HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Rachel Tschannen, HR Director, APAC at Meltwater

Rachel Tschannen is the HR Director, APAC at Meltwater, media monitoring and business intelligence software company with offices located across the globe.

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

Currently I head up the HR function for the APAC region of Meltwater, a global media monitoring company. I am based in Sydney and support the business with people located in 10 offices in eight countries across North and South Asia.

I have also been involved in global projects around enhancing leadership capability, building out our infrastructure, and data and analytics.

Previously I was the Regional Manager HR, Asia Pacific for Etihad Airways, supporting operational and sales teams in 11 countries in Asia. There I helped scale teams, open new offices in countries we were yet to fly into and played a lead role in placing Inflight Chefs onboard long-haul flights.

In total I’ve worked in six countries including the Maldives where I was Head of HR for the Hilton. I led a large people function who supported the business through a 45 million refurb and a rebrand to the luxury brand of the portfolio – Conrad Maldives.

I also lived in Annecy in France, London in the UK (as many kiwis do), on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and I was born in NZ.

Over the last 5 years I have been a Mentor in two programs. Twice through AHRI and the last three years through Inspiring Rare Birds (founded by Jo Burston – the Company has a mission to improve the economic security of women globally through opportunities in entrepreneurship and leadership).

I really get inspired by this and as an Accredited Gallup Strengths Coach for the past 3 – 4 years, I love any chance to integrate that knowledge and experience to any coaching conversation internally or externally.

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

I start my day with shepherding our five-year-old out of the house, school drop off and then I jump on a bus to the CBD. I usually skim my emails on route to work and my days have many in person and remote meetings.

It’s so diverse – which is what I enjoy and is the reason I’ve never moved away from being in a generalist HR role. The business in APAC has grown considerably in the past five years and my HR team (now located in Shanghai, Tokyo and Sydney) has supported considerable growth and change. I spend time on slack and skype linking in with them to ensure they feel part of the fold and am collaborating on and sparring their various challenges.

With people and leaders in multiple time zones and reporting into the USA, I mostly draw the short straw and have the early conference calls. I prefer that because I need to wake up anyway. Late calls mean you are ready to sleep but need to stay up and focus – that’s worse!

I have a lot of interaction with leaders across the business to help drive business priorities. We have an organisation with many young people who move through their careers quickly therefore there is a lot of coaching, guidance and sparring required to enhance their management capability and develop effective leadership skills.

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

When I took on this role, I was apprehensive as I had a one year old and had recently returned from Mat Leave. In my previous job I had already earned flexibility in my role, had built trust in my ability and commitment and had proven that would always do the right thing if not physically in the office.

In my first week here, I hadn’t yet established that trust however I set the scene and left at 4.30pm in order to get home in time to feed, bathe, stories and put our bub to bed. There is literally a two-hour process at the end of the day with my child before bed, and if I miss it – I miss it.

I often jump back online later and am reachable on the most part for the different time zones I support. Due to the time difference I get emails from the USA on Saturday mornings which sometimes need to be answered but overall, I don’t work weekends if I can help it – that’s family time.

I work from home once or twice per week and usually spend the first hour on my laptop in my local café. I am remote for everyone except the physical Sydney office so I could be sitting in a park, café, propped up in bed – no-one can tell the difference with technology and connectivity.

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

I think it is about give and take. There are some things that just take over at certain times and need a bigger focus.

This week my ‘baby’ started school with late drops offs and very early picks ups all week. Therefore, right now it is about juggling work priorities around these hours. The first week of school is a mix of emotions for me, let alone her. I want to “be present” in that moment.

It is making sure you have time for yourself and can do something to recharge your energy levels – exercise, wellness, social events or silence, whatever you need in that moment.

Some weeks I know I will be travelling for work and wherever in the world I am, I try to facetime my husband and daughter in their morning or evening. My last couple of jobs have had APAC and global responsibilities so I’ve travelled all my daughter’s life.

It’s harder now than when she was younger as she gets more emotional when I leave (or is that me?). I couldn’t do this type of regional with travel role without my very amazing husband who is an exceptional father.

When I’m at home sometimes he and I need to negotiate who has the more important meeting – but mostly we are both able to be flexible and make it work. We also have only one child so that makes it seem easier.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I am super organised and have a very good memory so store a lot of information in my head as well as in lists in my trusty notebook. At work we use Trello and the HR team is managing their transactional work through Jira.

I’m fortunate that I have had some great managers who have fostered flexibility. The GM I had in the Maldives was notorious for utilising every facility on the five-star resort island; diving, gym, spa, water-skiing. He encouraged the same for his leadership team and I had it down to a fine art from sitting at my desk, getting changed, water-skiing the lagoon, showering and back sitting at my desk with wet hair almost before my team could blink.

He taught me to hire the right people, set clear expectations and then go ahead and trust them to get on with it. The people around me can come and go, head off to the gym in the day, or work remotely.

If we continue to deliver as a collective team and support the business I’m all for flexibility, as it motivates people to do their best work, and that helps me to achieve success.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I have a pile of HBRs, Latte and HRD magazines I need to catch up on! I often read online rather than an actual book.

I tend to do a few random extracurricular activities to keep evolving, switching off and improving my mind. This past year – drawing, learning ukulele and roller skating for example. I did say random.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Not sure I could pick one dedicated thing (a decent coffee?). Rather, several things that feature in my every day to get the most out of it. Random acts of kindness, surprising my daughter and seeing her delight, engaging with different people, finding something to laugh at particularly with my husband. All small things but they ensure I remain happy and fulfilled.

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

I would read anything from anyone who has a demanding career, extra hobbies, charity work or responsibilities, plus children. Anyone who has tips on how to try to be a little better at everything, I’d love to learn from them. You can never be perfect, but we can evolve by learning from others’ wins and failures.

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

People learn, work, respond and act in different ways, so we all need to be open to various ways people can or want to operate. Work-life balance is not limited to just flexible hours at the beginning or end of the day.

It is important to acknowledge that people have more in their life than work and those other things may happen during the day. Flexibility and balance have no set formula.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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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.