Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast


The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 75: Where we work influences what we create

Kate Dezarnaulds

Founder of WorkLife

July 11, 2023
With three small kids in tow Kate Dezarnaulds took the plunge and made the move to a ‘simpler life’ in regional NSW and has gone on to discover community and connection at the same time as building a successful co-working space business WorkLife that aims to create beautiful and efficient workspaces for clever, generous and creative professionals so that people are inspired to escape the grind of the city, better balance life and work in thriving regional towns.

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Mumbitious mention goes to Jess Scully


Produced by - Lucy Kippist

Edited by - Morgan Brown
‍Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
‍Guest - Kate Dezarnaulds

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Episode 75 Transcript

Lucy Kippist (02:41.519)

Have you ever dreamed about picking up your life and  moving outside of the city? Well, today’s guest Kate Dezarnaulds did exactly that. 10 years ago she took her young family, three children and an idea to create a triumvirate of co-working spaces in her corner of the NSW south coast , which as Kate will share in this episode didn’t exist before that time. Life has changed a lot for Kate and everyone sinc 10 years ago and some many more people have actually done the sea or tree change, myself included. So what does life look like after taking the leap into somewhere new? And how does where we work impact the way we work and how we create. Kate welcome to Mumbition. We are passionate about telling women's stories and we'd like to invite you to share yours.

Kate Dezarnaulds (03:12.725)

Oh, thank you so much, Lucy. I'm very excited to be here doing this. I'm Kate. I'm the founder of WorkLife, which is a network of regional co-working spaces. My story is that in back in 2017, I had done the big tree change to Berry on the South Coast with my three little kids, and I was driving backwards and forwards just a ridiculous number of times from Berry back to the city in my role as a fundraising consultant for festivals and events and not-for-profit organisations.

And I was just one of those people that was incredibly productive when I was in any sort of a shared space, but in my beautiful home office that my husband built for me, I was eternally distracted. And I just really thought that the problem that I was having on focusing and on getting stuff done and on kind of, you know, being the best version of my professional self, I really wasn't doing at home. And so I went scratching around for a few people facing similar challenges in our little town and decided to set sail on a co-working business and that was yeah that was seven years ago now and it's been a bumpy ride but like lots of people I feel like what I'm doing now is a is an unusual and kind of perfect answer to lots of different kind of detours along the way.

Lucy Kippist (04:35.598)

It's a terrific summary. And I was just thinking then you were kind of like, what's the word for a trend starter? Because you did the tree change thing well before COVID. 10 years ago was well before COVID before a lot of people have, you know, in the last few years have recently done it. And I know that it's something that our community speaks about when they make that jump into business themselves as well, whether they're moving because of that or whether they're there and then they start.

But I'm just wondering what was, what's kind of a helpful thing for someone who might be thinking about it in terms of what made it seem like a great idea for your family? What was it that kind of was the ultimate sort of green light for you?

Kate Dezarnaulds (05:21.273)

I had reached career and life implosion in Sydney. So for me it was a sort of, it was fleeing for what seemed like a simpler life in the country. I was living in Alexandria and I'd been working, doing all the funding for big festivals and events like Sydney Festival and TEDx Sydney and I'd just really burnt out the juggle with three tiny children and a little house being renovated in the inner city gotten me and so it was like it was a desperate run for the hills really. We had always kind of done the romantic imagining that life would be kind of better in the country and that we wanted our kids to grow up with lots of green space and close to the beaches and be able to have lots of animals and things like that but really when we were originally looking we were thinking about going a lot further away from the city but being able to kind of keep within a commutable distance so that you can go back and earn that city income when you need to was really key for us so a little village to our south of Sydney seemed like a kind of pragmatic baby step to what was intended to be a much bigger adventure but I don't think we're ever going any further now.

Carrie Kwan (06:39.75)

It's often that balance of doing things on your own terms as well, right? So perhaps that little bit of that push was, you know, unfortunately you had reached that capacity, but I think now hopefully looking at the shift outside of the Metro area and I'm also just thinking, how has that journey or that physical sort of difference shaped your relationship in particular with business risk? So have you created this business outside of the metro area and how do you now see that?

Kate Dezarnaulds (07:24.925)

Absolutely. I think setting sail on your own business is a moment that it either comes because you kind of spot a gap in the mark or it comes because you've bought somebody else's business or it becomes because you just have to be your own boss. And in my instance, working in a regional location, I really needed to be able to invent a job that was going to pay me as much money as I'd been earning in the city.

