The Hard Truths of WFH

Tribal Worldwide From Home: In the midst of clearing out my office desk at the start of Phase 1 reopening. The way we work has changed forever. Yes, I had to use a trolley to get everything out.

What was very evident early on for me, was that I could do a lot more things in a day than I would have in the office. For a start, I had shaved off an hour’s commute, twenty minutes of walking to and from lunch. And for a large office, there’s not surprisingly a lot of walking between floors.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this efficient. I even tried attending two meetings at once (not recommended). In the current economic climate, I’m extremely grateful I’m able to put in this much work. We’ve also definitely learned some things about the new working normal:

Goodbye PABX

When we were asked to come into the office last week to clear our desks of paraphernalia and personal debris, one of my younger colleagues asked if we also had to bring home our office-issued personal cordless DID phones. Maybe he was afraid of being scolded by our agency’s receptionist, who used to scold me a couple of times a month for not answering my DID phone when she used to call to tell me there was someone looking for me / Lazada leaving a package at reception / Deliveroo delivering lunch.

Anyone looking to buy 350 sets of pre-loved but seldom used cordless DID handsets?

Trying to get a hold of colleagues is literally one button away on MS Teams, or even on our usual go-to communications app – the ubiquitous WhatsApp chat group (on desktop) – in which we have 3,210 different permutations of work groups.

What you see in this pic: 1. agency-issued MacBook Pro 15″ (2018) 32Mb RAM, 1TB SSD connected via USB-C to Firewire adapter to my old iMac 21″ (2012) as an external display. The laptop floats on a Twelve South Curve laptop stand. An iPad Mini for use as an alarm clock / timer so I can set times to tasks (and be reminded to get off by backside and take a break). An iPad (2019) for note-taking with an Apple Pencil, because the last thing you want is for your home office to be filled with reams of paper. I use Notability – I love it for the voice recording function so I can make sense of what I scribbled at which point in which meeting. Other pieces of hardware shown here: Apple’s Magic Keyboard with Numeric Pad, and Magic Trackpad, both of which are rechargeable via lightning to USB.

Goodbye WIP meetings at Client’s Office

Thank goodness we’re a small country – or else the travel time (and transport claims) would be more than the 15-20 minutes each way just to present findings on a client’s social media content performance. Dear clients, please read the decks, and if you have any questions, we’re just a WebEx or Microsoft Teams meeting away. Or you could just WhatsApp us just like you’ve done for the last four years.

(Zoom is banned from our agency because of persistent security issues)

Goodbye Standing-Room Only Meetings

Creative agencies can only thrive in a collaborative environment – and the most amazing thing that remote working has made possible is that we’ve had teams of over 30 people working on massive projects being in the same meeting. Not physically possible in the past where we had to fight over meeting rooms. I used to have to pull rank and commandeer the pantry for meeting space (tip – make friends with Aunty Chitra our Agency Cleanliness Commander).

Goodbye Agency Colleagues who are MIA

Early on in our WFH arrangement, we had trouble figuring out how to get a hold of people whose desks we’d previously have just moseyed over to so we could break bad news to them such as, “the client has changed their mind, we need to come up with another direction for the campaign” or “I think your idea sucks, but I’m gonna say it was the client that changed their mind, so we need to come up with another direction for the campaign”.

We’d fret over whether to call their mobile or text over WhatsApp or check their Instagram Stories to see if they’re having lunch at home or outside. But two months in, we’ve now figured out that anyone who doesn’t answer a call on Teams within a minute is a Class One Skiving Suspect.

Goodbye Printing Multiple Copies of Briefs / Claims Receipts

Being a former freelancer / sole proprietor, I used to wince when the agency suits would print a copy of a brief for every briefing attendant. The planet thanks you, work from home arrangements, because you have made us realise most people can read PDFs just as well as paper. 

Also, the Electronic Transactions Act has recognised electronic signatures for over a decade now. Hey guys, how about we start burning those paper finance memos and duplicates of claims when Seventh Month comes round in a few weeks?

Also, sorry, printer leasing company, we need to talk.

Night Mode: Forever grateful for the Herman Miller Aeron chair Naomi bought for my 40th (I think). The very sturdy Matthew Hilton Orson desk was acquired in 2012 via a barter deal with Dream Interiors who didn’t have enough cash to hire me to write for their showroom event.
Other hardware in this photo: Kelvin Edge LED Desk Lamp; Canon ImageClass MF645Cx; Apogee Mic+ I got ages ago for my radio DJ gig; Beats EP Wired Headphones; Cheap Taobao Ringlight.

