Balancing the Grind with Colin D Ellis, Workplace Culture Expert & Author of The Hybrid Handbook

Colin D Ellis is a workplace culture expert and author of The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work.

Looking for your dream start-up role? Sign up for global career opportunities with The Nudge Group!

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

I’m a public speaker and work with organisations to help them change their workplace cultures.

I’ve also written five books, the most recent of which The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work, was published in August of this year, whilst The Project Book: The Complete Guide to Consistently Delivering Great Projects was voted Australian General Business Book of the Year in 2020.

I’ve been working for myself for the last 6 years, however, prior to that I was an employee in the private and public sector for almost 30 years. I left school with few qualifications aged 17 and went to work as a teller in a Bank in a suburb of Liverpool, where I’m from in the UK. I loved work and found that I had a real drive to make a positive difference. 

Life changed for me (for the first time!) aged 27 when I took a job as a project manager for Y2K and projects became my life for the next 20 years in the UK, then New Zealand and finally in my (now) home of Melbourne.

In 2015 (and at the age of 46) I decided to risk everything to work for myself and use the knowledge and techniques that I used to create great team cultures to help others. It has taken me around the world and I’ve done work with organisations and spoke in places that I could never have imagined!

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

Yesterday I ran the second of a two-day workshop for a client in New South Wales. The workshop was run virtually because of the COVID restrictions, so my daily routine is a little different than it would normally be when I’m rushing to airports, working on planes or waking up in a hotel far from home!

Most virtual sessions run 9.30 – 4pm, so I’m up at 6.30am to stretch, then I head off out for a run. I set all my equipment up the night before, so I can have a shower and breakfast in relative calm!

Once the workshop is completed, I immediately actoon the things that I promised to attendees as they’re fresh in my mind, then I’ll catch up with any sports scores I missed (I’m an Everton and LA Dodgers Baseball fan), before relaxing and switching off for the evening.

When I’m not delivering, then my days are spent speaking to clients, writing content, researching new material or else reading books and blogs related to the topics that I’m currently teaching.

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

It does, although it’s sometimes tough to juggle the time zones! As a public speaker/culture change facilitator I’m asked to speak and work with people from all around the world, which often leads to events in the middle of the night. In the last 12 months, I’ve worked with clients across Asia, North America and Europe and once delivered a 30-minute speech at 3am!

Most Australia/NZ clients want the ‘in-person’ experience however, many have made the shift to virtual workshops during the lockdowns, which works equally as well, it just requires a different mindset and approach from the attendees and plenty of creativity and energy from me!

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

It means spending equal amounts of time on the work that I love and with the people that I love. When I’m with my family I’m fully present. All distractions are set aside as I want to give them my full attention. The same is true of my work. Discipline is key as is recognising those things (i.e. endlessly reading the news) that seek to drain your attention and developing new habits to avoid them. 

In between those times are the things that I do for myself, which typically involve watching football/baseball, doing crosswords or listening to records. After all these years I still love my vinyl.

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

Yes, I’ve stopped reading the news! It became such a drain on my productive time and positive energy and I recognised it was starting to have a serious impact on my mental health. So, I stopped reading it and can’t imagine going back.

I check the BBC News app headlines in the morning for any significant world events, Twitter for public health advice and that’s it. I highly recommend it to everyone!

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

Business books that I recommend include Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck and Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet. From a fiction perspective I read The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won at the start of this year by Victor Davis Hanson, which was brilliant (if you like that kind of thing!)

The podcasts that I listen to (other than Culture Makers and Culture & Coffee, of course!) are mainly from comedians. I like to use humour in my work as I believe that if you’re laughing, you’re learning, so I’m constantly listening for tips on how to improve my delivery.

I loved It Happened to Me from English comedian Michael Spicer and am currently binge listening to the Ricky Gervais show from the early 2000s!

I did get hooked to a series called Floodlines from The Atlantic, about Hurricane Katrina and the same team also do a podcast called The Experiment which I also really like. I feel smarter after listening to it!

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

No – although it’s hard to style a quiff without a hairdryer!

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

Gary Vaynerchuk – He has heaps of drive and commitment to his work, but also recognises the need to stop every now and then. As I mentioned earlier, I love what I do, so I don’t need to switch off from it for long periods of time but getting a reminder to do it now and then is important, in order to stay fresh.

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

Yes, look for opportunities to laugh, everywhere. Nothing beats laughing to remind yourself that you’re human and to break the stress and tension of a day. It has a significant number of health benefits and helps us stay connected to the people that we love and those that we work with. The world doesn’t need anymore negativity, so find moments of levity anywhere you can get them!

Before you go…

If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.

Join our community and never miss a conversation about work, life & balance – subscribe to our newsletter.

Start-up Founders, Venture Capital, Private Equity, Accelerators – hear them all talk about their stories where they went wrong, what went right and what they learned!
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.