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Balancing the Grind with Dagmara Aldridge, Chief Operating Officer at Zumo

Dagmara Aldridge is the Chief Operating Officer at Zumo, a company that makes the buying, selling, sending and spending of your digital assets seamless, simple and secure.

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

I started out at a recruitment firm, working my way up from Receptionist to International Project Executive. It was my first taste of the start-up world and also when I discovered Project Management as a profession and fell in love with it. 

From there it was a step into financial services with Barclaycard, where I graduated through a number of roles building both my payments experience and my leadership toolkit. 

In 2014, I took a hiatus from financial services and spent three years working for Travis Perkins, delivering the company’s largest change programme and developing its change and project delivery capabilities. That period taught me what was really important to me in a job: ambition, innovation, fast pace and professionalism.

After that, I was asked to join Valitor, an international payment scale up, to set up its operations in the UK. It was my first ops role and a real opportunity to get into the FinTech industry, having partnered with a number of well known fintechs such as Klarna, Stripe, and Caxton.

Finally, having taken 10 months out for personal reasons, I joined Zumo as COO in August 2020, taking the reins for business and customer operations. Since then, I have set up a Customer Support function, established Zumo’s payment card capabilities and I am in the process of transforming how we onboard our customers.

I am also a mental health champion and I work closely with our CFO and rest of the leadership team on building Zumo’s employee brand and embedding our culture across the organisation.

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

No day in the life of a COO is the same, as you can’t predict what may require your focus in maintaining the operating rhythm of the company.

I try to keep a weekly structure though: Mondays are reserved for team catch ups, strategy and priority setting. Tuesdays are mostly spent catching up with key stakeholders from other functions and strategic project meetings.

Wednesdays are when we have weekly leadership catch ups to look at core KPIs, business performance and any key issues and blockers requiring our attention. Thursdays are days I have 1-2-1 catch-ups with my boss. I try to keep Fridays as free as possible, to allow me to reflect on the week, do some strategic thinking or personal development work.

In reality, all of the above is de-prioritised if we have an unforeseen challenge that requires resolution, in which case I will be in the trenches with the rest of the team, getting a solution in place. 

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

At Zumo, we all work remotely as we believe that this enables us to widen the talent pool available to us and we trust our employees to manage their own day.

We do come together as a company face to face on a regular basis at our Edinburgh HQ, to ensure we can build and retain deeper personal connections too.

Working for an all remote business provides great flexibility, which I am able to take advantage of, as I don’t have to commute anymore. I try to take the time I would usually spend commuting to do things that bring me joy or help me manage my stress. I usually schedule my exercise in the morning, or if I’m unable to do it then, I try to take a walk at lunchtime. 

Sometimes, diary permitting, I work through lunch and finish earlier to catch the last open water swim session.

The other thing that remote working has enabled me and my partner to do is to work remotely from other places in the UK. We try to regularly book accommodation in beautiful places in the UK we always wanted to visit, as long as they have great wifi too! This means we can take advantage of local attractions after work hours and during the weekends, as they are on our doorsteps.

Finally, as my partner is Scottish, whenever we can we try to combine a business visit in Edinburgh with visiting his family in Aberdeen.

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

I feel very strongly about maintaining a healthy work-life balance, having gone through a lived-in experience of work related burnout in the past. That has really taught me that nothing that I personally do is a matter of life and death, and therefore no task or deadline is worth getting myself ill for.

For me the biggest barrier to overcome was that somehow looking after myself was self indulgent and selfish and then I realised that it is a little bit like when you are on the airplane.  The safety instructions tell you to put the oxygen mask on you first, before you help others. 

It is the same with looking after your mental health and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. You can’t help others if you are struggling to breathe yourself, so it is actually a responsible thing to do – look after yourself first, so you have the mental and physical strength to bring your best performance to work everyday. Recovery is one of the most important parts of athletes training and the same principle applies to work.

I have also learnt to have honest conversations with myself, so at the end of each week I look at my To Do list and what I have accomplished, and I ask myself the question: Did I have too much work to accomplish in the time I was given or have I been not as focused or productive as I could have been? Depending on the answer, I make appropriate adjustments for next week.

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

In April 2020 I did my first ever open water swim and it has been life changing. I have since started to take swimming lessons, joined a local swimming club and I try to swim in open water 2-3 times per week.

I have also acquired a surprisingly large amount of swimming paraphernalia!  I plan to continue to swim throughout the winter. Swimming in open water is the most exhilarating and meditative experience and it really connects you with nature and your surroundings.

It has proven health benefits and it is my time to be completely in the moment, as you cannot think of anything else, including work, other than how not to drown or freeze to death when the water temperature is 8 degrees Celsius. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone!

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

I prefer to read fiction books or journalist investigative stories, rather than self-help guides or business manuals. My favourite fiction book is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and Dr Faustus by Thomas Mann. I also love anything by a Polish author and recent Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk.

My favourite “business” book is Quiet Leadership by David Rock. Most recently I enjoyed Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser – great insight into how personality worship can lead to a collapse of even the most successful start up.

When I first joined the crypto industry, I found The Cryptocurrency Revolution by Rhian Lewis super helpful. To keep up with what is going on in the wider industry, I listen to 11:FS Fintech Insider and also Blockchain Insider and the Cryptocurry Club newsletter.

When I want to relax and have a good laugh, whilst learning about obscure facts, I listen to No Such Thing As A Fish.

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

I love, love, love my iPad and I can’t live without it. The Notability app is super helpful with my studies, taking digital notes and organising them and my reading lists.

Whilst I love books, I have so many in my house that I had to resort to reading digitally and Kindle is my app of choice.

I also can’t imagine life without my Headspace App, which I have been using to practice mindfulness for over five years now.

Finally, I couldn’t live without Spotify and BBC sounds, as I listen to the radio every morning when I get ready to start the day.

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

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand or Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the USA. Or if she was still with us, the Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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

Remember that peak performance is achieved by alternating between periods of intense work and rest. In order to deliver your best work and make a positive impact in life, you need to find your purpose and prime the body and mind for enhanced productivity.

That is what life-work balance is to me and in order to achieve it sometimes one takes priority over the other. It’s like an equilibrist balancing on a rolla-bolla!

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.