Inside The Great Room with Jaelle Ang
Unlike the hastiness one would associate with the hustle and bustle of the Central Business District (CBD), The Great Room has an air of collected calm. Housed in One George Street, The Great Room is a co-working space spread over 15,000 sq ft. The first thing that strikes me is how I’m in a room full of strangers from diverse industries; one would imagine a mad flurry of activities, yet somehow everyone is either immersed in their work or in deep discussion, exchanging ideas with someone from a completely different industry. The atmosphere is serious but not cold, abuzz with a meaningful meeting and melding of minds.
Designed by Distillery Studio, which later merged with multidisciplinary international design practice HASSELL, The Great Room reminds me of an office in the 1950s—solid coloured decorations, brass frames, and leather furniture, albeit through a modern interpretation. On my visit, I met up with Jaelle Ang, the CEO and co-founder of The Great Room. As someone who values flexibility due to her peripatetic lifestyle, the idea of having a co-working space came to her after many years of working in real estate and understanding the needs of busy executives. “I am a true co-working person. My days are always packed with a lot of back-to-back meetings, from design meetings to on-site visits, interviews as well as events. I travel a lot regionally and on day trips in and out of the country.” In 2016, The Great Room was born to change the way how people work, meet and socialise.
As we start to converse more, Jaelle shares with me the irony of being introvert in a socially-driven industry. “Although I am an INTJ according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that doesn’t mean that I am an introvert. I derive energy in a smaller setting where I can really get to know someone.” After getting a better understanding of Jaelle’s personality, it doesn’t surprise me that The Great Room is designed to create opportunities for meaningful interactions—a place where introverts can truly feel at home.
HNW: How did The Great Room come about?
Jaelle Ang: When I was a developer, I worked with luxury hotels like the Four Seasons Hotel and Capella Hotels and Resorts in Bangkok, and these international brands managing hotel assets made me wonder why a brand managing office assets did not exist. Hence, I saw a gap in the market and decided to create a brand to fill that void. There is a saying: “If you have a stupid idea (and I always have stupid ideas), you have to convince 5 people smarter than you to join you. Then, your idea has a chance.” And I really believe in that. So I told my initial idea to a few people and 2 of them, Yian Huang and Su Anne Mi became the founders. Subsequently, our General Manager, Yvan Maillard, who left his high paying corporate job and Celeste Chong, who used to be with The Butter Factory joined us too. So we have 5 people—4 of them are smarter than me, and after many conversations at the dining table, one thing led to another, and that was how we started.
Tell me more about the concept and what’s in the name, “The Great Room”.
Historically, in a medieval mansion, rooms have formal names: from the Reception room to the Drawing Room and even the Dining Hall—they were grand but cold. Unless there was a function, people seldom visited the rooms. Then as time passed, people started to introduce more informal rooms by calling them “The Great Room”. Food was served, seatings were not so restricted, and slowly, families began to gather there—becoming the ‘heart’ of the house. So that was how our name came about, and we wanted to be known as a modern-day version where people got together.
When we were planning the space, we wanted it to be for someone who wanted it all; a one-stop that caters to their professional requirements in a beautiful and warm environment. We wanted it to look very professional, yet at the same time, inviting—a stark contrast to most of the very utilitarian and sterile environments of corporate offices. Rather than getting office designers, we worked with hotel designers to create highly functional spaces, that are atypical.
A nicely designed space will bring happiness and even increase productivity. So with the lighting, we wanted to make the space warm and layered with multidimensional ambient lightning. Take the pendant in this room, for example, it covers all the base lightning and emits a comforting glow. When I meet you for the first time, it doesn’t create a big distance between us. Second, all the artworks are curated by The Artling. We believe that art can create interesting talking points to drive people to socialise. Our designs and layout, such as the bar are also socially driven since people are always milling around the coffee machine and sitting around informally. When you step into The Great Room, it gives off the vibe that something exciting is going to happen… like I am going to meet someone interesting… and we intentionally designed this space to create exciting conversations.
What sets The Great Room apart from other co-working spaces?
We focus on more mature businesses as compared to startups. A lot of the companies that comes to us, already have traction. They are very focused on growing their business, so they require a great team to take care of their ancillary needs. We have a design-led and service-rich environment for business needs, social needs, corporate entertainment or hospitality. We, too, believe in connectivity, and that’s why we are growing our regional presence. We are opening The Great Room in Bangkok in March, and another in Hong Kong by summer.
Who are some of the members of The Great Room?
Great design attracts a like-minded community. Currently, a third of our members are in finance-related companies, another third are in tech, and the remainder are in the creative/ lifestyle/ hospitality industry. We are planning to start a Business Club because we have a large number of people who love the energy of the place and want to network. I have had experiences before; every time when I am here, I meet interesting people and have meaningful conversations. So the Business Club is really created for people who want to plug into our community. We often have events, such as ZIPCODE, a fashion and technology summit because we want to be positioned as a space that inspires thought leadership. If you are curious and ambitious about life, love your work and want to be part of a community, come and join us.
What are some of the major trends you see in the co-working space?
I think there is more segmentation in the market, as there are different offerings for different types of companies and users. But as a whole, the demand for co-working spaces is rapidly increasing. The other thing is, a lot of big corporates, who used to reject the idea of having a co-working space, are changing their way of thinking when it comes to creating a better work environment.
As a successful entrepreneur who runs different ventures, what advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
I really love being an entrepreneur. I love the idea of starting from zero to one. In a way, this is almost my third startup. I started Art Bug, a visual arts education company, and with Country Group Development, I went in as one of the founding team members, started a real estate company for a financial firm and we are listed now. In business, always remember two important things: first, if you are able to attract great people, retain them, motivate them and keep them happy. Second, always make sure you have enough cash flow.
What does the future hold for The Great Room?
We have two more locations that are under construction in Singapore. Centennial Tower is opening in January and we have an Orchard location that is coming up too. We are currently full until the new opening in January. The companies with us are growing so fast, so we need to cater to their increasing headcount, and provide a space for them to expand. We want to be able to grow with them together.
Based on my knowledge, the property forecast for the future estimates that 30% of commercial real estate will be in flexible spaces like co-working spaces. We do see it happening faster than expected because the demand is high and over time, it will be like hotels. There will be different brands or a different type of provider just like how some people prefer Ritz Carlton over the Four Seasons. There is a lot of room for different players with distinctive offerings to the market. I remain optimistic about our positioning and after speaking to developers and companies in Bangkok and Hong Kong, I am very confident that we will do well in those two countries too.