Jumpstart Magazine: Coworking for Women in Singapore

This article was written by Woolf Works founder, Michaela Anchan and was originally published in Jumpstart Magazine.

 

Like Hong Kong, Singapore is a major hub for expat workers and the city consequentially finds itself a hub for their accompanying spouses. Often these spouses have left high powered jobs and rewarding careers themselves, to allow their partner to take up a dream international posting.

The role of the depressingly named, ‘trailing spouse’, can be a blessing and a curse. For many, it’s a chance for reinvention: to study, start a family, take up freelance work or volunteer in the region. For others it’s a catapult into a world of lost identity, homesickness and complete isolation. For a third group it’s a time stretch some entrepreneurial wings and to take advantage of Singapore’s relatively transparent business laws, steady economy and high disposable income levels.

Women-led start-ups are thriving across the world as the growth of digital technology fuels new business models and flexible work environments. Mothers can especially benefit from being able to reenter the business world on their own terms, outside the box of 9-5 corporate life.

Coworking spaces are booming across Asia and the world, as this new work era demands flexible workplaces and fluid community interactions. In Singapore we have workspaces for social entrepreneurs, high powered small business teams, artists, designers and tech start-ups. Woolf Works is a coworking space for women.

The coworking model is ideal for women who are often struggling with the balance between raising a family and growing a business. The idea of home businesses run by ‘mum-preneurs’ is inherently fraught – the home is a minefield of distractions and it can be impossible to be mentally engaged completely in the business. Working from a coworking space allows a real mental switch off between work and home, resulting in more productive work hours. It also helps against the dreadful isolation and ‘sameness’ of working alone at the kitchen table every day.

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Woolf Works aims to help women put themselves and their business first. We found that women, and especially mothers of small children, habitually put themselves and the needs of their business way behind the needs of other family members. Working from home really adds to this and Woolf Works aim is to provide a space where women can focus one hundred percent on their business. To achieve this we focus on three essentials for our members:

– A calm, quiet office in which to work productively
– A community of supportive, professional women
– Business opportunities within our network

Our members are a mix of freelance editors and writers, remote corporate workers, and small business owners. We have a range of women from a diverse number of industries. A few examples of the interesting businesses who use our space include:

Woomentum is a global crowdsourcing platform for women entrepreneurs to access business advice, mentorship and funding. Woomentum aims to be the most community-focused knowledge and experience-sharing platform for women in Asia and globally; as well as being the largest reward based crowdfunding platform in Asia, providing women with access to critical capital, particularly at the early stage of their businesses.

Attaby is a three year old fashion design label. Attaby clothing is feminine, easy to wear and designed with the Singapore climate in mind. Attaby clothing is sold globally through their e-commerce platform.

Tekkie Help is a family run business which focuses on getting people’s technology working how they want it to, both at home and at work. They have a growing team of tech specialists and are exploring moving into other markets in the region.

We also have a growing group of writers in our midst, both doing journalistic writing and fiction writing. One of our members, Shasta Grant, recently won a US Short Story competition, which was judged by acclaimed author Ann Patchett.

The role of ‘trailing spouse’ can be lonely and unfulfilling. Coworking spaces for women can provide community and support to expatriate women as well as networks and business opportunities. Woolf Works’ bigger vision is to provide space and community for all women who want to prioritize themselves and their business outside of their role as a parent and a partner.

 

 

What is co-working, anyway?

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What is co-working? Co-working spaces are shared offices.

Many co-working spaces are focused on collaboration, community, and innovation. Some are run more like traditional co-ops than businesses, with members playing a large part in day-to-day operations, while others are run purely as real estate and are usually called serviced offices.

The term ‘co-working’ was first used in 1999 by a man called Brian DeKoven to describe as ‘a method that would facilitate collaborative work and business meetings, coordinated by computers.’ The first few spaces opened in the US and Europe around 2004-2005 and the movement began to pick up steam around 2008. In Asia, it was only around 2011 that spaces started to open. Today in Singapore, there are a lot to choose from, catering to a variety of niches.

Woolf Works JooChiat was opened in mid 2014. We provide a relaxed work space for women who are currently underachieving in their home office and need a new space and a community to help drive productive work and new business opportunities.

We follow the five co-working values that were put together by the international co-working community a few years back:

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Collaboration

The co-working community works best in an environment of trust and openness. We collaborate and support each other where we can, with a basis of trust and respect.

Openness

We believe in transparency and the freedom of ideas, both within the space and with the space itself – open-plan working and the freedom to play around with things as you like.

Community

Us. The people of the space. Learning together, supporting each other, playing, and celebrating together.

Accessibility

We are accessible to all women, all strata of business, and all stages of life.

Sustainability

Our space is environmentally conscious and responsible. Our community is respectful and authentic with each other.

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One of the biggest struggles women (especially mothers) who work from home face is the balance between work and life. Mums working from home often find themselves only giving 50% to both the business and the kids, as they can’t focus on either. By setting clear work hours and leaving the house to work in a co-working space, boundaries are established; this allow women to be 100% business owners and then go home and be 100% mothers.

