The Snitch

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Archive for the ‘Work-life’ Category

The Office Snitch: A pirate ship office, a giraffe-themed workspace and, err, Naked Fridays.

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When I started work here, we were in the heart of downtown Singapore in a quaint little shop house that used to flood during downpours. After a while, The Boss got fed up with rainwater dripping directly on his desk and moved us west last Christmas into a spanking new office with lots of natural light, clean white walls and a roof where we drink beer and have water gun fights (often at the same time).

Moving from a cramped shop house where I was working in a loft with no windows and a temperamental air conditioning unit, the new office was a breath of fresh air.

Anyone will tell you offices are starting to become cool places you can hang out at – which makes sense considering you spend a bulk of your day there. I had the privilege of chilling out at Google’s Singapore office back in May when we spoke to Sarah Robb, the head of HR. Although not as mind-blowing as the Mountain View headquarters, the local office was a great place to be. It had a games room, a meeting table fashioned out a tuk-tuk and micro-kitchens and cafeterias providing staff with an array of food choices on Larry Page’s tab.

But it seems some companies are going the extra mile to make every day at the office an experience for staff.

The head office of Davison Design & Development, an invention promotion firm, is called Inventionland, and stays true to its name. The facility houses not one, not two but 16 themed sets including a pirate ship, a cave, a giant robot, a tree house and a motor speedway. I have the highest degree of respect for people working there because I know I’d spend my days distracted and living out childhood fantasies.

Credit: adme.ru & Tengri News

Other really interesting offices include one in Newcastle, which has – and I’m not kidding here – Naked Fridays, where employees comes to work, well, in the nude.

“It was brilliant. Now that we’ve seen each other naked, there are no barriers,” Sam Jackson, front-of-house manager of design and marketing company onebestway, told The Sun.

I’m not sure that’s something that will take off (pun intended) anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind working in the offices of TWIGA in Moscow where it’s giraffe-themed. I can’t even begin imagining the immense joy of working in an office filled with 836 figures and images of my favourite animal.

Or the Paris offices of Pons and Huot, where each employee works in a Plexiglas sphere (If I did work there, I’ll probably invest in a snow machine and pretend I’m working in a snow globe).

We’ve been to some pretty cool offices in Singapore but if you know of one, or even better, if you work in one, let us know.

We will be starting a profile of innovative and creative workplaces pretty soon so here’s your chance to get involved. Drop us a comment here or email me, Sabrina Zolkifi, at sabrinaz@humanresourcesonline.net. We might just pop by the office for a visit and coffee soon.

To see photos of all the cool offices mentioned, click here: http://en.tengrinews.kz/opinion/240/

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

July 27, 2012 at 11:11 am

The Office Snitch: Show me the money!

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So here’s the deal: If you’re going to promote me, I expect a little bump or two in my pay.

Unfortunately though, it seems not everyone agrees with my point of view. In fact, we ran an article last week about how HR managers in Singapore are the third most likely in the world to promote with pay increment.

My simple question to them is why?

I mean, come on, let’s face it. I, like many others, love my job and the non-monetary benefits I get. Flexible working hours? Check. Ability to work from home? Check. Cool invites to media parties? Check.

That being said, it’s nice to be recognised and rewarded for all the work invested into any job. Above that, being promoted means bigger responsibility. Where I come from, that just means a bit more remuneration for what you do.

However, 68% of HR managers responding to a survey by Robert Half said they don’t give pay rises with promotions, with more than half offering a performance bonus instead.

“Employees like a challenge, but there are risks for companies offering a promotion without a pay rise. While pay is not the only factor employees consider, if companies do not provide adequate compensation either through pay or other benefits, then they may lose their top performers to the competition,” Stella Tang, director of Robert Half Singapore, said.

Well, at least someone’s with me on this one.

“I think it’s only right for employees to be given a salary boost when they are promoted because it’s a show of recognition on the employer’s part that the work they’ve done so far is valued,” Sarah Lee, a first year lawyer who declined to reveal her firm’s name, said. “Plus, people will be more motivated to continue their good work if they know they will constantly and consistently be rewarded.”

