Sunday
Apr232017

Have gadget will travel

AS a freelancer, I need to be able to work on the go. It’s easy being a “road warrior” when I just move about in the city. All I need to bring is my laptop, which I carry in my backpack.

But when I have to travel abroad by air, it’s a different kettle of fish. For this, I require some special gadgets to ensure that I can stay productive during my travels.

Over the years, I’ve refined my “packing list” to include all the key items that will allow me to do work effectively no matter where I am. I trust that these items will also make a difference the next time you travel for work.

MOBILE PHONE POWER BANK

Today’s smartphones really eat up power. If you use the phone for anything other than just phone calls and text messaging, you’ll find that it’s hard to go through the day without the battery running out. Typically, my phone power runs out within half a day because I use it for a lot of things such as email, browsing, social media posting, shooting photos and videos, and more.

I even use it as a mobile hotspot when I need to use the Internet on my laptop. As such, a power bank is a necessity.

Like most people, you would probably already own a power bank of some kind but when you travel, you will want to have one that’s heavy duty because being out and about in a different city or country, you never know when you’ll be able to charge your phone to a power socket.

And the last thing you’d want is for your phone to run out of juice while abroad for business. There are many brands of power banks out there. Ideally, get one with 10,000mAH and two USB sockets (so you can charge other devices as well such as MP3 player, camera, audio recorder, etc.).

BLUETOOTH KEYBOARD

When abroad for business, you’ll probably do more text messaging than usual as it is cheaper to text message than make phone calls. Yes, it’s possible to make phone calls through Whatsapp and other chat platforms but the audio quality is sometimes not clear. So text messaging becomes all the more important when travelling abroad.

You may even need to compose something on your phone because you may not have your laptop with you at all times. Having a Bluetooth keyboard will make typing a lot easier than tapping away on a touchscreen. Even on a big phone it’s hard to type more than a few simple messages. For anything complex or long, a keyboard is ideal. These come in various sizes, from really small to full-sized. Get one that you feel comfortable with typing on.

Note that although Bluetooth is supposed to work universally with any smartphone, in practice this is not always the case. Pairing a keyboard with a phone can prove problematic at times. To ensure connectivity, it’s best to buy a Bluetooth keyboard from an established brand rather than a cheap, unknown brand.

LAPTOP POWER BANK

If you have a need to use your laptop on-the-go a lot — not just in planes but in cafes and other places where you may not have access to an electrical socket — you should consider getting a laptop power bank. These may not be available in local retail shops so you’d have to order these online.

I’ve bought some of these so-called “laptop power banks” that are supposed to be so powerful that they can jumpstart a car. But the problem is that unlike mobile phones which have standard Lightning or Micro-USB connectors, different laptops come with different connectors. Laptop power banks will come with an array of connectors which will cover the majority of laptops out there but you may have a particular model or brand of laptop that is not covered. So do your research online to ensure that your laptop is compatible with the power bank you’re buying.

If you want a really heavy duty laptop charger that is guaranteed to work with your laptop (whatever brand it is), consider getting the RavPower AC Power Bank which, as its name implies, has an AC output that can deliver a 100W of power. Note that this device is aimed at the US market and its AC socket is designed for two-prong plugs, so you’ll need to get a travel adaptor for this.

It’s available at Amazon.com at US$169.99 (RM753) but unfortunately, this item does not ship to Malaysia. If you don’t have a friend in the US who can order this and send it here, you could consider ordering it from 11Street (www.11street.my) but the price is rather steep at RM1,248.80.

POWER EXTENSION

CORD/USB HUB

A hotel room is the best place to recharge your myriad of electrical devices, including your power bank. The problem is, hotel rooms are not known for providing a lot of convenient electrical sockets. Sometimes I’ve even had to unplug a lamp in order to use its socket for charging stuff.

It makes a lot of sense to bring along a power extension cord, especially if you’re the kind who likes to work on your laptop in bed (your laptop’s power cord is usually not that long and might not reach the power socket in your room).

At the same time, as you’re charging your laptop, you may want to charge your phone and other devices that are chargeable via USB such as power bank, tablet, camera, digital audio recorder, MP3 player and so on. A USB hub would be suitable for charging multiple devices.