Goodbye Asking IT For More Server Space For Your Team

Our MS OneDrive and Sharepoint is now being used far more efficiently than previously. Being a network agency we’ve always had these at our disposal. Very useful when business leads text you at 9pm on Friday night – when you’re out with your friends for the first time in two months – asking for “I NEED THE LATEST CREDS DECK FOR LAST MINUTE PITCH, YOU HAVE?”

Feels so good when I actually have it on my freaking iPhone!

Goodbye Agency Social Events

Even if not for the long run, I think we’ve had to adapt to keeping in touch in different ways. Team meals used to be a morale booster – and we’ve been experimenting with different ways of doing that – I’ve surprised my team with random meal/snack deliveries and I think it helps with morale the same way our team “snack bar” (my team is known for our diverse range of tidbits from every time a team member comes back from overseas leave) used to. We’re still working this bit out. Yes, we miss Haidilao.

It’s important to keep your dreams alive. Agency insider type joke. I’m not crying. You are.

Goodbye Water-Cooler Gossip

I heard from HR that we bought a new water cooler juuuust before we started WFH. I think that’s gonna last for awhile, now there’s fewer of us going in.

And boy, was I tempted to bring the Nespresso machine home, but I was told that would constitute looting. I was one of the more hardcore ‘office got free coffee’ employees, and now find myself out of pocket trying to keep up with my four capsule a day habit.

Now it’s not as if we had ever spent time hanging around the coffee machine/water cooler talking about people – but it does get hard to suss out how people are feeling. Our remote meetings can’t really see the droop in shoulders or the shuffle of someone down in the mouth. It’s something we’re still trying to figure out – so I guess maybe when we can eventually get back to F2F workspaces, we can do that? Keep you posted on how things go!

My team made remote team lunches weekly and compulsory – and themed as well: this is our #wearwhatwednesday in Prime Ministerial Pink.

A Year As An Ad Man

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

Nicely photoshopped (Thank you CK) publicity shot for the hire announcement

So my boss Jeff Cheong thought it’d be funny to repost an article from last year announcing my hire at Tribal Worldwide, captioning it “Happy Birthday”.

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

It has been an amazing year of blistering pace and longer hours. And while chasing work has been about the same as I’ve experienced freelancing, the advantage of having the scale of 350 of the brightest, most hardworking people turning your silly, vague ideas into something fabulous is tremendous.

If there are other things to hope for at work, it would be that I never lose the feeling of being a n00b – the excitability at every idea, new and old, and that I will forever vacillate between nagging doubt and infectious confidence.

Thank you clients, for accommodating my nonsense. And thank you colleagues at Tribal and DDB – please continue to let me know when I’m being an asshole.

Never least, I am eternally grateful for my long-suffering family, especially to my guiding star Naomi, who plays the adult in the family, allowing our son to play and learn, and allowing me to play and learn at work – facilitating us in being the best we can be.

Bring on Year Two!

Help For Autism

I’ve very little experience in or knowledge of what care is needed or available for children on the autism spectrum. But I had a chance to speak with a friend with an autistic child, who has discovered a lesser known method of care that may be able to help. Please read and help me share with anyone you think will benefit from this.

Coming to terms with my firstborn and only child having autism has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. When we first became aware he was different, he was about a year old. He didn’t respond to his name, and seemed oblivious to the people around him. Friends and colleagues tried to allay our fears by saying he was too young for a proper diagnosis, but by the time he was 2, we had no doubt. Being a Paediatric doctor did not spare me from the many days and nights of crying, questioning and pleading. I had no answers, either for myself or for my family members who were all looking to me.