Working from home can also be lonely and pretty uninspiring. Working from Woolf Works means being surrounded by like-minded women to chat with over coffee, to collaborate with and to refer business to. Our member lunches and social evenings give members the chance to bond and discover deeper ways to connect.

At Woolf Works, we want women to value themselves and their work. We found too many women putting their needs and aspirations behind the rest of the family’s needs. We see co-working as a tool to push women into making themselves top priority and aim to be a hub for women who are passionate about reaching their goals.

This digital age is creating a seismic shift in the way we work. The 9-5 PM corporate job in the CBD is being replaced by flexi-workers who are defining their own times and working on their own terms. Entrepreneurship is booming and the connectivity and flexibility that technology provides us means co-working has a clear place in the future of work spaces.

 

This article was written by Michaela Anchan, the founder of Woolf Works and was featured in  Executive Lifestyle.

Chat with Woolf Works Founder

Woolf Works founder, Michaela Anchan was interviewed by Pallavi of My Singapore Diary.

“It’s the best of east meets west for us – and as we are a mixed-culture family that is very important for us and for the kids. It’s easy to be a global family as there are so many other global families here…”

Read the full interview here

 

My Singapore Diary   A Lifestyle and Travel Blog

Herstory: Constance Singam, Mother of Singapore’s Civil Society

Though her journey has been full of trepidation, Constance Singam has never allowed fear to stop her from correcting what she believes is wrong in her country. She is a true epitome of patriotism, freedom and bravery in today’s fast-paced and tangled world.

Constance Signam

Image courtesy of http://news.asiaone.com/

She is known regionally and globally as a brilliant author and a highly respected advocate for Singapore’s civil society. She has spent the last twenty-five years leading a variety of women’s organizations, co-founding various civil society groups, penning columns in national publications and co-editing several books. Through these acts, she has sought to bridge the widening gap between intellectual and ethical spheres as a way of solving the problems she continues to see in her country.

She was born in Singapore as Constance D’Cruz in 1936. Her father worked as a senior architectural draughtsman while her mother tended to their home as a homemaker. When she was just five years old, she left Singapore with her mother for Kerala, India, in order to get to know her grandparents. While the trip was intended to be a short one, it extended up to 1948 due to the occupation of Singapore and the Japanese invasion.

Singham’s foray into the world of activism began in 1978 when her journalist husband N.T.R. Singam died because of heart attack complications, stemming from a cardiologist’s bad judgment. She was 24 years old when she had married Singam, and was 42 at the time of his death. A single act on her part, which was to write a letter, A Rest in Hospital Became a Nightmare to The Straits Times regarding patient care standard in private hospitals, got the ball rolling in terms of changes in the treatment of the marginalized. From then on, she would write more than a hundred letters to the press about the issues that concerned her and civil society.

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A writer, social activist, teacher, restaurateur and blogger – Image courtesy of https://s.yimg.com

The death of Constance’s husband also prompted her to engage in more liberating experiences, brought about by deeper questions of her personal identity, the future and the notion of loneliness. Her first step in attempting to answer such questions was to get a driver’s license, which was already a big deal for her given that it was something her husband did not approve of when he was still alive. Singam notes that the first day she drove alone was the most liberating experience of her life.

Encouraged and emboldened, with dreams of becoming a writer, her next decision was to go to Melbourne for her honors degree in Literature at the Monash University. Being 46 years old at that time did not prove to be a barrier to completing her first ever degree, which she did with flying colors. Her education also did not stop there, as she was able to complete her Master’s degree from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, at the age of 60. She also dabbled in the educational field by working as a part-time lecturer at the National Institute of Education, until she was 67.

Her educational pursuits also lead her to the Singapore women’s gender equality group, AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) and tackled issues like domestic violence against women and Indian students’ underperformance in schools. With her newfound passion for intellectual work, Singam worked actively for solutions to problems that dehumanize the marginalized sector of society.

Connie with SAA

Constance Singam, as one of the judges at Singapore Advocacy Awards – Image courtesy of http://bukitbrown.com/

Her personal experiences with being marginalized were also a reason why this kind of work was important to her. Upon her return to Singapore, she was advised to announce that she was Indian so she would not be attacked under the assumption that she was Eurasian. This was during the 50s, and the time of the Maria Hertogh riots. In her later years, the experience of being marginalized stemmed from her being a widow, an Indian and a woman.

Her work as a civil society activist brought about notable changes in the lives of many through political lobbying. The government responded by forming the SIDA (Singapore Indian Development Association) to address the community’s socio-economic and educational issues. Ten years of hard lobbying on domestic violence against women finally resulted in legal protection being given to victims.

Her provocative journal published in 2013, Where I Was: A Memoir from the Margins has been read by thousands and shows the other side of Singapore’s glowing and thriving face. She recounts her life and the accompanying experiences of being marginalized in many ways. It paints a glaring picture of societal challenges people like her face, due to political and cultural obstacles. Despite being autobiographical, it also successfully tells the tale of others through her personal accounts of important historical events.

She discovered that through her writing she was able to make society take notice of issues that are of concern to her, such as the marginalized place of women; being a “poor cousin” to Singaporeans because she was Indian; and the struggles and challenges that come with being poor in a first world country. She continued to wield this weapon many times, as well as to speak in public and private discourses in Singapore and abroad.