A handy device that serves both as power extension cord and a USB Hub is the Pineng PN-333 extension socket with 4 USB hubs. It’s an all-in-one device and priced very affordably at around RM40, from various vendors through Lazada (www.lazada.com.my).

SCOTT E-VEST

This is a very cool apparel company that makes clothing with multiple secret pockets for carrying gadgets and devices. One item I’ve bought is a jacket that is suitable to wear for business meetings. It features 23 pockets, so it’s possible to carry an array of items like tablet, phone, camera, earphones, sunglasses, power bank, business plans, wallet, passport, etc. — all in one jacket!

The company also sells convertible travel pants that come with 10 pockets and compartments. It’s super practical in that it converts to shorts through the use of hidden leg zippers. The nylon fabric is lightweight, quick-drying and Teflon treated for water and stain resistance. The company ships internationally but unfortunately, our country is not on its list of countries it delivers to.

So if you want to get this, you’ll need to get a friend in the US or any of the other countries it delivers to order it for you. You can find the details at its website (www.scottevest.com).

FRANKLIN GLOBAL TRANSLATOR

This phrase translator has everything you’d need to communicate in a foreign land. For each language, it has in its memory over 800 phrases for areas such as accommodations, emergencies, food and directions.

A total of 16 languages are covered, namely Arabic, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Vietnamese. There’s a feature that allows you to save and recall 60 most commonly used sentences. And it comes with a world clock and alarm.

The battery is rechargeable and it has multi-plug adapters. This item is available from Amazon (www.amazon.com) and yes, it ships to our country.

Sunday
Apr162017

Intrapreneurship retains talent

TWO of the biggest challenges companies face in these turbulent and competitive economic times are staying innovative and retaining top talent. Rapid advances in technology allow start-ups to regularly disrupt existing business models and the lure of entrepreneurship leads to an exodus of dynamic employees who want to carve out a business of their own.

Both these issues can be tackled effectively with intrapreneurship.

Coined in 1978 by businessman and inventor Gifford Pinchot III, the term gained widespread exposure in 1985 when Pinchot published his book, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have To Leave The Corporation To Become An Entrepreneur.

Intrapreneurship can mean two things. One refers to the concept of encouraging employees to start up new companies under the umbrella of the parent company. Another refers to giving employees the autonomy to tackle problems in their own way.

Let’s look at the first interpretation which is about fostering entrepreneurship within a company. The term “intra” means starting up a new venture within an existing company.

I first came across this concept many years ago when I met up with an old schoolmate who had successfully climbed up the corporate ladder. He was a senior manager at a big company in Singapore. When I met him, he’d just started working on a new venture which was fully funded by his employer.

The company had given him an offer he couldn’t refuse. If the new start-up was successful, he would get a small stake in the business. And if it failed, he could go back to his old job in the parent company.

“I get to try to build something new and potentially reap the rewards of that but without having to take a big risk,” he said.

By offering top employees the opportunity to build new subsidiaries, companies which practise intrapreneurship can stem the outflow of talented workers who might otherwise pursue entrepreneurship.

While it’s true that workers who take up intrapreneurship opportunities still remain employees of the company, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if they’re given autonomy in how they run their start-ups. And it comes with the benefit of adequate funding, a regular salary and — crucially — a potential stake in the business. If you consider the high failure rate of start-ups, this option doesn’t sound too bad.

Intrapreneurship doesn’t have to be just about starting new businesses for the parent company. It can also be about sparking innovation and creatively resolving problems that impede productivity.

FREEDOM TO EXPERIMENT

Big corporations tend to be lumbering giants. Usually the bigger the company, the less nimble and agile it is. This is a problem if disruptive forces are creating havoc with the existing business model.

Such companies need a unit or units to come up with bold, creative and unconventional solutions. It must identify the most entrepreneurially-minded employees and give them the freedom to do this for the company. These employees must be allowed to experiment — to grow and to fail like entrepreneurs — with minimal intervention from the parent company. Unless these intrapreneurs are given sufficient autonomy and independence to try new things that the parent company would never do, the endeavour will fail.

