By Arthur Tam
PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture, as we all may have heard by now is a musical comedy centred around poking fun at the farcical nature of the workplace. Think of endless meetings that go nowhere, the office gossip spreading slanderous rumours, and capitalist predators looming over their employees.
Ahead of the performance taking place at ArtisTree this coming May, we interview a few of the cast members and their real-life bosses to get an honest dialogue about job satisfaction, work-life balance and the importance of having an identity outside of work.
Boss: Natalie Ackerman, VP Greater China
Employee and cast member: Stacey Zhang, Senior Associate Strategist
Company: Jack Morton
Can you describe your workplace culture?
Ackerman: Our motto is fun, brave, open, inclusive, and collaborative.
Zhang: We actually won best agency culture last year.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
Z: Nat probably has a lot to say about that because she has a family.
A: I lead our global diversity and inclusion team. One of my focuses is promoting workplace balance, diversity in all shapes and sizes. I’m a mom and have three kids, so I get in at 8:15am and drop off my kids on the way to work and then try to get home in time for dinner with them. It’s hard at time and everyone here travels a lot for work too, so everyone has to set their own boundaries and find what’s right for them. And then we as management support it.
Z: March this year is crazy and people are just pushing things out. But we get to do a lot of fun things too. If there are art exhibitions we usually try going as a team like the Zaha Hadid exhibition that was at the previous version of ArtisTree.
A: When people are staying late, we will have team lunches or have dinner catered.
Z: Sometimes we have movie time and watch a documentary that’s related to work. Or we get people in a room and just have casual brainstorms and share fun things about the world that can be inspirational to our work.
What does job satisfaction mean to you?
Z: A lot of times we get to see something that’s we’ve planned come to life. And seeing how clients and customers are happy about their experience brings the most satisfaction.
How do you manage the stress of day-to-day work? A theme that’s a big part of Cube Culture?
A: A lot of swearing that goes on [laughs].
Z: Occasional bursts of emotion.
A: And that’s okay, you have to let off steam somehow.
What do you think about the PROJECT AFTER 6 engagement programmes?
A: It’s great. Over the years we’ve had people participate in musicals, dramas and other lunchtime activities.
Z: A few years ago we had another colleague join the musical.
A: I love it because agency life is hectic and we have to carve it out time to appreciate something else. Our company played in a 2-on–2 football event a while back and we encourage participation because it shows that we are part of this community. But most importantly, we always have fun.
Stacey, do you feel any pressure trying to make it the weekly Cube Culture rehearsals?
Z: Natalie has been very supportive, so when I need to leave, I go.
A: She gave me fair warning [laughs] and her musical is what work-life balance is all about. If it’s something that Stacey wants to do, we have to support her doing it.
How important is it to have an identity outside of work?
A: Super important. It makes people who they are. Any workplace is a culture of personalities and the more you bring to it – especially at a creative agency – the more value we get when people are passionate. You can harness those passions. I’ve been playing ultimate frisbee all my life and I was in a tournament last year. It was painful but I love it.
Z: Encouraging people to show their personalities is a big part of who we are. And everyone is multi-faceted, so we encourage them to talk about it and to share. And what we do outside of work-life really impacts how we plan things and come up with ideas at work.
Boss: Debbie Bishop, Operations Director
Employee and cast member: Randell Terre Aranza, Assistant Manager
How applicable are some of the themes from the musical to your company?
Aranza: In the musical there is one of the scenes where someone calls in sick on a Friday when they actually aren’t. I think that’s something that happens.
Bishop : Wherever you are in the world, you have that culture. The bigger the workplace gets there is always going to be someone like that.
What do you think about Randall being part of the musical, Debbie?
B: I love it and I’m so excited! And I am going to bring everyone to go watch. I absolutely love theatre and concerts and that’s what I make time for after work. Randall and I were just recently comparing shows that we’ve been to like Westside Story.
How come you didn’t join Cube Culture yourself?
B: I know! But I’m terrible at remembering lines and I’m at awe at actors because they can. Randall tells me he listens and memorises the songs on the bus while he’s on the way to work.
A: Our rehearsals are at 7:30pm and I leave the office at 7:15pm, so I have to find the free time to practice.
B: I think it’s good though because it forces you to leave work and switch off. Office life in Hong Kong…it’s tough and the city usually ranks low on survey regarding work-life balance.
A: The musical also helps me understand the importance of life, family and friends. That’s something I want to instill in my team at work as well. The rehearsals have really been nurturing my soul.
B: My motto is, ‘we don’t live to work, we work to live’. I really believe that because life is short.
Lately, what have both of you been working on?
A: Right now we’ve been working on a lot of projects mostly developing our automated services.
