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Balancing the Grind with Ben Skelsey, General Manager at Huge, Singapore

Ben Skelsey is the General Manager at Huge’s Singapore office, an experience based agency that provides digital design, business strategy, technology, and marketing services.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

After a brief stint client side, I’ve since worked in creative agencies. I’m drawn to agency people because they’re brimming with passion and are super smart; it’s a wicked combination. It makes for some very healthy debate, which is a good thing.

I’ve been lucky enough to work and live across Australia, UK and now Singapore. International experience has been beneficial for me as it’s driven adaptability, which is key in our industry.

In my current role I lead our global work for the Procter & Gamble brand SK-II, and I manage the Huge Singapore office. Huge is a born and bred experience based agency that focuses on purposeful digital innovation.

So while my past was filled with lots of advertising (TV, Social, Outdoor), today we deal more with making things to interact with, whether that be concept stores with facial recognition and responsive walls, to mixed reality brand experiences. And of course, a lot of web based applications too. 

I learn a lot everyday from the smart people around me. And – hopefully – I give something back in terms of managing our business, our operations, our clients and our people.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

We’ve just had our second child, so it usually starts with me wrangling one of them as they rise so as not to wake the other half of the family. On a good day, we usually get to have a quick breakfast together too.

From there I check Slack and email to assess what’s going on. We’re a North American business so a lot usually happens overnight while I sleep in Singapore. I like to tackle tough stuff quickly so we’re solving problems/moving the ball down the field by the time the day truly gets going.

I also try to check the news and business headlines. If working from the office, I will do some of the above on the bus en route (yes, I like a bus ride!).

From there it’s straight into meetings, either from home or from the office.

An average day will involve tackling Ops challenges (we have a lot at the moment with the pandemic creating talent shortages), short term and medium term business planning, new business, and creative reviews of live projects.

I like to stay close to as much of the creative work as possible, it’s our lifeblood. On average I’d say there’s 2-3 fires ranging in size that pop-up a day. Most of which can be solved through collaboratively talking with clients, the team, and/or any 3rd parties. 

I try to finish around 6-6:30pm to do bath time and bedtime with the kids, and then back online about 9:30pm for a short while to knock off some conversations with the USA. 

I don’t produce work well late in the evening but calls are OK. If I’ve got a lot to do, I typically try and do it early AM. Very early, if need be.

Somewhere in there – a few days a week – I try to factor in some exercise; usually swimming. But it’s changeable based on my diary and the fam. Alas, the pandemic and having kids seems to have killed mid-week socialising… hopefully that changes soon.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes. It’s changeable in Singapore. We’re heading back to the office shortly (we think!) but will maintain a sort of 3/2 balance of working from home and working from the office (for those in the country).

Like all things these days, we’re learning, and are always prepared to change based on what we’re seeing and hearing. 

It works for me with kids, particularly in the mornings and the evenings. When I’m in the office, I sometimes only make it home for bathtime by the skin of my teeth, if at all. So being able to know that I can make it a few days a week is valuable.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me, it’s understanding that – because we can’t have everything – we need to be choiceful about the things that we keep. Most of the time I give up some social time to prioritise family, sleep, exercise and of course work. But not always, I’m an extrovert and I still need social energy at times. 

I’m lucky, some people don’t even get to have all of those in the mix. I treat them like a graphic equalizer, tuning them week to week for me and my family’s benefit. Sacred time is important. If I consistently miss certain things (bathtime, spending weekends with the kids etc) I know something is wrong, and change it.

I see technology as an enabler, not a burden. It allows me to move fast between these things and keep my days flexible.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Socialising has taken a back seat. Probably because of kids; but my wife and I are convinced it’s actually to do with COVID. It does make things a bit boring. 

This is having the biggest impact with the team and the office. Socialising – and having non-work conversations with colleagues – is immensely valuable, both for productivity and team dynamics. That change has been profound I think, and not in a good way. I hope it doesn’t last much longer.

I haven’t started or stopped this – but cooking a few times a week is my main creative outlet. And is highly meditative for me.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Harvard Business Review is my go to. I find it well researched, thoughtful, and it offers data driven points of view. I don’t agree with/recognise it all in my professional life, but I take from it what I can.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My phone. Seems obvious, and a lot of people see it as a problem, but it is an extremely efficient machine to help you create free time, and work fast. 

You do need to be careful that it doesn’t cause you to miss things in life (by having your head down all the time), but it also squashes things quickly.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

The Dalai Lama, Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg, being interviewed as a panel. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Some things that have helped me are:

Eat the frog first e.g.Get the rough and tough stuff out of the way. Don’t put it off, move it along early, things are so much easier from there.

Also manage your energy, not your time – this is advice (and an article) from HBR, and it is something that has greatly helped keep balance and focus on different things in my life.

And finally, listen and be nice, even when others aren’t. It almost always works better than the opposite. I sometimes slip in this area; not often, but I always regret it when I do.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.