Life with a child with autism challenged so many things we took for granted, like going to a shopping centre or a food court. Figuring out his everyday needs consumed us, because he couldn’t tell us what he needed. We lived in a state of crisis aversion, doing whatever was necessary to avoid tantrums and meltdowns which lasted long beyond the terrible twos.
We tried the conventional, evidence-based methods available in Singapore. He went for occupational therapy and speech therapy. We started a home-based therapy programme using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). We enrolled him in a special school. After 2 years, he went from being a non-verbal, disconnected but happy child, to a non-verbal, rigid, controlling, stressed out and anxious child who obviously wasn’t happy anymore. We couldn’t blame him. If your whole day involved people telling you to stop doing what you want to and do only what they wanted you to do, it would be completely understandable if you didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Our son finally told us through an almighty sobbing episode that lasted 16 hours, that he’d had enough. So we stopped all his therapy and started looking for a better way of reaching him. After many more wrong turns, we found a little-known method called the Son-Rise Program®, which approaches autism from an entirely different perspective. Instead of the conventional understanding that autism is a neurobehavioural problem that causes our children to behave inappropriately, the Son-Rise Program actually believes that autism is primarily a weakness in social and relational “muscles”, and the behaviours that the world deems socially unacceptable are actually self-soothing or self-care mechanisms. One method that this program advocates is joining in with these exclusive, repetitive behaviours, in an attitude of love and acceptance. Basically, instead of telling them to stop what they’re doing, joining sends the message that we are interested in doing what they do just because they like to do it, and because we love them. Although it sounded crazy, we decided to try. We felt we had nothing to lose at this point. So off we went to the Autism Treatment Center of America in Massachusetts to learn how to help our child using this program.

From that first day when we started entering his world through joining his behaviours, we’ve seen breakthrough after breakthrough. Instead of what everyone feared, which was that we would end up reinforcing the very behaviours we were seeking to stop, he actually started to look at us more, and smile at us as if saying, “You finally get it! Isn’t this amazing?”. Soon he didn’t need those repetitive behaviours anymore, because he discovered how much more fun playing with someone could be. In the last 1½ years of running a Son-Rise Program for our son, he has started speaking in sentences, asking questions, and recently even commenting on the world around him. His imagination has blossomed so incredibly; he creates poems and songs and loves dancing. He expresses his concern for us with hugs and kisses.

We are finally hopeful and positive about his future, and believe that he can and will become someone truly amazing.

The Serious Business Of Dengue Prevention

Dengue 2016 Launch
Minister Masagos Zulkifli and others help hold up the banner showing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout

It’s been a few years since I’ve been involved with the dengue prevention campaign, and you would think with a couple of years, the disease would have been controlled, or even eradicated.

Unfortunately, dengue fever is still prevalent. In fact, the number of dengue cases in Singapore is expected to hit 30,000 this year – higher than the record in 2013 when 22,170 cases were reported. And it’s come with a couple of challenges:

  • The Zika virus now making news around the world and akin to dengue fever, Zika is also carried and transmitted by the Aedes mosquito;
  • Campaign fatigue among people who are so accustomed to hearing about dengue this and that, that they become blasé about what needs to be done to prevent the disease from causing harm to them and our community.

But here’s the thing about dengue – prevention is, quite practically, in our hands. Essentially, the best way to prevent dengue is to prevent the breeding of its carrier, the Aedes mosquitoes, through the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout, which can be incorporated into our daily household routine. The steps entail removing stagnant water in our homes, which are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, to break the Aedes mosquito’s breeding cycle. By doing that, we can stop dengue transmissions through the bite of these pesky insects.

This year’s dengue campaign launch repeated previous campaigns’ exhortation to do the Mozzie Wipeout, but this time to consciously do it for 14 days – to effectively break the breeding cycle of the Aedes mosquito. To take effective control of the dengue situation, a penalty for households found to be breeding mosquitoes was also announced.

A few things of interest about the Aedes mosquitoes and dengue:

  • Only the female Aedes mosquito bites (because it needs the protein in our blood to develop its eggs).
  • The mosquito becomes infective about 7 days after it has bitten a person carrying the virus.
  • The mosquito is more prone to biting at dawn and dusk.
  • The average lifespan of an Aedes mosquito is two weeks, and during this time, it can lay eggs about three times.
  • Eggs can remain dormant in dry conditions for up to 9 months, after which they can still hatch if exposed to favourable conditions, i.e. water and food.

With that in mind, I’m going around the house to check for and remove potential breeding spots – like on our BBQ canvas sheet cover at the balcony, potted plant bases, our (not used often enough) bicycles, which may have tiny nooks where leftover rainwater may accumulate.

The other thing I’m concerned with is that many of us delegate our household chores to our hired help, and dengue prevention tasks like the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout may be one of the chores that can be overlooked at times. I’m quite keen to make sure that this is done myself even if we have help at home.

For us, dengue prevention is a serious business, as I’ve reminded everyone over the years, our now 7-year-old son had to have two blood transfusions at 8 weeks old due to dengue fever. So he’s going to go around our apartment and do the Mozzie Wipeout with me regularly as well.

It’s no joke – there have been more than 5,900 reported cases of dengue since the beginning of the year. So get on it now, and make the Mozzie Wipeout part of your household routine.

