When Kate Dezarnaulds upped sticks from her big-city life in Sydney to move to the South Coast of NSW, it was the start of a whole new career chapter. Now as the founder of WorkLife, she is building her own brand of fun, creative coworking spaces. This is her career change story.
How would you explain what you do for work in 30 seconds or less?
I’m the founder of WorkLife, a network of regional coworking spaces on the South Coast of NSW, that help people to live their best lives outside of the big cities.
Why are you so passionate about what you do? What drives you?
Building community is my passion. Partnerships and looking for the win-win-win by bringing people together is what excites me. I love taking risks, trying new things, enthusing people to do the same and cheering them on when they do so. Add some fun events, sustainable design and working with artists and creatives to the mix and I’m in heaven. A’la WorkLife!
What were you doing in your career previously?
I’d had a long career in the arts, starting with a series of business and client development roles with the auction house Sotheby’s – first in London, then Hong Kong and finally back in Australia.
That led to my first board role as a founding director of Art Month Sydney, where I discovered a knack for strategy and networking. From there, I moved into sponsorship and philanthropy for various arts organisations, festivals and advocacy groups.
When we decided to move to the South Coast, I was working as Head of Partnerships for the ideas event TEDxSydney and took a segue into the world of startups and social enterprises.
After we moved, I decided to start my own consultancy, to design the flexible life I needed to juggle small kids and a tree change.
Initially based at a coworking space called Work Club in Sydney, I serendipitously discovered that coworking businesses were a perfect mix of community building, startup culture, art, ideas events and design.
I was hooked on the idea and I wanted to create the coworking community I so desperately needed closer to home. It didn’t take long for me to launch our first WorkLife location in Berry.
Tell us a bit about why you made a career change…
I was looking for flexibility that suited my family. I was looking for autonomy. I was SUPER keen for rich white blokes not to be my bosses anymore. I wanted to earn a city income in the regions. And I wanted to build something in the regions that I would be proud of back in the city.
I was also looking for a straightforward business to create economic certainty and community joy for me. Ha! If only I had known how hard it would be to earn as much profit as I had earned from my meagre salary in the arts.
And how did you make your career change?
I was curious. I was happy to take risks. I read and listened to podcasts obsessively. I found great mentors. I paid a fortune for coaches, conferences, online courses and mentoring.
I also sat on lots of not-for-profit boards to give and to learn. I water my networks obsessively and take great joy in connecting people, which means when I need a connection, people are always happy to reciprocate.
For the first two years, I juggled paid consulting work alongside my business. At the end of 2019, I had gotten to the point where I was able to work full-time on WorkLife.
Three months later… COVID. So I took another four-day-a-week job running a grants program to keep the lights on and my staff employed.
At the beginning of 2023, I have finally gotten back to the point I was at three years ago – I am back to running WorkLife full-time with my sights set on some major expansion.
What does a typical workday look like for you now?
When I am winning at my morning routine, I wake up at 7am to one of my three kids bringing me an Earl Grey tea in bed while I listen to AM on Radio National and bang out a post on LinkedIn.
I walk the dogs. I meditate for 10 minutes on the headland at Gerringong. I get a coffee and plan my day. If I’ve done that, the rest of the day will flow.
I arrive at WorkLife Berry or Coledale at around 9am. I don’t plan to get anything done other than chat, connect, clean and tidy the space and my inbox until midday. I like having meetings in the morning because chatting gives me energy and because I’m hopeless at getting anything done until after lunch.
After lunch, I try and tackle my one big task for the day and I try not to leave WorkLife till it’s done. I am brutal about working to a “default diary”, which splits my week between sales, content creation, strategy, accounting, operations and events.
If I’m driving between sites, I’m calling colleagues, friends, family, doing “helpful” meetings with people on the phone, listening to a podcast or dictating a speech or a blog post onto my phone. I do lots of driving and I love the time in my thoughts. It works very hard for me.
I get home about 6.30pm or 7pm, watch the news. At the moment, we are enjoying a new routine where the teens prep a HelloFresh meal, I fold some washing and then try to not scroll on my phone in bed before I go to sleep around 11pm.
And then Fridays (woo hoo) are a treat where I get to focus on volunteer work, which at the moment consists of various board roles and facilitating Aboriginal cultural immersion/decolonisation workshops for the local community.
At least once a month I head to our farm in Dalgety for a long weekend of decompressing, where I go for long walks or horse rides and do puzzles and listen to audio books until my brain slows down and makes sense again.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned that might help other women who are thinking about a career change?
Put a flotation device on your career before you have kids. Get yourself on some boards. On LinkedIn, no one notices you’ve had three periods of maternity leave and worked part-time for five years if you’ve sat on boards and built your career and profile as you’ve breastfed babies from your couch.
And don’t be afraid of personal branding. WorkLife’s brand colour is an eggy yellow. As a way of limiting my shopping, I gave myself a rule that I would only buy new clothes if they were yellow. Now I am known as the “yellow lady” – it has become my brand and it’s been a huge boost for the visibility of my business.
Kate Dezarnaulds is the founder of WorkLife, and is currently a Board Director for Flexible Workspace Australia, The Shoalhaven Arts Board and President of the Berry Chamber of Commerce. Since starting WorkLife in 2017, it has grown to a community of 120 members across two regional locations in NSW – Berry and Coledale – with plans afoot for a third site in Picton opening in 2023.
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