And I definitely spotted a gap in the market, the sort of co-working spaces and co-working communities that were really taking off in Sydney that I loved being a part of, just didn't exist in the regions yet. So it was a combination of necessity and kind of opportunism. And what being in a regional area kind of teaches you to do is to cobble together an income from a number of different sources. So you have to be flexible, you have to be agile, you have to be willing to take a punt.

And the reality is in regional and communities, particularly ones which have got lots of small businesses and lots of family businesses and lots of farming enterprises, you're surrounded by entrepreneurial types. I mean, there are no bigger punters in the world than farmers as far as I'm concerned. So the energy is infectious and the reality is that if you're trying to make stitch and income together, then you're gonna have to be a bit agile and you're gonna have to be a bit creative and you're gonna have to be a bit flexible. And that's been a white knuckle ride at various points, but it's been exciting. it really has.

Carrie Kwan (08:57.854)

The definition of an entrepreneur really isn't it? Dealing with the unknown and you know testing your resilience and trying new things and innovation absolutely in one basket. Now in addition to running WorkLife you've got I believe two teenage children.

Kate Dezarnaulds (09:17.473)

Three now actually, my last one made it over the hurdle. She's in year seven, so I've got three kids at Kayama High School. So a 15 year old, nearly 16 year old daughter, a 14 year old boy and a 13 year old girl. And yeah, I reckon I'm in the eye of the storm at the moment. Life is so much easier now that they are relatively self-sufficient. So yeah, I'm enjoying this moment. It suits me a lot better than tiny children. And I had a real fear of teenagers, but I'm really enjoying my kids and I'm loving seeing all of the kids that I've kind of, you know, they've grown up with in our little town. I'm loving seeing them all turn into adults and start serving you at the pizza shop and saying good day to you from behind the bar at the RSL and being the judge on the pony club field and all those sorts of things. Time marches on, it really does.

Carrie Kwan (10:13.082)

And so three kids, you hold several board positions in your broader local area and you contribute seriously interesting thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn. I'm wondering, can you share some of your productivity secrets or perhaps even you can call it prioritization secrets?

Kate Dezarnaulds (10:39.057)

Goodness. I used to have a philosophy in my 30s which was say yes to everything until you have to say no and it's a great way for getting it like it's a great policy for getting into things and it's also a very fast path to burnout. So now I'm working on an equal and opposite strategy which is called having an accountability partner for everything that I say yes to. So I have a very beloved old friend who has her own business in the town of Berry and if I say yes to anything I have to BCC her on the email and so that keeps me accountable for not just following my curiosity and getting involved endlessly in things. A few years ago we had a year living down in the snowy mountains and I kind of took that as a as a bit of a career break and an opportunity to resign from all of the boards and all the committees that I was on to just let the dust settle a little bit and to and to see what I really wanted to kind of mindfully and consciously add back onto the roster. So I have a few kind of passions and interests and I'm really good at kind of time blocking my time. I only allow myself to do sort of board work and committee work and things like that on Fridays, so I've always got Fridays to look forward to. So time blocking of my calendar and having a default diary has been a really big one for me. And then another productivity hack which I absolutely love is habit stacking. I do a lot of only letting myself do fun things after I've done the must do things. So for instance, I always have about zero kilometres till empty in my car, so I only ever let myself eat chocolate if I'm filling up my car with petrol in the afternoon rather than the morning and I only let myself write LinkedIn posts for example after I have already kind of planned my day. So yeah so I'll do a bit of planning my day with a cup of tea in bed in the morning and then I'll and then I'll kind of I don't know share something that I'm kind of curious or interested about but yeah keeping a keeping myself kind of focused on what other what other boring must do things of business at the same time as feeding the sort of creative interests.

And yeah, and when you're also, I think when you're sort of become a sort of helpful person in your local community, it can become really compulsive to be this and really to be this go to person. I love it. It really feeds me when people are like, I reckon Kate will know the answer to that. But I've had to get quite kind of clear around what I can do and when I can do it. So the last one, I do a lot of driving between our work-life locations these days. So I always try and direct anybody that I'm sort of being helpful towards to talk to me whilst I'm driving. So yeah, so I make that time in the car and that commute work really, really hard for me. Wow, this is quite a list now. And maybe the last thing that I do is I don’t let myself work after dinner or on the weekends anymore. I used to you know keeping myself balanced and sane does require that kind of you know that regular commitment to switching off so I'm not one of those small business people that you'll find on my laptop on the weekend. I really shut things down on Friday afternoon and I'm and I'm getting better about not thinking about them till Monday morning. They're always there, they're always waiting.