Preparing For The Departed

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Originally published on

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Reporting The Departure 
You have 24 hours to register the departed’s death at either the ICA or at any police station. What you need is your IC, the departed’s IC and a certificate of cause of death — usually given by a hospital or a doctor.

You want visitors to the wake/funeral and people who make it a point to read the obituaries to see a photograph they want to remember your loved one by. You may think this is simple — you just open your laptop and scroll through pics — but when your loved one is an elderly person who’s spent a large part of their last decade bedridden and not looking particularly photogenic, you may want to start looking through old photo albums and collections of passport photos. Pick a nice, happy picture.

You might find some of the photos blur or pixelated when blown up, so be prepared to spend some time on this if you need to have consensus between family members. There is also this convention that the departed needs to be depicted in a photograph wearing a suit. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why there was a dress code, and let the funeral home’s resident Photoshop expert blend the sharpest-looking suit my father never wore. Seriously, they do it quite well.

On hindsight, I would’ve left the photograph as it was — my father smiling in a batik/hawaiian shirt, probably stained with gravy from some pork dish — and I’m quite sure his friends would have remembered him this way too.

Funeral Director / Undertaker
Do some research, confer with family, and have a number handy. The company we used was a subsidiary of a church, and the staff involved in both my parents’ funerals handled everything, and us, with immense respect and sensitivity. You will need to confer with family regarding religion and ritual — I’ve seen many families squabble over what beliefs their departing loved ones held, and I can tell you, it will add to your anguish. My maternal grandfather’s funeral wake was a compromise made by his fourteen children — there were Christian hymns and prayers in the morning, and Taoist rituals in the afternoon. I think nights were reserved for the secular activities of eating and mahjong.

The funeral director will handle everything, including the layout and publication of an obituary. Note that it’s not compulsory to have an obituary, but it does serve a purpose — the departed’s old friends and acquaintances may only know of their demise through the papers.

The Wake
Some churches and funeral homes have rooms, and void-decks are also an option. The only thing about void deck wakes is that you will want to have someone guarding the casket and other things through the night. Whereas if you held the wake in a funeral home or a church, you would be able to set a cut-off time for visitors.
The funeral director will also ask you what you require. You may want to order the ubiquitous wake buffet or just packet drinks and snacks. You can return any unopened peanut and drink cartons. You won’t need to get anything else — the director will provide you with condolence books, red thread, and other necessities like playing cards and so on.

You may want to assign the collection of condolence cash gifts to a trusted friend or relative, and ask givers to put down their names so you can thank them later.

Friends and workmates will want to give wreaths and floral arrangements — but you have to be mindful of having to dispose of these later. No, they can’t be cremated or buried with the departed. A reasonable option is to state in the obituary that you prefer not to have floral arrangements and wreaths, and that the money that would have been spent on these be donated to charity instead.

“Paying respects” to the departed describes how visitors attend a wake, some saying a prayer before going to the head of the coffin where the glass panel is, and sometimes making a comment on how the departed looks. Be prepared for awkward comments.

The NEA gives you seven days from the day of death to when the remains are dispatched. If you intend to extend the wake past seven days, you can apply to the NEA for permission.

The Funeral and Beyond
You will need to choose between a cremation or a burial — which may be a given because of your religious practice, but all burials in Singapore a limited to 15 years. The only active burial ground in Singapore is at Choa Chu Kang, and is actually a complex of concrete crypts which will contain the departed’s coffin. After 15 years, the NEA may exhume remains and families are given the option of cremating the remains or re-interring (if there is an available burial ground by then). That’s right, burial is not freehold.
The crematorium at Mandai is a modern complex complete with service halls and an automated furnace with a viewing gallery.

The collection of the departed’s ashes can be traumatic. It’s as if you’ve had to say goodbye again, by putting the skeletal remains of the departed into whatever receptacle your funeral director may have recommended. It doesn’t help your emotions that the NEA gives you a Toyogo box to collect the ash and bone from another receptacle. It is a dusty affair, and some bone fragments may end up on the table or floor. If you’re not up for it, tell the funeral director, and they’ll do everything for you.

You will have the option of keeping the ashes of the departed at home or in a niche at churches, temples and also government-run columbariums. Scattering of ashes at sea is also permitted with an application, but limited to an area near Pulau Semakau. Think of it as a smokers’ corner for the dead.

After all that is done, you will have some more time to grieve, if you need to. And if you need to, you must.

Resource: NEA Care For The Dead Services