Tang also said while certain benefits such as flexible working hours may have more value to some employees, it is important for both bosses and staff to find that balance.

I reckon it comes back down to understanding your employees, their needs and what drives them, and then tailoring a package that fits them. I know it may sound like a ton of work, but in today’s competitive job market, where a $500 pay increment offer from a competitor could mean you saying bye-bye to your superstar, it is definitely something worth keeping in mind.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a message and I’ll get right back to you. Have a super weekend!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

June 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

Leaders should be laughing stocks. Or at least just laughing.

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You know the childhood song that goes “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”? Well, when was the last time you clapped at work?

I’m a firm believer that you have got to work where you’re happy. I’m not saying quit your job and join the circus (but if you know of any openings, give me a buzz), but as a leader, I do think it’s on you to make sure your staff aren’t dragging their feet into the office everyday, dreading the next eight or nine hours of their lives.

I recently read an article, which not only supported my view (one down, thousands more to go) but also suggested leaders with a funny bone are more likely to be better managers. I had a sneaky suspicion this was true, but decided to ring up Umar Rana, founder of Comedy Masala in Singapore, and hear what he reckoned.

“People who are fun definitely have an advantage,” he said. “If you’re liked, people are willing to go the extra mile for you. Good leaders are always people who are able to make a good impression.”

Umar shared that in comedy, it takes an audience just 30 to 45 seconds to decide whether they like the comic standing in front of them. That’s not a hell of a lot of time.

Now, bring that stat back to the office. Imagine the difference it would make if a leader has mastered the ability to engage and inspire someone on his staff within the first minute of a meeting or presentation.

So if you’re interested in being a more likable boss, Umar shares some secrets right out of the comic’s handbook to help you make a difference.

“When it comes to speaking or presenting, I think a lot of people rush because of nerves. It happens all the time in comedy. Be it when telling a joke or presenting in front of a town hall, it’s important to look at everyone without actually focusing on anyone in particular.”

Umar lets me in on another secret. Although comics are excellent at making you feel as though they’re looking right into your soul, the truth is the bright stage lights make it hard to see anyone in the audience.

“But as I’m talking, I still need to make them feel as though I can see them and am talking to them. That’s the key.”

The third thing, Umar said, is confidence. “Russell Peters could be telling his best joke, but if he’s looking around, fidgeting, it’s going to be distracting. The same goes for a leader making a presentation. There has to be a visual and emotional connection, and you need to command respect.”

I’ve always considered comics to be the fastest thinkers on their feet. To create material – and funny material at that – almost instantly based off social cues is a skill I envy.

“As a comedian, I go live in front of 200 people every week. I am prepared for anything. So when I speak to anyone, no matter now senior or junior they are, they’re just another person to me. It’s my job to connect with you as another person.”

However, should you still struggle with confidence, there are ways to direct attention off yourself while still engaging your audience. “Just shift the energy to something else. Look at something else, change your body language. That’s all there is to it.”

But is comedy something you and I can pick up? I ask because I’ll tell you, I’ve had my share of cricket harmonies after what I thought was a kickass joke.

“Everyone, on some level, has a sense of humour – it’s just a matter of timing. There aren’t any prerequisites. You just need to want to do it, and that’s the beauty of comedy.”

Aside from trying to be the Drew Carey of your office, Umar also shared other things leaders can do to better engage their employees.

“The first thing you need to do is to get everyone out of the office. You can’t build those bridges in the office. A night of bowling can change a perception of someone. All of a sudden, it’s okay to laugh when the boss throws a gutter ball. Right there, in seconds, you’ve broken all those barriers,” Umar said.

“And for goodness’ sake, don’t do a team lunch,” Umar said. “First, you’ve most likely disrupted someone’s lunch plan. Secondly, I don’t want to be with the same people I’ve been with all morning. And when I get back, I’m going to be sleepy and I still have to deal with these people. Drinks over lunch makes for an easier atmosphere.”

So, if anyone’s wondering, I’ll be at Comedy Masala next week, reporter’s notepad in hand, honing my skills at being a better leader. Yes, yes, I know I haven’t got anyone reporting to me (yet), but I figured, no harm starting early.

