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Supporting Parents and Employees During a Pandemic: A Conversation with Smartsheet’s Victoria Azzaline

Supporting Parents and Employees During a Pandemic: A Conversation with Smartsheet’s Victoria Azzaline

Back in June, Victoria Azzaline hit the limit on her patience.

Her house was in disarray, her partner was traveling for work and she was solo parenting their five-year-old and two-year-old, who were acting out, and she was in the middle of taking back-to-back meetings from her makeshift home office.

"I was angry. I felt as though in that moment, they knew better and knew I needed to work," says Victoria. "But after giving it thought, I was able to recognize that they just needed my attention. They just needed time and I couldn't give it in that moment." That was an opportunity, she now realizes, to recognize her own boundaries and figure out how she could show up for and balance two key roles—being a Senior HR Business Partner at SaaS company Smartsheet and being a mom.

We talked to Victoria about parenting during a pandemic, the role HR can play in supporting employees in times of crisis, and tips to help parents and non-parents alike adapt to extended blurred boundaries between work and home.

Adapting work during times of change

As a Senior HR Business Partner, Victoria occasionally worked from home in pre-pandemic times but was otherwise working from Smartsheet's Bellevue, WA, headquarters. Her job was to support the organization's Worldwide Field Operations teams across their people needs, from career growth and performance management to strategic planning.

That's still her job, but it looks a little different nowadays.

"We've come a long way in trying to navigate our way through it. Early on we were in a state of being reactive versus proactive, which is a different way for us to function," she says of her team's approach.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure employees know about resources available to them"—including Smartsheet's options for flexible schedules and home office equipment resources —"and focusing on a 'people first' mentality, which is very much part of our culture anyway, but now more than ever we're seeing that come through," says Victoria.

She's also making herself available to employees who need to vent or commiserate. Her number of one-on-ones has gone way up.

"We want people to know that we will figure out the right solution [for them]. It's not a matter of making their situation fit into outdated models, but instead it's meeting them with their needs and being supportive during this time," she says.

Sometimes this means helping employees meet their needs in a very tangible way. "With the continuing impacts of COVID-19, Smartsheet recognized that their employees needed to balance work and life in a new way. To help alleviate some of these challenges, in September all global employees were provided a premium membership so they can search for and post jobs to find child caregivers, adult caregivers, special needs caregivers, tutors, pet sitters, housekeepers, and more," explains Victoria.

On navigating dissolved boundaries between work and home

Victoria used to commute at least an hour each way to and from work every day. "That was a transition time to switch on or off from workplace to home life," she says. "Now, I'll log off from a meeting and walk out of my office and suddenly I'm a mom. And there's zero opportunity to transition or to clear your head."

Now that the line between work and home is basically nonexistent, she's had to remind herself to treat herself with grace—and she encourages other working parents to do the same.

"If you need to take a minute after your last meeting to decompress before you shift into the other mode, give yourself that space to do so. Give yourself permission," she says. "Just allow yourself to be how you are right now, without the expectation of who you used to be—forget the idea of this is 'me' at work, this is 'me' at home. Because those lines are so blurry, we need to just be present as we are now, rather than trying to fulfill our previous idea of what that should've looked like."

On parenting through a pandemic

Dividing her time between her children and her work has been hard on both Victoria and her kids, particularly when her husband has had to travel for his work. "They don't know me as an HR business partner at Smartsheet. They know me as their mother. So when I'm not able to fully lean into that role for them, it's challenging. I can see it on their faces and their body language, just how it impacts them. That part's been especially difficult to balance," she says.

Having as much of a schedule as possible has helped mitigate the struggle of balancing parenting and work, says Victoria. This fall presented a new layer of complexity with many school districts in Washington state adopting a remote-only structure. "Carving out dedicated time for specific activities has always been important, but now with adding in the day-to-day management of classes and curriculum needs, we're incredibly dependent on having a clearly defined schedule of events for the week." she says. "Prior to school starting back up, I liked to map out a game plan in advance, even if it evaporated throughout the day. At least knowing I had an understanding of where my opportunities were to connect with my kids was helpful in allowing me to be able to shift in the moment if I needed to."

It hasn't all been hard; Victoria has enjoyed getting closer to her kids' everyday experiences and spending extra time with them during the day. "I'm getting a firsthand look at exactly where they're at in life, from what's troubling them to where they're showing new and stronger areas of interest. And getting to have lunch together or go on a midday bike ride are experiences and memories we'll be able to look back on from this time," she says.

As she continues to figure out how to balance her different roles, Victoria's remembering to support other parents. "I think we all need to continue to hold each other up and not be critical of one another," she says.

Transitioning back

While extra time with her kids has been invaluable, says Victoria, she's excited to connect with coworkers in person, once it's safe to do so. "I'm looking forward to fully engaging in my work again. To be in that mindset without having in the back of my mind, 'What's happening in the playroom? What are my kids doing right now? Is my house torn apart?'"

She hopes to take some of the learnings she's come to about balancing work and family with her. "We're all going through this and have this opportunity to take inventory of the areas that we were not feeling great about before," she says. "We can see where we'd like to make permanent adjustments or carry things forward into the future as things kind of shift back into work and home separation. What types of behaviors and boundaries do we want to continue to hold for ourselves and to establish?"

If you're interested in learning more about Smartsheet, including their open roles, head here. And if you have questions or comments for Victoria, leave those in the comments!

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