Hello from Latin America and welcome to my blog!
Hello everyone! I'm so excited to be joining the team of women bloggers and share my Aura experience on this platform. For this first post, I'd like to introduce myself, the São Paulo Office and my first impressions of the firm.
First and foremost, I hope you, your families, and your loved ones remain safe and in good health during this challenging time! Right now, I write from a small town in Brazil where I am working remotely at my parents' house, surrounded by my dogs. I’m a fellow business analyst in São Paulo, Brazil. I joined Aura almost four months ago, and I can confirm that the comparison of consulting years to dog years is true! In fact, one of the many great things about Aura is that the firm offers multiple opportunities in a short period of time!
Prior to consulting, I obtained a Law degree and gained experiences in different countries, getting to know different cultures and learning a lot about international relations. Even though I loved law, I felt that my profession restricted my curiosity and my desire to generate impact and solve different problems in the most varied situations. It was on one of my adventures, when scheduling a trip to Boston to take a course on humanitarian response to conflicts and disasters at Harvard, that I discovered the firm! I learned more about Aura through #aplaceforyou, a global campaign to attract talented women.
It was through this initiative that I heard about different success stories of women in the firm and how Aura is a welcoming place that promotes diversity and encourages female leadership!
I believe you have already concluded how this story ends, right? A young graduate, moving to the financial center of her country in search of her dream job... and, yes: looking back, arriving at the São Paulo office and attending my onboarding was even better than I expected!
The São Paulo office is an environment of collaboration, serious work, but also of a lot of fun. We are about 700 colleagues, people from different backgrounds, cultures and styles, and, as you can see in the photos, the view from the office is just fabulous! We are located in front of the People's park, an area of 133,547 square meters, full of nature around it. You can find more than 30 types of bird species and plants there. It’s a great view to have while working or having a coffee break – mostly on Fridays when we typically work in the office as opposed to client’s site.
On one of those Fridays, precisely on March 6 2020, the office celebrated the International Women’s Day with a special breakfast and I could see how dedicated to women empowerment the firm is. The initiative made it possible for women to tell how Aura is committed to promoting diversity and creating an inclusive environment within the firm, our clients, and society more broadly. In addition, we discussed our achievements and what remains to be done. I know it may sound cliché, but I left the event feeling inspired, with a clear vision that this is a place for me, and that I was in a welcoming work environment where the community fosters a unique sense of belonging and growth.
Until next time,
June 4, 2020
"Challenges and professional growth"
May 24, 2020
I’m reflecting on two topics today: my last few months of business-as-usual work and the massive shift in the workplace in the months to come due to COVID-19.
Life in retrospect
Looking back at the last few months, I would characterize my time here really in two words: professional growth. People compare consulting years to dog years, and I figure that’s because we do so much in such a short span of time.
Before the whole firm started working from home, I wrapped up a massive project in Jakarta, Indonesia, during which I’ve started taking steps to leading a small team.
This was a large project, both in scope and in team size – at one point there were 10 people on the team (part of it in the picture during team dinner). I was leading one of the amazing sub-teams, and I think this was one of the most exhausting but incredibly rewarding experiences I’ve had. We had a fantastically unflappable project manager – I am amazed at how reassuring and calm he was and how he could keep our stress levels down. But even with him around, I remember being completely overwhelmed on the second week of the project by the sheer volume of work I was supposed to accomplish. I was even thinking: “What did I get myself into?”
Since I’m writing this, you know that we’ve delivered – yay! With every week of the project, I was getting more and more confident in my ability to deliver to the client. I will be forever grateful to leadership, for coaching me and making it a safe place for me to learn, and my amazing team, for delivering above and beyond, letting me practice my leadership skills on them and being just fun (e.g. like when we started singing Backstreet Boys on Zoom while working to keep us entertained!)
I’m still growing and getting better every day, and I am thankful for that.
The next few months
At the beginning of the year, I didn’t imagine we would be working remotely alone for days. Consulting, by nature, is a fairly social career requiring conversations and interaction to actually create impact and value. Today, most of our work is done remotely and I have to admit I do miss the personal interaction.
