In this episode, I speak with Seow Khun, a mother of four who embraces a hybrid lifestyle offered by technology as part of her efforts to provide her children with an equitable upbringing. Seow Khun is the Public Sector Lead for Microsoft in Singapore. A mother of four boys who is fervently pursuing a certificate in disability studies and has a strong interest in utilizing technology to assist children with special needs.
In this episode, Seow Khun discussed how to provide employees the flexibility to truly control their work and home life balance, and how this is enabled by Microsoft's core principles of respect and honesty.
To get in touch with Seow Khun, find her on:
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Thanks for listening to the Parents in Tech podcast with me, your host, Qin En. We hope you were inspired on how to raise kids and build companies. To catch up on earlier episodes or stay updated with upcoming ones, head over to www. to join our community of parents in tech. There, you can also drop me a question, idea, feedback or suggestion. See you next time!
00:00:00 - Introducing the guest, Seow Khun
00:00:41 - Seow Khun’s family life
00:01:47 - Raising a larger than average family size
00:03:06 - Embracing hybrid lifestyle
00:04:22 - Upholding Microsoft’s core values
00:07:09 - Incorporating values at work and family life
00:09:49 - Promoting inclusivity through technology
00:12:36 - Automation improves productivity
00:19:06 - Open communication is also a thing
00:21:21 - Seow Khun’s passion
00:24:09 - Microsoft's technology facilitates adaptability
00:25:08 - Serve the nation with passion
00:27:14 - Overcoming obstacles with technology
00:00:00 Qin En: Hi, I am Qin En and this is the Parents In Tech Podcast. In this special collaboration series with Microsoft, I speak with Microsoft leaders on the parent-career connection, how they balance career and family goals, and make it all work. In this episode I speak with Seow Khun, Public Sector Lead in Singapore. Seow Khun is a mom to four boys.
00:00:34 Qin En: Hey Seow Khun, welcome to the Parents In Tech Podcast. Super excited to have you on the show to begin with. Could you tell us a bit more about your family?
00:00:41 Seow Khun: Hey, hi Qin En and good day to the audience here. Thank you for having me. My family? Wow. Where do I start, right? Because I have got four grown up boys. They have been playing rugby for many years, right? So they're all very bulky ruggers. My husband is Prime Minister of Home Affairs. So he is also a rugby coach and he's coaching primary school. So that is my family and I have a cat at home, too. So he will consider part as a family, something that my husband always screams at when the cat really all the first get flying around the house. But it's the cat that the boys adore know when they come home they were just hug him. His name is Tofu because he's white in color. Yeah, so that makes up my family structure for now.
00:01:24 Qin En: I love that it's such a colorful and entertaining family with a cat called Tofu. So I mean, I have to ask Seow Khun, having four children, especially, I guess in today's context, it's definitely a larger than average kind of family size. How do you go about dealing with it? I think that's probably the number one question, the number one reaction people have, right? How do you handle it as a working mom?
00:01:47 Seow Khun Yeah, I think I will first say as a Christian myself, it's always God's grace and providence to help me through and giving me 4 lovely starts is really a blessing and never regret, never look back. But back to how I went through my journey, I think very important is the support structure in Singapore. I think in Singapore we are blessed because we are a very tiny knitted nation, right? So our family are always around us. So I have very good support from my in-laws and my parents, right. So when the kids are young, imagine every morning we'll just put them in car seat and then take two of them in the earlier days to my mother in -law's house, put the two there, and then two of us goes to work. So as the more children come about, then my mother-in-law and my parents, my father-in-law, come over to my place and stay with me to help me to look after the four of them. So I think the support structure is so very important.
00:02:40 Seow Khun: As the boys grow older, I think one thing we realize is that technology comes into play because in my house if you come over I have a lot of vacuum cleaners so automation. So we just automate. You got Xiaomi, you got I-robot, you got different brands automation, we got oven steamer, we got very high end washing machine because imagining the loads of dryers and so I think technology comes into play.
00:03:06 Seow Khun: So as the boys going to schooling age and as I progress in my career with the tech company, I think the flexibility that the tech company offers me, especially right now in Microsoft, right, is the ability to really embrace hybrid work in all we do. So in Microsoft we have this term called Free Dimensional. F-R-E-E. That's where you can choose where you want to work, when you want to work, how you want to work. And also where and how you want to leave and play, right. So I think that gives us the flexibility of being there for the family and being there for work as well. So that's one important how Microsoft embraces, you know, free dimension of work.