Intrapreneurs in this context are similar to entrepreneurs except that instead of being given the opportunity to build new businesses or subsidiaries, they’re expected to find new ways of doing things so that the company can be more innovative, productive and efficient. They are problem solvers who have to come up with solutions for market-driven challenges.

While a start-up-oriented intrapreneur is expected to oversee the creation of a completely new business, as entrepreneurs are expected to do, the problem-solving intrapreneur focuses on improving and enhancing existing processes within the company. The former creates new products and services the company can sell while the latter increases the productivity and capacity of the company’s existing business.

This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. A company can have both types of intrapreneurship. Employees who yearn to build something new can be given start-up intrapreneurship opportunities while those who like to think out of the box and try new ways of doing things can be given problem-solving intrapreneurship duties.

WIN-WIN FOR ALL

The benefit for companies is obvious — they can remain innovative and retain talented staff. But an intrapreneurship programme also benefits employees.

Even the most entrepreneurially-minded individual must be aware of the risks of leaving a job with a steady income. As for employees who like to think out of the box, being given a chance to experiment with existing work processes will prevent them from getting bored. More fulfilment and satisfaction means a higher retention rate of quality employees.

The big question for companies is how to foster a culture of intrapreneurship among employees. If the company is teeming with employees who can’t wait to try new things, getting intrapreneurship going is not a problem. But we all know of companies where the employees are content with a 9-to-5 routine and don’t necessarily want to do something new. They’re happy to stay within their comfort zone.

Fostering an entrepreneurial culture has to start from the top. A company where the top management has a reputation for being progressive and open-minded will attract employees who are similarly inclined. And they in turn, will recommend the company to friends who’ll appreciate working in such an environment.

It also helps if the company has training programmes for employees to upgrade their skill sets to prepare them for intrapreneurship opportunities. It sends a strong signal that this is a company you can grow with. There should also be a formal process for employees to apply for intrapreneurship opportunities — whether it’s for starting something new or tackling an existing problem. They need to know there’s a mechanism where their ideas can be seriously considered by their bosses.

Lastly, there must be a proper reward system in place. Intrapreneurs who successfully build new subsidiaries must be given stock options or a revenue-share deal. As for those who help solve problems and improve productivity, there must be a bonus and/or promotion programme in place.

Intrapreneurship isn’t a common practice in Malaysia but local business owners should seriously consider it. We all know of good people who’ve left their companies because they wanted to start something new or because they were frustrated with the old ways of doing things. Such proactive, dynamic and talented individuals might have stayed on if an intrapreneurship programme had been put in place.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media.

Sunday
Apr092017

Lessons from the “Gig Economy”mindset

The “Gig Economy” is a catchphrase that refers to a market situation whereby the workforce largely consists of people who work on a project basis. These people are usually contract workers or freelancers as opposed to full-time employees.

For sure many parts of our economy are still dominated by a 9-to-5 office work environment but increasingly, as we evolve into a knowledge economy, more and more work can be done offsite by workers who are not necessarily employees of the company.

In a “Gig Economy” workers (freelancers) don’t get a fixed income and don’t enjoy many of the fringe benefits of a full-time employee such as EPF, medical insurance, annual leave and year-end bonuses.

So, why would any worker prefer to be a freelancer? The answer is multi-fold actually. Flexibility in scheduling their own working hours is a very common reason cited but it’s by far not the only reason. Freelancers get to work on a broader range of projects as they can work for multiple clients. And because they have the freedom to choose the kind of projects they want to take up, the work they do is usually more interesting and fulfilling to them.

There are also many reasons for employers to like hiring freelancers or contract workers beyond the simple fact that they don’t have to provide fringe benefits to them. Freelancers can be hired as and when they are needed and thus do not constitute overheads to the company. There is also no need to train them – they have to already be pretty established if they are successful freelancers. And there is also no need to provide office space or equipment to them – they have their own infrastructure.

All this is good and well for freelancers and companies that engage freelancers. But what about employees and employers in a more traditional set up? They can benefit from the “Gig Economy” mindset too. There are advantages to viewing work as a “gig” or project as opposed to an occupation for life.

Let’s look at it from the point of view of an employee first. When an employee views his job as one for life, there will naturally be a tendency to become complacent and coast. When an employee thinks his or her job is secure, there is little motivation to be productive and efficient. The job is there no matter what.

But in this day and age, we know that job security is a myth. Even if someone is a full-time employee, there is no guarantee they won’t be retrenched, especially when there’s an economic downturn. When times are tough, companies will do what they have to, to stay afloat.

An employee who is used to the idea of getting a steady pay cheque every month will not be ready to deal with suddenly being laid off and no longer receiving a salary. And if that employee has been coasting for the past few years, they would not be the most up-to-date or marketable person around.

In contrast, an employee who adopts a gig mindset, who treats their work tasks as “projects” will always be on their toes the way freelancers are.

The late Andy Grove famously said only the paranoid survive. Freelancers are paranoid that work might dry up. So they always have to do their best. They don’t assume that work will always be forthcoming. They know they have to do a good job in order to get more work and referrals to other companies. So there is incentive to be creative and innovative to produce the best results.

Imagine if an employee of a company had such a mindset. They would definitely produce better work than one who assumes that a pay cheque would be there every month whether they perform well or not.

Employers would do well to also adopt the “Gig Economy” mindset with regard to their full-time workers. We all know how it’s like in many Malaysian companies. The bosses and managers tend to enforce a strict 9-to-5 office hour rule. There are not many companies that allow flexi-hours or telecommuting for their full-time employees.

The reason is that they fear people would goof off if they are not at their seats in their cubicles or work desk. But this is an outdated and flawed way of thinking. If your employees are the kind that would goof off when you are not looking, the will find ways to goof off when you are looking.

For example, if a worker wants to while their time away browsing social media instead of doing actual work, they don’t have to do it on their computer screen which is easy to monitor. They can do it on their phone.

One thing old fashioned managers need to realize is that just because someone is sitting in front a computer doesn’t mean they are actually doing productive work. Measuring productivity by the amount of time someone sits at their desk is definitely the wrong metric in this day and age.

An employer who adopts a “Gig Economy” mindset should care less about how their employees do their work and focus instead of the results they produce. It doesn’t matter so much how they do it or where they do it or when they do it. What’s important is that they do it right and do it well.

Companies that adopt a more progressive approach to work are likely to be rewarded with higher productivity and efficiency from a workforce that’s happier because they have more flexibility in how they do their work despite being full-time employees and not freelancers.

Results must matter more than process but judging from the attitude of many office managers, that doesn’t seem to be the case. They want their workers at their desk during office hours. This attitude really has to change if they want to attract and retain the best workers. Adopting the “Gig Economy” mindset is a good way to achieve that.

Sunday
Apr022017

On Mentorship

By Oon Yeoh

If you’re someone who is already accomplished in what you do, you could be a good candidate to be a mentor. And if you are someone who is just starting out and seeking to improve yourself, you could be someone searching for a mentor.

I’ve experienced both sides of mentorship. When I was starting out in my career, I’ve had some mentors who helped me out a lot and later when I became more experienced, I myself did some mentoring.

It’s a topic that I’m quite passionate about because I believe this tradition of mentorship is absolutely vital for promoting excellence in the workforce. In this article I’ll discuss mentorship from three perspectives: What mentorship is, the motivation for it and the concept of self-mentorship.

Consultant Caela Farren, President of MasteryWorks, describes mentors as people who know more about a certain area of expertise than you do. She further describes mentoring as a learning and development partnership between a professional with in-depth experience and knowledge in a specific area and a protégé seeking learning and coaching in the same area.

It’s worth noting that she describes the relationship as a “partnership” and it really is because there needs to be an understanding between the mentor and the mentee on the parameters of the mentorship.

A teacher-student relationship is a lot more basic. The teacher offers instruction and the student receives the instruction. Of course there can be some guidance and support but often, it’s little more than instruction giving and taking.

In a mentorship situation, the mentor is taking the mentee under his or her wing and personally grooming them to become successful in the particular field they are in. The commitment level involved is a lot higher when it comes to mentorship. And that works both ways.

The mentor has to commit a certain amount of resources and energy towards the personal training. Usually there is no monetary transaction involved. I’ll talk more about this later in the article but it’s clear the motivation is not financial compensation but a strong desire to see someone else succeed.
The mentee also has to commit to take the training seriously. If the mentor is spending so much energy in this endeavour but the mentee has a lackadaisical attitude about it, this “partnership” will soon break down.
The mentee has to show at least as much commitment and dedication to perfecting his or her craft as the mentor (if not more) otherwise the latter will feel it’s not worth it. Why should the mentor sacrifice time and effort to train someone who is not that committed?
As in all partnerships there needs to be a win-win situation where both parties get something out of it. For the mentee, the value proposition is obvious: to learn from someone with experience and expertise. For the mentor, the motivation is usually to prolong their legacy and to pass on the knowledge and skillsets acquired over a lifetime.
“When I give the best of me, that becomes my legacy,” says author Karen Lopez McWilliams.

Her comments sum it up nicely. When you train a protégé and that person is able to achieve excellence, your legacy lives on through them. And of course there is the glorious sense of duty or even obligation to pass it on. All mentors were once mentored by others who helped them acquire expertise. So, it’s only right that they do the same when they are in a position to do so.
For any partnership to thrive there also needs to be some synchronicity in terms of ethos. If there is no chemistry or worse still, if there is a clash of personality types, the mentorship just won’t work. The mentee has to feel that the mentor is someone worth emulating not just for their capabilities but also because of their values. Similarly, the mentor has to feel that the mentee is someone not only with potential to excel but is someone worth training.

Good mentorship situations are rare. A mentee might desperately want to find a good mentor but finding the right one who is willing wing is not easy. What can a young person do if they can’t find a specific mentor to guide them? One solution is self-mentorship.

Self-mentorship doesn’t mean you don’t look up to anyone for advice and rely only on yourself. Yes, it’s good to be an autodidact who can teach himself but everyone still needs to learn from others. My understanding of self-mentorship is that rather than rely on one person to take you under their wing, you make it a point to learn from various people.

“It’s not a mentor’s responsibility to mentor, it’s the responsibility of the mentee to seek mentorship and appropriate it,” says author Josh Hatcher.
This is sound advice. With the right mind set, everyone can be your mentor whether they realize it or not because you are constantly learning through observation and osmosis. You act like a sponge, absorbing knowledge from all around.

This approach might actually be the best because in this day and age, it might not be enough just having one mentor. Or as author Caela Farren puts it: “Today having multiple mentors is a necessity because so much is changing around us. No one person can coach others in all the domains of a complex workplace.”

By adopting the attitude of learning from everyone, the issue of having to find a suitable mentor to take you on as their protégé is resolved. You don’t need a specific mentor. You self-mentor by learning from everyone around you.

Sunday
Mar262017

Virtual shopping

MALAYSIANS love shopping. A visit to some of the popular shopping malls, even on a weekday, will confirm that shopping is a popular leisure activity. But its very popularity means that these malls are packed with people and finding a parking space will be a logistical nightmare.

The good news for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving to a mall and spending a lot of time looking for an empty space to park is the emergence of local online shopping malls.

When e-commerce was still at a nascent stage, many Malaysians experienced buying online through blogshops, which are essentially blogs with postings of things for sale.

Purchase was done through depositing money into bank accounts rather than paying through online shopping carts, etc. It was all very primitive but it served its purpose.

Later on, individual online shops emerged but for a long time we didn’t have a Malaysian answer to Amazon.com ­— that is, an online shopping mall which sold all kinds of products.

Of course it’s possible for Malaysians to order some things through Amazon.com but the range of products that could be shipped to Malaysia was limited. The shipping options were also very expensive.

Today, the online scene is very different. There are now many virtual shopping malls.

In some ways, these online malls are more comprehensive than their physical counterparts because they carry a much wider range of items.

Other than not having to search for parking, the other advantage is the potential cost savings. Online prices are almost always cheaper. The return policies are also typically much more generous than those of real life stores (which often have a no-return policy).

I’m going to highlight a few notable home-grown online shopping malls. Because they’re local, the shipping costs will be affordable or sometimes even free. Delivery time is also much shorter than if you were to order from overseas online stores or malls.

Lazada

This is the granddaddy of online shopping malls in Malaysia. It’s the most well-known e-commerce site for a reason. Like Amazon, it sells seemingly everything under the sun. There are electronics, home appliances, travel products, clothing, beauty products — you name it, it has it.

Its strongest categories are in consumer electronics and electrical goods. You can practically get any gadget you want there. All the brands, big and small, are represented. If you have read about a device online and can’t find it in any physical store, try Lazada. It’s probably there.

Its strength in consumer electronics have some people referring to it as an online “digital mall”, but that doesn’t do the site justice.

Its other departments are by no means weak. There’s really a lot of stuff you can find on Lazada in almost any category.

Like Amazon, almost everything on sale in Lazada is priced at a discount to the suggested retail price. Sometimes, they even offer special discounts for customers with specific brands of credit card.

One feature that I really like is its delivery time estimator which tells you how long each product will take to arrive.

Sometimes, certain products are sourced from overseas so they would take a longer time to arrive. I have found this to be useful for times when I wanted to order something as a gift for someone’s birthday. This allows me to know whether I can get it on time.

A site that’s as comprehensive as Lazada is best viewed on a computer laptop. But if you prefer to do your online shopping through a mobile phone, Lazada does have an app version for both Android and iOS. Download those for a better experience when viewing the site on a mobile device.

11street

11street is an online shopping mall operated by Celcom and is a collaboration with SK Planet, a well-known South Korean e-commerce site.

Like the other online malls, it has a wide range of product categories. One differentiating factor is its Korean Street, which it is eminently qualified to offer since its collaborator is Korean. The stuff that can be found there are obviously all from Korea so that should be interesting to fans of K-pop and Korean dramas.

It’s also interesting to note that 11street has a groceries department which is not a common offering among online malls.

There are many specialist grocery sites in Malaysia but grocery items are seldom sold via online malls. Alas, 11street’s grocery section comprises just dry goods. You won’t be able to find any fresh produce or meat there, so it’s not really what you’d expect when you click on the “Groceries” button.

If you want fresh groceries, go to Tesco online or some of the other specialist grocery sites.

pqc

11street has a groceries department.

Superbuy.my

Like Lazada, Superbuy.my aims to offer a wide range of products but seems to be strongest in the area of consumer electronics and electricals. Visit the main page and you’ll see lot of gadgets and devices.

The site fosters a culture of reviews and there are many reviews available on a whole slew of products. In fact, it has a button called “Review” that lists every product that has a review or reviews attached to it.

It can actually make for interesting reading and fittingly, the reviews are presented blog-style with the latest review appearing at the top.The reviews are up-to-date which tells you the site has a legion of fans.

Superbuy offers corporate purchase services such as bulk orders, corporate gifts and employee incentives programmes for corporate clients (who are encouraged to write in and inquire about corporate discounts).

Nile.com.my

This Egyptian river-inspired store name is obviously a play on Amazon, which was named after the mighty Brazilian river.

The site offers many of the categories similar to its rivals Lazada, 11street and Superbuy. The range of products however doesn’t seem to be as wide as some of its competitors.

What differentiates it from the other online shopping malls is its lowest price guarantee which means if an item bought on Nile can be found elsewhere at a lower price, the company will either match that price or beat it — and it will refund the price difference. Now, that’s a pretty good deal!

The site says it is able to offer the lowest price possible because its purchasing team buys or imports items directly from manufacturers and passes on the savings to customers.

This is a strong selling point for Malaysian shoppers. We Malaysians love to bargain but if haggling is not possible, a lowest price guarantee is just as good.

Give online shopping a try

If you have not yet tried online shopping, now is a really good time to try it. The e-commerce eco system in Malaysia is now sufficiently mature that credit card payments are secure and delivery options are both affordable and fast. So, give yourself more choices and save some time and money while you are at it by shopping online.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com