Balancing the Grind with Jarrod McGrath, Founder & CEO at Smart WFM

Jarrod McGrath is the founder & CEO at Smart WFM, a company that offers strategic Work Force Management (WFM) services at all stages of the WFM lifecycle.

Interested in talking about how you balance the grind? Get in touch with us here!

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

I started my first business when I was 10, a word processing business and that trend has continued right up to founding Smart WFM in 2016 with a few companies under my belt now, including a DJ business I ran for 10 years. 

My interests and skills have primarily revolved around people, particularly now with Smart WFM and the recent book I launched, The Digital Workforce 2nd Edition, which both centre on how business and HR leaders can get the most from and give the most to their people.

And while there was probably a sliding doors moment where I was considering committing it all to music, I’ve managed to keep that passion alive in my personal and professional life.

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

Every day starts with a long walk and a coffee to stay or go (depending on the COVID rules of the day). That routine has become part and parcel of my work and I’m lost without connecting to the day that way, particularly now when work is more isolated and involves even more screen time.

The day-to-day varies quite a lot from there. One day we might be looking into expansion into a new region. There’s lots of recruitment activity as we’re growing about two-fold every year, business development, checking in with the team, and I’m always looking at the operating model to see how we can improve as a business.

I’ll still pick up tools too – in the human capital management space, keeping your finger on the pulse is essential. I stay close to customers from Australian government organisations to major fast-food providers in the US, providing advisory services and practicing to them what I preach in books, articles, and videos.

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

Flexibility and remote working have always been part of our model, it’s built into the company fabric.

Pre-COVID, being on site with customers was often the norm across the team, and now it’s done remotely from anywhere. We’re also expanding globally, and fast, and managing that ecosystem requires that ability to be remote, regardless of COVID.

I think it’s important to provide flexibility in a way that suits individual people. I have my own routines but I wouldn’t presume they work across the team. That’s where trust and transparency come in.

I trust the team to do the job, we’re transparent with each other on the work that’s being done and the direction the company is moving, and there’s no 9-to-5 time constraints put in. We empower, and we don’t micromanage.

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

For me it means forgetting about work sometimes, and the ability to do that. My love of walking helps me get ready for the day, but also to switch off.

That won’t work for anyone. Some can switch off by just shutting the laptop at 5pm, some by going for a run when the day is done, or by cooking. Some manage better when they can take a longer, almost European style few hours off during the day.

Whatever works for the team, works for us as a business. As T2 Tea Global People Director Georgegina Poulos puts it in my new book:

“The office was a place to go to work; its four walls provided a physical space entirely devoted to work. Now, the home has become the gym, the office, the movie theatre, the kids’ playground, the hospital, the kitchen, the restaurant, you name it. I think what we really need to focus on now is redefining the boundaries of the home and work within this flexible environment, and figuring out how they come together to support wellbeing as well as business success.”

We also check with the team regularly to see how everyone is doing. Every second Friday we have a catch-up where we share a glass of wine, or a chocolate bar, something like that. We talk about what people are up to with their families, creative lockdown activities, and share some recent photos. It’s become a really nice thing to look forward to every couple of weeks.

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

The walk was always part of the routine, but it increased during the pandemic. Longer in the morning, and some calls that can be taken in that setting and audio only will now happen during a walk.

I am looking forward to being able to get back to the city more, around the team and part of the energy that comes with that – though CBD life will no doubt be quite different post pandemic.

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

I love my business books – I’m a business author and I just think it’s so important and beneficial to learn from others in that circle.

On my shelf now is Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First, by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, and Dennis Carey.

On the personal side, and to stay in touch with the other path I might have gone down, I love reading books about my favourite artists. Two I’ve read recently were on the life of David Bowie and the history of The Foo Fighters, personal favourites.

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

I’d struggle without a music-playing device. I’d take anything from a record player to a Walkman, but listening to Spotify is the norm these days and certainly something that would be difficult to live without. There were a few albums that simply got me through writing The Digital Workforce, and the books might not exist without them.

I’m also a big fan of Trello. I use it to structure all my thoughts, ideas, and processes. It captures everything and it’s fully in tune with how my brain works. I don’t even have a single piece of paper or pen on my desk anymore. It is one of the digital apps that helps us practice what we preach – one of the major challenges we help businesses overcome is moving from paper-based processes to digital.

That said, I recognise Trello and other apps like it might not work for everyone. Everyone in the team has their preferences, and we keep our approach flexible to suit that.

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

I’d love to get a deeper understanding of how, for example, a political leader in the COVID hot seat all the time achieves work-life balance. Whatever your opinion, it takes a special something to carry and operate under that kind of burden. But people in these positions need to find that balance like anyone else does.

Again, I’d also love to speak to some of my favourite musicians about how they do it, balancing the incredible energy needed and achieved through live performance, and getting back to reality from that.

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

We’ve got a job now to balance people’s lives between work, technology, and the environment around us. None of this exists in isolation and business leaders need to recognise this far more than many currently do.

How do companies meet the demands of a modern workforce? How do leaders not only understand their people’s passions, but weave them into the fabric of the organisation? What stance do businesses take on world longevity?

These are the questions I’ve tried to answer in The Digital Workforce 2nd Edition, and I’d encourage any business or HR leader who shares that ethos to pick up a copy, or pick up the phone and discuss it with me.

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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.