00:03:48 Seow Khun: And you may also ask, right, sometimes we talk about when you give employees that ability to really manage their work and their home life balance, how does this come about on the empowerment side. So I think in Microsoft, we ready look at the values that we inculcate with employees and everyone of us. And the values that we have are really respect. We respect each and every employee who they are, the background and we don't really practice rank and file here, right? It's respect. They're all peers.
00:04:22 Seow Khun: Then number two, we look at it is integrity how they do their work. We expect everybody to uphold very high integrity. So that's why we are able to empower them to do the work that they need to do. I think that that part is also equally important is how we ensure that everybody has the accountability to deliver the outcome that the company expects them to do. Again, free dimensional work but anchored on Microsoft value to make sure that everybody contributes that really needs to know what they are doing.
00:04:49 Qin En: Got it. I think it really helps when everyone has this aligned set of principles and values to operate from, but I want to get to the hard hitting questions here. Along the past two plus decades of you being a mom, has the thoughts of you leaving your career to focus back at home, focus on a family. Has that ever come across your mind?
00:05:08 Seow Khun: Actually a very good question. It did not, predominantly, because I have a very supportive husband. So we had a lot of discussion when the kids were growing up and because there are four boys and we make a decision that one parent has to stay at home. And the decision was then my husband will take that big, I would say sacrifice, but take the big burden and responsibility of being the parent to stay with the boys. It was not easy for him, but it was in fact an easier discussion that we had based on discussions that… so it never really crossed my mind to stop and look after the children. I think I also in other interviews that had with other companies. I think the stereotype that sometimes we think that woman has been the one who stay at home who will give out a career and manage the children. I think that stereotype should never been there, I think it always has been. At that point in time, who should be the best person to actually look after the children at that situation? But I will say this, I advocate if circumstances and financially, you know, a pet family can afford, it's very good to have one parent to look after the children almost full time.
00:06:25 Qin En: Absolutely and 100% agree with you about the gender stereotype. Why it doesn't always have to be the mum, at least in these stereotypes to be the one to take the step back. Ultimately, both are just equal partners, husband and wife. And it's really a matter of each family has its own circumstances and depending on who the right person might be, it should be. So it's very, very encouraging and very glad to see that you have that support and both of you aligned on that. You know, speaking of that, as you grow in the organization, I'm sure you know your responsibilities increase. The people will look to you for leadership increase, how do you think about balancing being present back at home? You know what your family needs along with that growing responsibilities and leadership role that you now have.
00:07:09 Seow Khun: Yeah, I will share right now maybe at this point in time, I always tell my team. So my working persona, self working persona is that I'm a servant leader, right? I come here to serve, I come here to enable and power all the team in works with me to try, right? Whether tribe in the personal life and tribe in the corporate world. So I think the same mindset. Actually I do practice at home because my children as they grow up, they are my precious child, but they're also my friend, right? So a lot of times I also believe when God pleases them in my hand. I'm here to nurture and upbringing them with the right moral compass in their life. So it's also in a way, being a servant leader to my children, to how I enable them, how I empower them to be the right person, to be Christ like in what they do in life. I think that is what I can give them. And then prayerfully, they will be able to survive in this world and be able to independent my mommy and daddy is along God.
00:08:13 Qin En: Yeah, definitely. I think inculcating those values and really being there empowering servant leaders is inspiring. So the one question I want to ask Soew Khun also because Microsoft has this freedom dimension, we still are in an Asian culture where sometimes FaceTime matters, right? So say for example, a team has five people. The three people who are say in office tend to of course have a lot more banter, a lot more informal conversations as compared to, let's say the other two who are working from home, working virtually. How do you think about that? How do you try to enable a fair and inclusive environment for everyone, given that everyone is at different points of their career, their family lives?
00:08:53 Seow Khun: OK. So there's quite a few dimensions to answer that question, but maybe talk about what we have structured in Microsoft. Well, the program structure. We have Microsoft in working with the people in the hybrid world, right. So we have this thing as manager, we have agreement with the team on how often do we need to be present in office? What's the flexibility that they can, you know, in that I say the free dimension of world, right? So my agreement with my team is we're going to have a team meeting every month and everybody needs to show up. It's a face to face team meeting and that's very good reason. You can't talk. So that's where we see each other face to face.
