At Prudential Singapore, the CEO doesn’t have his own desk. In fact, no one in the company sits at designated seats. It’s a deliberate move to break down silos and to get people to collaborate.

“Our work environment is not organised by departments. It’s really designed to get the right teams to sit together to get things done quickly,” says Sheela Parakkal, Chief Human Resources Officer, who is a champion of activity-based working at the insurer’s new open-concept office, PRU Workplayce.

Getting people out of their comfort zone and into a more dynamic environment is just one of the ways Prudential is preparing its people for the future of work. The company is also investing heavily in training and in building the right work culture for success.

Over the past year, the company has been transforming its work culture into one where teamwork, creativity, self-initiative and ownership are encouraged and recognised. In 2017, employees spent an average of three days each on improving leadership skills, strategic thinking, design thinking and technical capabilities. The change continues to be reinforced through new programmes and the strong encouragement and support of senior management.

“We are nurturing a future-ready workforce that is equipped with the right mindset and skillset to drive our business in the digital economy,” says Parakkal.

A work space for greater collaboration

To compete in a highly competitive industry, Prudential has to be “customer obsessed”, Parakkal says. A year ago, the company began to evaluate it business approach and the way its employees functioned as part of its longer-term roadmap to creating awesome experiences for its customers.

“You’ve really got to change the way that you operate and the way that you respond to customers’ requirements in order to stand out and capture the imagination of customers,” she says.

One of the crucial steps was to get people from across teams collaborating and working together towards a common cause. With activity-based working, employees at Prudential sit with different teams day-to-day, depending on the projects they’re working on. All of their personal items go into lockers, which are arranged by their birth months, so they meet new colleagues at the locker zones. “We’ve created a workspace which encourages curiosity and conversation,” Parakkal says.

It’s the same arrangement for everyone, from the CEO to the newest hire. Everyone gathers for stand-up meetings at the many open collaboration spaces dotted around the office. Social spaces like the café encourage exchanges of ideas over a coffee. “It’s not just about open spaces; it’s about breaking down hierarchy,” she says. “It’s about leading by example, and it has to start from the top.”

Igniting new ideas

(L to R) Nic Nicandrou, Chief Executive, Prudential Corporation Asia; Mike Wells, Group Chief Executive, Prudential plc; Wilf Blackburn, Chief Executive Officer, Prudential Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies; Lilian Ng, Chief Executive, Insurance, Prudential Corporation Asia; and Kai Nargolwala, Non-executive Chairman, Prudential Corporation Asia, at the official opening of Prudential’s new PRU Workplayce.

The company has also launched a platform called Ignited to crowdsource ideas from all 1,000 of its employees. “The best ideas can come from anyone in the organisation,” Parakkal says.

More than 300 enthusiastic employees responded to the call suggesting solutions ranging from how Prudential can differentiate itself in the market; how it can make its business processes more efficient; and how it can create a better employee experience.

The winning idea came from one of the youngest employees. Nicholas Chiang, a fresh graduate who joined the company several months ago, who impressed with his idea of a one-stop mobile app to house all of Prudential’s employee benefits under one roof. This is now a live project that Nicholas is leading.

Broadening skills and deepening expertise

The PRU Workplayce features collaboration zones and social spaces that encourage conversation and creativity.

Employees also need to broaden their skills, to complement the deep knowledge they have in their area of expertise, Parakkal says.

To enable this, Prudential is sponsoring part-time education for employees to train in new areas and is creating awareness of other jobs in the company through its internal mobility programme. Last year, around 100 people moved to new roles across the organisation. “By facilitating mobility, people have actually come forward and started having conversations about ‘what’s my career going to be like’ and taking ownership,” Parakkal explains.

The company is also recruiting actively from outside the insurance industry to bring in fresh ideas. “To truly be distinctive in providing the customer experience, you need many perspectives,” she says.

The insurance industry, like many others, in Singapore will begin to work in new ways to take on the challenges of the future. Prudential is working to ensure that its employees are way ahead of the curve.