Balancing the Grind with Lauren Denny, Global Director of Talent at Koala

Lauren Denny is the Global Director of Talent at Koala, an Australian furniture startup founded in 2015.

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

I definitely came from a non-traditional people path. I studied international relations in hopes of going the diplomatic route – and it turns out that many of the skill sets were incredibly transferable now in working through corporate and human challenges! People are fantastically complex and this helped to set the foundational blocks to tackle these challenges head on. 

Before arriving in Australia, I spent the last decade working with a couple start-ups across three continents and many countries. I gained invaluable understanding of cross-cultural teams and ways of working — which is now more important than ever.

In 2012, I made the transition to a purely people-focused field which led me to talent acquisition, training, and engaging staff across Asia-Pacific.This transition is a true intersection of where all my passions lie, leading me to pursue this new career path in Sydney.

I began my journey down under with a boutique specialist recruitment agency, building a media and digital desk from scratch to managing the Sydney business and team a few years later.

With the aim to always return to the pace and challenges of internal start-up culture, I joined Koala at the start of 2020. I’ve since led the company to triple in headcount and supported our expansion into a new APAC market. I’ve seen the company boldly establish itself as a purpose-driven Aussie furniture brand— and currently co-lead the people function as the Director of Talent.

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

I’m sure Koala is no different to many start-ups facing various challenges throughout the different growth stages, but we joke internally that similar to dog years – 1 Koala year of employment ~ 5 human years!

Sometimes it really does feel like this, given the workload, the pace, and the variety of things everyone is constantly juggling on their plates; but I can also definitively say I have never learned nor professionally grown as much as I have during my time so far at Koala and am very grateful for that! 

All said, there is no “typical” day, but I tend to start my mornings with a strong almond flat white and focusing on any urgent candidate communications given that the talent market globally is so competitive at the moment. Clearing out email, ATS, and LinkedIn pipelines and ensuring all is progressing as quickly as it can but also keeping the candidate and qualitative experience front of mind and personalised. 

I’ll usually have a sprinkle of meetings both internal and external throughout the day – possibly a strategic catch-up with some of our marketing team on employer branding and EVP direction and activities; our weekly company-wide performance huddle update; touching base with my TA team or hiring managers via 1:1s; and/or external candidate VC screens or liaising with a preferred partner in Japan, for instance. 

All of these mentioned though are scheduled around our “Get Shit Done aka GSD time” which is a hard no meetings 1-3pm slot which we rolled out company-wide during COVID and lockdowns to ensure our staff weren’t burning out in meetings in front of their screens.

We wanted employees to get outdoors for some vitamin D and purposely created the time and headspace for this wellbeing – whether it be for a long lunch, walk, or even admin it’s up to the individual.

Although the world is normalising a bit more now thankfully, hybrid and remote work is still here to stay and keeping these kinds of initiatives and windows of time blocked or open is essential to balancing both productivity and wellbeing! 

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

I’ve recently been hearing more about work-life blend rather than balance. 

A blended model seems a bit more realistic (and human). For example, a mix of working from the Treehouse (our office) and working from another location (home, Airbnb, cafe, you name it). Setting your own hours and having the trust of the business and your team to get your work done.

We take a human approach to our ways of working at Koala. Your day might consist of meetings, but it also might consist of a kid’s assembly or spending some time outside with your pup. It is about finding ways to step away from either work or life, without having to compromise, sacrifice, or favour one over the other.

 A couple of my personal hacks are 1) having a separate dedicated work space at home (I’m lucky to have an at-home office space and I literally shut down the screen and door at the end of each work day) 2) I’m fairly organised and definitely a planner; booking holidays in advance to look forward to and check off the bucket list, or making time for personal passions, such as my wine studies, yoga, or book club.

Ultimately, I try to lead by example to demonstrate to both my team and the wider business that you can have it all. You can have a fulfilling career while also prioritising your personal life; taking time to invest in activities and others outside of business without being penalised for dropping the ball at work. If anything, you are supported to do this and what better way to show my support of work-life blend/balance then by doing. 

Work-life balance/blend to me very broadly means a fulfilled life both personally and professionally. Where that fulfilment comes from for me is both at home and work – building and nourishing close relationships; learning and developing; and impacting the lives of others and the world for the good.

All easier said than done of course, and it will forever be a work in progress and one that I’m continually practising, not for perfection, but to constantly adapt through various life stages. 

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

I approached COVID and the lockdowns with a sense of opportunity in that it really gave most of us around the world a real chance to reset. I was definitely guilty of over committing to both work and social life prior to the pandemic, I was on a fast track to burnout working full days and late nights.

When the world slowed, I was finally able to take a big step back and get perspective on all this and since then I have done pretty well in creating healthier and more sustainable habits and routines. 

Beyond not working as many late nights and completely filling out every free time I have in my calendar with something, I’ve also started morning ocean swimming which is hugely meditative and really sets me up for an energised work day!

I also organised a weekly meal swap with friends and decided to pursue my passion for wine with external courses; all of which have definitely positively impacted my overall well being and ability to give even more than 100% in the workplace. 

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

Simon Sinek’s “A Bit of Optimism” podcast definitely got me through the last lockdown! Also love the industry thought leaders – Esther Perel, Brene Brown, Adam Grant. Books I could go on too, but Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love and The School of Life are some of my absolute favourites! 

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

I would say Oprah or J.Lo!? Power women who I cannot even fathom how they fit everything in. 

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

A bit of cheese, but in total sincerity, to each their own, but to thine ownself be true, we all have different ways of balancing, approaching, experiencing, thresholds, passions, responsibilities, etc. but it comes down to us as people leaders to create the spaces and opportunities for others to be intentional with their time, and both self-awareness and employer respect and trust is really at the crux of all this. Definitely feels more and more like people are getting this and I truly hope it’s an awakening and trend to stay!

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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.