Besides, I could definitely use a laugh or two. I’m still not over the fact that journalism is in the bottom five jobs to have.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

May 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

It’s 6pm? I’m barely getting started

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We’ve all had bosses who would drop the sarcastic “Thanks for dropping by!” when we leave the office at 6pm on the dot.

In the wake of the financial crisis, where layoffs mean more work per employee, people are getting better at doing the jobs of more than one person. But while being able to multi-task well is one thing, managing work-life balance is another.

Unfortunately, a lot of people I speak to still work in an environment where if you’re not at your desk putting in those extra hours, it’s equal to you being an unproductive staff member.

Of course, this isn’t a belief I subscribe to and, thankfully, that mindset is starting to shift; I think a lot of it starts with the big guys at the top. When I popped by PR agency Waggener Edstrom a few weeks back for a catch up, Matt Lackie, the firm’s Singapore general manager, said he actively tries to herd his staff out of the office at six.

“I have two kids. I come in early but I have to leave by six, six-thirty. On my way out the door, I’m always telling people to get moving and wrap it up, because it’s important,” he said.

“We know that if people have a life outside of work, the time they spend in the office will be more productive and they’ll be much happier.”

I was discussing work-life balance with Bruce, an operations executive in Hong Kong, when it suddenly occurred to him he works 14 hours a day on average.

“That’s crazy,” I said, to which he nonchalantly replied, “But it’s normal.”

In doing research for this post, I came across a pretty dated article on the Harvard Business Review blog by Ron Ashkenasm, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting. He wrote the more people extend their normal working hours, the more going home at the usual knock off time seems like under-working.

With technology, it’s become easier to work anywhere and anytime. I’ll confess that if an email comes in from a client in the States at 9pm at night, it takes a bit of willpower to say, “You know what? That can wait until morning”. I’ve been able to respond to emails and even edit articles during commutes, waiting in line for coffee, and while sitting in  the foyer watching birds with my fat cat.

My friend Pam, who works in communications, agreed that my cat is fat and that it can be hard to separate work from life some times.

“I find myself doing a lot of research on weekends or when I am on the bus, thinking up news headlines and constantly conjuring pitch ideas in the middle of a social conversation,” she said.

But this flexibility may be a double-edged sword because being able to work anytime can mean working all the time.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg turned heads earlier this month when she said she leaves the office at 5.30pm everyday. One of the most powerful people in one of the world’s biggest tech set-ups works 9 to 5? Blasphemy, you would say!

Not quite.

However, in reading her interview with Mashable, I found one of her statements slightly discomforting.

“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in the interview.

“I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”

Just the fact that it’s taken her this long to come out and admit to having a work-life balance is upsetting. Some time in the last few years, many corporate ladder-climbing, paper chasing, eager beaver employees have tricked themselves – and probably us in the process – that late hours and little sleep have become badges of honour.

Well, I say it’s time that ends. Structure a realistic to-do list, manage your time, prioritise your responsibilities, delegate, and learn to say, “No, not now”. These are just but a few of the simple things you can do to make sure you’re out that door and on your way out to a healthy social and family life at 6pm.

This weekend, I’m happy to say I’ll be switching off my work PC, and deactivating work emails on my phone. And come next Monday, let’s try and manage work and life a bit better so we can get more out of both worlds. I’m not saying it’s something that will happen overnight, but put in enough effort and the pay offs will be worth it, trust me.

Like Lily Tomlin says, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 20, 2012 at 11:10 am

Best and worst jobs of the year… or are they?

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I always feel a weird kind of excitement when an email pops into my box with the list of the best and worst jobs.

But that excitement quickly turned to outrage when I read that being a reporter ranked 196 out of 200 on CareerCast.com’s latest list. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Anyway, not all news was bad news. HR managers came in at a surprising 3rd – not bad for a profession that wasn’t even on the list last year! Since the results were based in the US, given the number of layoffs and the slightly downcast employment market, I can see why HR slipped into top three. Companies need good talent, and can only do so with good HR managers. Opportunities are aplenty and there’s undeniable demand for HR folk who can not only help make sure an organisation is running like a well-oiled machine, but also filled to the brim with the best employees.