Carrie Kwan (14:22.622)

I hear so many amazing tips in that list and I'm glad you didn't stop. I just wanted to know though, when you BCC your accountability partner on any email that you say yes to, have you consulted that accountability partner before you say yes?

Kate Dezarnaulds (14:41.613)

No, I don't. It's just the act of knowing that she's going to be so grumpy with me. I mean, she's the sort of friend that will pick me up when I fall into pieces. And so... 

Again, it's just that it's that sort of it's that stacking thing. It's like putting the kind of positive and the negative thing so close to each other that it has its own feedback loop or its own sort of self correcting cycle. I know she's going to be the one that picks me up. I don't want her to have to pick me up too often. So by BCCing her, I've shamed myself already into only making wise choices.

Carrie Kwan (15:33.979)

I was just thinking that I sometimes do that because I think like you, you're very generous with wanting to be of service and wanting to help others and you've got an expertise that everyone values.

So it's often easy to say yes, but sometimes I think, like you said, you've only got a certain amount of hours in a day and you've got your boundaries that you've set that you want to not have to work on the weekends and be with your family when you want to. So you need to be quite strategic with how you use that time. And sometimes if I haven't actually ticked all the requirements of the accountability partner before saying yes, then it's actually part of the. You know, they will know, they won't be a yes. So, yeah.

Kate Dezarnaulds (16:25.065)

Yeah, and it's also about finding kind of, I don't like letting people down and I don't like saying no. So it's always about taking the sidestep rather than the hard no. I know a friend of mine has obviously had some really good, she was some really good coaching and so she has really practiced this like no is a complete sentence stuff. And whenever I get one of those like hard no’s from her I’m so outraged, something about it just really affronts me I know why she's doing it and I respect her for doing it but I'm like the answer can't just be no like it can't be so for me it's always like I can't have a coffee but I can talk to you while I'm driving from this time to this time or I can't come and open that event for you but I do know somebody that would be fabulous who would like it's always I always try to do the like no and or the or the oh I can't come and go to that kind of meeting but I can dial in or I'm at this WorkLife location every time from 9 to 11 and so you can chat to me then. 

Our spaces are full of lots of kind of you know curious and interesting people and I make sure I from 9 o'clock till 11 o'clock every day I don't try and do anything because my job here between those hours is chatting to people is soaking up the kind of you know the need for social connection and the need of other people to be able to you know share their wins or kind of you know debrief about the nightmare fight they had with their 11 year old on the way to primary school that morning.

it's like that's my job in the morning. So I just always try and funnel requests for kind of connection and collaboration and help into those time slots where it's a win-win for me. And it fills me up with energy, means I can buckle down and get stuff done at the end of the day. I'm an afternoon person, I'm not a morning person.

Lucy Kippist (18:11.686)

I was just going to ask you that about the balance of your day because that would really work if that's what you are, which you are. I just wanted to go back a bit on the piece you were just saying there about your role at WorkLife being in the mornings, being there to be people's sounding boards, a bit like that water cooler thing that we all used to talk about when we all used to work in the office all the time. It was making me think about how events are such a big part of what Worklife does, the workshops that you run.

I was lucky enough to go do one of your International Women's Day lunches a few months ago. And we know that events in real life are coming back more and more in force, which is fantastic. And being that was also a big part of your previous career really in events. What's one thing that you like to do that could be a tip for people in our community also looking to run an event? When people come in person, what's a way that you instantly make people feel comfortable?

Kate Dezarnaulds (19:12.413)

I always find a way in every event to allow people to kind of check in and to arrive and for every voice in the room to be heard. So that's my kind of first tip is that how can you acknowledge everybody that's arrived and to let them be seen so that they can settle once they're there. And it's a tip that I learnt from my old, I used to work at Sotheby's, the like art auction house in my 20s.

And the chairman there used to do this every time he'd sit down for a client lunch, he'd walk around behind everybody's chair and he would introduce people. And it would be like, you know, this is so and so the, you know, chairman of this bank and this is Barbara who grows the, you know, best gardenias in Bellevue Hill. Like it wouldn't matter what he would say, but everybody would feel so touched and so seen. And it was just, it was just a knack that I observed and which I always try to apply it's so easy to just dive into the agenda but taking a kind of taking a moment to let everybody arrive to let everybody be seen and acknowledged does let people yeah they're kind of you know their cortisol levels drop a bit and they relax into the fun part of events and that's what events are for it's for connecting and it's for having fun it's not for not it's not a broadcast medium.