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At her book launch at The Arts House on May 24, 2013 – Image courtesy of http://www.straitstimes.com/

Now in her late seventies, Constance Singam is busier than ever, performing multiple roles she probably did not dream of doing when she was in her twenties. She continues her work as a social activist, a teacher and a writer, and has become a restaurateur and an active blogger as well. Her presence on the Internet is a commendable effort to engage the global community and make them aware of the issues that civil society faces today.

Despite growing up in a patriarchal, South Indian household and society, she found in herself a stronger voice that spoke and achieved results for many. Yes, Constance Singam might have lost a husband and would have settled in a traditional married life. But with passion and with her radical ideals, she has become a role model and inspiration for thousands of individuals – most especially those who share in her experience of being marginalized in different ways.

 

To read more about Constance Singam, check her blog Living Life @ 70.

 

Other links about Constance Singram:

http://theindependent.sg/blog/2013/07/11/mother-of-singapores-civil-society/
http://news.asiaone.com/print/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130526-425171.html
http://kitaab.org/2013/08/25/constance-singam-i-think-it-is-important-that-more-of-us-write/
http://oddznns.com/2013/11/16/a-singaporean-identity-constance-singam-the-epitome-of-true-grit/

 

 

A Day in the Life

A Day in My Life  – pre-Woolf Works

6.30am: Alarm goes off with message ’30mins early morning writing time!’. I try to extricate myself from Baby T sleeping on my arm but fail. Lie awake for fifteen minutes thinking brilliant things I could have been writing about which I will instantly forget as soon as I stand up.

6.45am: Big sister comes storming into the room, throwing the door wide with a shout of ‘IT’S MORNING’. Baby T is now definitely awake.

8.45am: Right. Big Sister is at school. Baby T is playing quietly. NOW IS MY TIME. I slink into the home office with a cup of tea and straight away notice the giant pile of random papers that need filing away. I really must have a clean desk before I can get into writing.

9.30am: Baby T is crying and I’ve been lost in a wormhole of filing / working out if I paid last months phone bill / re-labeling the folders since we changed banks AND phone companies last month.

10.45: Baby T is happily napping. My mother skypes from New Zealand and wants me to sneak in to his room so she can watch him sleep.

11.15am: Right. Lets get into this. No more mucking around. Fresh page. Nice pen. I’m free writing to find an angle for my next short story.

11.25am:Baby T is awake.

11.30am: He is well rested and fed so surely he will play nicely just there next to me and I can get some work done.

11.32am: What’s that smell?

11.33am: Nappy change

11.40am: Baby T shuts his finger in the drawer and screams like banshee.

11.45am: Time to go for a walk, I need some fresh air.

1pm: Baby is in the safe hands of our helper, Siony. Time to get to work. I write a power list of three things I need to get done. One. Reply to five emails. check. Two. Back into free writing. I’m feeling the flow.

1.45pm: Doorbells rings and the Singapore Dengue Police want to have a serious discussion about the state of my flowerpots. I’m also under strict instructions to remove a banana tree which is apparently a mosquito paradise.

2pm: Back to my desk, spend twenty minutes googling Dengue symptoms and trying to alleviate mother-guilt.

2.20pm: Start to put together a framework for a short story. Vaguely remember a brilliant twist I’d thought of this morning when a courier rings the doorbell.

3pm: Think about putting together a website for my work but feel lost about where to start. What is a domain host anyway?

3.15pm: Big sister is home from school with two grazed knees and lots of tears.

4pm: Baby T throws Big Sister’s favourite My Little Pony into the toilet. World War Three commences. I give up on getting anything else written for the day.

8pm: Kids are sleeping. I’m exhausted. Still haven’t been for a run. I go to bed with my laptop, Netflix and a glass of wine and set my alarm for 6am with the note ‘Must get up! 30mins quiet writing time!’

A day in my life – post-Woolf Works

6am: Wake up – have perfected the art of extricating myself from Toddler T’s arm so I stealthily escape, throw on running clothes and head out the door.

7.30am: Breakfast with kids, shower, dress.

8.30am: Drop Big Sister at school, Toddler T at Play School, head into Woolf Works.

9am – 11.30am: Work quietly and productively on current projects with a  coffee break and chat to a fellow member about which CRM systems are best.

12noon – Pick up Toddler T from play school, have some cuddle time.

1 – 3pm: Back into Woolf Works, have amazing Vietnamese Pho from a local restaurant while writing and editing.

4pm – 4.30pm: Meet some potential new members and show them around the space.

4.30pm: Meet a local business owner who wants to collaborate

6pm: Home for dinner, bath and bed for kids.

8pm: Glass of wine and chat with my husband

9pm: In bed with a book to read.

Woolf Works is a shared work space for women located on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. The concept came as a direct result of my years of of frustration, distraction  and loneliness as a stay-at-home mum / student / amateur writer / entrepreneur dreamer from 2008 to 2013. Woolf Works is a quiet, calm, distraction-free space for women to work productively and find community. Email info@woolfworks.sg for more information.