Catching Up With Leanne Paura, Head of Design, WFH Mom, & DJ, to See How She Finds Work-Life Balance

Sponsored by Thoughtworks

Leanne Paura. Photo courtesy of Thoughtworks.

Leanne Paura. Photo courtesy of Thoughtworks.

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June 25, 2024 at 9:5PM UTC

Leanne Paura’s first day at Thoughtworks Canada was also the first day of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Toronto — so, it’s safe to say that she got off to a disorienting start. Despite this, Paura, who is the Head of Design at Thoughtworks Canada, has spent the following three years learning how to excel at work-life balance as a remote and hybrid worker. 

On the work side of things, Paura leads a team of 16 experienced designers with skills ranging from UI/UX design to design research. Here, she’s been focused on the growth and development of her design team, supporting in-flight discovery and delivery projects, and scoping new projects with clients.

Meanwhile, outside of the office, Paura’s a mother and a DJ. “My two boys (who are eight-years-old and four-years-old) take up a lot of my non-working time,” she shares. “We love camping, swimming, and biking together.” Paura has also been DJ-ing electronic music (deep house, minimal techno) since the early 2000s. “I have found it to be an amazing creative outlet to this day,” she says. “I play shows approximately once or twice a month, and I absolutely love it.”

In the years since she joined the company, Paura has found that Thoughtworks is supportive of her whole self — helping her find balance and a community that connects her work and home lives. “Thoughtworks has been extremely generous with support for parents through leaves, extended benefits like parenting classes, as well as sharing tips, tricks, stories, and photos with each other in the #Parenting channel,” she says.

And this isn’t where the support ends either! “Last summer, I had the chance to play at a company-wide event, which was a lot of fun,” recalls Paura. “It’s great to share music with other employees in the #EDM-fanatics channel and chat about records with my Head of CXPD, Thoughtworks Canada, who is an avid collector.”

Leanne Paura and son. Photo courtesy of Thoughtworks.

For others who are looking to find balance in their work and personal life, particularly those who are working from home or in a hybrid position, Paura shares these two top tips:

  1. Enjoy the focus time when you’re not in meetings, and try to limit distractions to break times. Working online all day makes going down rabbit holes of news or industry articles very tempting.

  2. Tactics like the Pomodoro technique, scheduling blocks in your calendar for longer tasks, and using “Focus time” (no notifications) can help you get focused work done. I find I need to be disciplined about not spending too much time on messaging platforms and email between meetings, or time can really evaporate quickly.”

Curious to learn more about how Paura finds balance without burning out? What about her thoughts on how the workplace will continue to evolve in the future? To find answers, we caught up with Paura. Here’s what she had to say.

To start, what’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

“Creative leadership is more than finding a perfect form and much more than arriving at a perfect concept. It is about creating a space and culture for creativity to happen.” — Design leader Henrik Rydberg during the IxDA: Interaction 16 conference in Helsinki, Finland.

Finding myself in a leadership role, I've struggled at times with the idea of being a leader and no longer doing as much hands-on design. I think a lot of us feel anxious — torn between striving for design greatness and striving for leadership greatness. Henrik’s talk inspired me to think about what an ideal creative leader is, and how cultivating an environment where designers can grow is the most important thing we can do. One important aspect of this is safety. If designers don’t feel safe, they will stick to solutions they already know, and they won’t take chances or explore unconventional ideas.

Next, personally, how do you manage to avoid burnout while working in a hybrid or remote environment?

Sometimes, it can be tough to get up out of my chair during the day or to separate personal life from professional life when my desk is in my home. However, I find that taking small breaks throughout the day helpful to reset and focus. Sometimes, I use my lunch break to do errands or mow the lawn so that I can get moving! 

I try not to work long hours even though it can be tempting to return to the desk after the kids are in bed. The big change I still need to make is to integrate regular exercise into my schedule on the days that I don’t ride my bike into the office. I also enjoy going into the office around once per week, since I get a lot of energy from seeing and meeting with people in person when I can.

Can you share more about how Thoughtworks helps support you in maintaining balance and avoiding burnout?

Thoughtworks Canada has been really great about supporting work-life balance through our benefits program (which includes a free Headspace membership, discounted gym membership, excellent extended health plan, and “Wellbeing Afternoons” before long weekends).

Thoughtworks Canada also supports employees through our awesome culture. One of the big reasons that I joined the company was because I’d heard good things about the culture from friends and former colleagues. There are many ERGs (employee resource groups) to support micro-communities throughout the company; monthly Gather events, where employees get together in offices across Canada for catered food, chats, games, and shows; and our design team has bonded over activities like murder mystery (virtual), backyard hangs (IRL), design donuts (IRL and remote walk-and-talks), and a visit/tour of a local coffee roaster and cafe (IRL), just to name a few.

On top of all this, the company is really dedicated to learning and development. There are tons of opportunities to both teach and learn, in a formal or informal setting. I recently completed the Crucial Conversations training (based on the book by the same name) and got a ton out of it.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the future of work?

I’m looking forward to getting back to some in-person meetings and workshops as I find them more engaging than virtual-only versions.

I’m also excited about the opportunity to use generative AI to get tasks accomplished faster — whether creating concepts for storyboards or writing persona descriptions based on research insights. I am very interested to see how experience design will change once our interactions with computers are based more on natural language than traditional interaction patterns like menus and buttons.

Also, while there are less women in leadership roles even today, this trend has changed a lot throughout my career, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be learning from strong and inspiring women leaders at Thoughtworks. It’s a pleasure to be asked to contribute to a website focused on elevating women in their careers. Thanks for the great work you’re doing, Fairygodboss!

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