Founders / Interviews / Operations

Balancing the Grind with Alexandria Garlan, Co-Founder & Head of Operations at SignOnSite

Alexandria Garlan is the co-founder at SignOnSite, an in-field connected worker platform that drives outcomes in safety, efficiency and data for construction companies.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My career began in Construction Management, I worked in that industry in Contracts, Project Management and Procurement roles for around 10 years. For the final 5 years, SignOnSite was also happening in the background, with my co-founder Mitch Harmer taking the helm. 

Eventually, when SignOnSite hit $1M ARR they were at the point where they needed someone to come in and help with the business side of things, and I took over as Director of Operations. Day-to-day I focus on establishing internal systems and policies, predominantly from a HR and Finance perspective. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Luckily for me, as a co-founder, I get pulled into lots of different things so I don’t have a typical day, but I can certainly take you through an example. 

Last Friday for me begins with a morning meeting with our CEO, Mitch. We catch up each morning to make sure we are prioritising the right things, and also because we both work remotely from home at the moment so it’s nice to start the day chatting to a friend. 

From there I worked on a large customer RFP to help out our team on some of the more challenging compliance questions and then investigated an issue our HR system was having with employee leave applications. 

By that point it was lunchtime and luckily for me my amazing partner prepares my lunch each day so I microwaved that and watched a cheeky youtube video or two. 

After lunch, I worked on the logistics of an executive meeting offsite at the end of the month and booked flights, accommodation and a meeting facility for our executive team and chairman. 

Every Friday we end the day with a company-wide session of Highs and Lows, where everyone shares their week. This Friday we shared in the success of a team member who just bought a house! It’s always the perfect end of the week and a great way to disconnect before the weekend. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

SignOnSite is a fully remote organisation, which is really lucky for me. In 2021 I moved interstate to Tasmania (a small island off the south coast of Australia). In my previous roles which offered ‘flexible’ working, this would have been a dealbreaker, but at SignOnSite it was just an FYI conversation with my co-founder as it doesn’t impact my work at all. 

Day-to-day I love working from home because I enjoy the freedom of getting to do random chores around the house, and to hang out with our puppy all day. Plus having a few key social times set up during my workday means that I don’t feel lonely. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think work-life balance is about intention and deliberate habit setting. Sometimes I have to take investor meetings out of hours, or travel interstate, things that take me away from my family, that is just the nature of co-founding a company. 

But I have made an active choice to not have SignOnSite bleed into my personal time with regularity. I have a work phone so I can turn it off, I keep Slack notifications off out of hours, I don’t respond to work emails after 5.

I also made sure that our place in Tassie had a separate home office that I could ‘close the door on’ both literally and metaphorically at the end of the day. This keeps my ‘work’ out of my personal life in a deliberate way that means I can properly switch off and give my family the time and attention they deserve. 

The flip side of this is that we implemented a lot of mental health processes into SignOnSite over the past couple of years, to help our team when their personal life is overwhelming, this helps to triage it from impacting their coworkers and allows them the space, time and expertise to deal with it. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

We introduced Minimum Viable Days at SignOnSite in 2021, and it has been a game-changer for me. This is the original article by Rebecca Pendleton on the MVD.

Having these allows me to show up and do what I need to do, but gives me the space to cull down that list to the ‘absolutes’ and to accept that just those achievements are still a good and productive day. 

I find MVD’s helpful in my personal life, particularly at times when COVID has peaked and I am feeling overwhelmed. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I think management books and podcasts are interesting but there aren’t any I’ve loved enough to recommend here, instead I’d recommend watching online lectures. I enjoy some of the ones from my alma mater Melbourne Business School, and obviously, SaaStr is a good resource.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

On a personal level, I am an avid reader, so I would highly recommend the BorrowBox app, it allows you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your local library. I feel like every week someone is recommending a new book to me, and this is a sustainable and easy way for me to access some of those titles.

On a professional level, I use the rapid logging technique to keep track of what I am accountable to other people for action, so I use the Emma Jane Co. weekly journal for this. This allows me to keep track of what I need to be delivering on, plus it helps me keep track of what I have done, so I don’t finish a day feeling like I have achieved nothing. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Honestly, maybe one of the lawyers we work with, Kristie Harpley or Sophie Mao. They’re both incredible women doing amazing things in a male-dominated environment, plus they’re two of the hardest workers I know. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Absolutely! I feel like too much messaging at the moment is around ‘side-hustles’ and ‘grinding’. That is super unsustainable. You shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs to support yourself. Don’t let a capitalist agenda trick you into thinking you need to do additional work unless you want to.

Side-hustles come at a price, and that price is always time, family and mental health. They might be a great stepping stone to something more, but you have to make sure you eventually change your lifestyle away from grinding every hour of every day. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.