Barbara Turley - The importance of a healthy work-life balance in the digital age
Barbara Turley is the founder and CEO of The Virtual Hub, providers of virtual assistants that help businesses streamline their processes and optimize their growth.
In this episode, we discuss the importance of a healthy work-life balance in the era of digital transformation and remote work. Barbara draws from her own experience of founding and growing The Virtual Hub while raising her kids, and shares her unique approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
We also talk about the distinction of business versus focus, the power of laziness, and the benefits that virtual assistants can bring. We finish by discussing the four-day work week and how to approach it if we want to implement it right.
Links & mentions:
“Well, we’re in an era where everything is always on. And I mean, what you find is – especially for people who love their work, it’s not so difficult for people who dislike what they’re doing – but when you love what you’re doing, you will find yourself working all the time. And while you might love what you’re doing, it’s just not good for you. You have to have a sort of a boundary, you’ve got to set personal boundaries for yourself as well.”
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation Podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.
Tim Butara: Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in. I’m joined today by Barbara Turley, founder and CEO of The Virtual Hub. They’re the providers of virtual assistants that can help your company scale, streamline your processes, etc. In today’s episode, we’ll be discussing the importance of having a healthy work-life balance in the age of digitalization. And we’ll focus both on leaders or managers on the one hand, and on the individual employees on the other. And we’ll also explore how a virtual assistant can help you improve or achieve a better work-life balance
Barbara, welcome to the show, excited to have you here. Do you want to add anything before we begin?
Barbara Turley: No, just to say, hi Tim. Thank you for having me. I’m very excited about this topic because I walk my own talk in terms of my own well-being in a digital landscape and that of the people that work with me and for me, etc. in the company. So, great conversation.
Tim Butara: Yup, we’re definitely in for a good one. And, I mean, we have to start with the obvious thing. And I need to ask you, why is it so important to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially in the current era we’re living in right now?
Barbara Turley: Well, we’re in an era where everything is always on. And I mean, what you find is – especially for people who love their work, it’s not so difficult for people who dislike what they’re doing – but when you love what you’re doing, you will find yourself working all the time. And while you might love what you’re doing, it’s just not good for you. You have to have a sort of a boundary, you’ve got to set personal boundaries for yourself as well.
Now for me personally, my situation was slightly different. I do love what I’m doing, but I also wanted to build my own company, so that I could also be a stay at home mom. Which might sound like a complete contradiction, how would you be an entrepreneur scaling a startup? But I didn’t want to be a small business, I didn’t want a hobby business, I didn’t want a side gig, but I also wanted to be very much a stay at home mum.
So, for me, I was having children while growing the company. I was also doing things like changing nappies, going to toddler ballet class, and I was doing all the things that all the other moms would be doing that were stay at home. So that was quite challenging for me, but I had to have very strong boundaries between work and life, and to carve out so that I could be successful in both areas. And that’s not easy to do, I can tell you that now. But with great systems, great processes, great delegation ability and great leadership, you can, you can achieve that, and I did achieve that. So far, anyway.
Tim Butara: It’s also, I know that for a lot of people, the main change was the change to working from home, working remotely. Which suddenly meant, instead of closing your laptop, going to your car, getting home from the office, it just meant that, now, it’s like 4 or 5 pm, I’m finished with work, but I’m still sitting in front of my computer. And if I have work to do, I might just do it, especially in the first phase of the lockdowns and everything when we weren’t so used to it, and it was just kind of like, okay, we need to–
Barbara Turley: You think, I may as well work. I may as well work, I’m not doing anything else. Or some people are like, I may as well work cause I can’t stand having to do nothing around the house or whatever, it was quite difficult. I think for me, the pandemic didn’t change anything, because I had already built a remote company at that point.
Now, for some employees, they were in an office at the time, so it was a huge change for them. But the beauty of the way that I built it at that point, I was able to share a lot, especially with my leadership team. When I saw them getting burnt out, I was like, are you aware that you don’t need to be answering? Why are you even online at 11 o’clock at night? And they were like, well, I’m here and I’m just home, my phone is beside me.
And I did force all of them to create strong boundaries around work, but I’ve had to instill it a few times since then, so that they don’t burn out. Because I need them to be at the top of their game. I do not need them to be available 24 hours a day. It’s a different thing.
Tim Butara: I love the way you put it, I had to force them to make strong boundaries.
Barbara Turley: I did.
Tim Butara: *laughing* I love it.
