Sebastien Meunier is the Program Director at PR and communications agency, Hotwire Australia, leading the company’s Future Tech department dedicated to disruptive industries.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve spent my whole career so far in communications agencies, with an emphasis on helping tech companies. In 2016, I left France for Australia and managed to find work in the same area.
Today, I’m leading the Future Tech department at the Australian office of global communications agency, Hotwire, where I manage a team of consultants, and am involved in marketing and new business activities.
2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Rumours among colleagues say I sleep in the office. Since COVID-19 started, the rumours are true, but in normal times I’m just an early riser. I wake up, shower, jump on my motorcycle, and once at the office, eat breakfast while reading the morning news.
From there, I’m head down in work all day, mostly with emails, calls, meetings, content development or attending events, and barely take breaks. But the reward is that I get to leave work early on a regular basis, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon to clear my head at the ocean, swimming pool, or rock-climbing.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
As consultants, we are the ‘product’ clients are paying for. We are lucky in that sense, as it does allow for flexible and remote working.
All I need is a laptop, Internet, a functioning brain (the hardest part!), and to be available when my teams and clients need me – I can manage my schedule around those things however I want. COVID-19 was an easy adjustment, as we were working from home at least on a weekly basis, and already had all of the technologies in place to ensure work continuity.
I’m also lucky to have an employer that encourages us to set the conditions that work best for us, and I know unfortunately that’s not the ‘norm’. In an industry known for long working hours, an intense pace, and regular mental health issues, being able to enjoy long evenings to decompress, exercise, and keep my balance is a privilege.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
If my to-do list looks overwhelming, I finish and cross off 2 or 3 easy and quick tasks, and suddenly it looks smaller and more achievable. But you have to be careful not to procrastinate on the bigger tasks, and make sure you eat the frog at some point in the day.
If my to-do list still looks overwhelming, I just call for help. People tend to avoid asking for help for fear that it will look bad on their performance. As a manager, I have more respect for those showing their vulnerability and asking for help, rather than those missing deadlines or waiting the last minute. If you are not getting help, look for another employer.
I also think we have to allow ourselves to stop working when needed. There are times I’m simply not being productive. We can’t perform at 100% all the time. When this happens, I stop working. There’s no point in being at work but not being productive – I’d rather recharge the batteries or change my mindset, and smash whatever I left unfinished in the morning.
Finally, I think we are often irrational with deadlines. I see many consultants setting themselves tough deadlines when clients ask when they can deliver something. Let’s not make our work harder than it already is. In most cases, stakeholders will be happy with a longer deadline if it sounds reasonable.
5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
To me, it all comes down to the mind space we dedicate to both worlds. You may finish a work week and have been so busy that you forgot to get in touch with that friend, skipped that climbing session that is so essential to your wellbeing, or even spent very limited time with your family.
These are all red flags to me, and if this happens too often, then something has to change in that balance. Life is meant to be about enjoying these things, not having our thoughts stuck at work all the time.
In applying this to myself, I always set a clear boundary between work and life. I’m lucky to have the capacity to switch my mind off work as soon as I walk out of the office. I’m also clear with my colleagues and employers about my ideal conditions of working, and they all respect that as long as it doesn’t disrupt our performance and team work.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I think they’re intertwined. Balance leads to success because it makes you a happier, better-performing person. More employers need to realise that flexible working conditions and work life balance are a benefit for both their employees and for the organisation itself, because everyone performs better when they’re happier.
The best habit I’ve developed is probably to make no compromises about making my personal life a priority. You have to fight for this, because the pace of business will try to take it from you. We are not saving lives, and the consequences of delays, or even failures, are limited.
These setbacks don’t feel good of course, but we will survive. Burnout or unhappiness however, are much harder to recover from. My advice is to try to keep that perspective in mind as much as possible, and the way you navigate your work life balance will naturally adjust to this.
7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Nothing sets me up better than a huge breakfast!
8) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Well, if you read Balance the Grind, you’re probably already aware of these issues. I believe we should try harder to spread the word about balance outside of this bubble of cognisant people. I still see many people in the business community sacrificing their wellbeing for work and career performance.
I wish more business events, especially in industries prone to longer hours and stressful environments, would systematically include talks about balance and wellbeing. And I wish there were more opportunities to help people keep perspective on the real priorities, and the real things that matter, in life.
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