B: We’ve been listening to our customers and trying to refine them especially when it comes to communication, which is Randall’s department. Sometimes when you have someone waiting on the phone for just 10-minutes he can feel like a lifetime for what they’re going through, so we want to get notifications and answer for what they need more quickly.
How do you manage the stress of day-to-day work?
A: The company really supports wellness. At the end of the week there is a private fitness training class that we’ve booked up just for our staff. Sometimes we bring in yoga instructors and we have masseuses too.
B: Our hotline staff can’t leave the phones, so we send a masseuse over to them. We have people coming in to do talks too about diet or how to manage stress. We actually just launched a new programme called Smile. For me, I have what I call my non-negotiable – sports, leisure and friends. This Friday I have ballet, so I’m going to be out on time.
A: For me it’s my switch offs. The musical is mine. So when I leave work, the work stays there and I head to the musical with a fresh mind.
B: We also had an annual dinner recently where Randall dressed up like Eeyore and I was a medic tending to him.
A: No matter how busy we are we can still have fun and engage with each other.
B: It is hard not be stressed though because we care so much about our customers. You see things come through and you’re like, this person is not doing well, they need medical attention ASAP. So, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.
Boss: Babby Fung, Head of Office Marketing
Employee and cast members: Natalie Ki, Marketing Officer
Company: Swire Properties
How applicable are the themes of the musical to your workplace?
Ki: The atmosphere and energy is similar especially during the scenes where the workers are in meeting. We have that same kind of passion here.
Fung: What I find about my team is the overall culture is quite serious, a little bit too serious at times. I would wish they could relax a little. I think that seriousness is something echoed in the Cube Culture plot.
How do you make things less serious then?
F: I have a key role to play in this. If I have a cheerful and positive attitude it really affects the atmosphere and the mood of the team. So I need to create that sort of spirit constantly. Luckily all the team members are dynamic and fun, but I need to loosen up so they can feel more relaxed and I believe that’s how when people are most productive.
You’re in a unique position because your job is to enrich the Taikoo Place community with activities and events. But who’s taking care of you guys? And how do you de-stress?
F: Every now and then we go out to team lunches and dinners. And for more special occasions we would go all the way to Stanley to enjoy the day. It would be ironic if we didn’t have work-life balance, since we advocate it for the community. I would love to see more of my team participate in Cube Culture, not just one because I have so many talented colleagues. They can sing and play instruments. But I understand that they are busy because of work and I feel guilty about it.
K: PROJECT AFTER 6 is actually what attracted me to work in office marketing. When I saw the job post, I was surprised to see a corporation do this for their company because when a lot of my friends started to work, they lost time for their hobbies. I found that to be really unhealthy for their wellbeing. So, it’s important for people to engage in what they like in conjunction with work.
Which aspects of organising PROJECT AFTER 6 do you find the most satisfying?
F: First knowing that my team is happy and satisfied. And secondly, knowing that you’re doing the right changes for the community. Every time we organise PROJECT AFTER 6 activities, it has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. Going to auditions and hearing people’s stories of why they want to join…it’s very emotional and it makes me proud that we can connect people to the right platforms in the right way.
K: I like how the people in the cast don’t look like they would be doing the jobs that they are doing. And there is so much to learn about each of them and how there can be someone who’s a serious lawyer or insurance officer, who are also passionate performers. Everyone is very committed to Cube Culture.
What is your goal for PROJECT AFTER 6?
F: This generation is looking for a place where they can work hard and play hard. Employees want to feel proud of where they work and that’s how PROJECT AFTER 6 came about. And who would be better than us to push initiatives that help people shine at work and outside of work. There are a lot of hidden talents in our vast office portfolio and we have the advantage of providing platforms for them. These programmes used to be only for tenants but now we’ve expanding to the whole Quarry Bay community. Live your life to the fullest is our motto.
Have you noticed changes in Natalie since she’s joined the musical?
F: I can see the joy on her face and that sense of fulfilment. I feel really happy for Natalie because she’s doing something she loves. She has something to look forward to. Am I right?
K: I would say I have to agree.
How important is it to have an identity outside of work?
F: Work cannot be equivalent to your life, which is why an identity outside the office is so important because it expresses you as your person and how you live your life. I look forward to weekends where I can fulfil my commissioned illustrations. I love to draw and I look forward to every opportunity when I can draw.
K: In life we have a lot of identities. You can be a daughter, singer, student. The different tasks you manage for each identity give you more confidence and strength to improve yourselves. You may not be perfect at work, but you can gain encouragement from other parts of your life that makes you more colourful and happy. It’s not healthy to be defined by just one identity.
Want to find out more about the musical Cube Culture? Check out our interview with the production’s musical director here.