I rang up our April cover boy Hew Evans, regional HR director for Sony Electronics APAC, and asked him what’s the best thing about being a HR head.

“People make the difference in the business, and to get to work with those people every day gives such a great challenge and opportunity for success,” he said. But he’s not disillusioned either. While there are pros to the job, there is also “the frustration of working with people – yes, it is a double edged sword!”

And then he said there’s that misconception that “all we like to talk about is ‘tea and toilets’.” I guess you can’t win them all.

The top job of 2012 is – for the second year running – software engineering. Frankly, I’m not surprised, with this crazy phenomenon of cool apps and technology that seem to be coming at us from all sides, and being bought for billions of dollars.

PK, a software engineer friend, was only too happy to share why he thinks his profession is worthy of the top spot.

“I have a great amount of control over the work I do and I probably earn twice as much as most of my peers,” he said. “With my laptop and internet connection, I can do my work anywhere. That’s means working in bed or 600km away in Thailand.”

As if the high pay and flexibility aren’t enough, PK also waxed lyrical about the intangible benefits of the job.

“There is mainly satisfaction at two levels. The first is similar to the feeling you get when you finally solve that really long maths question and you got the perfect answer. The second is when you know what you made has some real use and value to someone else.”

He added being a software engineer isn’t as geeky and boring as it sounds, and given enough time, he could teach it to anyone with a keen interest. “It’s pretty much like math… just more interactive.”

Now I’m not the biggest fan of math, but if it means working out of a Starbucks on a beach in Thailand while earning twice what I do now, I’m sold. Especially since being a journo ranked all the way down in the bottom five of the list.

Robert, a fellow journo based out of Hong Kong, wasn’t too thrilled when I broke the news to him. “A part of me just died a little. Dishwashers and waiters are ranked above me,” he emailed back.

I asked him why he reckoned being a journo was one of the worst jobs this year. “We don’t meet sales targets or complete projects and assignments – we report news,” he lamented. “Our breathers come when people stop breathing.”

“Hollywood’s fabricated stereotype of hard-nosed, foul-mouthed, truth-twisting bastards adventurously fleeing about with a flask of brandy barely does any justice to the educated, ethical, well-mannered, nervous reality of some who are simply begging for a scoop on the phone,” he added.

“Tinsel Town did get one thing straight though: We aren’t liked.”

Amongst the list’s top ten worst jobs, which included being a butcher, an oil rig farmer and a lumberjack in the top spot, broadcasting came in #10.

“Broadcast journalism certainly is fun and fast-paced but it’s not a flexible industry to work in. Anti-social hours can come hand in hand with the job,” Sarah, a broadcaster working in Singapore, said.

“Plus news never stops, so that means being in the office on bank holidays and having to fight for time off at periods like Christmas and New Year.”

And along with Rob, she added the pay isn’t anything to die for. “I rarely meet rich journalists!”

But I guess at the end of the day, CareerCast.com’s list ranked the jobs using five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. They didn’t measure job satisfaction, professional pride or passion – things that I personally think should count for something too.

In a day and age where work and personal life are so closely intertwined, it’s the personal intangible benefits that go further in keeping someone with a job.

Sure, working on a beach seems super fun, but would I really choose that over the insane satisfaction I get when a feature I’ve worked on for weeks is still talked about by people I meet at events months down the road? Probably not.

Feel free to share your thoughts on why you think your job it’s the best or worst in the world.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

Sleeping at work? A dream comes true!

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They have always said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten, and one of the biggest things I took away from my pre-school education was the need for afternoon naps.

So when I came across an online article while doing some research (read: taking a break and checking Facebook – yes, I’m back on that bandwagon) that said naps at work not only boost productivity but also reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems, I was thrilled.

Win-win!

There is actual science behind this. When a person is tired, neurons in the brain shut off, which essentially means that while your body is awake, your brain is fast asleep. Taking a quick 15-minute nap helps you recharge and get those neurons up and running again.

