Born and raised in Canada, Justin Chen graduated from The University of California, Berkeley with a degree in architecture. Following this, he decided to join his family’s real estate business in the early 2000s, relocating from the U.S. to Asia. Having spent over a decade in real estate development and hospitality, Chen launched Arcc Spaces’ first flexible workplace concept in Shanghai in 2006, and the ‘working ecosystem’ concept in Beijing afterwards.
As CEO of Arcc Spaces, Chen has since opened a number of different locations across Asia and plans to continue expanding the brand’s presence in the region to meet new demand for flexible workspaces post-COVID.
Learn more about the evolution of Arcc Spaces and its appeal to innovators in our latest interview.
How did you first discover coworking?
After college, I started my career in planning and designing retail spaces for brands in the U.S. That experience taught me how design and business can really be partners and the importance of creating a space with a deep understanding of the customers. This cemented my love for the intersection of design and business, which is something I bring to Arcc Spaces and implement in every project.
I found that working space is interesting where the people interact with each other and create value for themselves, their companies and even the world. I started to think about how office space adds value to them and how the way of work they like.
Tell us about your involvement at Arcc Spaces and how the brand was founded.
As CEO of Arcc Spaces, I work closely with my team to oversee each coworking center across Asia. In addition to overseeing the strategic plans of Arcc Spaces across Asia, I am still part of the design process of each of our projects and am currently working with our design and operations teams to upgrade many of our centers.
Together, we aim to do transformative work while respecting individual locations, cultures, and tenants and each of our concepts fully embrace the mantra of being globally connected but locally rooted.
How would you describe the community at your coworking space?
At Arcc Spaces, we attract a community of innovators and doers. We have a variety of clients at Arcc Spaces but mainly our members are involved in the fields of finance, technology, and business consulting. Most of our clients across each of our locations are from multinational companies like Alibaba, PayPal, Expedia, EPAM, etc. They are pretty stable and have stayed with us for a long time.
We aim to be our clients’ long-term business partner instead of a short-term workplace provider. Most of our clients have been growing or expanding with us since day one.
What other unique elements make Arcc Spaces stand out?
At Arcc Spaces, our primary goal is to create bespoke, premium workspaces for our members in gateway cities across the world. We like to work with members to ensure that we create their perfect office space, tailored to their needs and desires, making us different from our competitors and unique as a premium coworking operator.
Our flexible workspaces can’t just be an aesthetic exercise; our centers have to be designed to take into account the daily behaviors, needs, and considerations of the users in the space. For instance, we offer a range of different types of workspace with private offices for focused work, comfortable communal areas, and state-of-the-art meeting rooms for collaborating as a team, with partners, or friends.
Arcc Spaces takes a bespoke approach that’s different from other workspaces in the industry. At Arcc Spaces, we really aim to understand the customer needs and wants, and create the workplace that can help our customers grow their business. Arcc 1.0 was traditional shared workspace, 2.0 was community-based workspaces, and 3.0 is a working ecosystem which incorporates more elements of how people work today. We believe this approach and evolution of our philosophy helps set us apart and make us different from the other flexible workplace providers in the market today.
Wellness plays a huge part in our daily lives nowadays, and at Arcc Spaces we aim to bridge the gap between work and life. In our latest center, One Marina Boulevard in Singapore, we have a dedicated wellness room with a state-of-the-art massage chair, allowing members to enjoy some peace and quiet amidst their busy schedules.
We are currently working on the idea to provide one-stop solutions to companies that want to engage in the creative process and develop their own culture and team productivity by tailoring their own private offices. This includes elements such as configuration, branding, furnishings, and technology.
A final unique feature of Arcc Spaces is that we have our own dedicated internal architecture, interior design, and IT teams ready to provide consultations and construction support to members and (external) enterprises. Furthermore, Arcc Spaces Design Studio will be dedicated to supporting corporate clients tailor their own floor with special requirement
What would you say are the key characteristics of the coworking scene in Asia?
With nearly 20 years of experience, I’ve seen the growth of coworking operators across Asia. Back in 2003 when we opened our first coworking office in Singapore, it became one of the few companies to focus on catering to tenants individual needs and community-oriented requirements – two of Arcc Spaces key characteristics.
When Arcc Spaces was started, the coworking scene was a very different market and operators like Regus, Servcorp, and The Executive Centre were in their nascent stages. The requirements from clients were much more transactional. However, especially since COVID-19, the workplace has evolved and flexible working has become very integrated into the entire market now. Working from busy, packed offices are a thing of the past, and companies will need to continue evolving to meet the demands and needs of tenants.
There are a huge array of coworking operators now here in Asia. It’s an area of huge potential especially in a ‘new-normal’ world. We might also see different explicit segmentation of operator focusing on different market segment as those had happened in the hospitality industry.
How did the consequences of COVID-19 impact your operations?
As with many other coworking providers and companies, COVID-19 had a huge impact on our business. At the beginning of 2020, we were forced to shut down our centers in compliance with government advice.
Being human-centric, we were always in close communication with each of our members throughout the COVID-19 crisis and when our tenants were working from home. We did a lot of activity on our Instagram page including homework outs, tips whilst working from home, and updates from our centers.
However, we also see trend and opportunity in post-COVID. The way that people work is changing. Both companies and individuals are looking for flexibility and resilience more than ever. COVID-19 forced them to think out of the box and adapt to the changing world. Our attentive service and flexible working solutions aim at meeting their needs in different stages.
What changes have you made to make things safer and more efficient for members post-COVID-19?
I think, across the board, we’ve seen health and safety as the biggest concerns from our members due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which I think will be here to stay, and so we’ve had to make changes to day-to-day management of our spaces, mainly on the workplace safety front. In accordance with each city’s government’s decision to lift restrictions of the lockdown, we reopened our centers safely and in line with guidance on safe management measures at the workplace, and we’ve implemented a number of safe-entry check-in safety measures that will remain in force until further notice.
These include health and travel declarations, temperature checks, mask wearing, social distancing, and availability of hand disinfectant through our centers. In addition, we carry out daily sanitation and cleaning of all our centers to ensure surfaces are not contaminated.
I strongly believe that access to coworking spaces remain largely the same as before the coronavirus outbreak. Unlike traditional offices, service providers like Arcc Spaces offer flexible lease terms and access to other centers in case of disruption to our some of our spaces.
Also, with ready-to-use spaces, furniture, amenities, customer services and high-speed internet, members can start working immediately by bringing their own laptops. With flexible lease terms, companies can expand or trim down quickly to meet their business needs.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open a coworking space in the current market?
One bit of advice I would give anyone wanting to start a coworking space would be to know your market and customers. There is always difference between the segments. Therefore, as a solution provider, we cannot just copy one product to the other locations or cities. That’s why each Arcc Spaces is unique. It’s important to create diversity to cater different needs.
Secondly, be careful for the location of the space, you’d better to collaborate with the landlord who shares the same goal with you. As a space operator, we are not just tenants, but also strategic partners.