00:09:29 Seow Khun: And then other than the team meeting, I have regular check in, but I make sure that we check in regularly with each of the employee, you know whether my direct report and the team below my direct report. So that is something that we intentionally do and we do it as part of… right now our DNA in this new hybrid structure. So that's one.
00:09:49 Seow Khun: The other thing that is also important to say that we have got the technology that sometimes give us a nudge to say, "Hey you know you did not have that one to one connect with that employee of yours for three weeks now, you know it's time to schedule." So we call it Viva and I'm Microsoft Viva. I'm not trying to advertise our technology but those are available. So you know in nudges us that I did not have one to one time with my employee and also not just me to say, "Hey, Seow Khun, you have been disturbing your employee outside of the office hour." Sometimes tell me.
00:10:24 Qin En: Oh, wow.
00:10:25 Seow Khun: Yeah. Talking to your team outside of the office, our 50% this week is something that you need to rethink. Yeah, right. So I would say both the intentionality of checking in, making sure that we have agreement to meet them face to face and also how do we incorporate technology to help us to also have that regulate, I mean connect with them so that we don't lose touch. It is very easy to lose touch. Because one thing that Microsoft also enable if your job don't require you to come to office, actually we are perfectly all right for you to deliver the outcome. You know where you are and some of the team members in fact have to spend maybe two months away from Singapore because they have some family requirement and they work outside of Singapore. As long as they deliver, it doesn't really matter.
00:11:12 Qin En: Wow, that's incredible. And I'm curious, is the software available? Because I think that's something that's real, right? Often managers, leaders, they get passionate, they get excited or work gets done. But I think even having a tracker to say, hey, you know, X percent of the time you have been communicated outside ours, it's just a good reminder. I'm curious, is that already available? I'm not really try to use it.
00:11:32 Seow Khun: Absolutely. Mainstream software is available under our Microsoft 365.
00:11:37 Qin En: Okay. So that's in the workplace. Now let's come back home. You have mentioned a bit about the technology setup you have at home. What is perhaps one or two pieces of technology that have been incredible in terms of helping you to be productive and focus on the things that really matter?
00:11:52 Seow Khun: Okay, I will say really those robot vacuum is definitely very helpful. I program that 9:00 o'clock every day so that we all leave home, right? You know, it will just run by itself. And you can't imagine. I have actually got four at home for a 1004 square feet apartment. There were four robots at home, each of them focusing on different areas of the home. So that's one. Second thing that I also invested. Okay, this is more chitchat. I invested on a very high end ironing system, okay. And that ironing system actually helped me to probably reduce my ironing time by about 50%.
00:12:31 Qin En: Wow.
00:12:33 Seow Khun: I would say I don't have a helper. I mean, I don't have a helper at home, right?
00:12:34 Qin En: Oh, you don't have a helper at home? Wow.
00:12:36 Seow Khun: It's incredible thing we automate. So the ironing system that I invested helps me to reduce, I mean improve my productivity, reduce time to iron. And then things like the dryer and everything, we just wash and I throw in the dryer, I don't have to hang the clothes and all this stuff, all these little things helps. And then air fryer, steam oven and all this. The timer, just push it in and then probably come out, you can put this in about... so little tips and tricks like that helps me in my life.
00:13:07 Qin En: Definitely, and I think this is incredible. I'm curious, did this already start like from way back or was it something that's a bit more recent?
00:13:15 Seow Khun: It started from way back, but I would also openly compress as we get a bit more affluent because it progressed, then the equipment get more sophisticated so we [less] than simple ones. The job at that level. And right now, you know, you buy more sophisticated one, you can better function, yeah.
00:13:33 Qin En: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Now it seems like, of course, you're someone who embraces technology, who spends the time to get it right, to do your research. So let's talk about the area of parenting. What are some of the areas where you have been curious about before? It was sort of like a research and discovery experimental journey. Maybe we'd love to hear one or two stories around that.
