Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind with Slavica Habjanovic, Communications Manager Asia at Hassell

Slavica Habjanovic is a Hong Kong-based Communications Manager Asia at Hassell, an international design practice with studios in Australia, China, South East Asia, UK and US.

Partner up with Balance the Grind to showcase your brand’s story and promote healthy work-life balance. Get in touch with us about sponsorship opportunities.

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

Sure! I have a background in sociology and English language and literature from Croatia. When I moved back to Australia, I did a masters in communications and publishing.

I’ve always loved design and landed a dream job in communications at Hassell, a large international design practice made up of architects, urban planners, interior designers and landscape architects, and a host of other specialists.

It’s been almost a decade at Hassell – a long marriage with many different chapters. I was initially based in Melbourne and had a global role that was mostly in digital communications.

About five years ago, I moved into a more Asia-focused role, and relocated first to Shanghai for a short stint, and then permanently to Hong Kong, where I am now.

My role is Asia-wide and covers communications, marketing, community building, media relationships, client engagement, partnerships, events, knowledge and insights and crucially, crisis communications. We also recently underwent a global rebrand, so the last few months have been really focused on implementing the new brand across Asia.

Outside of this, I’ve blogged, written for a few publications, co-authored a Croatian cookbook, worked on film festivals, in charity organisations and am currently working on a ‘best of’ collection of columns from my previous role at a Croatian newspaper.

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

My day begins sometimes with yoga, but if not – I generally have a smoothie, read emails, list priorities for the day and get to work by 9.30am (Hong Kong goes to bed late and gets up late by other city standards).

Then I’ll scan headlines – like our internal daily Covid report and always the NY Times, South China Morning Post, and one European publication, as well as a few design platforms.

The rest of the day is always varied – there are check ins with my team across Asia and Australia and lots of meetings with the design teams, but I need to make sure there are blocks of time left for creative work and ideation.

On any given day, I could be could be working on content, strategy, media management, planning, client engagement, reviewing team members’ work, helping on client submissions, internal communications, and these last months, a lot of crisis management.

During the day, I sometimes do some breathing or meditation exercises or take time out to read reports or content from across the industry.

Most days I try and finish by about 7pm, sometimes earlier, sometimes later – depending on whether we’re on a big push for something or if I’m on a roll.

Then it’s usually exercise (4-5 times per week), followed by events, dinner with friends, and catch up with friends and family around the world in different timezones and social media.

Writing and working on my own projects is important to me, as is reading and I feel unhappy if I haven’t done at least one of the two every few days.

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

We’ve always had a degree of flexibility at Hassell, and my role particularly has allowed for that.

We transitioned to remote working in our Asia studios in early February when Covid first hit here, but have also now transitioned back to studio working in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with flexibility as needed.

I think this period has demonstrated to many organisations across Asia, which is a more traditional area in terms of workplace practices and ‘needing’ to be in the office’ that there’s another way of doing things. I think people will be asking for more flexibility now that more trust has been built.

Hong Kong was never in full lockdown, so even during the three months of working from home we could venture out, and I loved spending more time in my own neighbhourhood and connecting with local places more, meeting more of my neighbours and developing our little community.

I always used to be so sad that my neighbourhood had this ‘secret life’ that it would live while I was at work in the studio, and now that I’ve had a lot more time in the hood, I really want to keep that connection going – so I’m keen to keep working from home when it works for both me and Hassell.

At the same time, coming back to a full studio working environment was really exciting, seeing colleagues I hadn’t seen in months – I definitely felt I was bringing a different energy into my work.

So, I think what will remain is that it’s about choosing what suits you best and works for the business best at certain times or on different days. And the reality is, new waves of Covid will mean we’re potentially locking down again at a moment’s notice.

We know that nothing beats face to face interaction, and I’ve felt this especially over the past years not physically being in the same location as the rest of my team. It means we’ve had to work out ways to remain connected, so I feel like we were a little ahead anyway.

Business travel will remain impacted by Covid for a long time (and rightly so!), so we’re all going to have to be better at developing those ‘soft’ parts of our relationships while we’re not together.

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

For me, a balanced life is a fulfilled life that integrates all the things that are important to me. The make up of this changes at different times.

Working in the creative industries which are based on ideation and deadlines, we don’t see it so much as a job as a way of life, with ‘sprints’ and periods when you have to be pulling together and going all in. This really suits me, as long as you know there is a slower period afterwards.

I know I’m in balance when I have a sense of fulfilment through my day work, and time and energy for other creative pursuits afterwards, combining to help me stay true to the goals and dreams I have in life.

Feeling connected to people and the place I’m in, wherever that is, is super important to me, as is looking after the body through continual exercise and the mind through art and culture and stimulating conversation.

