As recently as 2019 I remember conversations in the office with colleagues, wishing our jobs would allow us to work remotely. How nice it would be to have the flexibility to choose our timing and the dates we are at the office, be able to work on our stories poolside, in a café, or a posh co-working space with views of the bustling city? It’s not that the concept was alien—co-working spaces have been around in Singapore since 2011 and hot desking has been ‘cool’ for a while in some multinational companies.
But they have predominantly been entrepreneur or freelancers’ domain and not an option for a fulltime employee in an Asian landscape—where employers measured success with ‘face time’. The possibility was so remote that in the midst of this animated daydreaming, one hand was absentmindedly adding desk accessories to my online shopping cart—needed a trinket tray to match my new stationery and my custom bobble head doll needed company.
In just a few months that scenario changed. COVID-19 thrust remote- and flexible-working into everybody’s every day—and now, a couple of years into the new-normal, hybrid-working is the new work lexicon.
Jaelle Ang, CEO and co-founder of one of Singapore’s trending co-working concepts The Great Room, believes this is the future. “The term “co-working” or “flexible working” will be dropped, hereon, this is how ‘working’ will be.”
But that puts the onus on spaces that facilitate such working models to make sure they inspire, energise and forge the interpersonal interactions—the latter being one of the biggest known disadvantages of working from home—that an office set-up enables.
Way before the ‘new-normal’, when planning the concept of The Great Room—it launched in 2016—Ang knew that a good co-working space had to offer more than matching desktop accessories. She sought to rethink the concept of co-working, taking inspiration from the best offices, luxury hotels and business clubs globally. The idea was to create a work environment that was “hospitable, flexibly efficient and beautifully designed”.
In a world where even building a salad is tagged with the word ‘experiential’ these aspects speak more than ever before to the employee of today. The modern office goer (an almost extinct species) is not concerned any more about square footage—but the work space definitely needs to engage, inspire and connect, and in no particular order.
Here, Ang shares more with Vogue Singapore on the importance of thoughtfully designed workspaces as we move towards hybrid work models.
How can one balance the visual with the sensory when designing a work space at home?
Be intentional about the things that interact with your body and that you touch as part of your everyday experience. It’s the material and the surface of the desk and its weight; the fabric and the depth of the chair and the noise or resistance when you swivel.
If an object is something that you use all day as part of your daily productivity ritual, then it becomes more than a tool, it has to be responsive and beautiful and tactile.
Buy art that makes you smile. During this time, artisans and artists are likely to suffer financially. Supporting independent artists, creators or small online galleries at this time like Fost, Artling or contemporary photography from Magnum, can kill many birds with one stone. You get to enjoy a piece of art that gives your space a colour pop, adds character and makes you smile, while supporting someone that really needs it now.
I love physical books and have a wall of books that covers interiors, fashion, portraiture, art, architecture, children’s illustrations and psychology. I also have a box of art-making materials and a subscription to Spotify. These are conduits to creativity and I pull up any of these to switch up things a little when I am stuck, need to reset my mental state or an energy gear shift.
What kind of furniture should we be looking at?
Look for pieces that age well. Whether it’s wood or leather, look for pieces which have good construction, sumptuous and sensorial to the touch, with patina that gets better and better. I look for a monochromatic palette for furniture to have a calm workspace. If you have to splurge on one object, do that for a chair as if makes a big difference. The downside for a table or light (a right colour renditioned bulb can save it) is more limited.
Avoid system furniture at all costs—I am allergic to system furniture and fluorescent lighting. It is visually awful and it is cold. It gives me nightmares of old banking offices or at least what I remember them from sitcoms.
How important is to create more than one workspace?
In line with the current ‘activity-based’ working, physiologically, we need multiple spaces for maximum productivity. Some of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated desk or workspace at home and it should be as comfortable and effective as possible. However, being productive sometimes also includes periods of deep work, contemplation, connection or creativity. Alternative spaces like the living room, dining table or balcony where you can set up a table or armchair can help one transition into different work activities.
When it comes to co-working spaces, what role does design play in its effectiveness?
To me, hospitality is primal act of taking care of people and great design is beyond aesthetic, it must deliver that experience of being taken care of.
A great space must have a clear design standpoint, an intensity that provokes emotions and yet allow people to make it their own. We want an inspiring canvas, but also we must curate opportunities for curiosity. In great spaces, the inhabitants are the ones that let the space become, and to give it soul and energy. The ultimate goal has to be for people using it to feel energised, inspired and more productive. It elevates the everyday experiences and also makes you feel more effective, because you become your curious, ambitious, connected self. Anything but indifference.
What should be some of the top considerations?
Some workspaces pander to changing workspace design trends but we want The Great Room to feel properly grown-up. Thoughtful in furniture details and high performance layout that creates the balance of privacy and casual collisions of the right sort.
Offices of all sizes benefit from a good dose of natural light and one rule for The Great Room when scouting for digs is to give ceiling height and window size the same consideration as floor space. On top of the base build lighting, we layer on warmer architectural lighting and ambience lighting while considering the Circadian rhythm of the human body.
Which is an aspect that is often overlooked?
It’s important to create room to collide and communicate. The office conference room is often sterile and devoid of decoration. I’ve never understood this, as it’s a room you do business in and should be representative of your brand. We’ve designed beautiful desks for our conference room, we have nice art on the walls and an attractive fresco ceiling—no one is falling asleep in there.
What takes a co-working space from functional to efficient, stylish and inspiring?
A lasting first impression is key—like a good lounge. Any well-designed lobby should welcome new arrivals, highlight the positive attributes of your brand and provide a comfortable space that people will be keen to linger in. From the spacing of the seating (close enough together to avoid isolation but far enough apart to create privacy) to the design of the front desk (inviting but authoritative), our public-facing areas require the most manicuring.
The Great Room recently opened another co-working space at Afro-Asia Building on Robinson Road, designed by Joyce Wang