Part of building a business and a strong successful team is establishing a dynamic work space where everyone is comfortable yet productive. Some of our heymamas work in the most amazing spaces with unique decor and we wanted to take a closer look and get to know them better. For this edition of Office Mamas, you’ll get to meet the awesome mamas behind Flytographer, a photography service where you can book local photographers to capture your special vacation moments. Our Senior Editor, Nancy Deane loved using them during a recent trip to Portugal and we can’t wait to use them on future trips to capture these moments with our kiddos. In this interview, you’ll get to meet Nicole Smith, Founder and CEO, Kerry Duff, Director of Marketing and Business Development and Michelle Ardiel, Global Recruiter & Community Manager who all share more about what it’s like to work at Flytographer, plus the inspiration behind their gorgeous workspace. Read on…
Tell us about your roles at Flytographer.
Nicole Smith: I am the CEO and Founder.
Kerry Duff: I’m the Director of Marketing and Business Development.
Michelle Ardiel: I am the Global Recruiter and Community Manager. My roles includes seeking out photographers around the world, assessing portfolios, conducting interviews, on-boarding/off-boarding, and managing the photographer community, which is now 400 strong.
What do you think is harder? Being a good boss or a good mom? Do you use some of the same skills?
Nicole Smith: A mom hands-down. I often joke that Flytographer is my third child. You give birth to an idea, it needs constant nurturing in the early years, and you survive on very little sleep as you navigate the unfamiliar and the unknown. But the rewards are so rich. The highs make the lows tolerable. Just like motherhood.
Kerry Duff: Being a good mom is far more difficult. I have a three and five-year-old and sometimes they aren’t the easiest to reason with, especially when we are in a rush to get out the door. I am constantly striving to be more patient and understanding with them on a daily basis. One common denominator is I find everyone (toddlers and colleagues) need to know the direction they are moving. It never works to give instructions without a frame of reference. Although, our co-workers don’t have the same tendency to have epic full body meltdowns in public places (thank goodness!).
Michelle Ardiel: I think they are both difficult jobs, but being a mom is definitely more of an emotional challenge. Both roles require compassion, patience, firmness, and good communication skills – things that I work on daily!
I constantly struggle with the guilt of not spending enough time with my kids and not spending enough time with work.
What was your experience like heading back to work post baby? Share challenges, fears and a personal story.
Nicole Smith: I was working at Microsoft when I was pregnant with my first son and decided after my mat leave ended that I wasn’t ready to go back full-time and be on the road away from him. My husband (now ex) was just starting a startup and working around the clock… so we had no balance. After great deliberation, I decided to quit. However, within a few months I felt the itch to work and started consulting for my old team at Microsoft, part-time from home. It was a good balance and I ended up doing that for many years while my kids were young. It allowed me to keep a foot in the game, career-wise, balance home life in those early years of motherhood, and have my own income when I ended up eventually separating from my husband.
Kerry Duff: I always anticipated the joy and some pain of having children. What I didn’t anticipate was the level of guilt. While I knew that going back to work was important to feed my creative soul, I constantly struggle with the guilt of not spending enough time with my kids and not spending enough time with work.
Michelle Ardiel: After I had my first son, I went back to school to become a teacher, and then had a year working as an intern when he was just a year old. Sleep was the hardest thing for me – his first year was full of the usual mom craziness, so finding time to study was tough (it happened during his naps and after he went to bed, so I got very efficient at doing what I needed to do in a few short hours). I was at school from before he was born until he was 16 months old, and went straight to my internship at that time. When I taught that year as an intern, I was away from him all day, would spend a few hours in the evening with him, and then would do all my prep work (which was a lot!) after he went to sleep. Many nights I didn’t get to bed until 3:00am or 4:00am because of all the work, only to have to get up in three hours to start all over again the next day. To say I was exhausted was an understatement.
Make sure you have time left over each day for your family – it’s a choice.
What’s the one nugget of wisdom you share with your mama friends when they are heading back to work after their first baby?
Nicole Smith: Everything changes and you can’t predict in advance how you will feel, so go with the flow. I thought I would be right back hopping on planes and working crazy hours. Truthfully, I kind of lost my once obsessive career mojo for a few years. I still wanted to work, but not as intensely as it suddenly wasn’t my everything. However, once I started my own startup, it came back fully ablaze with passion.
Kerry Duff: I’m not sure there is such a thing as balance. But as a mom who travels a lot for work, I strive to be fully present when I am at home. Even if it is a short time period per day, I do one activity or adventure with the kids where I am not multitasking. That means being 100% focused on them….no making dinner or checking Instagram.
Michelle Ardiel: Try not to over-do it. I did with my first son and regret the time I didn’t have with him because I was so busy focused on school and my internship. Make sure you have time left over each day for your family – it’s a choice.
As a mother what gets you up in the morning and motivates you to work on the daily?
Nicole Smith: Creating a business I am proud of that affects people’s lives in positive ways and makes my kids proud. It’s important to me that my sons see the impact of hard work. I also really, really love what I do, so going to work is a joy.
Kerry Duff: I work out every morning at 5:30am. It’s my only “me” time of the day. I can’t tell you how much I cherish this one hour I have to myself. It is my official reset button where I am focused on energizing myself. It sets the tone for the day and stimulates loads of creative brain activity while reducing my stress levels.
Michelle Ardiel: I love my job and enjoy the creativity, so getting up every morning is easy. As a mother, it’s important to model the discipline and commitment that work requires.
How has motherhood impacted your career?
Nicole Smith: I am way more efficient and pithy. Time is a precious currency and I don’t like to waste it. Motherhood has also made me more empathetic, less judgemental and definitely more “go with the flow”.
