Millennials in charge of millennials

Millennials are the much-discussed generation born between 1980 and 2000 with a reputation for being entitled, finicky and frank to the point of seeming insubordinate. They account for 40 per cent of the workforce. So what happens when millennial business owners end up hiring other millennials? How do these young bosses deal with managing their own opinionated peers? The Sunday Times pops into five such workplaces

Late? Buy everyone coffee

When you work at online cashback rewards site ShopBack, you do not have to worry about wearing proper office attire or checking your social media channels during working hours.

However, there is one piece of advice that every millennial employee at the company will give you: Do not arrive at work later than 9.15am.

Latecomers will find their names entered into a pool, from which three names are drawn every month. Their punishment? Foot the bill for Starbucks coffee for the entire company.

The "Starbucks Lucky Draw" policy has helped "encourage" everyone in the team of more than 50 to get to work on time every day.

ShopBack, which gives shoppers a portion of their online spending back when they shop through the portal on sites such as fashion e-tailer Zalora and online grocer RedMart, was started by six founders under 30 years old in September 2014.

For the youngest of them, Ms Samantha Soh, 23, enforcing the punctuality rule has been an important way to build team spirit. The user interface designer, who is single, worked at Rocket Internet, a company that builds and invests in Internet companies, before leaving to start ShopBack in 2014.

Given how much time we spend in the office, it's not absurd that millennials expect a nurturing, dynamic and fun work environment. MS JOSEPHINE CHOW, 28, ShopBack's Singapore country manager. With her is Ms Samantha Soh, 23, a founder of the online cashback rewards site

"Team bonding doesn't just happen because a bunch of millennials work together," she says. "There needs to be guidelines in place to ensure team members can interact with one another."

Still, it does not hurt that the company's 2,000 sq ft office space in Ayer Rajah has a cool start-up vibe - an open-plan working area that merges seamlessly into comfortable lounging areas, complete with bean bags, a ping-pong table and a variety of snacks and drinks.

Its millennial employees enjoy working in the office so much that the company has "shopcations" - particularly busy periods when staff opt to stay overnight at the office rather than go home.

Its Singapore country manager, Ms Josephine Chow, 28, who is single and also worked at Rocket Internet previously, says a cosy workplace allows for happier and more productive employees.

She says: "Given how much time we spend in the office, it's not absurd that millennials expect a nurturing, dynamic and fun work environment.

"In this day and age, the onus is on managers and companies to provide those for them."


Do not call him boss


Mr Tristan Torres Velat (far left), 36, general manager of food delivery portal Deliveroo, who practises a flattened workplace hierarchy. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Working for Deliveroo, Mr Tristan Torres Velat has on many occasions driven a motorbike to deliver food.

Every Friday, he also dons a full Kangaroo suit - the "Roo" in Deliveroo - to hand out fliers in the Central Business District under the noon sun.

It may be hard to imagine, but he is the general manager of the Singapore branch of the British- based food delivery firm Deliveroo.

The 36-year-old oversees about 50 staff who are about 24 years old on average. His team includes marketing and branding managers, a customer service team and more than 1,000 delivery drivers.

The self-confessed "crazy Spaniard" believes in a radically flattened workplace hierarchy.

He does not have a separate office and, instead, constantly rotates where he sits among his team at their shophouse space in Tanjong Pagar so that he can talk to them informally.

I have it written above my bathroom mirror that happy employees equal happy customers. MR TRISTAN TORRESVELAT, 36, general manager of food delivery portal Deliveroo, who practises a flattened workpalce hierarchy

He also provides a team lunch every Friday and refuses to let anyone call him boss.

"I have it written above my bathroom mirror that happy employees equal happy customers," says the former private banker who is married with three children.

"Having a young team means dedicating nearly 60 per cent of my time to people management. But that is a small price to pay to have people who are dynamic, creative and ready to try new things."

Launched in Singapore six months ago, Deliveroo delivers food from more than 900 restaurants such as P.S. Cafe, Wild Honey and the Paradise Dynasty group.