Feeling connected to nature is also incredibly important to me. If I don’t see or experience it regularly, I’m on edge (luckily, accessibility to amazing nature is one of the best kept secrets of Hong Kong).

Plans and lists – they’re super low tech but I yearly, weekly and daily plans, with weekly ones including all the areas that are key (as above) and also some of the more boring life management things, broken down into priorities for the week.

Naturally, plans change, spill over or get scrapped, but I find it’s a great visual representation of all the areas that I want to make sure get attention, and if something is lacking or not being ticked off enough – it’s very obvious.

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

Over these last few years, I’ve focused on really carving out time each week for deep work, meaning complete immersion and no distractions.

It’s hard to do when there are competing priorities, but taking as much control of my time and focusing on the things that I want to do and that I think will produce the highest value – both in my job and on other projects – is really important.

Over the last six months, with so many things out of our control and changing on a daily basis, what’s been really useful for me is understanding which areas of life are completely in my control (e.g. exercise, nutrition, writing, working on projects that I’m driving) and focusing on those – because you know your energy will be well invested, even when other things are in such a state of flux.

Lastly, I’ve moved towards much more conscious consumption of what I eat, drink, read, watch, buy and where I go over this past year.

Hong Kong is such a fast paced city and there’s a constant sense of FOMO which can be super fun, but also means that you can get sucked into a vortex of mindless consumption.

I’m planning what I want to consume and where I want to go a lot more, and enjoying the experience more as a result of this – and this is only more amplified since Covid restrictions have lifted. Instead of running back out, I’m taking a deep breath and really taking time to look forward to and pick and choose that meal, cocktail, event, party or even book.

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

So many! Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek is a must read for leaders or anyone aspiring to a leadership position.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is brilliant and super practical for a world in which it’s increasingly difficult to cut out the distractions and immerse in whatever it is you’re doing.

And I recently read Together, by Dr Vivek Murthy, about the loneliness epidemic, particularly pertinent now with so many people having gone through long bouts of isolation, as well as the longer term implications of rapid urbanisation and the breakdown of traditional communities.

I listen to lots of podcasts by Monocle Radio and recently started listening to My First Million to help keep my entrepreneurial fire alive.

I’m a festival addict, and the Jaipur Literary Festival is one of the best I’ve ever been to, so their podcast Jaipur Bytes is a wonderful way of reliving the event featuring many literary forces.

I’ve had a long-standing interest in the F&B industry and listen to a few podcasts when I have time, including award-winning Eat Drink Asia produced by my friend Alkira Reinfrank.

During lockdown, Creative Mornings have been publishing a fantastic newsletter featuring online events around the world, in lieu of the physical ones that we can’t have. And a newsletter close to my heart, Camel Assembly, shares resources that help to channel the energy from protests and movements into everyday life and community change.

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

Calm is an amazing app, ranked one of the best in the world for meditation and better sleep. I’m a shallow breather and its exercises help me breathe better.

I’ve recently started using My Net Diary (a calorie calculator and nutrition assistant) and my friend recently introduced me to floatation therapy which I struggled with for the first 10 minutes (salt in eyes, not good) but was completely converted to after.

In terms of gadgets, I purchased a Philips Somneo Sleep and Wake-up Light which is brilliant. Hand sanitiser and face masks are the must-have products of 2020. Midst is a small batch hydra hand sanitiser that is so beautifully Hong Kong and is just about to hit shelves.

And there are many small series, designer face masks popping up which are winning my heart – we’re going to be wearing them for the foreseeable future, so why not make a statement with them, right? And finally – Post It notes! Literally my life savers.

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

The many millions of unsung heroes all around the world – who hustle daily to work, create and provide despite adversity and disadvantage. They’re the voices we all need to hear more of.

And of people in the public eye, Michelle Obama is someone I’ve read a lot about and listened to, so instead of an interview it would be a dream to have a coffee with her.

Closer to home, Lindsay Jang is our own Hong Kong queen of F&B, and someone I admire greatly for all she’s created in terms of business, community and family – I’d love to kick back and have a cocktail or three with her!

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

There’s a saying that goes, in 10 years’ time, you won’t be proud of the requests you responded to, but of the things you created. So think about what it is that in 10 years’ time you would want to look back on and be proud of having done, created, or become.

From my perspective, that’s where you’ll find what balance means to you. Humans are innately creative beings, we’re born to make things – whether that’s products, experiences, memories, food, services, other humans, or a better version of ourselves – so take control and think about which aspects of your life you want to have most power over. And have as much fun along the way.

Before you go…

If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.

Join our community and never miss a conversation about work, life & balance – subscribe to our newsletter.

This conversation is brought to you by Create Careers, recruitment specialists for executive search, digital marketing, PR, big data, IT, cyber security and more.

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.