Feb 23, 2020

I think I can work from home

As of today, I haven't been to the office in over two weeks. Thanks to the newest epidemic on the block, Linkedin Singapore had us stay away from the office. Two of the towers next to ours had employees test positive for the coronavirus, so as a precaution, we have been working from home.

Some media has described this situation as the world's biggest work from home experiment given the number of employers advising employees to stay home. It's certainly true that this is the longest work from home experiment that I have experienced. 

When I received the notification of the work from home two weeks ago, I had mixed feelings about it - while I was happy that we would be relatively safe from the coronavirus, I also had bad memories from my past work from home experiences. Surprisingly, the past two weeks have been quite pleasant! I realised that there were some key differences that I needed in my work from home experience to make it productive and desirable for myself. 

Lone remote working does not work for me
In the past, whenever I have been the only person in my company working from home, I feel rather lonely. Knowing that all my colleagues and friends are at their workplaces while I am alone at home made me feel some kind of FOMO. I didn't think I was necessarily missing out on "fun" that they were having at work, but it made me feel odd to be at home when everyone else I knew was at work. With the coronavirus situation, it's become a norm to work from home - all my colleagues were working from home too, and so were many of our customers, and many of my friends. Given that we were all going through the same experience, there was no feeling of exclusion. More so, everyone working remotely leads to more tele-communication over chat, so our Teams chat was quite active throughout the day. One of the days, I met a friend for lunch, and another day I went swimming earlier in the evening than I normally would, because I knew other people near me also working from home. 

It helps to have deadlines or targets
When one is part of a startup or running their own startup, the targets and deadlines are much looser than in corporates based on my experience. When I worked from home in the past for my own startup or other people's startups, there weren't fixed deadlines or targets I had to meet. I could afford to slack. Now that I'm at a bigger company that has a stronger culture of targets and deadlines, I can't afford to slack! So even if I'm working from home, I won't get up from my desk in the middle of the day to go do laundry or cook lunch, because I have tight deadlines I need to be at my desk for atleast 8 hours a day to meet. 

Having fewer types of tasks helps
Switching between different types of tasks is always tricky for me. I feel the pain of transitions from meetings to focussed tasks to creative tasks to writing emails and so on. There is a certain discipline required to code switch effectively, which I am able to harness better at the office. My current job scope is relatively narrow compared to my past job scopes at startups. Most of my job involves making calls, setting up meetings, and writing notes from my meetings. So there isn't too much switching involved between different types of tasks, which makes it easier for me to focus through the day. 

Time bound work day is sooo important
Much of my past work involved working with people in different time zones, so I would wake up to many emails, which I would reply to before I was even fully awake, and then I'd go eat breakfast, come back to my desk and so on. There wasn't really fixed duration that I would work and a fixed time when I could stop and go do other things. I often had night calls, which meant I would come back to my desk at some point after 8 PM. This made it extremely hard for me to work from home because I didn't always know when I should be working and when I shouldn't. With my current job, my hours are based on APAC time zones - which is largely from 7 am to 6 pm. So I would work from 8 am to 5 pm most days and then leave my desk to do other things like exercise, get dinner, read, netflix, etc. 

I was surprised to find that this work from home experience was not only bearable, but also really nice in some ways! I liked that I didn't have travel time to work, didn't have to dress up too much and could control the temperature of my work environment (I am always cold in air conditioned environments, so I really appreciated being able to keep the air conditioning off). 

Also, I am an introvert - so I need some alone time in between calls to recoup. It is much easier to get that alone time at home than when in office, as much as I enjoy interacting with my colleagues at work! The stress levels and interruptions were also lower, leaving me with more energy at the end of my work day to focus on personal things - like reading, exercising, or thinking about personal projects. 

It makes me think about how remote working is an increasing trend across the world - at times, companies provide it as a way to give employees flexibility (to working parents for example). Other times, its a way for companies to cut down costs, in which case they may hire a workforce in a different country where salaries are lower. Other times, companies are fully remote and let employees work from wherever they want (like the ones in this list). Based on my short experiences so far working remotely, I think that environments that are fully remote are far easier to work in than those that are partial. Partial work environments where only some employees work remotely are really difficult for collaboration. Not to mention that remote employees may feel left out knowing that their colleagues in the office are seeing each other everyday and grabbing lunch together. Fully remote environments on the other hand level the playing field - everyone is equally connected or disconnected and communication + collaboration channels are set up to serve a remote work environment. 

This experience working from home makes me more open to taking up remote jobs in the future and working with companies that aren't in my vicinity. It's exciting to discover that there are plausible ways that one can sustainably work from home and enjoy it, because it means I don't have to limit myself to projects and opportunities that are within a 50 mile radius, like I would have before!

