For Rhonda Wong, co-founder and CEO of Ohmyhome, the greatest challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic is not only to keep her team together but also to ensure it emerges stronger.
Ohmyhome, which she and sister Race launched in September 2016 as Singapore’s first one-stop property solution, remains a go-to platform among home buyers for its hassle-free property search and transactions experience.
With 70 staff across Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines — each country implemented its own lockdown measures to contain Covid-19 — Wong found herself digging deep into her experience in the real estate industry not just to steer Ohmyhome to a swift and successful pivot but also to provide effective leadership.
We find out how Wong tries to make the most of WFH from her perspective.
7.30am My alarm goes off, and I check in on my son Ashton before having a quick breakfast with him and my husband Anthony. These wonderful moments I cherish because they get my day off to a positive start.
8am I have Zoom meetings with Ohmyhome staff from across different departments in Singapore, then it’s on to another one with marketing departments from our Kuala Lumpur and Manila offices.
Since the circuit breaker began in April, I have been organising live interactive webinar sessions on Facebook called ohtalks!, with our real estate professionals, marketing experts, mortgage advisors, and in-house interior designers. These are free and offer advice on topics related to property and the home.
I don’t foresee prices of residential properties to plummet during Covid-19 the way they did during the Asian financial crisis (1997) or Sars (2003) – Singapore’s cooling measures and loan restrictions over the past years have removed speculators from the property market. And although I expect a gradual protracted decline, it’s not difficult to find buyers for good properties in convenient locations with reasonable prices.
10am I log back into Zoom for my Continuing Professional Development Course on Investment Properties Calculations. This is compulsory for real estate salespersons who want to renew their licences.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent measures in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have impacted Ohmyhome in different ways. During the circuit breaker in Singapore, for instance, property viewings and open houses were suspended so we offered home buyers virtual tours through our platform. Our videos show the unit, view, environment and even an occasional breeze!
Ohmyhome has been offering virtual viewings since before Covid-19, and successfully transacted both rental and sale homes for residents in and out of Singapore. I think virtual viewings are here to stay; it is possible to make an educated decision with virtual tools because of the transparency of accurate information on our platform.
The circuit breaker made buyers more appreciative of having different pockets of space since they now spend more time at home. WFH also means we desire larger spaces too. Buyers will prefer an older but larger property over a newer and smaller one. Besides kitchens, they are looking more closely at balconies as well. Meanwhile, families with kids are considering landed property over luxury condominiums so there’s space for the youngsters to cycle and run about.
12.30pm It’s time for lunch!
What I love most about WFH: Homecooked meals! I like my food clean and nutritious, with the flavours coming from quality ingredients instead of overwhelming sauces or MSG.
I eat lunch at my work desk so I usually have something simple, like a bowl of chirashi. I try to eat less carb because it makes me sleepy – I want to be able to concentrate on my work. I also keep a jug of room-temperature water on my desk; it keeps me hydrated.
2.15pm I take a timeout for some coloured water play with Ashton, who’s three-and-half years old and learning about colours and mixing them.
We had to keep him at home because his school was closed due to the circuit breaker. Although he can play independently, that lasts only an hour – after that he requires adult supervision. But I have a lot of support from my husband and our domestic helper.
I think the greatest challenge as a WFH mom is that my child sees me at home but I can’t play with him. I know it annoys him but he’s trying his best to understand that I must focus on my work. So I try to spend as much time with him before and after work, while sneaking in hugs and kisses between meetings.
Sometimes I fill up the bathtub, put him and his toys to swim in there — and continue working on my laptop in the bathroom!
4.30pm Over the phone, my sister Race and I discuss various issues such as our team’s performance as well as setting up a new tech account for our Philippines operations.
I think it’s important that leaders have more empathy during these tough times. It will drive us to build a business that is sustainable and helps make our world better. I want to become a leader who can hold her team through good and bad times.
Our team in Manila, for instance, has to abide by strict timings (mandated by the government) for supply runs and these happen during office hours which we must account for in our schedules. And when one staff member had no place to stay, we had to find a place for him.
I appreciate the opportunity to work closely with my teammates. Getting to know them better allows me to coach them better so they can develop professionally.
The experience will be useful as I lead Ohmyhome into the Philippines, our third outpost in Southeast Asia. The region offers a lot of potential for technology-enabled real estate transactions. Property is expensive; brokers are pricey, and there’s high information asymmetry between brokers, sellers and buyers. With our technology and services, we can ensure greater speed in buying and selling as well as accuracy in matching buyers and tenants.
8.30pm Dinner with my husband and Ashton.
My husband and I moved into our current apartment about a year ago. It always felt like a rental home because we’d spend most the day away working. But when the circuit breaker kicked in, he cooked or baked every day. He does a good yakiniku, sukiyaki, seafood soup and vegan cakes.
Now our apartment feels like a real home, with all those lovely smells and sounds from the kitchen. And whenever he’s less busy, he’d make me a nice chai.
9.30pm I try to fit in 45 minutes of exercise at home, including basic yoga stretches and strength training routines such as leg lifts, push-ups, planks and burpees. I’m not very flexible but I do what I can.
It’s also a time for me to unwind from a stressful day. I always remind myself that, “It’s just work, don’t let it get to you”. There are more tragic things that can happen in life, such as death and illness, and these are bigger than problems at the office. I try to see stress from work as what I experience when I’m trying to solve a puzzle. It helps me to better embrace stress as part of life.
That, or I’ll settle for a family cuddle with my husband and Ashton.
11pm The last thing I do before bed is to catch up on daily news. What worries me more than Covid-19 is the political tension across the globe because it directly impacts trade, investment and flow of funds.
I have been following reports of the civil unrest in the US; I teared reading some of the stories, like Rahul Dubey opening his home to shield protesters from arrest, and how police officers took a knee alongside protesters.
I go to bed with a thankful attitude. I’ve learnt to better appreciate everyone I love and being with them. I especially miss spending time with my parents and going to the market with them. But they call us often so I am grateful for these precious moments.