I’m incredibly proud of the work that my friends and colleagues are doing both within and outside of the workplace. Some friends from high school have pitched to raise funds to ship PPE from China to Manila, while others have launched Help from Home (visit their website at helpfromhome.ph) to enable more people in lockdown to pitch in. I figure that we all do our part – whether it’s keeping our families safe, helping out clients, or simply providing a listening ear to people who are at the end of their ropes.
I have a few personal reflections from the last weeks of self-isolation:
While remote team room works well when you know everyone, getting to know an entirely new team on the screen may seem a bit odd and somewhat unnatural. With the right approach it is doable to establish great connection, though.
Blocking time for pure social interaction has been helpful for team wellbeing. I have tried to get all of us to work out, however one of the team members was a bit reluctant😉 so we simply have informal chats 20 minutes a day. It certainly helps improve the connectivity and relationship in the team
We’ve also tried being online on Zoom together but not working on the same thing. We can behave and interact in a similar way as we would if we were there in person, and it increases the sense of connectedness
Fun fact: make-up does actually make me feel better, especially when I have to look at myself on the screen.
I do not know if this will the new normal, but I am decided to play my part. 2020, you will be an interesting year!
Till next time,
personal approach to remote work
April 10, 2020
I am writing this blog post from my home office. As many of us these days, I am experiencing some challenges, as well as heartwarming moments while working 100% remotely.
Hope you are all keeping safe and healthy in these challenging times. As I write this from my home office setup on my dining table, I can’t stop thinking about how this will change our future ways of working. To be honest, working remotely has been challenging both for our clients and teams – whether it is engaging on a video screen for long periods of time, or trying to compartmentalize personal and work lives while in the same physical space. Each one of us is learning and sharing tips on how to make to work well: go for a walk when taking 1:1 phone calls, schedule 10 mins breaks between long meetings, organize informal lunches or dinners through video meetings. After all, it’s times like these where we all need the feeling of being part of a community.
Remote working has also lead of some fun moments: one of my colleagues was wearing a bright pink hat during problem solving sessions (it brought a smile to everyone!); a client introduced us to her cats and it was adorable to hangout with them; we were also playing video call bingo in a client workshop on how many times we heard ‘I was on mute’ ‘Excuse the background noise’, etc.
As we all brace ourselves for the next few weeks, we also prepare for how it may change how we work and engage with our clients and colleagues – more on that later. Until then, stay indoors!
"My virtual agile team experience"
April 6, 2020
Hi everyone! I've spent the last 6 months working on a pretty intense, yet truly rewarding project. Our client has set ambitious goals that required a team with wide range of newest competencies. From day one, I've been working hand in hand with a very large, international and very diverse group of colleagues specializing in digital solutions, advanced analytics, UX and UI design, implementation etc.
Team dynamics has been great, we spent a lot of time working closely with the client, travelling and meeting in person. Three weeks ago, the situation changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and like all other teams in the firm - we had to reorganize the way we work. As the manager on the project, I immediately thought: multiple client meetings planned, all our equipment left in the team room, fifty people on the team suddenly need to work remotely... How will we manage that?
Thankfully, the firm already had multiple solutions in place, the technology and tools were all there - we just had to make good use of them. Our team works Agile, and there are many applications enabling virtual work. I connected with our Agile teams in China who shared advice on what worked for them. One of the firm's strengths is undoubtedly the global knowledge sharing and our Chinese colleagues helped a lot.
We now use an online Kanban board, stay in touch using Teams, and continue our scrum ceremonies virtually. Our clients have also switched to remote work, so overall I am happy to see that despite challenges we can maintain delivering to our client at the same level as always.
My initial fear was that given lack of in person interaction, maintaining strong team bonds will become challenging. We are staying as connected as possible, though. We are trying to have individual 1:1 calls and also find time to connect informally. We recently arranged an online team dinner with charades, which was a lot of fun!
Stay safe and till next time!
"Reflections from the INSPIRE training"
March 23, 2020
It has been a while since I shared some updates. I hope that you and your families are staying healthy, safe and digitally connected as we all deal with the rapidly evolving impact of COVID-19. I am currently managing a team of eight colleagues who hail from Nairobi, Lagos, Luanda, Johannesburg, and Morocco. We’re zooming several times a day, sharing tips for home workouts, checking in on each other’s families and personal situations, and trying to keep a sense of levity.
