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Interviews / HR & Culture

Balancing the Grind with Catherine Ng, Head of People at Novelship

Catherine Ng is the Head of People at Novelship, Asia’s fastest growing online marketplace for authentic, limited edition sneakers, apparel, and collectibles.

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

My current role is the Head of People at Novelship, a start-up based in Singapore since 2018. Novelship is an unique online marketplace for authentic, limited edition sneakers, apparel, and collectibles from the exclusive brands.

I take care of the full spectrum of People and Culture at Novelship for over 80+ employees across multiple countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan.

Having worked across different industries, as well as being an ex-management consultant, I am accustomed to high intensity, fast-paced environments that are outcome and client focus. Work-life balance has always been something close to my heart, as the need to balance my career and being a mother of two kids is very real to me. 

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

Since the start of the pandemic, many of our colleagues have been working remotely. A typical WFH day for me looks like this:

  • 6.30am – 7.30am: wake up, settle everything for the kids including their healthy snacks and getting them ready for school. 
  • 7.30am – 8.30am: Do some light yoga at home while catching up on the latest news. 
  • 8.30am – 9.30am: Morning ritual, checking on emails, and what’s happening with the team. 
  • 9.30am – 12 noon: NO MEETINGS (except for Monday team huddle). Dedicated time for self work, organising, planning, brainstorming 
  • 12 noon – 1pm: Get some fresh air, grab my mid-day coffee and a healthy lunch. 
  • 1pm to 6pm: Usually packed with meetings, communication sessions, partners meetings, interviews. 
  • 6pm – 10pm: Connect with my children, have dinner together, help them with their homework. 
  • 10pm – 12 midnight: catch up with industry development, what’s happening in the start up scene

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

At Novelship and across all the countries that we operated in, we are running a hybrid model. Yes, for some roles, like fulfilment, the work has to be done in the office. For the rest of the teams such as product, finance, marketing, we can choose to remote work from home. 

For me, this arrangement is great! I witness a huge increase in my productivity for work that I need time to think about, or to work directly on, as commuting time is drastically reduced. As a company, we operate as a region, involving employees from different countries within the same team, hence it is more important we stay connected through communication tools like Slack or Google Meet. 

On the other hand, physical meetings are great when we need brainstorming or strategic discussion. These types of meetings are still better done in person to allow for great creativity and collaboration. Hence our schedules are very flexible and depending on what kind of meetings.

This flexibility works really well for me as I can spend time with my children when I need to. For example, meeting the teachers after school, or bringing them for vaccination at off-peak hours, instead of getting stuck in traffic.  

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

To me, work-life balance is about working whenever and wherever I need to. It is about getting things done, with no judgement on the location, timing and duration of work and at the same time, not compromising the attention that my family needs from me.

The delicate balance between my ambition and aspiration for my career and the needs of the people I take care of. It doesn’t mean one or the other, my children understand when I tell them “Mummy needs to work, and you know what to do to spend your time effectively”. They quickly learn that they need to be responsible and independent. 

As a young company, our people are ambitious, and want to achieve an impact on the industry. We work hard but we must enjoy our time here as well, making meaningful connections with each other. We organised regular get together (virtually or physically), e.g. Chill Nights, Fitness Challenges to gamify Healthy Living.  

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

When the pandemic started in 2020, everyone started bingeing on comfort food, movie streaming and having a sedentary lifestyle. To my horror, the negative effects started to show up last year and I realised I have to do something about it.

I embarked on interim fasting 8 months ago and cut down on unhealthy food. With my family, I also started on weekly outdoor activities, cycling, inline skating, hiking etc. Today I see significant benefits. I feel healthier and more active during the day. 

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

I go to the clubhouse app periodically to listen to the chatter around start-up, technology, founders and their challenges. I find these chats quite diverse and current, consisting of viewpoints across different geos, industries and specialisations.

For books, I find it hard to choose one favourite but I find that Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules continues to be a reference point to me about People’s behaviour in an enterprise context. 

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

Learning apps like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera is a good-to for me to learn new concepts. I also can’t live without some of the learning or tuition aps like koobits, peilan and aha kids for my children. My mind is at peace when I know they can focus on meaningful learning. The pandemic has unleashed the power of Edtech.

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

Bill Gates. While he made his success with Microsoft as a technologist and business leader, he is one that is willing to let go of his acquired success and focus his time and energy as a philanthropist. What he advocates for in world health, public sanitation is simply astonishing and using his influence rally world leaders and countries towards the greater good. 

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

Avoid burnout. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You owe it to yourself to be in the best shape to deliver your best performance.

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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.