People and Places

Work-life balance: Two views

Dawn & Shawn Kadlec

“I do what needs to get done, whenever it needs to get done,” says Dawn Kadlec, vice-president of operations at marketing agency McMillan. She shudders at the idea of closing an unfinished project at 5 p.m.; just the suggestion seems to bring on a touch of anxiety. Her work ethic doesn’t allow her to “turn off” when the conventional workday ends.
Dawn and her husband, Shawn Kadlec, have carved out a unique life for themselves in Brockville based on their values — and compromise.

Dawn Kadlec in her home office. Photo: Marc Fowler
Dawn Kadlec in her home office. Photo: Marc Fowler

When they first met, Dawn was living in a ByWard Market condo and walking to work; Shawn was in the military, travelling between postings abroad and his base in Kingston. First came love, then came marriage — but neither wanted to pull up stakes completely. They settled on Brockville, the halfway point, buying a large detached house with a big backyard. They quickly fell into the DIY routine, creating a comfortable and comforting oasis. Shawn left his job with the military and started his own contracting business.

While many balk at the idea of commuting to Ottawa from Brockville — that’s roughly three hours every day — Dawn doesn’t miss her old life.

“It’s a good drive, an easy drive,” she says. “I use the time to have absolute silence, or I listen to podcasts to be effective with that time. And I refuse to take the Queensway. It’s beautiful to drive along the river. It’s such a better, more peaceful way to start the day. It’s like a forced chill-out.”

Kadlec's have created an almost spa-like atmosphere. Photo: Marc Fowler
Kadlec’s have created an almost spa-like atmosphere. Photo: Marc Fowler

Indeed, a calming environment is key to Dawn’s well-being. At McMillan, where she has worked for 12 years, her office is an oasis of serenity, the aroma of lavender inviting colleagues to drop by. Likewise, her home exudes a Zen ambience, and that extends to the backyard, where a hot tub, sauna, and showers create an outdoor-spa atmosphere.

Kadlec's backyard sauna. Photo: Marc Fowler
Kadlec’s backyard sauna. Photo: Marc Fowler

Shawn’s work also involves a lot of driving. He might not be flying to the Persian Gulf, but bouncing between places around southeastern Ontario can be mind-numbing. He mixes things up by stopping in at general stores along the way.

“Even if I don’t need anything,” says Shawn, “I try to appreciate what we have around us.” Boating in the Thousand Islands has become a passion and serves as another “forced chill-out” for the couple. Shawn adds that home renovation projects are another way for them to bond.

Shawn & Dawn Kadlec. Photo: Marc Fowler
Shawn & Dawn Kadlec. Photo: Marc Fowler

Their success is, in part, due to the degree of control they have over their lives: their schedule, their environment, their commutes.

Also critical to their life are Dawn’s work-from-home Fridays, which she uses for administrative tasks that don’t require face-to-face interaction. She considers McMillan quite progressive in its offerings of regular yoga and meditation sessions and unlimited access to counselling. “We recognize that this industry can be intense,” says Dawn of the new mindfulness initiatives.

Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon

On the other side of town in a basement office that is quickly becoming cramped, Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon watches from his glassed-in office as his staff browse Facebook. “If you walk around, it looks like everyone is slacking off,” jokes Nabigon. “But that’s kind of what we do.”

Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon. Courtesy of Shared
Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon. Courtesy of Shared

Part of the growing digital-content industry, Shared will soon take over the remaining floors of its Carling Avenue building. The company makes “snackable,” often viral articles and videos about everything from how to make a hot dog look like an octopus to heartwarming stories of puppy adoptions. With over 30 million Facebook fans, Nabigon says, “a lot of people may not immediately know who we are or that we are in Ottawa, but chances are, our content has scrolled across their Facebook feed.”

Despite the constant pressure to come up with new ideas, Nabigon insists that it’s “family first” at Shared. In fact, by 4 p.m. the 34-year-old is probably changing a diaper or doing laundry or one of the other mundane yet sublime tasks that are part of being a new dad (which is also why he starts his workday before 7 a.m.). He juggles three naps for his infant daughter with about three interviews a day for his bustling company. As CEO of a company that literally visits the living rooms of Facebook users every day, he’s getting some real-life lessons in mixing personal and private.

Shared's office. Courtesy of Shared
Shared’s office. Courtesy of Shared

“My fiancée doesn’t get to go and have a nap if she feels sick or tired,” says Nabigon, who says he feels lucky that the founder, James Walker (who still works in the Carling office), always emphasized the importance of family. “For us, it’s very important that people have that work-life balance — that they don’t feel they need to work after hours. But we hope that there is enough passion about what they do that when they do work outside of work, they don’t feel like it’s work.”
Because so much of their work is through Facebook, Shared employees belong to a private Facebook page that allows them to brainstorm. When staff members see something that gets them excited, they can easily share the page with a comment like “Let’s try this.”

“Inadvertently we are kind of playing in their personal time,” says Nabigon of this digital collaboration. “But it’s not mandatory. It’s voluntary, and it’s pretty low-key. And it’s usually about something they think is fun.”

Shared employees are encouraged to bring their pets to work. Courtesy of Shared
Shared employees are encouraged to bring their pets to work. Courtesy of Shared

While this represents the blurring of boundaries — work tasks creeping into home life — it seems to work both ways at Shared. For example, staff are encouraged to bring pets to the office (“so they get to bring a little bit of what’s important to them to work”). Nabigon says this is especially important because, at base, their work is inspired by life.

It all sounds very cozy, but everyone has heard nightmare stories about growing pains when companies experience the kind of expansion Shared is seeing (in the first four months of 2017, they grew from 30 to 50 staff and will near 100 by the end of the year). Can Nabigon and his team keep people happy while continuing to keep up in the fast-paced digital-content industry?

“I think you can usually get a temperature of how people are feeling,” says Nabigon. “If you are in tune with your team members, someone will say something. We encourage people to talk with us, and we make changes.”

Walking around the Shared office, it almost looks like a house — there’s a studio living room for videos and a kitchen where treats are served, after photo shoots. Indeed, these days, offices are designed with stunning kitchens that aim to help staff mingle and decompress, open-concept gathering spaces not unlike a residential space. But does replicating a home atmosphere represent a blurring of the lines between home and work?

Shared office’s full test kitchen for shooting video and photography. When the treats are ready to be consumed, staff are notified by email and quickly flock to the bright cafeteria-style kitchen. Courtesy of Shared

Carleton professor Linda Duxbury is adamant that boundaries are key to work-life balance and well-being in general. [Related: Searching for work/life balance in a hyper-connected world]

“When you blur those boundaries, you end up feeling guilty and stressed because you know you’re doing something you didn’t intend to,” says the international expert at the Sprott School of Business, adding, “In fact, you end up not doing a good job in either role.”

In the end, it’s up to the individual to create boundaries. At Impact Hub, a co-working space downtown, members can stash their laptops in a secure locker if they are not keen on taking their work home. And Nabigon insists that when he’s not in the office, his phone is muted completely — though he did receive an Apple Watch for Father’s Day.

Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon sharing office space with man's best friend. Courtesy of Shared
Shared CEO Jordan Nabigon sharing office space with man’s best friend. Courtesy of Shared