Balancing the Grind with Katy Stevens, VP Asia Pacific at Culture Amp

Katy Stevens is the VP Asia Pacific at employee experience platform Culture Amp, where she leads the sales, customer success, people science and marketing teams.

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

It’s a winding journey! I started my career planning for a life in academia, undertaking a PhD and teaching university classes in cinema and media studies (my research was into cinema sound, with a particular interest in horror films).

After experiencing a health crisis I did some serious reflection and decided to shift out of research and academia into communications and technology. I spent time driving ‘Government 2.0’ projects in the public sector before landing a role at Yammer, which later became part of Microsoft.

Five years ago I was introduced to two of Culture Amp’s founders here in Melbourne, who were then looking for someone to join the (then) small global team of 25 to bolster their Customer Success practice. Culture Amp is the world’s leading people and culture platform, powering people-focused organisations everywhere.

I was really taken by the team and the company’s mission to make work better for customers and also for its own employees. I’ve since progressed through different leadership roles at Culture Amp, including stepping up to shape and grow our Asia Pacific business 2 years ago.

My current role of VP, Asia Pacific is to support and lead local strategy and operations, to ensure we’re growing our business in the region, while growing our people. We now work with over 3,000 organisations globally, with a global team of more than 400.

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

I live in Melbourne, so Stage 4 lockdown is a very particular experience that is currently challenging everyone in their own way. I am supporting my 6 year old daughter with remote learning, while juggling work, which is really tough. I am personally fortunate in that Culture Amp is very supportive in using flexibility and personal leave to ease some of those pressures.

A typical day working (while parenting) right now usually involves an early meeting (from about 6am) with colleagues in the US or UK, followed by an hour or so trying to get myself and my daughter dressed and fed for the day ahead. At Culture Amp we use Slack and Zoom for our communication and collaboration, so much of my time is spent juggling my time between those, and supporting my daughter. 

Lately, I’ve tried to do more 1-on-1s over the phone – including a walk, if I can time it with the 1 hour exercise that’s permitted. Those conversations are much more enjoyable – and often creative – than those spent in front of a screen for hours on end. 

I try my best to switch off from work by 6pm so I can be present with my family and recharge before it starts all over again, early the next morning.

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

Culture Amp has offices in Melbourne, London, New York and San Francisco. We made the decision in early March for everyone in the global team to work remotely, so we had to learn quickly how to manage the challenges of dispersed teams. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 5% of our 400+ employees worked remotely full time.

Almost all employees had made use of flexible arrangements before that – whether it was regular days working from home, shifting work hours to accommodate personal commitments, or similar.

For me, the challenges of remote working have been mainly around physical space, especially while my daughter has been home from school. We didn’t choose our home with the expectation of anyone working from home full-time, so privacy and quiet are hard to come by. 

I am also practicing how to manage my work boundaries, so that I am preserving my energy and focus for the long haul. Lately this involves limiting my earliest meetings each week, switching off notifications on my phone, and taking an actual break for lunch and recuperation during the day (my garden is in bloom, so I love to sit there for a few minutes and watch the bees at work).

Once school returns, I am looking forward to doing a better job with creating a healthy remote routine. At Culture Amp, we’re investing a lot of effort in redesigning our ways of working to adapt to this new world of work, alongside a focus on employee wellbeing and connection, which are critical areas for so many of our customers, too.

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

I know I have that balance right when I am getting energy from both my work, and my life outside work. I love my job, the colleagues I work with, and the company we’re building together, so I’m fortunate that those days happen pretty regularly. 

When things do get out of balance – which usually comes out as irritability and fatigue – I need solitude to recharge and recalibrate. Most of my time at work – and at home – is spent with other people, so some time to myself helps to bring back that balance, and I then look forward to coming back to those people again.

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

I turned off Slack notifications on my phone, so that I am intentional about the time I’m spending communicating, and not pulled into conversations when I need to be focused on something else (like deep work, a meeting, my family, or my own time). My instinct is to be hyper-responsive, so this small change has helped me to rein that in.

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

It sounds cheeky, but the Culture First podcast is actually a wonderful resource for keeping me connected to my purpose at work and to the ideas of great thinkers and practitioners who help me to reflect on my own behaviour, and priorities. 

I have also been enjoying the bite-size inspiration of HBR’s ‘Management Tip of The Day’ email. I am currently reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, which I highly recommend to other white women who want to do better in supporting and creating opportunity for BIPOC women. 

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

I purchased a pair of Bose 700 noise cancelling headphones quite soon after I started working from home due to the pandemic, and they have been the most important tool in allowing me to get work done with a family sharing the same space. 

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

When I joined Culture Amp, I remember our (male) founders speaking openly and without apology about their parenting responsibilities, including time taken to do school drop-offs, coach a sports team, or support their kids or partner in other ways.

That was huge for me – to hear these men making those choices and creating a safe work environment for others to manage the work and family juggle.

I believe it’s so important that leaders model those behaviours, acknowledge the tensions, and to be vulnerable in sharing the challenges that can sometimes come with that.

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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.