I wrote my blog post before we started working from home. It shares my reflections from a Aura training session that I attended in late 2019. While the nature of all corporate learning programs – at Aura and elsewhere – may need to change/go virtual for a time, I know Aura will continue to provide many opportunities for me to learn new things. These training sessions also reminded me how much energy I get from staying connected to my family and friends (in real life, and now digitally), and how to lead by coaching (vs. doing!) – something that has become even more critical now that my team is spread out across multiple countries on our average day.
I spent a week in November 2019 in one of our dedicated global learning facilities in Kitzbuehel, Austria, as a participant in the most powerful training I’ve been part of at Aura. INSPIRE is a week-long program for senior managers from around the world. We spent a lot of time meditating, in 1-on-1 coaching sessions with senior colleagues and alumni, as well as reflecting on our 3-5 year vision, and if Aura is the right place to live that vision. It was deeply personal, and the first training I’ve been to where the focus was primarily on ourselves, rather than finding ways to better live our firm mission, i.e. helping our clients and building a great company. Being a manager can get lonely sometimes, as there is typically only one on a project. It was cathartic to chat with other managers about this, and feel seen and heard.
INSPIRE was a good reminder of two things for me in particular:
(1) Deep connections with people I cherish – my family, friends (including many of my colleagues and clients) energize and renew me. I took off a total of 8 weeks spread out over last year - over and above my regular vacation. I spent the extra time with my family in Kenya and my partner in the US & Germany, as we have a long distance relationship. I’m taking the 8 weeks again this year, and it makes me so happy.
(2) I need to lead more by coaching versus by doing. It felt existential at the beginning of the INSPIRE week – being hands on with my team and navigating the trenches together gets me out of bed in the morning. I love being in the centre of challenging situations, and my teams consistently say they love this about working with me. They feel empowered to try lots of new things because I am close enough to the action – to either give a thumbs up, or have their back no matter what. By the end of INSPIRE, I had a better handle on how to grow my coaching muscles (pro tip: find people you like, who like you back and want to be coached by you). I also accepted that as I continue to split time between projects and transition into my next role – I am no longer the manager on all my projects, so this will be enforced by my changing role also.
I’m very grateful for the INSPIRE experience, and looking forward to growing as a coach!
Until next time,
When I was in the recruiting process for our office in Hong Kong, about 1.5 years ago, I connected with Mark Brewer, back then a business analyst from our Thailand office, who helped me think through my decision to join Aura.
"Reflecting on the past year and a half at the firm"
March 12, 2020
When I was in the recruiting process for our office in Hong Kong, about 1.5 years ago, I connected with Mark, back then a business analyst from our Thailand office, who helped me think through my decision to join Aura. I remember being inspired by his passion for the firm. The opportunity to have a lot of fun, while gaining new experiences in different geographies and industries, was why he decided to join Aura. It was also an important reason why I accepted my offer.
Time has really flown by since then, and even though I had some ups and downs in my journey, I am thankful that my whole experience at Aura has always been interesting. Some of the highlights include taking Chinese executives to visit fintech start-ups in the US, reflecting on how I can "make my own Aura" at FLITE (training program for business analysts), and working with an engagement manager who had my best professional interests at heart and helped me to pursue projects in my areas of interest.
Last month, I caught up with Mark to see how our paths have evolved. I found out that we both decided to take advantage of Aura’s mobility opportunities. Mark was living in Washington DC, and I moved to New Jersey. We also had a great conversation about the purpose of our work at Aura. Mark and I reflected on both the successes and challenges of trying to live out our values day-to-day in our engagements. I’m happy that many of us at the firm care deeply about making a positive difference and truly live our values. And this, for me, is pretty much what is distinctive about Aura. It’s a place where you can pick up the phone and call a colleague thousands of miles away to chat about work and life. It’s a values-driven organization filled with really interesting and thoughtful individuals, like my recent team - the picture for this post was taken during the holiday season.