00:13:56 Seow Khun: But you see, very blessed with the four boys. But one thing that also interests me a lot, as I was in my earlier days, Sunday school, teaching in church, in my church and stuff like that. I'm always very interested in special needs children. But that has always been my interest. But I haven't really nurturing the interest until much later in my life when my boys are grown up and I thought of something that I need to do for myself. So recently, I just signed up for a diploma to look at disability studies, okay. So I really want to understand the kind of challenges that special needs children has and my interest area is really looking at how technology can help these special needs children to have some form of equity in their life. So this is something that if you ask me, not so much my direct parenting my children, but as an adult and looking at special needs children, that's something that I'm passionate about right now.
00:14:58 Qin En: Wow. And taking the effort to sign up for something to pursue it, even though you have already been so successful in your career and your kids are all grown up, I think that really reflects the idea of constantly learning, right? So I guess also on that topic, would love to hear broadly, how has parenting evolved over the past two decades. Now of course, I know this is a pretty broad question, but what stands out to you immediately as I say that?
00:15:24 Seow Khun: Okay. I think it's going to be probably triggering some... I may have an audience to listen to, violently agree, or violently disagree. I'm not sure, right? But of course, when we say spare the rod, spoil the child. So when my kids were younger, I'm just thinking, you know, as a parent, there were times that my husband has to be the discipline as we... the discipline master to actually take out the what you know, and really, I think institute certain discipline with the boys right. But gone are the days because right now, even in school the teachers are not even allowed to take a small ruler and hit the child's hand. You know you will get parents going to certain authority and give feedback that my child is being caned in school or just a tap on with the ruler. I think that is the part where I personally find amusing or what because I'm of certain age my child all grown up but but I think that was a big change I saw
00:16:24 Seow Khun: I felt that it's a good thing. It's not a good thing. I think it's up for debate because it depends on situation. But I think that transition where we don't really discipline our child in a more serious way and hard way is something that I think could be done better. That's one. The thing I felt that we actually really don't give the children nowadays play time and need time because my kids do not have tuition until they were in primary school because they went to a very established boys school that don't do well in Chinese. So I have to send them what Chinese tuition... You probably can imagine which school. My children then, but right now as I look, a lot of children doesn't have the me time. You know, maybe going for classes, going for training is there... it's part there, you know, I don't know development and stuff. I just feel that the kids today don't have the free time to themselves to do what they want to do. So something that well, whether it's a right or wrong thing, again for debate, but this is one thing I see also a big change.
00:17:34 Qin En: No, I'm so glad you raised that up because I personally feel that way. Both my parents are in academia, so when I was brought up, it was nonstop, either homework, studying, tuition, whatever. But I think yeah truly being able to just give that that me time, that freedom to to explore, I think it's just so important. Especially when children are young, which is in my case. So, yeah. Glad to get validation on that. Well so good. We talked a bit about like, I guess, the stick part of the carrot and stick, but let's talk a bit about carrot, right? Like things like, you know, rewarding things like encouragement. What are some of the things you have learned around that in a family context and also in a word context in terms of how do you reward, how do you encourage people in an effective way, so to speak?
00:18:20 Seow Khun: So I think in a family contact, right? I always have to remind myself when my children has tried their best. Yeah. They have outcome. I will always praise them whether verbally give them a heart, you know, give them a pat in the cheek or maybe it's like you say a reward with a nice meal, you know, with [Alti] and stuff like that. I think those carrot are important, right? But don't be excessive. I think a constant giving praises rewarding and all those small rewards. I think it matters but actually don't be excessive. But I do know parents will buy iPhone and stuff, you know, because the son got 100 marks and stuff. I'm not in that range. I don't go there. So that is what I do at home.
00:19:06 Seow Khun: Even when the kids are right now grown up. You know, I also practice that because we keep very open communication sometimes, you know, they tell me what they did in school and certain things that they did a good presentation I would say about then. I think, you know, we discuss our presentation, the star, the content and stuff and then we'll give them praises and stuff. So that's important.