Barbara Turley: I actually had a conversation just the other day with one of my other business heads in a newer business team that we’ve brought in – he’s amazing, he sits in Sydney. And I just said to him, I can guarantee you that if you cut the amount of hours that you’re working and you change how you work, and I can show you how, you will be just as effective. And you will still achieve the result. But you’ll also get to go sailing on a Friday, which is your hobby. Which is your thing that you want to do, and you haven’t done that.
And actually, in his office he has these two bikes hanging on the wall behind him when I’m speaking to him on Zoom. And I said to him, when was the last time those bikes were taken off that wall? And he was like, uhhh, long time ago. And I said, well, I’m going to make it part of your role, actually, that you’re to use some of your work time to take that bike out and go biking.
Cause I need you to be creatively thinking, I need you to be thinking… I need strategy and ideas to come into your head, and I know they’re not going to come into your head when you’re staring at your screen trying to get your to-do list done. So that’s, my philosophy is very much around creativity and strategy aligning in that way.
Tim Butara: It’s called work-life balance, right? There has to be something on the other side of work, not just doing stuff that’s very similar, sitting in front of the computer, but dedicating time, investing time in yourself, in your hobbies, in your relationships, just stuff you love, basically.
Barbara Turley: And that will make you – seriously – that will make you better at your job. Because invariably, what will happen is that your best ideas, or how to solve problems, are not going to come when you’re thinking about it. They’re going to come when you’re doing something else. Particularly something like ice skiing a lot. So when I go skiing, I come up with great ideas.
And I need to live that way so that I can figure out how to solve problems that I’m trying to work on. And I know that my team that are in leadership roles, I need to push them, literally, to go out and do something that lights their soul on fire and they’re not thinking about work. It’s nothing to do with work. So that they can then come back and actually do great work. It’s a sort of funny thing. So my philosophy is very much around that.
Tim Butara: So what are some tips or best practices for individuals to improve their work-life balance?
Barbara Turley: Yes. Oh wow, this is like, how long is a piece of string? So, essentially, I think in a remote environment – and this goes for companies as well as individuals in their roles – obviously a sense of focus is very important. However, your focus and the focus your boss wants or the company needs at any one time can be very different things.
And what you find is, people are often doing a great job. They’re doing loads of work, probably too much work. They’re working all the time. But the boss or the leader or whoever you’re reporting to doesn’t seem to be happy. It’s not that they think you’re not doing a great job, but the problem is, there’s a misalignment between what you are doing and the results that they want.
And this is where things like objectives and key results, so, concepts around running objectives and key results correctly across an organization, can be very effective, because it’s aligning the top-down results that a company is needing to get in order to grow with what are people actually working on. And what you find is, sometimes people are doing great work, but it’s not really driving the result, or it’s driving something else that isn’t really a priority right now.
And I think what ends up happening here is people start pedalling, everyone trying to get alignment, when actually alignment is out. And misalignment is a huge problem in loads of companies. Expectations, or what are we working on, what are we striving for, etc. So that’s a very broad way of saying, you have to have alignment of what results are we going after, and what projects and what work am I doing that are going to lead to us getting to that result.
And then looking and going, have we overestimated how much we can do in a week, and then underestimated how much we can do in a year? So, it’s mapping and properly project mapping out things to go, how do we achieve things, as opposed to just spinning our wheels. So, I hope that makes sense, that’s more of a broader way of looking at it.
Tim Butara: Yeah, but what about things like, I don’t know, meditation for individuals? How do they prevent maybe the negative consequences of having a poor work-life balance? In that sphere.
Barbara Turley: Yes. So, I would love to tell you that I get up at 5 am and do yoga and meditate – I don’t. I don’t do any of those things. I don’t do any of those things, but what I am very good at – and actually, now that you’re asking me, I’m realizing – what I’m very good at naturally and what I have had to teach and mentor a lot of my team on what to do is this sense of focus and prioritization.
So, I actually just watched a TED talk earlier today and I just posted it on my LinkedIn cause it was so fascinating. And it was from an ER doctor who was talking about this thing of people saying, “I’m crazy busy.” And she said, I’m an ER doctor, and you will never hear me say that I am crazy busy – cause we aren’t. And she talked about in the ER room how you have to triage; it’s the art of prioritizing what’s urgent versus what would be nice to have and what’s important, etc.
And I think this idea of getting very focused and making sure that your focus is aligned with the results that your manager or the company is trying to achieve – so, just trying to tie it back to what I was saying before. So, focusing on what’s important, and then figuring out, how do we process up all the other things that we might be doing?