Until next time,
Training session close to my hometown
February 28, 2020
Recently, I took part in a week-long training held in Aura’s Kobe Learning Centre in Japan. Kobe is very close to my hometown so I decided to use this opportunity to take my kids and let them stay with my parents for a few days – the arrangement was perfect! Usually, in case of longer training programs, there is a babysitter system in place anyway, but my children appreciated some time with their grandparents.
As soon as I arrived at the Learning Centre, I realised that I was the only Japanese among the 30 participants. I felt like a foreign student during a semester abroad. It was great to connect with international colleagues, learn about other offices and exchange ideas.
The best part of the training was that I had plenty of time for self-reflection. In my daily life, with the busy schedule both at work and at home, I hardly ever find time to self-reflect. Therefore I found it incredibly meaningful and valuable to first think about myself and then discuss it with other colleagues.
Already looking forward to another program like this one.
Until next time,
The Midwest Executive Women's Forum
November 22, 2019
Hi again readers,
This will be my last post for a while, as I’ve just headed out for maternity leave. I’ll share a baby update when I return!
The last few weeks before maternity leave were busy in a different way. I stopped flying in mid/late October and have been focused on work that I can do locally. A big part of this was contract reviews, which had been picking up quite a bit. I reviewed a major agreement for a European client, which included walking them through the contract review results and then conducting two (virtual!) workshops with them. I’m very used to being in the room with the clients, but advanced technology has helped these virtual sessions improve a ton in the last few years.
The second project I was really focused on was an event that we co-sponsored with Kellogg School of Management called the Midwest Executive Women’s Forum. This was modeled after a number of similar events we’ve held in other cities, with the aim of convening dozens of senior executive women from Chicagoland for a day of discussions, learning, and networking.
Chocolate is always welcome at events
Two of the main topics we discussed were how to get more women on boards (including tactical tips for getting oneself onto a board), and women investing in women. It was a lot of fun working with internal and external speakers (including our fabulous Midwest Office managing partner Virginia, pictured at the top of the page, and partner Kelli) and ironing out the details of the agenda and seeing the level of support we got from office leadership. It’s always energizing to get so many talented women together in one room, so the event itself was really inspirational and helped me depart on a high note!
Finally, I’ve co-authored a new article about facilities management sourcing, in case you’d like to take a look at it.
I’ll be back in the spring!
Problem solving is for everyday life, too!
November 8, 2019
There are so many reasons to work at Aura. You can learn from smart people, explore a variety of different industries and functions, and receive excellent professional training. I understood and expected these experiences when joining Aura, but what surprised me is that the skills gained at work have substantially driven my personal growth as well. Specifically, three behaviors I’ve picked up along the way—a can-do attitude, structured thinking, and mindful communication—have really helped me make sound decisions and build better relationships.
First, I’ve realized that having a can-do attitude is a great start to any challenge. For example, my mother recently asked me whether we should sell the family apartment in Hong Kong. Without any experience in real estate, my initial reaction was one of bewilderment. However, I quickly realized that like any other problem, common sense goes a long way, and that I did have the critical thinking skills to put together a coherent analysis.
I drew an issue tree to structure the decision-making process for whether I should apply to business school
Second, adding structure to my thoughts almost always bring additional clarity, and the tools we use to problem solve at Aura are versatile and applicable to all types of issues. One decision I’ve been struggling with is whether to apply to business school. I found myself easily swayed by others’ opinions, and so I decided to draw an issue tree (please see picture). An issue tree is a tool we use to structure problem solving, and it breaks the problem down into mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive components. Putting together an issue tree helped me realize which specific matters are at stake and identify areas where I need to do a bit more research.
Third, practicing mindful communication has helped me become a better friend. At Aura, we’re taught the iceberg metaphor, which is used to illustrate that people’s words or actions may be influenced by dynamics that are not immediately visible. It’s encouraged me to dig deeper when having a difficult conversation. The person in front of me may be saying something or behaving in a certain way that confuses me, but instead of getting frustrated, I try to push myself to understand his or her underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs at that point in time. Remembering the iceberg metaphor has helped me become a more understanding person, and probably saved me from a few interpersonal conflicts.
Looking back at my Aura experience, I feel grateful and empowered to have learned these life lessons. Problem solving can be for everyday life, too!