Image Credit: Reach by Gulf News

It’s been a hard year for everyone. The pandemic has intensified the pressure to juggle it all in both personal and professional settings, especially for women – from household chores and children’s distance learning to work responsibilities and ambitions – that too with perfect ease. Faced with these increasing challenges, women have adjusted their way of thinking and approach to develop new habits, sometimes with the support of their organisation, as in the case of Henkel.

From setting boundaries and blocking time for specific tasks to accepting oneself and connecting with colleagues, six female executives at Henkel present their creative responses to strike work-life balance while ensuring business continuity in challenging times.

Amira Kamel, Senior HR Business Partner at IMEA

For Amira, it’s all about managing her calendar effectively to meet her goals. “Since we are all working from home – colleagues as well as family members – it is important to understand where everyone’s boundaries are and yet remain flexible within those boundaries. I block time where I know I cannot be available for work and likewise manage expectations with my family where I cannot, for instance, support with the children’s online learning.”

She also decided early on not to be distracted by email notifications. “Blocking time for email and turning off notifications keeps me focused when I schedule working time. I typically dedicate email time three times a day. Of course, I need to be flexible with that to a certain extent, especially on the days when we have back-to-back calls for extended periods. To avoid missing urgent emails requiring my immediate attention, my key stakeholders know they can reach me on MS Teams.”

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

She believes this flexibility has allowed her to devise creative solutions when managing work beyond different time zones. “Having a global job meant my working hours could extend from Shanghai to California. I used the fact that I could make a very early start with China to compensate for the time I needed to block for my five-year-old daughter’s Zoom calls. The same worked for later meetings with the US allowing me to spend quality time with my family in the morning where possible. However, I try my best not to combine early days and late evenings in the same day to avoid exhaustion.”

Lisa Tohme, Regional Head of Trade Marketing and Key Accounts, Laundry and Home Care

During the pandemic, Lisa has adopted new habits that help her stay motivated and focused.

“Starting my day with an early morning walk around my house clears my head and gives me energy for the rest of the day, on top of getting my daily dose of vitamin D,” explains Lisa.

It was hard for her to start the workday straightaway with checking emails and Teams meetings without any form of exchange or engagement. “Back in the office, we used to have our daily morning briefings to catch up on latest developments. Now, in home office, I have found it virtually.”

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

In an effort to maintain positivity, she consciously stays away from closely following the pandemic news.

“I prefer listening to a podcast or reading about news from around the world over a cup of coffee. I concentrate on multiple sources such as business magazines as well as others covering inspirational women with topics like advancing women at work, tips on working from home and the effect of the pandemic on different industries. I also like lifestyle stories: how to have a daily sport/healthy routine; how to support children go through this pandemic; healthy snacks to cook for the family; etc. Besides that, I stick to a sport routine as a physical and mental relief after sitting long hours behind the screen.”

Yasmine Hagras, Regional NPI Manager, Supply Chain IMEA

“Having my me time with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning helps me clear my mind from both work and kids,” says Yasmine. “Every morning and particularly at the beginning of the week I keep reminding myself that this is a new start, so whatever happened before belongs to the past. This way I am more optimistic when I start and have the chance to focus on new upcoming opportunities with a fresh mind. I’m always reminding myself in case of any challenge that it is nothing personal, it’s just work so that I can move forward and be able to solve them without feeling emotionally impacted.”

One other thing that has worked wonders for her is keeping her to-do list always in front of her. “When I feel overwhelmed with added responsibilities, I look at it and focus on what has priority. To tick one of my tasks from the list once done makes me feel more structured and that I am progressing.”

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

While working from home, professional and personal life have a way of overlapping each other. Yasmine uses exercise to mark the end of one and the beginning of the other. “At the end of each day, I schedule my regular exercise to clear my mind and get a break before starting to fully engage with my children. This makes it much easier to separate work from private life.”

Julia Al Jenabi, Manager Marketing and Strategy, Packaging and Consumer Goods

Being present has become more important than ever, both professionally and personally, since moving to the hybrid work model, says Julia. “Now that I spend more time working from home, I have optimised my daily schedule to best meet my job and family responsibilities. As a mother of two toddlers, my day begins very early. To make use of the high energy levels, I start working ahead of core hours to prioritise creative and strategic tasks and team connects. Regular face time with my kids is part of the day. It provides them the needed reassurance and helps me disconnect and re-energize.”

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

Julia believes the adoption of digital tools has helped not only to ensure business continuity but also to maintain high levels of team spirit and cohesion. “We have moved our local and regional communications to digital channels where we celebrate achievements, keep each other up to date on important developments and give new colleagues the chance to meet the team in a more casual environment. It is all about providing platforms for exchange and making an effort to be present. What really helps me to replace the missing face-to-face communications is doing video calls and engaging with team members on a regular basis. Don’t forget that taking a minute to check in on one another goes a long way these days.”

Zoubida Tazi, Global Category Team Leader Capex, Henkel Purchasing

“Don’t try to be a perfect mum, manager, wife and friend,” says Zoubida. “It took me some time to find my way and to accept that if I would strive for the perfect ideal as mother, performance leader and more, it is only holding me back. Now, I accept myself the way I am without trying to play a role. It is all about building on your own unique strengths mix and at the same time looking at your weaknesses with care. Often, we are our greatest enemy by judging every single move we do. Instead, I am trying to be kind to myself.”

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

Despite the hectic schedule, she takes time out to listen to podcasts of inspirational female leaders or read blogs of creative mums for inspiration. “It stops impulsive thoughts such as: ‘Am I good enough?’ Instead, I ask myself: what is it that empowers me and enables me to work on mini habits to improve? Being a better person is a journey, not a target to achieve now.”

Rita Daniel, Laundry and Home Care, PA to Ashraf El Afifi, CSVP Laundry & Home Care High Growth

Even though acquiring a new habit takes discipline, a lot of attention and energy, Rita has developed an effective one that requires little effort. “It was unusual for me to listen to something without having any background ideas or feeling of what I am going to hear,” she says. “But I have adopted a new way of listening to any information whether on a personal or business level. Today, I absorb these new words as if I am listening to a new language by clearing my mind and I structure them to communicate proficiently.

“I purely shift my attention to the other person, focus on what he/she says by being open, neutral and nonjudgmental. I use active listening to engage in the conversation, which leads to a desire to comprehend, thus to collaborate and offer the right support.

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

She believes the pandemic has helped her to get closer to what is important in life. “I have added love to my listening, and I discovered that not only agility has improved in closing tasks and overcoming challenges but it is making both my home and my workspace an enjoyable place for me and others.”