And hopefully we can learn how to delegate some stuff or automate some stuff, and figure out, what are we spending our time on? And being very strict with yourself, with aligning the time that you have with the focus that you have. And where is the urgency? Again, planning and mapping things out. Does that make sense? It’s a broad topic that I’m trying to draw into a way of being. And I’m quite good at that. I’m ruthless with my time, put it that way. Even myself.
Tim Butara: It only makes sense, right? What we’re talking about. So, if I understand it correctly, it’s, on the one hand, when you’re working, focus is the main thing. And when you’re not working, investing in the things you love is the main thing to kind of have this dual approach.
Barbara Turley: Yes. And being strict with yourself, and going, closing laptop. That’s closing the door on the office and saying, it’s over now. It is a sense of discipline, actually, forcing yourself to operate in this way. And the final point I would add there, actually: with this sense of clear focus that is aligned correctly with whoever you’re reporting to or the company as a whole, and then this sense of something will take as long as you give it.
Now, I’m a terrible person. When I have a deadline, I will meander and meander until just before the deadline. And then I will produce the best work ever, the closer to the deadline it is, because that’s my personality. But I do find, when I crunch the time I have to do something and I get relentlessly focused and I just shut the door and that’s it, this hour is for this thing and I just get it done – I produce better work. Now, that mightn’t work for everyone, that works for me. But you’ve got to find the flow that works for you, I think. And just be relentless with your strict discipline with yourself around it.
Cause you do actually have control over it, I think that’s the point I’m trying to make. And most people, they’re not keeping control and they’re not realizing that all of this is actually in your own control. Not in your boss’s control or the company’s control, it’s within your control, if you think about it this way.
Tim Butara: And tying back to what you just said earlier, it’s better to have more free time and then just, as you said, crunch everything down and do everything hyper efficiently in a short period of time. Rather than just being busy all the time, and the result will be the same, or maybe even worse, because you would be less dedicated and work on it in a less focused way, so, it makes perfect sense. And it’s kind of like this philosophy of laziness, right?
Barbara Turley: Yes! I‘ve said on LinkedIn before, maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t like things taking too long. I’m impatient and lazy. And those are probably good traits to have in some ways, cause I’m relentlessly focused, but lazy and impatient at the same time, so, you know.
Tim Butara: I mean, leave it to a lazy person to find the most efficient way of doing something that will save them the biggest amount of time, right?
Barbara Turley: Yes. You nailed it. I realized, yeah, I’m lazy, that’s exactly right.
Tim Butara: It’s a superpower.
Barbara Turley: Yeah, I’m going to comment on LinkedIn, that’s my new one. Laziness is my superpower. Yes. Super good. Now when you were talking about that, a thought came into my head. If you are a business owner – so, any business owners listening – cause I was thinking. Sometimes, if you are working for a business and you’re listening right now, you’re thinking, well, that’s all great, except I’m so overloaded with work that I just can’t catch up.
Now, there is a stage at which a company owner or business owner or whoever’s architecting this thing needs to hear that and needs to look at things holistically. This is also something I discovered accidentally I was quite good at. Looking across your platform and tech stack, your processes, your communication flow, and then what the workflows that your people are working on, the time they have and what they’re spending it on.
And this gets to be a bit my philosophy around VAs. If you look at your people, one of the last areas that needs to be optimized is actually the time people have and what we’re spending on salaries and payrolls and all of these things, and making sure that that time is being used for the right things, and that the support functions and process-driven stuff, or trainable stuff that could be delegated, an offshore time is a great strategy to have to try to free up the bottom layer of time of your key people, such that they can do work that moves the needle and that can get them out of the weeds, right.
But that has to happen on the leadership level, and not necessarily on the individual level. The individual can give the feedback, but it’s the leaders of a company that need to redesign the architecture and the structure and the time allocation, so that we’re optimizing for those things.
Tim Butara: Yeah, this is just what I was going to ask you next. So, what are maybe some best practices– or maybe, not just best practices, but I’m wondering about do’s as well as don’ts for business leaders, managers, and how they can help the employees. And especially, I want to take a particular look at what not to do, you know, what they should avoid doing if they want their teams to have a good work-life balance.
Barbara Turley: Okay, so, this is a bit of a tedious job, people are going to hate me for saying this. But invariably, and studies have been done on this, knowledge workers – which is pretty much all of us working on the internet these days, or on a computer – knowledge workers, there’s been loads of studies done to show that anywhere from 20 to 50% of a knowledge worker’s day is spent doing routine, process-driven, trainable… You might think, people will say to you, oh, nobody else can do that, only me. I’m like, yeah, but you’re doing the same thing every day.
