Work Smart Strategies

by Portfolio Magazine
Portrait photo by Chino Sardea
16 Jan 2023

As the CEO and Founder of The Great Room, Jaelle Ang knows a thing or two about working hard and working smart. Here, she walks us through the evolution of the co-working space and reveals how she manages to get things done the best way she can.

By now, we all know that the workplace is no longer just a place for the daily 9-to-5 grind. Today, the space we spend countless of hours in needs to perform other important functions, which is why co-working spaces like The Great Room are rapidly evolving along with the times.

According to Jaelle Ang, CEO and Founder of The Great Room, “The Great Room started in 2016 to create the best workdays in a hospitable workplace. To us, hospitality is a very primal act of taking care of people. That may mean different things to the solopreneur, to the fast growth start-ups, and the grown-up enterprises.”

Currently, The Great Room boasts eight locations in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, and is looking to double in 2023 in Asia-Pacific. “The regional growth is at the back of a strong demand from potential members, as well as office owners who see us as partners to create the best possible workspaces in their buildings,” reveals Ang.

Has the profile of The Great Room member changed? If yes, how so?
When we started, we thought that as the flexible workspace industry grows, segmentation of the users would increase. There will be a segment at the top end of mainly enterprise businesses who want it all – good location, high quality build, seamless technology support, warm hospitality, and vibrant community.

We are increasingly realizing that this is not just the top segment of the market – we fulfil the enormous majority as businesses understand that The Great Room can help manage health and safety, and help them win the war for talent in equal parts. Both are non-negotiable for many businesses.

Our members are also getting very sophisticated. No one talks about ‘co-working’ that much anymore – working flexibly is simply ‘working’. They know all the different operators out there. However, they come to The Great Room because they identify with our aesthetic choices, brand values, service standards, as well as ESG ambitions.

How do co-working spaces like The Great Room help improve productivity?
The workplace is no longer just a place where you work behind a computer and get things done. Being productive also means getting the most out of your work and personal life to achieve bolder ambitions.

Now, the workplace needs to perform other important functions. For many growing and ambitious companies, The Great Room is the modern agora where learning takes place from professional field experts in their respective areas; where new ideas, collaborations, and projects energize your career.

Also equally important is that The Great Room is where casual collisions at our Monday Breakfast Club and Great Thirst Day ensure you are constantly building your professional and social capital.

(Related: The Way It Works)

Today, productivity is not measured by how many hours one clocks in at the workspace anymore. Since The Great Room is one of the biggest names in co-working spaces in Singapore, what productivity trends have you noticed in the past year?
Given how talent has been given a lot more autonomy on where, when, and how to work and be at their best, this flexibility has created a few productivity trends. The two biggest ones are:

Flight to quality and amenities
While one may not come to work every day, so much more is demanded from the workplace for those in-office days. There is greater resonance more than ever that a workplace with high-quality, great design, and like-minded co-workers create a sense of productivity and well-being. During these in-office days, being in a great meeting room with seamless technology support and good artisan coffee have become table stakes. Other amenities, which used to seem like a ‘nice-to-have’, are also increasingly becoming a ‘must-have’: From podcast rooms, meditation room, wellness programs, life-coaching, and work socials.

Typically, to-do lists are organized in a time-bound manner this way: 

  • 8:00 am: Go to the gym
  • 8:45 am: Write an article about productivity
  • 11:15 am: Hairdresser
  • 12:00 pm: Vacuum-clean the living room
  • 2:00 pm: Declutter the email inbox.

If you jump from one type of task to another, you’ll waste a lot of time in just switching locations, not to mention the friction and energy encountered every time you start doing a new type of activity. If you’re done vacuuming and then start writing an article, chances are, you probably can’t dive into it immediately.

Now, the hybrid work format has seduced us to rethink how we organize our activities by arranging tasks in logical thematic clusters. For example:

  • Email inbox decluttering
  • Review project proposals
  • Schedule zoom calls for the week

Once you’re done with the ‘computer activities batch’, you can move to the ‘outdoor batch’ since you’ve combed your hair and put on respectable clothes:

  • Seeing a dentist
  • Going to the gym
  • Visiting a hairdresser

As the founder of a successful co-working space, what are your secrets to productivity?
As a CEO and mother of four primary school children, I frame productivity differently. At a macro level, I am long-term greedy.

Greed is wanting more, and I have an unreasonable belief in having it all – just not all at the same time. Instead of wanting what I want now, being ‘long-term greedy’ is getting all that you want, but over the long term.

For me, there are two benefits to being long-term greedy in life: 

  • Firstly, when I think long term, the metrics on your report card as a mother becomes different. I can be a great mother. My kid may not have brought that handmade lantern to school, but, hey, I have read We’re Going On A Bear Hunt at least 120 times among my four kids, and maybe Miffy – in English and Chinese – 20 times in the last week. When I had my twins, I stopped my work at The Great Room because there is no replacement for me. I need to be on bed rest and be the best oven for my two buns. In the different seasons of life, I figure out what is my glass ball and become at peace with dropping my rubber balls.
  • Secondly, because I was long-term greedy, I don’t need to decide my future with consensus. Most counter-intuitively, I have I have taken pay cuts thrice in my life, each one being at least 50%. But each time, I see it as investing in myself or investing in an opportunity. I have been richly rewarded for it, accumulating wealth far more than I sacrificed, and each time within two years. However, I am only able to do that because of the long view I take of wealth creation and the willingness to scale back my lifestyle and take a temporary hit. 

On a more micro and tactical level, while it is still a work in progress for me, I work adhering to the general principles of the ‘Productivity Planner’.  I spend five minutes each day writing out: 

  • What is the one thing I will do before the rest (often it’s something hard, but very high value and often procrastinated)
  • What are the next three things I would do to get more from the day
  • What are the three things I can delegate
  • A brain dump of other little things I am thinking of doing/should do

This helps me ensure I can ‘empty my brain to focus’ and that I accomplish the higher value things. Most importantly, it lets me be at peace on the things I cannot finish because at least I know I completed the highest value thing of the day.

Finally, I guard my eight hours of sleep as much as I can as I believe that sleep is the tide that raises all other boats – health, energy management, concentration, and decision making. I sincerely believe that my job is to make good decisions as consistently as possible.