00:19:23 Seow Khun: And then drawing that parallel to work employees also would appreciate constant feedback and that's where I feel like a servant leader, right. We also need to understand each of the employees very well. I take time to understand my teams, whether they are fathers, whether they are caregivers, you know, whether they're son, I'm not saying different aspects of their life. And be able to really work very closely and help them to again thrive in the organization. So constantly giving them the feedback, giving them praises, giving them thumbs up and good things that technology right now is very embracing. So again, back to Microsoft Technology, there are times where in the email we can reply with emoji, a heart and a thumbs up. We don't have to write anything. And I think a thumbs up and a heart and a smiling face, you know, everybody will enjoy it and it doesn't take a lot of effort to do that. Yeah. So that is something that I think is good to practice.
00:20:20 Qin En: Absolutely. The small things that I commensurate, I think with the reward, and no need to be extravagant about it. I think that's definitely very sound advice. That's so good. I think, you know, you carry so much wisdom and so much experience both at home and in the workplace. And I understand that in your current role you do have a front row seat to public policy, right? So what's kind of something that more leaders should stop doing to just foster the kind of inclusiveness, the kind of thoughtfulness that you have?
00:20:48 Seow Khun: So I would probably give a recognition to I think the various agencies within the government because the whole thing about making sure that we are an inclusive nation, I think that's a lot of effort that's put into it. In IMDA, for example, the Digital for Life initiative, it's really looking at how you can use technology to bridge digital divide. They look at the civil generation, they look at the younger generation, they look at the people that's coming up on universities, and they address to all walks of life.
00:21:21 Seow Khun: But I think one thing that I mentioned about my passion, I felt that there's probably one area that we still need to double down a little bit more, is how do we right now look at people with special needs? Whether are they children, whether they are grown adults and be able to actually look at how technology can reach that they should divide and help them to be more, we can include them in more the mainstream society and don't just leave them as a separate group by itself. So I know in parliament there has been discussion about, you know, how do we embrace people with special requirements, special needs in the mainstream so hopefully we will see more of that coming up.
00:22:03 Qin En: Definitely. And I think also people like yourself, leaders at the workplace also play a very critical role in terms of the day-to-day of how you manage your team, how you enable them. So maybe we'd love to hear, I guess, oh, for your team, right? How do you really encourage them to think about work life balance or I guess what some people call work life integration?
00:22:24 Seow Khun: There's a lot of talk whether is it really balanced integration. And some people do also ask is there ever to work life is that you know how to withdraw. But I would say for every of my team members is to really understand where they are in their point in life, right? Like I mentioned that yourself, for example, you have two young girls, right? And your probably focus could be that I need to be financially very strong because I need to earn as much as I can. I need to provide for the children's education, how they grow out and stuff, right? And for another colleague, you know, who has very aged parents, her focus is how do I actually balance and have time to look at after my parents who have got both physical and some human that need to take care of.
00:23:16 Seow Khun: And then I've got colleagues who just needed to take time off because they felt that they are just quite burnt out in a lot of things that they are doing. So I think the need to understand each of them, what state of career they're in, what requirements they have in their life and then work with them to say how best to help them to thrive in the context. So I think one thing that Microsoft provide is a lot of ability to get third party support whether it's a bit healthcare, is it mental wellness and also the ability to integrate our technology to work from home. And you'll be also, you know, if you use a phone, your mobile phone and put Microsoft technology inside, you literally can forget about a laptop and anything else and you can work very well on a mobile device.
00:24:09 Seow Khun: I think that's how pervasive and I would say the user experience of using our technology in different devices will help our employees also in different settings that they do not have to have always have the laptop. Even if they are at a caregiving facility looking after the parents, they are still contactable, they are still productive just using the device. So a different spectrum of accommodation that we give to each of every employee to make sure that they try again in the corporate world is what I always focus into it.
00:24:40 Qin En: That's so nice, right? And I think it's so great to be at a place where you not only have the tools to make that happen, you don't only have the technology to make that happen, but you are in fact building the technology and also offering it to others beyond your organization. So I'm sure there must be a very rewarding kind of experience. So Seow Khun, tell me a bit more about your current role in a technology company, but in a public policy capacity, what excites you the most today?