Kerry Duff: I probably would have continued working on the Olympic Games and traveling the world with that amazing circus. However, being a mother has forced me to branch off into other arenas of my career where I’ve actually grown more than I ever could have anticipated.
Michelle Ardiel: I had my second son five years after my first, and I took the year-long maternity leave that we have in Canada. I ended up not going back to teaching. Having the time to focus on my boys during mat leave gave me the opportunity to see how important it was to find a job that would work with me and not against me – especially in terms of hours and energy (in which teaching took a lot away).
What’s the company culture like?
Nicole Smith: Our culture is fun! We get to look at gorgeous vacation photos of joy-filled travelers in the most photogenic cities on earth all day.
We are a very tight, driven team with big goals, but also take time to practice gratitude and celebrate each other and the big and little wins along the way. Prosecco Friday is a my favorite moment of the week where we get in a huddle and take turns sharing a highlight or personal story from the week. Often someone cries (in a good way).
Kerry Duff: We showcase the joy of travel at Flytographer. We get to see some of the most beautiful moments between lovers, friends, family and solo travelers. As a result, we are a passionate, emotional group of people that get “game show excited” about people’s travel experiences. It’s intoxicating! The most recent addition to the team, it was this passion for travel and the uber fast pace of the startup world that I fell in love with.
Michelle Ardiel: The culture at Flytographer is open, accepting and flexible. If I need to get to an appointment, I can just do it and make up the hours later. It really helps that our founder is a mother, so she understands what being a working parent involves and how important it is to be there for our children as much as possible.
How do you meet challenges in your day?
Nicole Smith: Being in a mindset of gratitude and knowing that ebbs and flows are normal. And being open to feedback, constant learning.
What’s the hardest thing about being a working mom?
Nicole Smith: You often want to be in two places at once and you can’t, so there are tradeoffs as you try to integrate the two.
Kerry Duff: I find the guilt of never having enough time to devote to my kids or career is tough.
Michelle Ardiel: Trying to balance time. There will always be moments when you wish you were with your kids and you can’t be, or times when you need to work after-hours at home and so you miss valuable evenings with them. My kids are already teenagers, so I know first-hand how true the cliché of time flying really is; the years do go by in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Have you found any life hacks that help you achieve your work/life balance?
Nicole Smith: I bring my boys into the business whenever opportunities arise so they can understand what I do, why I do it and feel a part of it vs being resentful of the time it takes away from family activities. We plan fun weekend escapes throughout the year so we have uninterrupted time to look forward to, and can make memories together. Whenever we do travel, we meet our local photographers and they feel like they are a part of this global community we are building. Also, I have a wonderful housekeeper twice a week for four hours to help keep the ship running at home so I can spend free time with my kids playing basketball or helping with homework vs doing laundry!
Kerry Duff: Finding humor in the craziest of situations helps. Toddler meltdowns are much more manageable when you can laugh it off. I’ve also embraced the kid in myself again. Sometimes, you just need to sit on the floor and dig your hands into some play dough or cartwheel across the lawn in the rain to remind yourself of how free the kid inside you.
Michelle Ardiel: Now that my kids are older, I make sure they help out around the house before I get home: clean the kitchen, take out recycling, and prep a few things for dinner. This has made a massive difference in my sanity level!
What do you do to unplug from the office?
Nicole Smith: We live right by the beach so in the spring/summer my kids and I haul our kayaks down to the ocean and paddle after school.
There is a great spin studio across from the office so I pop in at lunch or after work for a fun workout. I also love to plan travel with my kids. Right now we are learning Italian together on DuoLingo in preparation for our trip to Italy this summer. Just a few words a day, but it’s a really fun way to get excited about upcoming adventures! Gratzie!
Kerry Duff: I go outside. Nature is my therapy. I also enjoy loads of hiking, running and yoga.
Michelle Ardiel: I often read or watch Netflix just before bed. A lot of time outside of the office is spent with my boys at the soccer field – watching them play is one of my favorite things to do!
We are a very tight, driven team with big goals, but also take time to practice gratitude and celebrate each other and the big and little wins along the way.
Tell us about your physical office space.
Nicole Smith: The Flytographer office is located on the top floor of a beautiful heritage building in Downtown Victoria, British Columbia on the border of Chinatown. We’ve been here since September 2016.
What was the process like in finding it? Did you customize it in any way or move in “as is”?
Nicole Smith: We looked at several spaces before landing on the perfect spot for our growing team. We updated the space with new floors, moving and replacing a wall with floor to ceiling glass to make room for a community area. We added new lighting and fresh white paint throughout. The space is also accented with our brand color – a bright turquoise that complements the exposed brick throughout the space.
If you could sum up your office space in one word, what would it be?
Nicole Smith: Inspiring.
Did you have help from an outside designer or did you manage the decor yourself?
Nicole Smith: Our Creative Director, Tara, designed our office! With a startup budget, we got creative – from IKEA desks to DIY projects like our photographer wall (a photo grid with perfectly placed yellow washi tape) and our white peg board with customer photos. It was a team effort moving into our space and we had a lot of fun with the project.
What’s one app or organizational tool that everyone uses?
What is your favorite thing about your office? Least favorite?
Nicole Smith: Favorite: The tall ceilings, great light and exposed brick. Great coffee shops below.
Least Favorite: There is a mouse who comes out at night. But we named her Mabel so she’s pretty much a part of the team now.
Where do people typically hang out in your office?
Nicole Smith: Around our community table and on the couch.
What is the craziest thing your team has done in the name of bonding?
Nicole Smith: The Escape room!
What’s next for Flytographer?
Nicole Smith: Growing awareness for the brand. We want the world to know about Flytographer and how we can help people capture the magic of travel!