Balancing the Grind with Mikael Nilsson, VP People at Speechmatics

Mikael Nilsson is the VP People at Speechmatics, global experts in deep learning and speech recognition, providing Autonomous Speech Recognition technology

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

I have always had an interest in how organisations can support and leverage their people to achieve business success. One thing I love about the People career path is that it’s fairly sector agnostic, which I’ve really enjoyed by working across non-profits, design and various tech companies. 

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

After dropping off the younger members of the Nilsson clan at nursery in the morning and probably talking myself out of exercising I either log on at home or head in to one of our offices. We are growing at a rapid pace at the moment, so I’ll be spending time speaking to exciting humans who are interested in joining the company most days.

Our People team has also grown a lot, so I will also invest time into making sure the team has everything they need and feel excited about what they are working on. There are a lot of big projects in progress to make sure Speechmatics scales sustainably, so we are solving complex problems around compensation, performance, location strategies, international expansion and leadership development – super exciting stuff!

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

As a family man, I need flexibility. As a human being (I know not everyone is the same) I crave in-person interaction. Speechmatics gives me the best of both worlds as I work from home 3 days a week and go to either the Cambridge or London office twice a week.

I also try to flex my hours and sometimes work later in the evening to make sure my wife Laura and I share parental duties equally and I try to do some exercise or outdoor swimming occasionally. 

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

For me, it simply means that I have the power to decide when I do my work. There will always be plenty to do at work and at home, so I need trust and freedom to deliver my work in the best way possible. I also made the decision many years ago not to have my work emails or Teams/Slack on my mobile phone. This gives me a healthy distance to work when I need it. 

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

I’ve tried spinning and quite like it! I also often skip breakfast as I find it gives me more focus and energy in the early hours of the working day. THere might be zero evidence to back this up, but it seems to work for me. 

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

Book – Nine Lies About Work. It’s the book I quote most frequently at work.

Podcast – Secret Leaders (start ups, leadership etc), The Zane Lowe interview series (music, mastery, geeking out), Stephen Fry’s 7 deadly sins (Because, Stephen), Heavyweight (about humans in a lovely format)

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

Miro is a superb tool that I haven’t utilised anywhere near enough, but love every time I do. 

Bubble – for last minute babysitting to make sure the date nights happen!

BT whole home wifi – Mesh wifi for the win! I can seamlessly walk around the house without dropping wifi at any point. I really disliked those old extenders.

Spotify – for deep focus and getting work done I need this in my life.

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

Top level athletes who are also parents or carers.

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

I just think it’s important to remember that work is only work. For me, I enjoy what I do and work with some great people, but I think for many there is an unhealthy relationship with work.

There’s also a quite unhealthy hustle culture obsession that I think is starting to turn into a bit of more honesty around burnout, mental health, and just treating work for what it is. We need this balance of narratives. 

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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.