Balancing the Grind with Robyn Sefiani

This interview first appeared on Balance the Grind on 7 April 2021. 

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
After starting my career in corporate and public sector PR roles, I moved to a boutique public relations consultancy in North Sydney and never looked back. I loved the high energy and pace of agency life.

It was the stepping-stone to later joining the world’s largest public relations and communications firm in an amazing role as their co-president Asia Pacific. I was also a director on the company’s global Board.

When I turned down a request for family reasons, to move to Hong Kong and run that agency’s APAC region, it was time to go out on my own. I established a strategic communications agency, Sefiani, to help clients build and protect reputations and brands.

We launched just prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games with VISA as a foundation client and major sponsor of the Games. What an incredible year that was! I had to quickly find office space and hire a team of seven to manage the workload.

Now, 21 years on, Sefiani is one of Australia’s leading strategic communications agencies with a portfolio of some of the world’s top companies and brands, and a high performing team that inspires me every day!

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
My day begins and ends with exercise as I’ve always believed a healthy body and healthy mind go together. On days I’m in the office, I have a brisk half hour walk each end of my ferry commute across Sydney Harbour and that’s my creative and strategic thinking time.

When you run your own business you never really stop thinking about what you can do better or differently for your clients and your people. But it’s a privilege, not a chore!

Then it’s a busy day filled with meetings or calls with clients and colleagues and conversations with global affiliates or prospective clients who are looking to engage Sefiani as their communications advisor or agency.

I also work closely with our leadership team on agency operations, business development and ideas for professional development of our people. It’s important to me that we are providing a working environment where our people can flourish.

An important aspect of my work is providing issues and crisis management counsel to clients, when they or their companies are facing high profile challenges. This can fall at any time of the day, evening or weekend. Two of my senior colleagues are also reputation management specialists and we share the load on this work which is highly valued by clients.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
During Covid we decided as a team to work 2-3 days a week in our Sydney CBD office for team collaboration, brainstorms for client campaigns and on-the-job mentoring with the balance of the week working at home.

Because all our data is in the cloud and we’re set up with laptops and mobile devices it was an easy transition. It works a treat and flexibility will likely remain. We chat on Slack channels through the day and feel closely connected to each other.

Most of our client meetings are still on Zoom or Teams but in-person meetings in our office or theirs are slowly returning.

I’m lucky to live by the beach and love days working from home. I rise at 6am, think about my intent for the day (thanks Arianna Huffington for that tip) before checking my iphone for the news and emails, and head out for a power walk and coffee before returning to my laptop.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I’ve come a long way on the work-life balance journey. Early in my career when I was an agency employee and keen to get ahead I worked ridiculous hours, not leaving the office until 9pm most nights. My then-boss was also working those hours and I felt it was expected.

Having a child changed my perspective completely as did starting my own agency. I like to think I lead by example on work-life balance, leaving the office at 5.30 or 6pm and I don’t send emails to colleagues after 6pm or on weekends unless absolutely necessary.

It’s all about working smarter not harder, respecting each other’s personal time and ensuring space for ourselves, relationships, friends, family, exercise, the arts, leisure and fun.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
With the time saved from commuting regularly to the office I’ve been able to increase my daily exercise and have added two Pilates classes a week which I really enjoy. Healthier eating habits have evolved too, as I’m not eating on the run or forgetting to eat lunch all together and making up for it in coffees.

I’ve also become more connected with my neighbours and local community while working from home, which has been a delightfully unexpected outcome of the past year.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I’m a news junkie and also a fan of Sean Aylmer’s weekday morning business and investor podcasts where he interviews business leaders from Australia and around the world. It’s intriguingly named “Fear and Greed” which I’ve discovered are the two opposing emotional states driving the unpredictability of the stock market. Sean is the former editorial director of Fairfax before it was acquired by Nine and is a member of Sefiani’s Senior Advisory Panel.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My iPhone is an integral part of my life and enables me to work anywhere. My laptop is essentially my home office and my favourite apps are the leading news sites and LinkedIn, essential for networking connections during Covid.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
The Premiers of NSW and Victoria – they have done an amazing job under huge pressure in the past year.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers
Find a profession or job that you love in a working culture that suits you – and go for it!