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Dr Marta Fernandez interview
[RMIT MANAGER, ORGANISATIONAL DEVELOPMENT NOELEEN CAREY TALKS TO DR MARTA FERNANDEZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RMIT EUROPE, ON A SPLIT-SCREEN VIDEO CALL]
[NOELEEN CAREY IS SHOWN SEATED IN FRONT OF A PHOTO OF THE EXTERIOR OF RMIT. SHE SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO CAMERA]
Thank you for joining us today on our leadership series, Marta. We really appreciate you taking the time out of your very, very busy schedule to give us your time.
So, one of the questions that I have for you is, what have you learned as a leader during this disruptive time?
Thank you Noeleen, it's a pleasure to be able to share some of the things that I've learned with the rest of the leaders at RMIT. One of the things that I've learned is what we're going through is not a race, but it's really a marathon. So, any measures we put in place, for home, for work, they need to be sustainable for the long run. You know, we need to pace ourselves and make it work for the long run.
And just to share with you that before the lockdown, I wanted to appoint a well-being officer for RMIT Europe. And actually, two people came forward to take on the role. So, we appointed both of them. And it couldn't have been more timely. It's been fantastic to have two individuals within the team that are sharing great initiatives. And to give them their-- you know, empower them to take some of those things forward. So, we've been running 30-minute mindfulness sessions before the start of the day, 30 minutes workout at 1 PM every day with a team. We've done dress up Fridays, baking competitions. We actually celebrated Passover with our Jewish colleague over Easter. So, we had people cooking several dinners across different homes.
So, it's been really, really valuable to have them bringing the team together during this time. And I guess the other thing that I would mention here is that we had a colleague from RNI, a well-being officer, running a lunchtime seminar for us about, you know, the emotional turmoil that we are all going through. And it was probably eight weeks after the lockdown, and it was so refreshing to have her. Not only to hear, you know, a reflection of what we're going through. But also, to actually take an hour to talk to each other about how we are feeling. Many colleagues found great relief on that. And I got emails afterwards saying how good it had been to kind of take things out of their chest. Because they are all these little conversations that will be happening in the office that are not happening now. Everything is very scheduled. So, I thought those two were, in terms of well-being in the workspace, two things I wanted to share.
That's very innovative and I can imagine that empowering two of your staff to support the well-being of your people, it would be really, really well appreciated by your people. So, tell me, we are all having to work virtually, and we will be continuing to work virtually from now on in some way. Your world is virtual, because your employer is in Australia, your stakeholders are all over Europe, and now your staff are virtual. I would be really interested in learning how do you build connection and relationships with people when 99 percent of the time your interaction with them is virtual?
Yeah, it becomes even more important to have a good relationship with your key stakeholders. And, you know, if anything, I now feel closer to Melbourne than I've ever been before. Because everyone is in the same circumstances, having to deal with the same technical problems to connect with each other. So, I've been very careful at making sure that I keep close links and regular connections to our key stakeholders. And I did that before and I'm maintaining that at the moment.
And I'm with a team. Obviously, everything is very scheduled, but I made sure that I have unscheduled interactions with them. So, I just pick up the phone and get in touch with each individual and, you know, try to touch base with everyone within a period of two weeks. And I encourage them to do the same, to just pick up the phone and get in touch with me if they have any questions and not to wait until the next meeting. Although, that's not happening as much as I would like.
The other thing that I did, is to keep connected to the team, I was doing videos at the beginning on a daily basis. Now, they are on a Monday and a Friday. But a video message to staff just to, you know, highlight successes that we had during the week or praise the effort of some members of the team. And making it lighter towards the end of the week. And following the advice of the well-being officer from RNI, I used the opportunity of picking different backgrounds for those videos to share how I was feeling. So, on a day that I was particularly blooming, I had the backdrop of my spring flowers behind. And, you know, some other day I had my half-broken fence to show how I was barely keeping it together at some point. So, it's-- you know, we took that as a way to share with each other our feelings, as well as keeping in close contact.
I love the story about the broken fence and the blooming flowers. I agree with you that keeping those unscheduled interactions going is really important. In Australia, we would call it the water cooler conversation, or the kitchen catch up. When those impromptu conversations do-- you are approached to have them, and you are a very, very busy person with a great deal of responsibility. When the impromptu call comes through, how do you prepare yourself to be present with that person when it's not planned?
I think it's one of the most important things of being a leader is making sure you have time for your people. You know, you might be creating a bottleneck by not giving them that time, because they need your input. So, something I keep in front of mind to-- you know, when they come and say, "do you have time"? I note what I'm doing on that precise moment, so I don't forget it. And I do give them my time. And I think particularly now when we are at the distance and it's more difficult to be close to each other, it's more important than ever.
And I do have a memory of a former leader that I was working with that every time I approached him, he said, "I do have time". And he always had time for me. And I found that so, you know, so respectful, you know, towards me. I knew he was very busy, but he always had time for me. So, I find that inspirational and I endeavour to continue doing that for the people I have working for me.
That's a great quality as a leader. I'm sure it has the big impact on your team's feeling of connectedness, but also value and respect and inclusion. So, well done. So, just for my final question, what advice would you give other leaders leading in today's disruptive world?
I think for me it's really that we are there for each other. I've been-- this is something that touches me, because when I go to Melbourne, it's fabulous to be there and immerse in the environment and the bars and get to meet the other leaders face-to-face. And it's always something that I've been missing by being in Europe, not have that peer-to-peer interaction. And now, moving to an online world that's, for me, is more feasible than before, you know, because everyone is having to have those peer-to-peer interactions online.
So, I would encourage every leader to try to look for those opportunities to have interaction with your colleagues. Particularly, at a time when the circumstances are so trying. You know, you're at work trying to-- you know, working 150 percent trying to keep a brave face for the team and keeping them motivated and keeping them going at a time when there is such uncertainty. But also, you are at home managing children, managing home schooling, housework and keep a brave face for your family, you know, when the circumstances outside are so difficult. So, you are trying to keep it all together. We really need to lean on each other to be able to get through this.
So, I recall when we were probably week six of confinement in Spain, where it not only it was, you know, tough messaging around the situation of the University, but I was also hearing about 600 deaths a day in Spain and juggling the children and the schooling-- I had this nice exchange of emails with Kate Koch at midnight her time, midnight my time where we were, you know, just sharing with each other the challenges of having to manage work and home. And those few emails we exchanged in that week, you know, were very, very helpful to know that there is somebody there in the same circumstances and we can share with each other. So, I would encourage other leaders to keep that in mind and do the same.
Thank you, that is very wise advice, because our leaders are going through a lot of challenging times emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically, when they are juggling so much at home. So, Marta Fernandez, thank you so much for joining us for the leadership series, we really appreciate your time. And good luck.
Thank you, Noeleen.