efforts to control the pandemic from Asian governments, Asia Pacific is first getting back to normal. But a few things have changed, as Daan van Rossum pointed out: “People need to rethink the role of the office” since more and more people are now working from home. An innovative workplace is no longer just a physical office, it is now linked with a home workspace. Even so, companies can still design innovative workplaces following 3 steps below.

  • Step 1: Define the key moments in an employee’s day. In the new normal, employees’ daily activities are no longer limited to the office, but have been combined with working time from home. So companies need to study their new insight. What do they usually do before sitting at their desk at home? What mental, physical, and emotional barriers do they face at the moment of starting a new working day from home? Where do they get their inspiration from? What elements might inspire them daily? Nature, goals, beverages, or the deep connection between employees despite the distance? Study those things in detail and propose ideas to improve those small things, step by step. 
  • Step 2: Being authentic. Think about innovation in the longer term – it’s a process to become the version companies truly want to be. As Tuan Le stated: “Let’s come with bigger questions. What’s the company’s vision and mission? Being authentic is designing more tools for that goal.” Then combining with employees’ insight to sharpen the tools. 
  • Step 3: Maintain the seamless interaction backed by technology. It’s about the policy that companies set up around their employees to create the seamless interactive experience filled with the right technology. For example, when working from home, information synchronization, working flow between employees through data systems and online communication becomes more important than ever to create a seamless interaction. The question is, has the company done well in both technical and policy aspects? Do employees find it difficult to access highly confidential information from home? Do colleagues often misunderstand each other because of unnecessary communication errors when not meeting face-to-face? Why do those errors exist? Find the cause and correct them one by one.

When starting from employees’ insight, even in the pandemic, companies can still create an innovative workplace just by defining what are the key moments in employees’ day, combined with the authentic vision of the company then creating seamless interaction among employees. It’s not the responsibility of CEOs or managers alone. Every input from employees matters, as Jessica Carr emphasized at the end of the webinar: “Innovation now becomes everyone’s job. Collaborate now, fall fast, get experience, have feedback and improve from there.” 

Meet The Speakers | Innovation at Work Webinar Series

Tuan Le, Creative Director/Co-Founder, The Lab Saigon, a multidisciplinary design studio

At The Lab, his diverse team worked closely with AIA Vietnam leadership to conceptualize and redesign their head office, sales offices (GA NEXTs), training centers (AIA Exchange), and financial services cafe (Nest by AIA). He has served as Creative Director on diverse design projects such as cocktail lounges, office designs, exhibitions, factory showrooms, concept stores, music videos, and an annual national HIV Awareness Campaign.

He hosts a top-rated podcast series about the intersection of Marketing, Art, and Design on Vietcetera. He also owns several food and beverage businesses in Saigon and Hanoi.

James Woodburn, Head of Real Estate – Asia, WPP

James heads the real estate team in Asia for WPP which houses approx. 30,000 staff across 19 countries in the region. His team works with the businesses in delivering new campuses and workplaces together with the ongoing coordinated facility management. Covid has seen an acceleration of the pace of change and a renewed focus on agility; experience and sustainability and the team have embraced this challenge with open arms.

Jessica Carr, Workplace Director APAC, Sodexo

15 Years’ experience in the design and workplace strategy industry.

Jessica leads the Workplace Services within Sodexo Corporate Services APAC, and is also the Studio lead for Wx APAC: A consulting studio that consults studios that helps companies quantify and improve their workplace experience.

About AIA and Dreamplex | Innovation at work webinar organizers


AIA Vietnam officially started operations in Vietnam in February 2000. Today, 20 years after its inception, AIA Vietnam has grown to be a trusted brand in Vietnam.

Over the last 20 years, AIA Vietnam has been focusing on laying a strong foundation for its sustainable growth through the training and development of its human resources. AIA Vietnam has established a network of more than 170 offices in 53 provinces and cities nationwide and serves the holders more than 1,000,000 policies across the country. Notably, AIA Vietnam is proud to announce that the company has been confirmed as a Great Place to Work which will now cover the period of Sep 2020 to Aug 2021. 2020 is the 3rd year in a row that AIA Vietnam has achieved this honorable certification from the global executive advisory and culture consulting services Great Place to Work® Institute.


Dreamplex creates “A Better Day at Work” that perfectly meets the needs of fast-growing companies who understand that their young employees expect more from their workplace. Well-designed private, branded offices, 5-star hospitality-level care and an engaging program of social activities, training & development, and wellbeing initiatives help those companies attract, engage, and retain Millennial and Gen Z talent in Vietnam. Dreamplex has 5 locations across Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In 2021, Dreamplex will be adding three new locations including The UnOffice projects in District 2 and The Campus in district 4 and one more in Ham Nghi. 

  • The UnOffice – District 2 (Launching in October) 

Launched in October 2021, the UnOffice on Nguyen U Di in District 2 packs over 800 workspaces across 3300m2. Designed with Gen Z and Millennials in mind, it’s the exact opposite of a static, boring, unhealthy office building.

The office offers large multi-functional spaces that are highly interactive, and a series of totally unexpected elements on every floor. Plus, plenty of meeting, napping, and F&B spaces. The perfect shared campus for companies in the logistics, eCommerce, fintech, and other industries.

  • The Campus – District 4 (Launching in November) 

Our largest Dreamplex yet. Launching in November 2021, we believe this will be the most unique destination office in Saigon: an industrial warehouse conversion with over 1700 workplaces, built around a lush, tropical garden.  

On 6800m2 across two floors of two warehouses, this is the place for larger teams to have the best of a (series of) private office(s) inside a shared campus. Besides large private suites, the indoor/outdoor concept includes large event areas, big lounges, a coffee shop and other F&B options, alongside over 15 types of spaces to work, meet, and focus.

To learn more about how Dreamplex can help innovative companies of any size offer their teams a Workplace Experience of the future, please contact Daan van Rossum, Chief Experience Officer: daan@dreamplex.co or +84 901489369

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