Feb 16, 2020

How I learn what I learn best

Recently, I came across the 70-20-10 model of learning that organisations often follow while talking to a Linkedin Learning prospective customer. It is fairly common for organisations to want their employees to learn 70 percent from doing their job, 20 percent from interactions with other people at work, and 10 percent from formal education events.

After hearing this several times, I started to reflect on ways I learn best. It was puzzling to think of this, given the strong objection again every learner having different learning styles. Research has pointed out that we don't have individual learning styles that differ from person to person and the whole concept of different learning styles is a myth (example).

However, I find that I have some preferences that may differ from that of other people's learning preferences. I don't think this has anything to do with the way my brain is wired, but I think it has more to do with my personality traits and habits.

I found that for me, I actually prefer to learn 30 percent from formal lecture or reading, 50 percent through social interaction with friends, and 20 percent through books. This may change in the future as I discover other ways of learning, but for now, this is how I learn what I learn best:

1. Formal learning: I learn best when I receive relevant information that I can immediately apply to my job. For me, I prefer to receive this information in video lecture or reading form rather than a tip given to me in passing by a colleague, manager or mentor. The reason I prefer a formal mode of delivery is that while I am reading or viewing content, I am in absorption mode and I am actively looking to receive and retain information. Also, if I am reading or watching a lecture, I have already decided to adopt a reasonable level of trust in the person or institute delivering the information, so my barriers are lower than someone giving me a tip in passing. When a colleague or friend gives me a tip in passing, I tend to consider it first before deciding if it's relevant and appropriate for me to apply. But when I am in absorption mode and have already established trust with the source of information, I am ready to apply that information to my day to day. At times, it won't work given the nuances that come with subjectivity in everyday life, but at the very least, I will test the advice given through formal training a few times before putting it off.

2. Social learning is a great way for me to learn too. When I meet friends over the weekend, I find myself learning a lot from them! Often the type of learning is different than the kind I mentioned in (1). It's either to do with bits of information about current affairs, or opinions related to current affairs, or life hacks. But either way, this is information I really really value, for the reason that it's impossible for me to find another way to gain this type of information elsewhere. While I could subscribe to BBC alerts or read The Skimm more regularly, I find that the best way to learn what's going on in the near and further away parts of the world is to meet people who care about these types of things. I also learn from people who talk about their personal struggles - often times, I find people's personal struggles to be quite relatable but quite alien at the same time, which gives me a wider perspective and more open mind.

3. Non fiction books for non professional learning. I read autobiographies and other non fiction books to gain knowledge in other areas. I really enjoy reading these and get a great deal of satisfaction from reading books, especially if they are by people who have achieved a great deal of success in their field. There is something about reading the writing of very successful people - the difference in their attitude really comes across in their writing. Some of my favourite books by successful people are Unstoppable by Maria Sharapova, Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Last Girl by Nadia Murad and The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee.

Feb 8, 2020

Watching an epidemic

With the new coronovirus all over China, and partly over Singapore, I feel like I have front row seats to watching an epidemic become a pandemic.

It's been interesting and scary at the same time to watch it unfold.

2 weeks ago on Jan 23, when the first case of coronovirus surfaced in Singapore, people were scared, but not as scared as they are now, since the person who had it was someone from China, therefore implying that it hadn't really spread too much in the local population. Masks and hand santisers were sold out within hours all the same, because a few people bought many boxes. The government had to put limits on the number of masks and sanitisers one person could purchase.

At the time, Singapore felt like a country trying to fight the virus together by taking precautions that prevented spread in it's local population. There was quite some anger and irritation towards Chinese tourists who were visiting Singapore.

Personally, I was scared because I had never experienced an epidemic. It's strange to try and avoid a virus - it's something you can't really see or know if it's around you. So it leads to a perpetual fear at the back of my mind whenever I am out in public. I also felt quite annoyed that there were Chinese tourists flying in knowing that they could be infecting their co-passengers and a population that hadn't yet been touched by the Wuhan virus. But I tried to be reasonable and remind myself that those Chinese tourists aren't to blame for a virus outbreak.

A few days ago on 4 Feb, we saw some Singaporeans with no travel history to China or known contact with someone from China contract the virus. That's when people started to really panic. That meant that the person next to us in the train could have it. That's when people went from being protective about the local population, to being protective towards smaller groups, like their own family and friends.

This Sunday morning (9 Feb), after 7 new locals were announced to have the virus, I saw people bringing bags and trolleys of groceries home, in case the time comes that everyone outside is infected and we have to stay home, similar to what the Chinese are experiencing now. I hear that people were at grocery stores hoarding canned food and toilet paper as early as 7 AM. I usually order Amazon Prime, and delivery slots have been fewer lately since many folks seem to be using online delivery.

