Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Fiona Vale, Co-Founder of Humanico

Fiona Vale is the co-founder of Humanico, a HR tech startup shining a light on human potential in the workplace.

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

It’s definitely a non-traditional or linear career path, however I can honestly say that every step has contributed to where I am today. 

My first career was centred around human experience. I spent 15 years designing, developing and executing ‘money can’t buy’ experiences for some of Australia’s top financial advisers. An incredible role exploring the world, but more importantly gave me the opportunity to observe, understand, anticipate and appreciate what actually matters to humans, regardless of title, role or status. 

I loved that job. But at its core, it was not overly compatible with starting a family so when that time came I used my maternity leave to retrain in Graphic Design – an area I was always passionate about. This career led me into the world of Brand Strategy, where I spent a few years designing and consulting before my passion for people overtook my passion for pictures. 

Naively, I assumed I would be able to return to the career I had BC (before children) at the same level I was at when I left. HOW WRONG I WAS. In a pre-COVID world, with requests for flexibility and a 4-day week, I faced knock back after knock back.

So I used this as an opportunity to pivot into a new career with a focus on people, and landed in Executive Search. During my time there, I met my business partner and co-founder of Humanico – so  in some respect I am kind of glad that things turned out the way they did. Through our initial ideation, my passion for strengths-based development came to the surface and I became a qualified coach in the space.

And here I am today; co-founder of a human-centric tech startup, helping companies understand and optimise their greatest asset; their people. 

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

To an outsider, it must look like chaos! But I can assure you, it’s organised chaos. Being married to a shift-working frontline emergency responder, we don’t run to a ‘normal’ 7-day week schedule. 

Most days start with either coffee or a run, followed by school drop off if I’m working from home. The working day generally starts with a quick check in with my business partner, and then it’s full steam ahead of whatever the diary holds.

Anything from designing + refining business strategy, driving our marketing and brand strategy, keeping our customers happy and engaged, meeting investors, hosting product demos and delivering client project management to working in collaboration with our amazing tech ninjas, processing payroll, reviewing content and facilitating workshops. 

And then it’s tools down from work and time to lean into family and all that life throws my way.

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

Flexibility is key in my world – without it, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. At Humanico, we want to ensure that as we grow and scale that all of our team have the same flexibility to work when and where they need.

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

For me, it’s more about work-life integration. Who we are at work should be no different to who we are in our lives outside of work, and I feel that the pandemic gave many people the opportunity to test those waters. 

Balance is important, however there’s enough pressure (especially on working parents!) without setting ourselves up for failure with a potentially unattainable goal. 

Yes, we can have it all. Just not all at once.  

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

I’ve always been a big fan of Dr Adam Fraser’s concept of The Third Space. In a pre-COVID world I used my commute to find the space to transition from work to home (or vice versa). It was my time, and I could use it however I wanted – to listen to music, a podcast, make some calls or zone out and allow my brain to rest. 

During the first lockdown, I really struggled without this space. I bit the bullet and purchased an interactive treadmill and it’s been a lifesaver for me. Originally the intention was to walk and virtually travel the world, but after challenging myself to a ‘Couch to 5km’ run series I’ve discovered a love of running and once again have my Third Space.

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

Outside of Dr Adam Fraser’s work, I’m also a huge fan of Chris Helder’s concept of ‘Useful Belief’. I don’t read nearly as many books as I used to, however I really enjoyed Samantha Wills’ Of Gold and Dust and more recently Untamed by Glennon Doyle. 

Keeping up to date with research in the HR tech space is critical to our business so I’m always curious to see what Josh Bersin, HBR and MCKinsey have to say.

As a qualified strengths coach the majority of my podcast focus is through the Gallup lens and their myriad of insights through coaching and the language of strengths. If I need inspiration outside of work, you’ll find me listening to Mamamia’s ‘No Filter’.

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

You’ll never find me without my phone and a water bottle. However, I think the real MVP would have to be Black Betty – my coffee machine! Or maybe my NordicTrack. 

Google Calendar and Tasks keep me organised. WhatApp keeps me connected. Spotify keeps me sane. AccuWeather makes the weather a little more predictable and on commuting days TripView lets me know what time the next train is. 

Technology is awesome and I love my laptop. But you’ll also always find me with a good old fashioned notepad and pen. 

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

The Queen. By all accounts she is the longest serving CEO in history, on the global stage, stuck between royalty and politics, juggling her life as a mother and wife with grandchildren and of course the Corgis.

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

Being a founder of a tech startup is certainly not for the faint hearted. However, being a co-founder and not just a founder has been instrumental for both of us to find the right balance.

To have an equal in all facets of the business through bootstrapping, ideation, decision making through to execution, with complementary skills and strengths allows us to divide and conquer and move the business forward with more speed and less friction. 

The world as we knew it has changed forever. Amongst the disruption, there is opportunity to try something different. At the core of it, it’s all just trial and error. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. 

Be flexible. Set boundaries where you can, and remember to breathe.

Above all else make sure that you play to your strengths. Find a way to do things that bring you joy as you’ll be happier, more engaged and more productive. 

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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.