Chapter I / The Straits Times Saturday, June 7, 2008

Most people endure some form of commute to get to office. Web designer Gerald Cia does it with just to step. The 33-years -old runs his three-years-old design company gcre8tives from his home-a four room HDB lat in Serangoon which he shares with his parents and younger brother-and has his worktable set up right next to his bed. He is among an increasing number of Singaporeans who are choosing to work from home by setting up their own home office.

According to the Housing Board ( HDB), there are about 19.000 HDB home office users,compared to about 17.000 such users three years ago. Home owners who wish to set up a home office have to register with the HDB unders its Home Office Scheme.

Non HDB residents who intend to have employees or working partners need to register their bussinesses with yhe Urban Redevelopment Authority ( URA ). those who run their business on their own do not require URA’s approval.

Businesses that are permitted under the home office scheme include accountancy services, consultancy services, financial planning services and design and advertising services.

Mr. Chia says working from home gives him more freedom with his time : ” I decide when i want to work, and if I work late into the night, I can sleep in the next day. His client are mostly small and medium companies which require hel setting up a website. His bigger project include designing a CD cover for the Banyan Tree resort group and a multimedia video for NTUC.

His office, which takes up about one -third of his 96 sq ft bedroom, is sparse but well-equipped. He has a worktable, a computer with broadbrand acces, a fax machine and a printer. As he also creaters his own music to put on websites, there is a mixer and keyboard nearby too.

To save space, he has opted for an LCD TV that doubles as his computer monitor. ” Space is a constraint, so instead of having two screens, I just use one, which allows me to work or watch TV, ” he says. He recons that he has spent about 3.000 dollars on his home office. Clients have dropped byand discussions have taken place in his bedroom.” They are like the casual atmosphere,” he says.

But not every client feels the same way. Feelance writer Jessica Tan of The Purple Ink work from home but meets her clients or interviewees outside. She ffeels that most Singaporeans are not yet used to the idea of a home office. Ms Tan, 31 , who is in the process of setting up a home office in her new home – a two- bedroom apartement in Changi Road-says her clients ” felt they were somewhat intruding into my personal space”.

For public relations consultant Corinne Tan, working from home was the way to go a few years after she and her husband Ronnie set up their company, Impressions Public Relations, in 2000. ” Being home-based saves us transport and parking cost,” saus Ms Tan, who is in her 40s. ” Plus we don’t have to worry about office rents going up,” In 2004, they tore down their semi-detached home in Bishan and rebuilt it to include an 50 sq ft annex that it now their office. There is a separate entrance to the office so clients who drop by don’t have to walk through the home.

She declined to reveal the construction cost of the office, but says about 15.000 dollars was spent furnishing the home office with worktables and cabinets, a computers, Internet acces, printer, fax and scanner. Instead of taking breaks at the watercooler, she escapes to the little corners of her home, such as to a pond in her garden. Bur working from home also has  its downside. She says that during busy times, it can be difficult to separate work and personal life:” Sometimes, Ronnie and I end up talking about work during family dinners,”

HOURS CAN GET CRAZY

But the couple make it point not to talk business in their bedroom. Designer Sean Wai od W Design Consultant takes the home-office concept a step further. His wife works in a multinational company and the family does without a maid, so he plays daddys to their 22-month-old son Sidney while running his business. The 32-years-old, who is trained in architecture and now designs houses and bicycles, has a home office in the living area of his three-room apartement in Joo Chiat.

His office is sparse and he says he spent less than 100 dollars on it, as  the shelves and computer were donated by friends. In between  playing with his son, he hold discussions with his client over a vintage dining table that he bought from a second-hand store for 20 dollars. ” Sometimes its get hectic and i have to pass the baby to my clinet to carry, but they don’t seem to mind,” he says.

He adds that another perk of working from home is being able to dress casually such as in T-shirts and bermuda’s. While he enjoys not having to deal with office politics, he does warn that working from home can be a quiet and sometimes lonely affair.

Ms Valerie Tan, 42, who runs Learning Whiz Centre which offers an education programme a teaching parents and children practical skill such as ” Cybersavviness”, agrees. She work from home office, a corner in the living room of her two bedroom aprtement in Upper Bukit Timah Road, but makes it point to meet friends and ex-colleagues for lunch weekly.

” Not only do I get to catch up with them, but they also keep me posted on what’s happening outside,” she says. But while it seems like the ideal situation to work from home, it is not something for everyone. Marketing Manager Lee Ting Ting, 33, used to run a consultantcy business from her HDB flat, but gave it up six months ago. ” The hours nere crazy and it affected my personbal life,” she says.

As she worked from home, clients would a times drop in late at night or on weekends,” I decided to go back working in an office. This way, I can keep my work and ersonal life separate,”. And then there is the issue of managing time, as Ms Jessica Tan has realised. While she enjoys her flexible work schedule, she does find herself drawn into work mode when most office workers have called it quits. ” Sometimes, I’m up working through the night exchanging e-mail with my editors in New York,” sha says.

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