Whenever it partners a new eatery, Mr Velat handles the first delivery himself.

Account manager Melanie Tan, 24, who was one of the company's first hires, says: "Tristan leads by example and that has made me feel more invested in the company."

Business development manager Adam Sanusi, 25, agrees. "Getting the opportunity to do things shoulder to shoulder with my team - both peers and superiors - is the best part for me."


Trusting staff with unlimited leave


Mr Sam Kang Li and Mr Darren Tan, both 32, on hiring staff who share the same wavelength for their video production agency Little Red Ants Creative Studio, including Ms Yvonne Chong, 22, a producer. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The first thing you notice when you walk into the offices of video production agency Little Red Ants Creative Studio is a giant pile of shoes by the door.

Like many homes, there is a no- shoes-indoors policy, as well as a very casual dress code. The employees, who are mostly in their 20s, sport comfortable attire - think shorts, jeans and tees.

The relaxed, almost campus-like, vibe seems unsurprising, given the five millennial founders of the company - all photography enthusiasts and former classmates at the Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information - were under 25 years old when they started the company in 2009.

The company, which produces mainly television advertisements and corporate videos, has in seven years grown to include 15 more staff, averaging 25 years old in age.

It owns a 2,000 sq ft office in Lavender that has its own in-house editing studio.

In terms of work culture, the guiding philosophy seems to be: As long as you get the work done, anything goes.

We would rather you fit in with the team and have good work ethic than follow the traditional hiring model that looks only at stellar grades. MR SAM KANG LI and Mr Darren Tan, both 32, on hiring staff who share the same wavelength for their video production agency Little Red Ants Creative Studio, including Ms Yvonne Chong, 22, a producer

This applies to anything, from the casual-Friday-every-day dress code to the fact that the firm offers unlimited leave. That means staff can take as many days off as they like, so long as work is submitted on time and other team members are informed of their absence.

Director and co-founder Sam Kang Li, 32, who wore shorts and a T-shirt during the interview, says: "Obviously, we monitor to make sure no one takes advantage of the system, but in large part, we don't have hard and fast rules about anything."

In terms of hiring, they pick people with whom they share a similar wavelength. Mr Sam, who is single, says: "We would rather you fit in with the team and have good work ethic than follow the traditional hiring model that looks only at stellar grades."

The firm's biggest draw seems to be the willingness to offer flexible work schedules, especially for staff entering new phases of their lives.

After all, millennials get older too and some of their employees are getting married or having children.

This relaxed work culture is undoubtedly why motion graphic artist Ng Keyuan, 29, is still with the company after five years.

He joined Little Red Ants Creative Studio after leaving a "traditional, hierarchical company".

He says: "I can't imagine going back to an environment like that.

"People my age tend to change jobs every two years, but I've really enjoyed the culture of this company and the autonomy I get here to try different things."


26 not too young to head $3.5m China arm


Mr Darren Chen (centre), 37, executive director of Savour Events, who has no qualms appointing Ms Andrea Yeo, 26, as project manager for the events management firm's China office. With them is business development manager Alvin Yip, 26. PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Five-year-old home-grown events management firm Savour Events is opening its first international office in Shanghai.

The person who will be setting up the branch? Project director Andrea Yeo, 26, who has been working with the company for four years. As a project director in Shanghai, she will be handling a budget of $3.5 million.

Her boss, Mr Darren Chen, 37, executive director of Savour Events, has no qualms about letting her take charge of the portfolio. This sort of age-blind management is, in fact, what he was gunning for when he started Savour Events in 2012, after leaving a corporate sales position at Formula One.

The company, which runs Savour gourmet food festival in Singapore, comprises a millennial team of 11 who handle more than 15 large- scale gourmet events, held in Singapore as well as in places such as India, Hong Kong and China.

To manage his team, which averages 25 years old in age, Mr Chen cuts out red tape and improves transparency.