Image result for wuhan virus singapore hoarding
Grocery hoarding
Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/5-million-masks-snapped-up-in-hours-public-urged-against-hoarding-amid-global

Having said that, the Singapore government knows how to handle these things - they went through SARS in 2003 and have clearly prepared for another epidemic since then. The airport had thermal screenings for passengers in flights from China a few hours after the first case. All the people coming from China were asked to self quarantine for two weeks, which is the incubation period of the virus. Anyone who didn't comply risked legal implications. A few days later, they stopped all flights from Wuhan, and a few days after that, they stopped all flights from China. Now, everyone coming in from any part of the world through any mode of transport is going through thermal screenings at the ports. Many office buildings have thermal screenings as well to make sure no one with a fever walks in.

What's most interesting to me is the contact tracing - apparently, that is one of the best ways to prevent an epidemic from getting worse. Once Ministry of Health identifies someone who is infected, they contact everyone that person has been in touch with so that they can prevent those people from potentially infecting others. One of the challenges of the coronavirus is that it spreads even before symptoms show. So anyone could have it and be passing it on, but it's possible they aren't showing any symptoms yet.

One of the side effects that comes with contact tracing though is fake calls - yesterday, the Ministry of Health issued a notice saying that they don't ever ask for financial details over the phone when doing contact tracing. It seems like there may be some people out there taking advantage of the fear and trying to get financial details out of people under the pretence of being the Ministry of Health doing contact tracing.

Coughing in the office is a no no. People who are mildly sick, even if it's a clear case of a common cold, aren't coming to office. When someone coughs or sneezes in the train, people step away from them without any shame.

On any other day, I would say the step away when someone sneezes type of behaviour is very unkind. But I think this type of fear in Singapore actually helps people stay a little bit safer. It's culturally inappropriate to sneeze or cough in public in times like this, so the ones who are even mildly unwell don't dare show up to work.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister's office released a video in which PM Lee assured everyone that we had enough food and toilet paper - so no need to hoard. He also said that if this gets worse, hospitals would prioritise those with health complications, since we may not have enough beds in hospitals for everyone infected. I hope it doesn't get to that stage, but I do expect it to get worse for the next few days atleast. He also encouraged the population to not blame or discriminate against the Chinese.

While I continue to go to work and go out for groceries or to gym classes, I am avoiding making social plans at coffee shops or restaurants to whatever extent I can.

Jan 25, 2020

My first two months at a big tech company

Today marks the anniversary of my two months at Linkedin. When I started this new job on Nov 25 2019, I also started my first ever corporate job. I had spent all my professional life working for either my own startup or someone else’s, which is why this experience has been very new for me! I noticed a couple of differences, and also a few similarities. 

Some of the big differences I noticed: 