And this is the laziness in me. You’re doing the same thing every day, every week, every month, whatever it is; then I would hazard that can be processed up, trained and delegated. But of course nobody wants to hire assistants, because– here’s what happens in the West, anyway. You’re going to hire an intern, but the intern has career aspirations to grow into the sales person, or into the next whatever. And they’re willing to do the assistant role for a whole, but they’re quite expensive to get on board even initially, and then they have career development plans that you have to deliver on to keep them and all that sort of thing.
Now, that’s not to say that people in offshore places like the Philippines don’t have those aspirations, of course they do. Very smart, capable people. However, when you have an offshore team strategy, often these people are happy to develop within those roles, or laterally around the support roles.
That’s what we’re doing at The Virtual Hub, we’re developing these assistant type people. And we’ve made it really cost effective to examine any knowledge worker’s role and go, well, imagine if we had three of them and we took 20 to 30% off the bottom layer of what they’re doing every day. What have you actually done?
You’ve actually cloned one of them. So you’ve given yourself a free clone of the three of those people by having an offshore team member. You created a great career offshore for somebody and you brought another team member into your company, while creating a free average person of the three people you just freed their time up.
So this is what I’m talking about, the optimization of people’s time is a really important concept that I don’t think is talked about enough. People often think, oh, what roles could be offshore? And I go, rather than looking at roles, why don’t we look at the composition of what people are doing and make sure that everyone’s time is being used in the most optimized way? If that makes sense.
Tim Butara: Yeah, that’s very interesting, the balance and the average of roles. And also, it’s leading perfectly into the next thing that I wanted to ask you about. We already started talking about how the problem with assistants and their career aspirations; and I’m guessing that virtual assistants wouldn’t have these kinds of career aspirations.
Barbara Turley: Oh no, they do, of course they do. And this is natural. At the end of the day, I always say, we’re not selling widgets; we’re selling people. And people walk and talk and change their mind. So, they have these ideas and aspirations attached. So, with us at The Virtual Hub, what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to, when somebody wants to develop within a role, if you get the offshore team strategy right and your onshore people or your key people, whoever they are, are using the time we’ve just freed up to do work that moves the needle, instead of getting bogged down in the weeds of the busy work.
Invariably, your company is going to grow, or it should – I mean, that’s the whole idea, you want to use their time to grow the company, and then anything that’s in the support role… And what you find is, you may find that the offshore assistant actually does have a chance to step up. Within the offshore role, there could be new assistants coming in.
We’ve had some of our VAs that developed up into team leaders, because a client grew so much that all of a sudden they had ten VAs. And who’s going to train the new ones? And it was an opportunity to step up for the other ones, or to take on more responsibility within your business that could still be done offshore.
So, you can still develop some of these people. And once they want to develop outside the role, well, we have a career path, so sometimes we can move people around. So, we provide that so that we retain them within The Virtual Hub. So, it’s not that people don’t want to develop. But they can develop within that role and that area with you.
Tim Butara: Ok, yeah, that makes sense. Well, I just have one last thing that I really want to discuss with you today, Barbara. But it’s kind of a big one, we already kind of talked about it. And I’m wondering, what are your thoughts on the four-day work week? And before you give your answer, I just want to share an example of a friend of mine who runs a marketing agency. And they recently implemented a new policy where, if all of the work in a given week is done by Thursday, they can take Friday off.
Which, you know, on the surface, it sounds amazing. But he said that one thing that they noticed when they implemented that was that everybody was pushing themselves really hard Monday through Thursday, just so they could have this sweet prospect of having the last workday of the week off. And I’m guessing that this kind of defeats the purpose of the four-day work week, then.
Barbara Turley: Yes. There’s so much to unpack there, but I’m going to put it into two buckets. So, bucket one is that the four-day work week concept is actually supposed to be reducing the hours worked in a week. You’re supposed to say, we’re going to do four days a week, and go from 40 hours to 32 hours for the wellbeing of our employees.
Now, from a company perspective, I get it. Maybe big companies can do that, but that’s challenging. The idea wasn’t supposed to be that we then drive harder on the four days to get everything done and work harder and push the 40 hours into those days. But, I mean, if everyone agrees to it. So that’s bucket one.
Bucket two is, I don’t like when we develop policies and then roll them out, and maybe it doesn’t work for everyone. So, for example. If that was me, and I’m a parent, and I like to drop my children to school and pick them up, that’s sort of a personal thing for me. I probably wouldn’t like to be forced to drive harder on Monday through Thursday to have Friday off. I actually might like to continue my five days. But if everyone else on the team is pushing for the day off on the Friday… You know what I mean? It mightn’t work for everyone. So, I just don’t know about these policies being rolled out that are kind of good for everyone.
