Across the desk this month is one of our favourite full-timers, James Gourley – director of Sydney based boutique digital agency, Innuendo Digital. Identifiable by his crisp white tee’s, often found on his phone, pacing the grass out the front of Sustainable Valley – James is a coworker who manages his work/life balance a little differently.
Deciding to chase the dream and do what most people dream of doing, James and his family moved to Byron from Sydney at the beginning of the year. With his team and business still based in Surry Hills, James sure is a busy guy. He spends his days managing his agency, whilst attempting to squeeze in a daily surf or gym session and maintaining his ‘dadlife’ priorities.
We sat down with James to get a glimpse of the logistics involved in making his work/life dream a reality.
SV: How did you end up in Byron Bay?
JG: I’ve been coming to Byron for over 20 years and have always wanted to live here.
When we had our first daughter – it motivated me more because Sydney was a hard place to do family life, it could often feel quite isolating. This was cemented for us when our twins came along.
Byron was alluring because it had access to the airports (both Ballina and Gold Coast). The flights are consistently cheap, international flights were easy, which was important as we have clients in New Zealand. The infrastructure around Byron made it viable. We also had a lot of friends in Byron, so it was seamless.
The plan was to rent for 12 months and then look at buying a place in Byron, but after only 3 months, we knew it was where we wanted to be. So we sold our place in Sydney and purchased here in Byron.
SV: What do you spend your days at Sustainable Valley doing?
JG: Formally, I am the Director of Innuendo Digital. We typically manage online platforms for our clients including all aspects of website design and SEO, SEM, along with social media campaigns and content creation.
With Innuendo based in Sydney it involves a lot of day-to-day planning and travel. I work remotely from Sustainable Valley and try to fly down to Sydney once a fortnight to check in. Typically I’ll spend Monday mornings on a conference call with my team, this is when we will plan out the week by assigning tasks. I make a point of monitoring what everyone has on their plate, making sure to delegate if necessary and keep the workload balanced. This establishes the week and gives the team insight. I’m aware the perception might be that I’m in Byron surfing and beaching all day, therefore I make an effort to ensure we are all on the same page, so we can operate evenly as a team.
SV: How does it work being split from your team, did it take time to work out a system?
JG: There are definitely challenges involved. I think unless you’re a crappy boss, no team is going to thrive without you there each day. It can be hard to motivate people remotely, so it’s definitely a learning process. We’ve come to a point where I think we’ve worked out the kinks together, and our processes are constantly evolving. My initial plan was to fly down every three weeks, I quickly found this wasn’t fair on my team; therefore, I now try to travel down fortnightly as a minimum. I wasn’t aware of the impact I had when I was present in the office, I think it’s really hard to understand what your own influence might be sometimes. Ultimately, I have a great team, and we have a great relationship so we will always be questioning the way we do things to ensure the best outcome.
SV: Have you ever tried coworking before?
JG: Innuendo Digital actually runs out of a coworking space in Sydney – my team occupy a whole level on a terrace, partnered with a separate business (Innuendo Advertising) who we often collab with. Coworking spaces have been a really successful option for Innuendo, so I knew I wanted to maintain that work vibe when looking for a place to work in Byron.
SV: Why coworking, why not work at home?
JG: Working from home can be distracting with the kids there, I like to separate my workday, and have a distinction between work and home life. I find being in an environment that is dedicated to working helps me to perform better, keeping me focused. The bonus is the networking and social interaction that comes with a coworking space, it’s nice to have a chat throughout the day and build relationships with like-minded people in the community.
SV: What is it about Sustainable Valley space that you like?
JG: Fast internet was a big draw card, especially as Byron internet can be famously slow. In the Northern Rivers Region, Sustainable Valley is the most professionally setup space hands down. The facilities are good – there are even showers, perfect for those days when the midday surf is too good to ignore. Everyone here is friendly and I find there to be an inclusive collaborative culture at Sustainable Valley.
SV: What does a typical day/week look like for you?
JG: I typically drop kids off at day care and come into Sustainable Valley to get things sorted. If the waves look good, I’ll try and get a surf in mid morning. I then spend the first few hours of my day getting things setup, talk to the staff and put things in place so the day flows. I’ll always try to exercise everyday in some form, so if the surf is no good I’ll try and get to the gym in the afternoon before I pick the kids up and head home.
I knew when we made this move that perhaps we’d make less money by not working as much, but it’s something my wife and I consciously decided, and my staff know that. Instead of work being the sole focus, there is balance. I have freedom to make room for things like surfs, gym time and family. I action this by perhaps not taking on as many clients at one time, making sure we have that work/life balance.
SV: If someone were thinking of relocating from the city, whilst remaining connected to his or her workplace/business what tips would you give?
JG: Approach the move realistically. You need to be aware of things like your expectations on your staff when you’re not there every day. Make sure that your maintaining daily communication with them. You will have to travel and connect with them, I don’t feel it’s fair on your team to be away too long. It took me three months to try and test the systems I have in place with my team, and it’s something I still battle with to be honest – it will always be an ongoing and evolving system.
When choosing a place to move, make sure the infrastructure is there, like airports. A sense of community is important. Byron seems to be a magnet for like-minded people doing similar things. I have met so many people and everyone is so welcoming and happy to encourage one another. I find that in regional centres, people are just friendlier. Be aware that you may need to reassess how you do your work. Look at things like internet, if you need to high level download speed to operate your business, a regional area may not suit you just yet. Although with technology moving so fast, and NBN rolling out in Byron – I think regional centres like this will attract more people.
I know it’s easy to remain where you are and keep grinding it out, but know that it’s becoming doable to pick up, relocate and create something different for yourself. There are always challenges, but it’s so worth it!