Member Review: Brett’s circuit breaker made better with housemates

When asked to explain what being regional brand ambassador for Glenfiddich means, Brett Bayly nicely sums his job up as “physical marketing”. Indeed, as a representative of the world’s most awarded single malt whisky, the 32-year-old Australian is so regularly deployed for all sorts of promotional activities around Southeast Asia that travel is the defining feature of his job. So when countries began to enforce stay-home orders earlier this year, Brett’s work and lifestyle routines were radically discomposed.

We met Brett in the Figment shophouse he has called home for the last six months, and got chatting about his experiences with both co-living and working from home.

In your first year living in Singapore, you were renting a condominium apartment like most expats. How did you eventually end up renting a shophouse suite with Figment?

I was looking for a new place pretty urgently after my previous flat mate gave me around a month’s notice that he was moving out. Also, despite being on the road all the time I found that I was paying for expensive condo amenities that I never used. I enjoy having a lot of space, and the idea of having a mixture of private and social space under one roof appeals to me. A condo is comfortable but limited in space, which is why I started looking at shophouses. I first came across Figment’s shophouse listings on a property website, checked out their Instagram page to get a better feel of the suites, and finally reached out to the team.

You moved in right before the circuit breaker period. How was it like adjusting to a co-living environment and getting along with your housemates during that period?

It was fortuitous that I moved when I did as it was only two weeks before I was told to work from home, grounded from travel and then the circuit breaker came into play. I moved from a 950sq ft condo with one other person, into this shophouse that was shared with five others during circuit breaker.
It turned out to be a pretty hilarious time. I didn’t get to meet everyone in the house until the third week of moving in, and suddenly it was like a switch flicked on and all of us realised we had this great downstairs space that wasn’t being fully utilised. We have a big open kitchen that’s fully equipped and has a long island counter, so during that period I put the kitchen to work and it became the centre of our house. A few lads even mentioned that they hadn’t really interacted with each other, so I take credit for bringing everyone in the house together.

A poker night in June

It turned into a really social space down here, with six people occupying the kitchen and dining space it got chaotic at times. On weekdays the space kind of operated like a co-working facility, as the dining table was everyone’s workstation. By Friday it’s where afternoon drinks would stretch deep into the night, where we’d have poker nights and our family meals on Sunday. It was an unusual circumstance, but all of us have developed friendships that continue up till today, even though some of us have since left.

On top of co-living, you also had to adjust to working from home. How has that experience been like?

It was initially really frustrating given that my role is so dependent on being out and about. I moved in at the start of March and had a trip to Malaysia the week right after. By the middle of the month I got the work from home order, and then things quickly transpired to lockdown. So going from this incredibly social lifestyle to getting completely cut off really did my head in. It took me about six weeks to adjust, and then everybody in the house started getting to know each other. They really helped me to adjust – having someone to bitch and moan to when things are going terribly, and to have a drink with to celebrate a small win.

They really helped me to adjust – having someone to moan to when things are going terribly, and to have a drink with to celebrate a small win.

Brett on his housemates

A significant part of your job is tied to your ability to travel and network around the region. How do you continue to advocate for Glenfiddich whilst sheltering in place?

Before Covid, you would most likely find me on the road. I didn’t have a fixed routine but my day might begin in the afternoon with an in-depth industry training educating businesses about Scotch whisky or single malt whisky as a category and other brand-specific elements. After that I might host a dinner or a tasting event at a restaurant or a bar. This is usually followed by five to six hours of bar-hopping and checking in with our high-net-worth accounts. This usually guarantees a pretty strong hangover the next day, shaking it off and then doing it all over again. When I’m in Singapore my work is a lot more desk-bound, such as accounting for expenses, or why I was in some dingy street in Hanoi.

Brett hosted a three-course whisky pairing session in May with PARKROYAL on Kitchener Road

After Covid, things like the bar-hopping has stopped, which has been a nice break, to be perfectly honest. I still don’t have a fixed routine, but the industry trainings and tasting events that I used to conduct in person are now conducted over live video sessions. We also just started an initiative called (BA)rback, where brand ambassadors or BAs like myself volunteer our time at bars to do barback work, assisting bartenders by washing the dishes or stocking the bar. The aim is to take the pressure off bartenders who have had to take on additional barback work because of staff cuts during Covid.

Did you have any specific logistical needs to work from home?

My work really isn’t office based, aside from declaring where and why I bought bottles of whisky at three in the morning. That said, I did have initial issues with my connectivity without internet. I was hosting up to 12 live sessions a week around the region for various purposes and was having serious connection issues. Figment ended up installing another router in the house, and while I still have connectivity issues, I think that’s mostly from my computer being beaten up from travel. It was a relatively quick turnaround for that installation of a 5G router.

Do you also work with the others downstairs or in your suite?

I initially worked from my suite, but realised I needed to separate my workspace from my suite so that I could mentally shut down and rest at the end of the day. I purposefully moved my work life downstairs into the communal space as did a few others. The only issue is that we’ve all found our attention spans reduced, but have worked out how each of us needs to work. Everyone’s really courteous, so if someone has a call everybody else quietens down.

Brett’s workspace of choice, the dining bench next to the kitchen

What activities do you miss that have been paused by Covid?

For me, the only one is the travel. My job basically is advocacy for a whisky brand, so I am always on the road around SEA, over to Europe where our distilleries are, and so on. It’s the one thing I look forward to getting back to, but the lack of travel has also allowed me to recalibrate my priorities and regain some skill sets I’d let fall to the side.

What has changed since spending more time at home?

It has turned me into a bit of a homebody which I most definitely am not. I really enjoy the company of my housemates, and now have gone from a mentality of ‘get me out to bars and restaurants’ so I can be in these hyper social environments, to wanting to cook at home and open some wine. It’s a result of being forced to stay home, but the internal community of the house has also been an influence.


Interview & photos of Brett by Isabelle Tow. Additional photos provided by Brett Bayly.