In fact, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley confirmed in 2010 that napping also improves the brain’s ability to retain information. They added that mid-day naps “not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neuro-cognitive level, moves you beyond where you were before”.

But isn’t it bad enough that employees are already taking breaks for coffee and cigarettes? Will bosses really be okay with workers disappearing for 15 minutes at a time to catch up on some sleep?

Thankfully, I have friends in high places and decided to give them a call to get their take on what I hope will be the next great office fad.

Douglas Gan, founder and chief executive officer of location-based service provider ShowNearby, tells me he doesn’t mind his employees sleeping at work. The last time I visited their office for lunch, Douglas even pointed out the couch in one of the bigger offices and proudly told me, “That’s where some of the guys take naps”.

What’s more, he doesn’t limit how long they can nap for and even encourages his staff to work from home if they’re too tired to come into the office. No wonder ShowNearby was one of the recipients of Asia’s Best Employer Brand Awards this year.

“Naps can help them get rid of a tired mind and move forward,” Douglas says. “Also, I think because they appreciate the fact that they can nap, they tend to work better when they’re awake.”

However, not everyone is onboard with the idea of napping at work. Edvarcl Heng, social media manager at MediaCom, says instead of naps, his employees are allowed to take breaks as often as they like, as long as productivity isn’t affected.

“They are also equipped with Nerf guns (a type of toy gun which shoots foam bullets) and games on their Macs as an explicit nod from management that we will not frown upon fun,” Ed says.

On top of the fun and games, employees are also allowed to go out to buy titbits (another one of my favourite break-time activities), surf the Internet and play games with each other. “A worker is not an automaton. They need rest to boost their productivity,” Ed says.

While writing this blog entry, I was also multi-tasking (talking to my best friend) and found out that the only reason he hadn’t replied my messages the past hour was because he was – you guessed it – taking a nap at work. He claims to even have a sleeping bag in the office, but that’s information I’ll take with a grain of salt.

“The trick is to get the duration just right. 15 minutes to half an hour tops,” he advises, sounding like a professional nap-taker. “Anything less won’t help and too long will make you groggy when you wake up.”

But does it really help with his productivity for the rest of the day? “Yeah, definitely!” he says. “How else do you think I get through the day?”

Well, I guess it all comes down to the industry and nature of the business you are in.

Let me know which side of the fence you’re on by leaving a comment or sending me a message on Twitter (@theofficesnitch).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to have a quick talk with my bosses on setting up a designated nap area in our new office.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 2, 2011 at 11:23 am

Small Talk on smartphone addiction and respecting employees

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Singapore – While smartphones are helping people stay connected 24/7, the mobile devices may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to productivity.

A survey from the UK revealed that two-fifths of respondents admitted to using their mobile phones to text, email and take calls when in a face-to-face meeting. Employees who are constantly glued to their mobile devices are also more likely to be distracted by work, even during weekends or when on vacation.

While some may argue the dependency on smartphones helps them stay connected, the survey reported that 36% of employees found the distractions made it harder for them to complete work. Another 22% said they suffered from information overload and more than a fifth are unable to think creatively.

Small Talk this week also discusses why respecting your employees and peers can lead to higher retention rates. A new report by Regus showed 72% of Singaporeans believed a good working environment stemmed from managers showing respect to their employees.

But managers have to be aware of why certain staff will still choose to leave a job. The latest Kelly Global Workplace Index 2011 showed that Singaporeans listed career changes, evolving personal interests and better work-life balance as the top reasons to jump ship.

While on the topic of career progression, Small Talk reports how having good presentation skills can improve your chances of getting a promotion. Employees who show confidence when presenting are more likely to be “visible” to the top level management, said Hazriq Idrus, a corporate trainer with Firefly Horizon.

Additionally, Small Talk explores how an open office concept is actually distracting employees from their work and how more local companies are moving into the suburbs to cut cost.

With office rents skyrocketing in prime areas such as Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place, more companies are heading towards locations such as One@Changi City, Changi Business Park and Mapletree Business City.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm