It’s been almost a year since most of us have stepped into an airport (unless you work at one of course). International travel took a big hit in 2020, no thanks to COVID-19, leaving many self-proclaimed wanderlusters wandering into different parts of their home instead, due to the lockdown.
I joined Momentum Works in July 2020, and I had never seen my colleagues in person after I started working. And so, when the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) was introduced between Malaysia and Singapore, my team decided to fly me to Singapore for a week to map out our 2021 strategy.
Given travelling is so rare these days, I thought it would be a cool idea to document how it went. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the folks behind Momentum Works!
Before the trip
My team had to apply for an RGL pass for me. The information they needed included my flight ticket, where I was going to stay and a controlled itinerary. The RGL pass came with a huge clause – I was only allowed to be in my hotel and places of work, no where else – no public places, no sightseeing, no nothing. This means no visiting restaurants, no meetings in restaurants/public places, no walking next to a public place. You’ll get an email from Enterprise Singapore to inform whether your pass is approved or not. So all set with the paperwork.
A very empty KLIA
Getting on a plane in KLIA was fairly straightforward, you obviously needed more documents than usual to show why you’re allowed to travel. You could tell that even after a year of restricted travels that people were still adjusting as the staff were still unsure about certain procedures.
After boarding the plane, you get this mini care package just in case you didn’t have your COVID essentials with you, pretty nifty.
An equally empty Changi Airport
Arriving in Singapore
Upon arriving in Changi, that’s when you notice that travel protocols have changed quite significantly. After leaving the plane you are immediately escorted by airport staff to a make-shift medical area where they make you take a swab test.
This is the second time that I’ve done the PCR test (not because I was suspected before, but I had to do one right before flying) and if you’re curious; no it doesn’t hurt. Your eyes will probably water and your nose gets runny, but the whole process takes less than 30 seconds. I have to say that the Singaporean medical staff was definitely gentler than the one back in Malaysia (we abit ganas [aggressive]).
Some thoughts after working remotely for 6 months
Before this trip, I was holed up at my home in Klang (famous for its Bak Kut Teh), similar to most people across SEA. I’m amazed at the camaraderie that I had built with my colleagues and partners online, but I was looking forward to meeting some of them in person.
I’ve noticed these 5 things that are simply not replicable when collaborating online:
- You can talk to many people at a go, and hear the multiple discussions that’re ongoing (without getting a headache). 90% of human communication is non-verbal, and when you are in a room with someone, you get so many more cues on what exactly is going on.
- You see the other side of your colleagues and partners that you don’t see on screen. Most people are more well behaved (and dressed) on screen – but in person (especially with those folks that you are stuck with for 8 hours a day), you get to see the many facets and quirks about them – which makes collaboration that much more organic and nuanced.
- You can explain an idea, while drawing on a whiteboard, while using body language, in front of a live audience. This luxury is so underrated in today’s tech world, but it does make a difference. The power of unraveling an idea with visual, verbal and all the other cues you subconsciously use is unrivalled for both the sharer and the listener (we got a lot of work done this way in my 2 weeks there!).
- Test out new collaborative ideas – When people get together and have time to brainstorm and just explore new ways of doing things, magic happens! As you know we are now doing Youtube videos to better present our insights, and this one took us 24 hours from inception to filming, and publishing. (All safe distancing measures were observed).
- Appreciating the smaller things in life – It was especially so because I couldn’t go out (and because the weather was so nice), that my business partners made the special effort to show me the sights and sounds of Singapore – from a safe business environment, my boss even bought me lunch a few times, and my colleagues got me amenities that I couldn’t get myself.
Touristy view of Singapore (from a not-so touristy place)
Some authentic Sichuan food for team lunch (Yes, team meals were tapao-ed) Props to authentic Sichuan food by Si Wei Mao Cai
Yorlin got me a salad after hearing how many ShakeShacks I’ve been consuming
A friend told me that when he flew to Singapore from Jakarta, and was quarantined for 14 days, he felt like an immigrant from the olden days looking for a better life. And he was happy to have friends in a foreign country that could take some of the burden away. I kind of get what he means now as I’m quarantined back in Malaysia for the next 10 days while writing this article.
My 10 days in Singapore felt like a surge of my unused physical interaction quota back in 2020 – only that it was used on more important things like generating fresh ideas, firming up exciting projects and most importantly, building up a strong team to make 2021 a better year for us, and hopefully the rest of Asia.
Oh and I should mention that one of the best parts of the trip is getting to reward myself with a ShakeShack after a long day. I had it 4 times (don’t judge).
Love at first bite