Balancing the Grind with Carolyn Viso, Head of Learning & Development at Phocas Software

Carolyn Viso is the Head of Learning & Development at Phocas Software, a business intelligence software company headquartered in Sydney, Australia.

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

I’ve been in Learning & Development for 16 years and to tell you the truth, I fell into L&D as a career. I initially studied advertising at uni before realising I couldn’t manage the required contact hours on campus, plus full time work to pay my rent as a 19 year old. So I looked at other study options and I landed on Human Resources Management because “I liked people”. In hindsight, oh how much I had to learn about that!

Whilst working in an Insurance Claims call centre in Perth and finishing my degree, a role came up in the Training & Development team. It looked like fun and something I could do, so I borrowed someone else’s Certificate IV Training & Assessment folder, self-studied, and turned up for the interview with a mini training session prepared. I was nervous as hell and bumbled my way through it, but landed the job anyway as the hiring managers were impressed with the effort!

And then I fell in love with L&D. The creativity, the connection with people, facilitating, problem solving. Whilst in Perth I also dabbled in organisational development and vocational industry training, in insurance, mining & construction and rail freight. I moved to Melbourne in 2013, with my husband, and found great coffee, cold winters and an L&D career in retail; primarily optometry and beauty.

Then an opportunity came up to try out Sydney, and we decided to go for it. Sydney was my chance to play in a new (to me) world of tech and startups. I built and scaled L&D and HR functions in online retail and insurtech, before landing at Phocas Software last year as Head of Learning & Development.

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

These days I work from home around 3 days per week, and I’m usually in the office 2 days, depending on how the week’s activities are shaping up.

Let’s look at Wednesday from a couple of weeks ago. I was up at 6am and made myself (okay I lie, my husband made me) a soy latte. Coffee is an absolute must for me and I’ve long given up the guilt that I should replace it with green tea or whatever. I even have a framed print above my desk with a coffee cup and the words “but first, coffee”.

I watched the morning news on the couch with my husband and the dog, then jumped online for a 7am global call with my fabulous team mates. It was a 90 minute call so afterwards I got out and went for a walk along the coast with Baxter the pug, as I’m very privileged to live near the beach, then headed back home to get ready for the rest of the day.

I ran a leadership coaching session, built a proposal deck for a project, had a couple of calls with external providers and did a midweek sort out of my inbox. I absolutely can’t stand an inbox that needs scrolling, so I use Asana as a productivity tool to turn emails and notes into tasks.

I made lunch at home and took a couple of 10 minute ‘movement breaks’ in between chunks of focused work. I wrapped up about 4pm, enjoyed some winter sunshine on the balcony, and then caught up on some housework (I’m terrible at laundry!) and the rest of the Stranger Things season that evening.

Weekday evenings for me are a mix between social activity and home life. I’m an extroverted introvert, or vice versa, so I find energy in both scenarios, quality time with people and on my own.

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

To me, work-life balance is almost a redundant term. Everything I do, including paid employment, is a fluid part of ‘my life’. I think it’s about finding the balance within myself to surf the waves and make sure I’m headed in the right direction, rather than treating work and life as separate entities.

One of the things I love about working at Phocas Software is the autonomy and flexibility we create for ourselves, and I purposefully looked for that when I was searching for my next role.

The key to a culture that really, truly champions autonomy and flexibility is trust. You have to have real trust embedded throughout the organisation for it to work well. Trust that people have the right intent and will get the job done, trust that as an employee I can take care of myself and I will be safe, and accountability to ensure we’re getting the best out of ourselves and others.

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

  • Daily exercise. Boring I know! But last year a few friends and I started a simple competition to exercise daily and post it in a chat group. It’s fun because we get some friendly banter going but more importantly, there’s an accountability element of having to report back to others and no one wants to lose! I’ve exercised every day for nearly a year now and it makes such a difference to physical and mental wellbeing.
  • When I travel to the office, I try to drive in off-peak times, e.g. go early in the morning and then leave mid-afternoon, or alternatively go in mid-morning and leave late afternoon/evening. I’m more of a morning person though so I prefer the early option if I can! It means less time commuting and more time for productivity or self-care.
  • And here’s a fail story. I bought an adjustable sitting/standing desk during lockdown with all the good intent in the world. I think in nearly two years, I’ve stood at it for a grand total of about 3 hours!
  • A few productivity habits that have actually stuck:
  • using Asana for project and task management and using it as my default screen, rather than my inbox
  • Turning off all pop up notifications on my laptop to avoid distractions
  • On Friday afternoon, I’m planning the following week in my calendar with chunks of scheduled meetings/work time, and enough space to be flexible. I schedule at times that suit me best where possible, e.g. deep thinking or creative projects in the morning work for my brain and energy levels.

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

The full book is a bit too much for my attention span, but I LOVE the concept of ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is all about those moments that we find ourselves ‘in the zone’, where hours fly by and we’re deeply absorbed in whatever we are doing.

The more I find flow in aspects of my life, the more purpose I uncover, the more connected I feel to what I’m doing, and the more fulfilling it is. Then ‘work’ doesn’t become such a derogatory word! The more I get into the zone with whatever I’m doing, whether it’s designing a program, doing some coaching, drawing, cooking, etc, the easier it is to hit that ‘work life balance’ in terms of energy and connectedness.

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

More interviews with ‘everyday’ people. I think we already hear so much from celebrities, superstars, high achievers, people we put on pedestals that we forget that their life experiences are unique and few and far between.

I’d love to learn more from people dealing with the challenges that the majority of us grapple with. I remember when the ‘5am club’ concept was huge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the likelihood that most people can realistically live that lifestyle is low. And those kinds of books/interviews are usually representative of quite privileged groups in the community, which doesn’t bring to light the challenges that many others may have.

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

The biggest thing for me has been truly discovering my purpose, who I am and what I stand for. It’s still a work in progress but I’ve seen the positive impacts over the years. I think if we can all find what makes us ‘flow’, then balance becomes much easier. My core belief on work life balance is that my energy (time and effort) is a valuable resource, and I need to make conscious decisions on how to invest it.

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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.