00:25:08 Seow Khun: Hey, thanks Qin En. So my role in Microsoft, I lead the whole public sector team. And you know I always say that when you're in public sector serving the agencies, you always have to serve with passion for the betterment of the nation. So I think you probably have heard so much about AI and machine learning you know in the press lately and that's what I will say the latest excitement that we have with my team in Microsoft. So I think where we want to focus is how do we help our agency help Singapore as a whole to really leverage on you know the latest and newest technology like AI and you heard about chatGPT where [Min Jung Kyun] talk about how you know leveraging on such technology we can increase the accessibility of government service right to all the citizens whether it's a service servants or citizen at large were less technology savvy and chatGPT can actually reach. You know that define where people who really know nothing about technology but can use chatGPT in natural language to really seek, I would say services or reply to their failures. I thought this is a real potential that we can tap upon to for the betterment of the civil service and the citizens.
00:26:34 Seow Khun: And in other areas that Microsoft has done well as well is the passion that we spoke about earlier. How do we use technology to work with agencies for the people with special requirements? In the recent case, we did work with NLB to incorporate some of our technology such as immersive reader where they use AI powered technology to help people who are probably visually impact, who can actually read aloud the information and content on the website and that will help them to really understand and learn more and really progress in their learnings. So that's one area that we are very passionate about working with. National Library Board.
00:27:14 Seow Khun: I mentioned earlier digital for life, we work very closely, IMDA we look at working with the healthcare colleagues to launch which the digital clinic, how the civil generation can use such digital clinic, especially during the COVID period to still get the level of care that they need. And we also really work also with other healthcare agencies by volunteering to help the again, senior citizens to look at how they can use that device as access apps in the device for different government services such as healthcare services.
00:27:56 Qin En: Wow, that sounds like a very exciting kind of space to be in, especially because it's really about like you say, and using technology to overcome these barriers. And really excited to see what would come out of this.
00:28:08 Seow Khun: And keep tuning in. You know Microsoft has a lot more to offer in the next couple of years.
00:28:13 Qin En: Well, I can't wait to see what y'all will have.
00:28:15 Seow Khun: Yeah. Thank you.
00:28:17 Qin En: This has been a really, really interesting conversation. Seow Khun. To kind of wrap up our time today. What is one lesson you have learned as a parent in tech?
00:28:26 Seow Khun: I want to be [inaudible], but none of my children went to the tech. So one lesson maybe I learned is that they all probably felt that mommy either... My job is not that interesting that they didn't pursue that as a career. But joke aside. One lesson that I learned in tech as a parent, I'll say to all parents out there, tech is an enabler. It helps us to do our job well, it helps us to infect it us in parenting. I mean you know all the technology that's available in Microsoft and one thing I actually want to shout out and you heard my so-called interest in special needs right and I want to say that with Microsoft Technology, all parents who have special requirement child can actually benefit a lot in using what Microsoft can do. Microsoft has technology to actually help people with visual impairment, hearing impairment. And also, one area that is close to my heart is really neurodiversity. How do we help children with ADHD with autism to actually be able to integrate more in the mainstream school and society with technology?
00:29:38 Seow Khun: So I think as a parent look at technology as an abler to help your child at different stages of their life and even at different development cycles of their life. So this is why I love tech. I love technology because it is not only enabling revenue generating work productivity. I think the other part of that tech is really how do you reach the divide? How do you bring in different people, different needs and make them be included in the society. Feel included in the society.
00:30:08 Qin En: Yeah, building something that really is inclusive, and I think this applies at home just as much as in the workplace. Everyone has very unique needs, is in very different positions. I think what stands out is how you take the time to really invest, to get to know each one of them, whether it's your sons, your husband, or even at the workplace, the people whom you work with. This has been a really nice conversation, Seow Khun, thank you so much for taking time off to speak with us. If our audience would like to connect with you, how can they do so?
00:30:36 Seow Khun: Well, I think they can always look me up in Linkedin. You probably will publish my name.
00:30:41 Qin En: Yes, I will. I will. I will. OK. LinkedIn is the place to connect with you. Thank you so much, Seow Khun. And we really, really enjoyed this conversation.
00:30:49 Seow Khun: Yeah. Thank you, Qin En. Have a good day.
00:30:54 Qin En: Thanks for listening to the Parents in Tech podcast with me, your host Qin En. We hope you were inspired on how to raise kids and build companies. To catch up on earlier episodes or stay updated with upcoming ones. Head over to www.parents.fm to join our community of Parents In Tech. There, you can also drop me a question, idea, feedback or suggestion? Once again, the website it's www.parents.fm. That's all for this episode, folks. See you next time.