Now, you could say it in the opposite direction and go, currently we have a global policy that everyone has to work five days a week. So, that doesn’t work for everyone either. So, there is this debate that can happen. I think at the moment, we’re in this situation where, after Covid, we all jumped to the remote world and to hybrid working and all these new policies. And now there’s a bit of a crevice. And we all need to jump to the new world. And AI is coming, and there’s so many new things all over here, all these new shiny things.
But to jump over the crevice is difficult. And it requires not just a change of thinking and policy around people. I actually think it requires a change of the way we work, the way companies are structured and built. Now, that’s a whole huge topic that we could open up. But it’s coming back to the point I made in the beginning that, I do think one of the ways to achieve this is to have way stronger alignment from the top-down results we’re trying to achieve to the work actually getting done. And then mapping out what time do we have and what’s realistic.
And then the final piece is, you could move to a four-day week. I’m selling my own book here, but the point I just made before, if you actually looked at everyone’s role and tried to free them up a bit, and actually brought in an offshore team strategy, you could get a little bit of them doing– all the work getting done in four days, and maybe having enough time even in those four days to do more work that moves the needle, to drive the company more.
And something like that, reorganizing the chess pieces and thinking about the holistic thing, bringing in more streamlined use of platforms like Asana, for example. I believe in having a central company platform like an Asana and other things feeding into it. And I see that as kind of the place everyone comes to do work, report on work, collaborate on work, proper processing. And then the use of offshore teams, delegation and AI, as it’s coming now, so that we can be more efficient. And I think then, we can get to a four-day week more effectively. I just think there’s more to it than a policy.
Tim Butara: Yeah, there’s more to it than a policy. I love the way you put it. And this conversation about the four-day work week, it’s not old, it’s very recent. And we’re still in this transition period, still in this fledgling period where best practices are still being established. Workflows and work is still changing. We’re kind of in the future of work, to use the buzzword, but we’re not solidly in it yet.
Barbara Turley: No, we’ve a long way to go. It’s like an S-curve, you know, we’ve kind of reached the top of an S-curve and now we have to jump to the next one to get productivity. It’s a bit like the hybrid work conversation as well. Everyone’s arguing online whether the hybrid office work model works. And I’m like, I don’t think that’s the question to be asking. I think it’s, how are we working now. And the way we work and how we work and the results we’re trying to achieve and all these sorts of things are the bigger question.
Like, some people like going to an office. You know what I mean? So I think companies possibly have to offer hybrid because– my brother, for example, actually quite likes going to the office. He likes getting out of the house and doing that. Other people don’t. So, rather than making everyone come in on a Tuesday and Thursday, maybe it’s around saying, people can work the way that they want. And the way we work, doesn’t matter where they are. The structure needs to change completely.
Tim Butara: Yeah, we’re moving from work being something that’s very strict and rigid to something that’s more open, more flexible. And we have to pass that crevice that you spoke about earlier.
Barbara Turley: Yes. And that’s why I really strongly believe that at the moment, a lot of the conversation is around what employees want. But is it good for the organization and for business? Is it good for business? Well, in some ways it is, but not if the way we do business doesn’t change as well.
And the structure of how we do things, I think, has to change. So that we are more aligned around what are we trying to achieve, what are the results we want, what are the projects that are driving those results and who’s doing that work. And is that work optimized and being done– is the time being used in the right way. And all of those things together, I think, the place of work, the days of work become sort of irrelevant in that way.
Tim Butara: I love that point, I definitely agree with you. And I think that it’s a very strong note to finish this awesome conversation on, Barbara. Just before we wrap it up, if listeners would like to reach out or maybe learn more about you, learn more about your company, where can they do that?
Barbara Turley: Sure. So, I’m starting to talk a lot more on LinkedIn about this, and I would love the support over on my LinkedIn channel where I’m really expressing some of these philosophies and ideas over there. Just look me up, Barbara Turley, on LinkedIn. And if you want to chat about virtual assistants, or have a chat with us about how we can help you to reoptimize the people part of your business – and we do platforms and processes now too – you can head to thevirtualhub.com and you can book a call with our team over there, and you can also reach out to me on LinkedIn.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Barbara, thanks again. As I said, this has been fantastic, thanks for joining us today, and I hope you have a great day.
Barbara Turley: Thanks for having me.
Tim Butara: Well, to our listeners, that’s all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.
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