For example, he holds weekly "failure meetings" with his staff, during which they discuss the mistakes that arose in the week and think about ways to prevent them from recurring.

I am happy when my team members push their opinions or out-argue me in our meetings... I'm open to such healthy confrontation. MR DARREN CHEN, 37, executive director of Savour Events, who has no qualms appointing Ms Andrea Yeo, 26, as project manager for the events management firm's China office. With them is business development manager Alvin Yip, 26

Mr Chen lets on that shouting matches have happened, especially when a team member felt particularly passionate about something.

But these meetings have fostered an openness to failure and a culture of honesty.

He says: "I am happy when my team members push their opinions or out-argue me in our meetings.

"A traditional boss might take it as insubordination, but I'm open to such healthy confrontation."

For Ms Yeo, the open-minded work culture is one she thrives in, especially when she admits that in a traditionally run company, she might not be given such a huge opportunity because she would be deemed too young or inexperienced.

Having a young boss running a young team changes the dynamics of things though, she says.

"We get along on the same wavelength and things are a lot more open and transparent."

For now, though, she is hiding her nerves behind the excitement of helping the Savour business take off in China.

She adds: "We've done events there and I'm ready to take our Chinese business to the next level. I've been given a chance, now I'm ready to prove my worth."


Being on social media is part of job scope


Ms Rachel Lim (right), 29, on managing the team of millennials behind fast-fashion business Love, Bonito. With her is fellow co-founder Viola Tan, 32. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Don't be surprised if you walk into fast-fashion business, Love, Bonito's spanking new 13,000 sq ft office in Tai Seng and find half the staff surfing social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

After all, every member of the 47-person team is encouraged to be on social media to better understand the Love, Bonito customer.

Love, Bonito's open-plan office, which boasts a 4,000 sq ft warehouse, in-house photo studio and large pantry, was created with the millennial worker in mind.

Tables are shared, with no cubicle divisions. In a corner sits a table overflowing with snacks. Propped against a wall is a corkboard titled #LBempowers, covered in colourful post-its highlighting the goals and desires of team members, including wanting to learn Muay Thai and throwing a durian party.

This plugged-in and lively work culture has been 10 years in the making for the founders Viola Tan, 32, and Rachel Lim, 29. The third co-founder Velda Tan is no longer involved in the daily operations of the business.

What started as a blogshop called BonitoChico, when Ms Viola Tan was a teacher and Ms Lim a student, has morphed into a multi-million- dollar e-commerce business that employs a team of passionate millennials.

While one person might be motivated by a pat on the back, another may respond better to a handwritten card. MS RACHEL LIM, 29, on managing the team of millennials behind fast-fashion business Love, Bonito. With her is fellow co-founder Viola Tan, 32

The founders say they choose to hire people close to their age because that is the demographic of its customers. Moreover, a business that mainly markets and sells its products online requires tech- savvy workers, who tend to be young.

Because everyone in the office is close in age, the hierarchy is flattened and the atmosphere casual and relaxed.

But that does not mean the bosses will not step in when employees cross the line. Two people have been fired. The first was caught stealing merchandise while the other was found constantly gossiping and spreading malicious rumours among the team.

Ms Lim says: "We believe in giving second chances, but as leaders, it is also important to set a strong example. We have a trust- based work environment that we are very protective of and it was important that we let it be known that detrimental and toxic behaviour would not be tolerated."

Both of them are daughters of taxi drivers and had no background in business. Their journey has been one of trial and error, but experience has made them better at managing teams and people their own age.

Ms Lim, who is engaged, says: "While one person might be motivated by a pat on the back, another may respond better to a handwritten card. When working with millennials, I've realised that you can't rely on a one-size-fits-all management style."

Ms Tan, who is single and a self- confessed introvert, adds that millennials also enjoy interacting with their bosses because they expect their superiors to be invested in their development.

"That has forced me to open up and interact more with my team," she says, "especially when these interactions are ultimately what helps them feel valued and motivated at work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'Millennials at work'. Print Edition | Subscribe