Balder Tol is the General Manager of Australia and New Zealand at WeWork, a coworking company providing flexible workspaces and community.
1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m General Manager of Australia & New Zealand at WeWork. WeWork provides member companies of all sizes with flexible workspace, a collaborative culture and a global community.
Prior to launching WeWork in Australia in 2016, I was the General Manager for Tank Stream Labs, a tech startup co-working space, and before that, Airbnb Australia’s first employee, helping to establish a strong Airbnb presence in key cities in Oceania.
2. What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent work day?
Every day is different and I’m truly energised by working in a fast-paced, customer-focused organisation. Growing up I have always been passionate about customer success and genuine hospitality.
Our teams across Australia are laser-focused on delivering the best possible member experience. Day to day, this involves chatting with members to understand their business needs, communicating with stakeholders around the world and liaising with our Community team to ensure the operations of our locations are always running smoothly.
Most days, my morning starts with a surf, following an early morning wake up call from my two little ones. In the office, I run through various business dashboards to understand any potential issues that need urgent attention.
Following that I’ll organise my email inbox and note down the priorities that I’d like to complete for the day. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I care deeply about the success of our members and the wellbeing of our people so my day revolves around ensuring everyone is aligned, feels motivated and deeply supported.
3. Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Flexibility is at the core of our business model: flexibility of time and flexibility of space. Founded in 2010 with a vision to reinvent the way people work and transform the way individuals and teams relate to the workplace, WeWork offers the benefit of a collaborative culture and the power of a worldwide community.
With locations in 828 locations across 38 countries around the world, our flexible, month-to-month memberships mean that companies can scale up and down as their business demands change. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy working from different WeWork locations across Sydney, around Australia and beyond.
For me, flexibility is also about choice, especially as technology enables us to work from almost anywhere. Different work settings allow people the autonomy to choose where they can do their best work.
After a few weeks working from home due to COVID-19, we’re already finding that people are keen to get back to the bricks and mortar office — they miss the real-life interaction, greater productivity and collaboration that comes from being in a physical space with their colleagues and network. Personally, I’m delighted to be back in the office and feel the positive energy from my colleagues and our members.
We recently released our future of the workplace plan, spanning professional distancing, cleanliness and behavioural signage, to help our members transition back to the office with confidence.
Our primary focus is anticipating what people will want out of their office space in the future and adjusting our product to fit our members’ needs. Right now, that’s an environment that prioritises personal space and focuses on de-densifying spaces that are traditionally high-traffic and communal, such as common areas and lounges.
4. What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
For many of us, the divide that once existed between our work and home life has almost completely disappeared, reluctant as we are to switch off in an increasingly digitised world. But it’s not just about being able to draw the line between your professional and personal life.
It’s also about working somewhere where personal fulfillment matters. If we can find purpose in what we do, then we can reset our attitude to the workplace entirely.
When I started at WeWork, I made a deliberate choice to give the role my everything — launching a new market, I was very excited to grow the Australian community. Over the years, I’ve learned that being an authentic leader and taking care of myself is essential to take care of my team.
Naturally, as we are a global organisation, late night calls can be part of the job but flexibility goes both ways and I treasure setting time aside to spend with my loved ones. As my family has grown, this has become increasingly important.
I strongly believe that when a company and its leader puts people first and is focused on the human experience, the bottom line results will follow.
5. In the past 12 months, have you started/stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Remaining connected is key to supporting our needs as people, and there is really no real substitute for the value of human interaction. While building community has always been important to me, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year, we had to pivot, quickly implementing a virtual events program Australia-wide.
Transitioning our daily events schedule online meant we could continue to provide our members with opportunities to stay connected, inspired and productive, even while many worked from home.
In the past few months, I’ve found that making the time to check-in with team members virtually and sticking to regularly scheduled 1:1s as part of a routine are two simple ways to maintain a sense of connection and belonging.
Humans are social beings, so the more we understand our needs as people — how we want to connect, how we want to be productive, how we want to collaborate — the more successful and fulfilled we can be as individuals, teams and organisations.
One new habit I’ve recently adopted and find especially impactful is carving out time for reflection. At the end of every week, I set aside time to go over conversations I’ve had with other people: whether it’s an employee, member or friend.
Something else I’d highly recommend is the practice of gratitude. There is so much in our lives to be grateful for and by acknowledging, communicating and recognising this, it can have a very positive impact on the brain and our outlook on life.
6. Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I’m an avid podcast listener — both as a form of inspiration and as an efficient way to consume new information. I have been really enjoying the Masters of Scale podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman. HBR IdeaCast, which features leaders in business and management, produces some really interesting episodes. Another standout is The Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy, both the book by Jeremy Rifkin and the VICE documentary.
7. Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Some of my favourites are WhatsApp, Slack, Looker, Tableau and the G-suite programmes which let me work with the team on shared documents in real time.
One of my most frequently used is the WeWork member app — beyond helping with daily tasks such as booking conference rooms or signing up for an event, the app is a super powerful tool in connecting members with one another, whether they are in the same building or across the world.
Being an avid traveller, I enjoy visually documenting my trips and editing clips into movies as a way to capture the memories so I won’t leave without my GoPro, Bose noise-cancelling headphones and a good camera.
8. If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I would love a follow up on the conversation between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates back in 2017 when Warren Buffett taught Gates about managing time by sharing his (nearly) blank calendar stating ‘’you control your time’’.
The importance of giving yourself time to think has stuck with me as I truly believe that being intentional about taking time away from your to-do list helps to set ambitious goals while having the space to be creative and innovative.
9. Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
As the world grapples with what the future of work will look like and asks whether physical distancing will become part of our new normal, I’m a big believer that collaboration and human interaction will be more important than ever. The office will evolve, but our innate need for connection will remain, and as humans, we’ll keep seeking new ways to interact, learn and grow.
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