  1. There is a position for everything: My first observation was how Linkedin had positions devoted to everything! I noticed a lady always near the lunch area, and realised after a few days that she was incharge of the food. There was someone always at the reception, and there was someone in charge of making sure we got to our desks on the first day. Coming from a startup where all those roles were managed by the same person, this was new to me, but also introduced me to the sheer scale of things at a big company! Whats more, there was an abbreviation for every different role! In my first few days, I tried googling the abbreviations I came across, only to find that these roles have different names at each company! I am more used to the abbreviations now, but the number of positions still amaze me! 
  2. Narrower roles with big impact: In my first week, I was mostly just shadowing and learning from other people in my team. I started speaking with customers about Linkedin Learning in my second week. My role was to understand their needs and then see if they were at the right stage in their company to adopt Linkedin Learning. If they were, they’d get passed on to a product expert who could give them more details on our product. This sounded like a pretty narrow role to me when I was initially introduced to in my interview process, but one that I was very keen to learn. However, by the end of my second week, I had spoken to so many companies about their learning and development needs that I didn’t think twice about whether or not I was making any impact at Linkedin. I felt that the impact I was making was still large given the sheer number of people I spoke to everyday at Linkedin, even though the percentage of my impact on the overall company is lower than it was at the startup I worked for before. 
  3. Cross team collaboration feels different: At startups, one person can equal one team. At Linkedin, there are so many people and teams, that speaking to another team, such as marketing, feels much further away than it did before. Sometimes teams are on a different continent entirely, so speaking with another team sometimes takes more effort. There is also some effort involved in finding the right person to speak with at a big organisation. At a startup, one person often manages everything under their function, so it is straightforward to find them and collaborate. Having said that, collaboration is equally valued and encouraged in both the work environments.
  4. Questions are more easily answered: At startups I’ve worked for before, answers weren’t as easily available, because none of us had figured out many things about the industry or internal processes. When I’d have questions about how to approach a relevant lead to pitch the startup’s product, I’d need to look for resources or people to find the answers. At Linkedin,  resources are abundantly available for these types of things. Most of the time, I just ask myself who might know the answer to my question at Linkedin, and then I usually find someone within a 5 metres radius to answer that question for me. While I enjoy finding my own answers at startups, I like having immediate answers too. It leads to my coming up with harder questions once the easier questions are quickly answered.
  5. We have multiple all-hands: At startups, it is common to have one townhall or all hands every month. At Linkedin, there are so many different teams and organisations within Linkedin, that I have already attend 4 different kinds of all hand meetings, each of which I find very inspiring! In the past two months, I have attended a global all hands, global sales all hands, APAC all hands, Singapore all hands and an APAC sales all hands.
  6. People move roles so quickly: In my first month itself, I saw people switching teams. Internal review cycles happen every 6 months, which lead to many promotions and internal transfers. Some people leave to go to other companies too. At startups, it’s common for people to stay in the same role for several years, but the roles in itself evolves very quickly as the needs of the startup change. 
  7. Targets matter more: In startups, there isn’t much historical data to create targets scientifically, which is why targets can at times be lofty. Other times, targets at startups aren't difficult to achieve, but there aren’t enough people or expertise to achieve them. At Linkedin, there is an entire team devoted to setting scientific targets based on historic data. I wouldn’t say the targets are easy to achieve in any which way. But they are more realistic and there is usually a legitimate plan on how to achieve them. Most days, I am just focussed on getting closer to that ONE type of target that I have, as opposed to a few different goals that I was used to from startup environments. 
  8. Focus is more on growth than survival: At startups, the emphasis is more on survival and getting to breakeven so that the company’s revenue is equal to, if not more, than it’s spend. At Linkedin, the focus is entirely on growth. While in both cases, the actions and direction are similar, the feeling is quite different.
  9. We don’t just have a help desk website for our customers - we also have one for employees: On Day 1, i was told that if I needed anything at Linkedin, like figuring out how to make claims, or check my payslip, or request personal time off, I can go to our online help desk. It has articles on everything administrative that an employee needs to know. At startups, there tend to be one or two people handling all these administrative matters, so a startup employee doesn’t need to do much more than walk up to the admin person’s desk to get things sorted!
  10. There a bazillion different apps and softwares we use: At startups I’ve worked at, there are maybe 4-5 different tools used by any given team (tops). But now, there are so many specialised integrations and tools I find myself using for work. It took me some time just to figure out the names and functions of all these different tools that I could use for better productivity and results in my work. We also have a few trainings that taught us how to use these tools. At this point, I am not sure what’s an integration and what’s a tool by itself. 

Having said that, there were a few things  I found to be similar to a startup.

  1. Collaboration is equally important. Even though roles are fairly individual in my new team at Linkedin, working together is always better than working alone, because it leads to better results, either in terms of our personal learning, or in terms of getting better deals. 
  2. I love the people I work with: Bigger companies are known for having a more competitive culture. Maybe I got lucky, but I really like and admire the people I work with as much as I did at the last startup I worked at. 
  3. Impact on the big wide world still matters: A perception I had of bigger companies before joining Linkedin was that they care more about money than impact. Atleast at Linkedin, that is very untrue. Linkedin puts a lot of emphasis on it’s larger goal of creating economic opportunity for everyone. A lot of emphasis also goes into volunteering and donating to non profits. I was surprised to find that Linkedin matches every employees donation to non profits 1 for 1. 
  4. Spending habits: I felt that bigger company’s employees may have more extravagant spending habits. I am not sure why I thought this way, but I realise that this is not true at all in the people I frequently interact with at Linkedin. I was really glad to observe this, because on most days, I really value frugality. 
  5. I still work the same amount, if not more: There is a common perception that startup employees work long hours. I think that can be true to some extent, but I hadn’t really found that to be true for business roles in startups. At Linkedin, I still work the same amount, but perhaps at different hours since I now work with a different market (now APAC, previously worldwide). I think I might actually be working more at Linkedin, because I am still getting used to my new job and learning how to be more productive in my new role.
  6. People tend to have varying professional goals. For example, not everyone at a startup wants to continue being with a startup all their lives. Similarly, I come across people at Linkedin who want to stay there for long, some who want to eventually explore different types of work, and some who want different roles within Linkedin. 
  7. Varying interests outside of work: I am glad to report that both my old and new colleagues have interests and hobbies they are passionate about after work! I really enjoy people telling me about the latest marathon they ran, or a new certification they are getting to become a professional coach!
  8. People are equally hardworking. I have been blessed to be around people who are incredibly hard working and make sure that the job gets done in both types of work environments. I think that might be a Singapore thing, and a habit that I am really happy to be surrounded by. 

I’m sure I’m going to gain a deeper perspective as time goes by at Linkedin, but for now, those are some of the key differences I’ve observed. I am excited to keep learning and growing with Linkedin in the time to come.