Lucy Kippist (20:29.666)

Yeah, oh gosh, such a good point. Excellent point. Now, co-working spaces and so where you are based, you obviously as you said in a regional slash rural area, and you've got a few of them now as well, it's not just one. But when say I'm coming from Sydney and I've moved down to your co-working spaces and I'm looking for reasons as to why I would leave my home office and in a co-working space. What are some of the tips you'd give someone or what are some of the reasons you'd give someone like me to come in there if I was looking for balance? Because if I was moving I was looking for more work-life balance, why would I then come somewhere else from my home to work? What are some of the benefits?

Kate Dezarnaulds (21:19.989)

Look, we always put it down to its productivity, its community and its connection. And in the old days, people used to come into co-working spaces because their internet connection was crap. These days, everybody's really got working from home sorted as in we can do it. That doesn't mean we should do it and it doesn't mean that it's always good for us to do it. And so whenever I'm talking to people who have recently moved to a place, we end up being such a landing pad for people moving to new towns because if you’re not a school gate person for whatever your personality or your life circumstances it's quite hard to make new connections in regional areas where it feels like everyone's known each other for a long time. So yeah so WorkLife acts as a landing pad, it acts as a circuit breaker for people's kind of routines, their weekday routines, people are sort of mixing it up between a bit of work at home and a bit of work in a co-working space and that's a really that's a really new trend and then the other thing that we're seeing is that people are coming for their well-being, they're coming for their mental health, they're coming to kind of get their work mojo back. It's sort of like is my job broken, am I broken? It's like no you've just been socially isolated for too long and the screen thing's not the same as the real thing so yeah that's what we tell people to do. Just use and abuse us as a place to reset, to focus and to get inspired.

Carrie Kwan (22:49.186)

Kate, at Mums & Co, you've probably heard us talk about harmony as this triangle of ambition, which is your, you know, your goals and that might be related to your work. Your livelihood, which is how you go about making a living, maybe balancing caring responsibilities and well-being, which is your sense of happiness, and comfortableness and it might be your physical, mental, spiritual considerations. Could you describe the shape of a good life for you?

Kate Dezarnaulds (23:24.021)

The shape of a good life for me is the one where like saying yes to fun things is, you know, the first thing. So I honestly, I'm like, we're here for a good time, not a long time, and I am chasing joy. So, I've got to get enough joy out of my work for it to justify the number of hours away from my family every day. I've got to make sure that the time that I spend with my kids and with my family is, is having adventures and doing great things. I need to see plenty of my friends to be able to kind of, you know, satisfy my curiosity and kind of let loose a little bit and if all those things, whenever I feel like I'm really out of whack, it's when it's when I actually have like lost the fun things in the day and to have fun you have to be not stressed. As soon as you get stressed and stretched then fun feels really hard to prioritise. So yeah I've got a bit of a barometer of how much fun is happening every week and kind of choose joy and make sure there's enough time in green spaces and good sleep, like god good sleep if ever that falls off the wagon then things start kind of unraveling pretty quickly and I always find animals are just at the best tell of whether or not your energy that you're sending out into the world is kind of hostile or welcoming so yeah my horse will dump me on I kind of go for a ride without having reset and yeah, settled myself before I set off. Ha ha ha.

Carrie Kwan (25:02.956)

I just had like a visualization. But mine was like, okay, so if you're approaching your partner, it'd be like, go get on the horse first. And then I'll let you know if I want to have a chat with you. But anyway, so in the spirit of joy, in the spirit of...

Kate Dezarnaulds (25:18.573)

Totally, totally, totally.

Carrie Kwan (25:25.514)

Having fun, I'm sure you have a community of women around you who are the mumbitious. So those potentially blending, unapologetically blending motherhood and ambition that you would like to say hello to.

Kate Dezarnaulds (25:39.921)

Look, my spirit animal when it comes to mumbition is an incredible woman. Her name is Jess Scully and she was until recently the Deputy Lord Mayor in Sydney and she's an amazing author and she's a great thought leader and she was one of the curators at TEDx Sydney with me and she looked she just managed to design a life in a way that has allowed her kind of intellect to roam where it wants to, to say yes to kind of big scary opportunities that make no financial sense but will pay off in the long run. And she's just yeah I just I see the way that she is juggling she's about to have a second baby so I reckon she's my definition of mumbitious and I love watching her kind of poke the status quo because yeah we've still got it I don't know the word mum still sits really uneasily with me in my professional my conception of my professional self so to be able to not kind of hide the kids to be able to have the kids be part and parcel of this sort of story you tell your professional world as much as your personal one. I still think we've got a long way to go and when I see people like her, I'm really inspired.