CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Danielle Owen Whitford, Founder & CEO at Pioneera

Danielle Owen Whitford is the founder & CEO at Pioneera, a platform designed to help individuals and leaders create safe, productive and engaged businesses.

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

I spent nearly 20 years in large corporations in various leadership roles and then large transformation roles. I loved all of it, but burnt out in 2016 as I didn’t see the warning signs.

So I decided to start Pioneera and use technology to deal with the crippling issue of workplace stress and burnout. We’re getting great interest, particularly as the pandemic effects continue to be felt and there is such uncertainty in work and jobs right now.

Our platform is helping individuals and leaders create safe, productive and engaged businesses, which we’re thrilled about.

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

After getting my kids ready and off to school (or to their bedrooms now that we’re working from home!), I scan through emails to check if there is anything urgent.

I then have a 15 min (sometimes much longer!), check-in with my team to see how they’re all doing and cover off any key work issues. I then have a series of meetings either with customers or my team or investors.

I try to keep some free space to think/plan/be curious but sometimes that is taken up with other things! I read/listen to information where I can and try not to spend too much time sitting at my desk as it’s not good for me physically or mentally. I’m getting better at putting boundaries around my work, so I’m not just constantly working as we’re all at home.

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

Yes. I have always been a supporter of flexible work and advocated for it for many years in my corporate roles. So when I started Pioneera, we started with that flexibility in mind. Then with Covid it became the norm, but it was a smooth transition for us.

I love the fact that I can integrate my home and family and my team and customers will often see a child or animal in the background! It helps me maintain my balance, as I don’t have a long commute and I can eat healthy meals from my fridge. Whilst I cook a lot more, I’m sure I’m saving money at the end of the day too. Plus it’s been a real bonus to have this connection time with my family.

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

I think about it in terms of work-life integration these days. That is because work is part of my life and a part of me, so it’s impossible to separate. When I try to do that, it just makes me feel stressed and I never manage to separate it anyway!

So I put boundaries around it and I have routines that work for me. For e.g. I have breakfast with my family and then head to my desk. I rarely eat breakfast whilst working because it’s my “start of day” connection with my household.

I will only work at my desk a few times a week at night, otherwise I turn off my desk light (which is akin to an office door for me) and walk away from my desk to have dinner/hang out with my family or friends (when we can see them!).

I am flexible when I need to, so I can do things with my kids and I am there when they need me. Sometimes that creates stress, taking time out means I could be behind on something, but I know I am in control of my time and I will make it up when I can.

I think experience gives you perspective – there is always tomorrow and I am much better at prioritising and focusing than I used to be.  I no longer value my success as a person based on my success at work.

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

See above! I’ve had to adapt my routine to lock down and full-time work from home.  I was exercising, but not as much now, so I need to get back to that! I try to have some fun, as it feels like groundhog day, so we’ve put a whiteboard up in the kitchen and everyone writes/draws on it.

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

I love High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard and everything by Brene Brown! I have been listening to her Unlocking Us podcast which has been fascinating.  I also like Harvard Business Review’s leadership tip of the day, the weekly newsletters from Airtree, Startup Victoria and Smart Company.

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

Clearly our Indie app is my first choice! In all seriousness, it’s very useful to help me see trends and insights in myself and my team that I miss. This is very interesting to me, as I live and breathe this. So if I can miss things, so can everyone else.

Then it’s my smartphone because I do loads on that. When I’ve had too much of my desk, I’ve been known to take my phone into the back garden and keep working in the sun.

The change in the environment is invigorating. I have to be disciplined with both though and not spend too much time on any one app or device, as it’s not good for us mentally.

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

Hmmmm, that’s tough. I think work-life integration is more my speed these days, as my work is a big part of my life. And I keep it a functional productive part of my life, not something I need to separate from myself and family – as that’s impossible these days. Not sure who has nailed it, so happy for any recommendations!

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

There is no utopia on work-life balance. Different things will work for different people at different times and the trick is finding what works for you.

We are so hard on ourselves and are always feeling like someone is doing this stuff better than we are, so my advice is to be kind to yourself. Nobody knows you or your work/family/life as you do, so take a breath and think about what is important to you and try to focus on that. 

And do one thing every day that makes you happy. Could be a simple thing, like a laugh, meditation, walk or anything. Life is about finding joy and work-life integration is about helping you find that joy across your life. And if you need help to find that, don’t hesitate to ask.

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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.