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Work/life balance: Sandra Krstic, DDB & Tribal Amsterdam

One of the most common explanations for Amsterdam being such an appealing city to work in is that it offers a much better balance between work and life than, say, London or New York or other such creative hubs. But how true is this, and does it extend to the people at the very top?

To get a better idea we asked a selection of agency CEOs, presidents and partners what their lives entail. Here Sandra Krstic, deputy managing partner at DDB & Tribal Amsterdam, shares her day with us.

What time do you get up?My two boys are my alarm; they wake up around 06:00. Even though they have been told many times before to try and not wake everyone else in the house that early, they seem unable to be quiet. I try and pretend that I’m asleep for another half an hour, but then it’s inevitable. The noise is inescapable and it’s time to get up.What does your morning ritual involve?It’s a logistical challenge. Dress the kids, brush their teeth, let them play (and not kill each other) while I do yoga, shower and dress. Then we all go downstairs to have breakfast. After breakfast, while Alek (my 6 year old) practices his piano, I prepare their lunch boxes and then off we go. First Nik (my 3 year old) and I drop off Alek at school and then we walk to Nik’s daycare, where he plays most of the week. After this I drive to work, while listening to some obscure playlist on Spotify. This is my Zen moment in the morning. It only lasts 20 minutes.How do you get to work?I’m in at around 9:00, after the stops at school and daycare. As I live just outside Amsterdam, I use the car to get to work. My 20 minute home-work commute is fantastic. Having lived in The Hague before, from where the commute was horrendous, the lack of traffic jams in the morning – due to zillions of alternative routes I can take – makes me smile in the car every morning. The downside of this is that all my social contacts, which I used to catch up with during the Amsterdam-The Hague commute, now need to be handled in a different way.What does an 'average' day at the office look like?I switch on the computer, get some tea while it’s loading, check the calendar and quickly scan emails. The last two were also checked from the car, on the way to the office. I know it’s terrible, but I have a very trigger happy smartphone finger. It has a mind of its own. Most of my day is spent talking to people, reviewing work, handling meetings and phone calls. Emails are checked and actioned on the go, usually not behind the desk. The emails which need more attention are marked and typically handled end of day, in the evening or the next morning. Our office is situated in Amstelveen, which is a suburb of Amsterdam. While Amstelveen has a huge amount of great restaurants, in particular Japanese and Korean, everyone eats at our canteen which we share with all the other DDB Group sister agencies in our building (including two PR agencies, a shopper marketing agency, a retail and activation agency, a CRM agency, a brand strategy agency, a data & insights agency). We have a culture of enjoying lunch together rather than behind the desk, so when I do not have a lunch meeting outside of the office, the canteen is where I eat my lunch. We have a great Indonesian cook and his Asian cuisine is fantastic. When do you get home?Over the past three months I have developed a new habit. I have started doing CrossFit and promised myself I would train three times per week. Since I also want to be home in time to spend quality time with my two boys and husband, I leave the office at 17:45 three times per week to make it to my training at 18:00. After this I go home, where I arrive at 19:15. That’s the time we have dinner (during the week my husband cooks) and after this it’s time for bath and bed. After the kids are in bed, I answer some emails or prepare presentations which cannot be done during office hours due to a busy schedule. What time do you get to bed?Usually I go to bed around 2am, or later. I have always been a night person and ever since high school I have developed this knack of needing little sleep. I simply have too much stuff to do, too many passions, or maybe I just need my ‘nerd’ time. I love the peace and quiet of the night; it’s the time when I can focus the best. I get energy from getting inspired, not from sleeping. Does work impinge on your evenings/weekends? My weekday evenings are spent with CrossFit, family, work, and inspiration; in that order. I tend to plan social happenings on evenings during the week. I like to keep my weekends open and focused on time with my family. Usually there is also at least one week-day work-related event during the evening. At weekends my boys (husband and two sons) and I love to spend time outdoors (forest or beach). That, or we visit family and friends, or do a cultural thing or two. Also, I have my ‘me-time’ moment on Sunday morning, when I attend my XL power yoga class. Is there a culture of long hours in the industry?It depends on what agency you work at. I have worked at agencies dominated by non-Dutch nationalities, agencies with primarily Dutch employees, and now here at DDB & Tribal Amsterdam, at an agency where both are equally represented. At the primarily non-Dutch agencies, people tend to blur the lines between work and life much more. This is understandable considering that they left their families and friends back home and colleagues become their new friends and family. These agencies tend to have long hours, but not all that time is spent on doing work. At primarily Dutch agencies I noticed that efficiency during work hours is incredibly high. Even though people tend to come in at 9:00 and leave around 17:30, the amount of work done during the day was incredible. Not much time was being ‘wasted’ on too much socialising. Here at DDB & Tribal Amsterdam I feel we have the best of both worlds. We work hard and everyone is more than willing to put in the extra hours when needed. But, we do not have a culture of (consistently) working late hours. We have a well-oiled organisation and are able to process a huge amount of work every day without too much stress or overtime. Even during pitches or towards deadlines.Can you get to the top working 'normal' or even reduced hours?In our industry clients and their businesses dictate our working day, for the most part. This makes for a highly unpredictable work week. We do have some people working four days a week, however, in practice this often means they are still available, just not in the office. To achieve more, you need to do more. Except if you’re one of those very few lucky exceptions. Once you have reached a certain level, I think it is possible to organise your life in a way that allows for a better balance. But to get to the top, you need to be better than average, and that requires investment.What impact has mobile had on your working day?I cannot remember a time before mobile phones. I don’t think I worked then. My smartphone is a natural extension of my body. It has brought flexibility, efficiency, and freedom. Now work and play can merge even more – in a good way. You are no longer bound to a fixed location (office), to be able to do your work. How do you relax?Work is typically not something I can stress over. Even though I take it seriously, I always realise that we don’t perform brain surgery, no nuclear tests. Nobody will die. That helps. And if that doesn’t help, my kids help rebalance what is important in life. Nothing beats finding yourself crawling through colourful balls in playgrounds during the weekends, to not take yourself too seriously.Do you feel you have a good work/life balance?In the past three months, especially, I’m happy with the balance. I have family, work, and well-being equally represented. My colleagues tend to think I am a workaholic, but I think they are wrong. I just don’t sleep much. And I don’t see work as work, as long as I am doing inspiring new things. As long as there is inspiration, I am like a Duracell bunny, I can go on and on, to the horror of many around me. What would make your work/life balance even better?I would send an avatar to go to the office, while I spend my time doing all the other things I also find incredibly interesting and worth my time. Like spending more quality time with my kids and husband; I can really enjoy baking together or working in the garden, or finally finishing decorating our house.I would spend more time on personal development. I would love to learn more languages. Having been brought up bi-lingual I have a language-tic. Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese are on my wish list. I would read the ever-growing pile of books that I keep ordering but hardly have time to read. Let alone see all the great films and series that I still need to watch. Where is that download chip straight into your brain when you need it?Ideally, I would have 10 different lives at the same time, in all kinds of different industries. And then I could hop from one to the other when it suits me.Sandra Kristic is a digital native with strong integrated experience on global brands including Adidas, Heineken, Philips, Sony, Unilever, P&G, Gucci, and KLM. Prior to joining DDB & Tribal Amsterdam seven years ago, Kristic worked in business consulting, various digital agencies, and a brand strategy & design agency.

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