Tag Archives: Astrea

Meet Astrea: Anna Phillips, Deputy Director of Estates Resources

In the first in a series of interviews with members of Astrea, we talk to Anna Phillips, the Deputy Director of Estates Resources at Birkbeck about how she pivoted from being an air hostess to her current role, what inspires her, and how she unwinds.

Anna Phillips on some scaffolding net to her colleague Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

I never had a career plan until I came to Birkbeck. It was frustrating as most of my friends had some kind of idea of what they were good at and what they “wanted to be”! I knew I was always good at being practical, organised, and “building and fixing things” but I went to a school very focussed on academia and so didn’t quite fit into their ideals of Doctor, Lawyer, Politician etc.  Had there been more emphasis and support for alternatives I would probably have accessed Estates and Project Management much earlier on, rather than via a combination of circuitous routes and happy accidents!

I ended up doing German Language and Literature at the University of Kent purely because I liked languages and literature but with no intention of using it in any of the career paths that usually follow. Four years later, armed with a degree I had no idea what to do with, and none the wiser as to what to do next, I saw a job advert for London-based but German-speaking Lufthansa flight attendants. It was the perfect first job for me – languages, travel, organisation, responsibility, accountability, teamwork and self-confidence. Two years later, after 9/11, there were a huge number of redundancies, and I was again jobless and unsure what to do next. I intended to temp or find something short-term in order to return to flying when the dust settled, but the job and the industry were never the same after that and recruitment never returned to pre 9/11 levels.

And so, I ended up at Deutsche Bank (DB) as a contracted worker, again by chance really, having got an interview on a recommendation from a friend who already worked there. Whilst I was grateful to only have been out of work for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t stand the corporate atmosphere, which made for a stifling work environment. I don’t even know how I got stuck there for so long – I worked my way up from Reception to Room Bookings Co-ordinator, arranging meetings, conferences, and events and managing a weekly rolling team of six out of a full 40. The saving grace was that I liked the job itself, managing teams, and organising the use of rooms and the Estate. I didn’t even realise that “Room Bookings” was an actual job title until the sister of a colleague who had just graduated from Birkbeck sent her a job role listed as Room Bookings Team Leader – a job advert she then sent on to me as it described almost word for word the job, I’d been doing for 10 years! Two weeks later I had the interview at Birkbeck and an hour after that I’d been offered, and accepted, what would become a life-changing role.

And so, where my previous role had broken me, left me with no confidence in my abilities and no vision to excel or succeed, Birkbeck stepped in, picked me up, dusted me off and built me back up. I was enormously lucky to have a line manager who encouraged me to take on more and more responsibility, who trusted me and saw the career path that had eluded me, and so fortunate that Birkbeck gives the support, training and encouragement to those who want it. I took on various different aspects of Estates and learnt the integration needed specific to higher education and the different requirements and demands an Estate needs to provide for that setting. I became Commercial Services/Room Bookings manager in 2014 taking on the financial management for both Commercial Hire and External venue contracting along with more input in to the use and upkeep of space as well as the potential for future estate expansion. Because I finally found my career and niche, I was able to keep expanding into Estates and areas I found interesting and took on more of an Estates role within the wider college, resulting in becoming Deputy Director of Estates Resources in 2019. So, there we are – I took the long way round to the place I should have started if only I’d known, but it was all worth it to have a career I love, in a company whose ethos I agree with and support, and to be part of and help lead the most fantastic department.

What are some tips for success?

Be confident in your abilities, if there is something you want to do, or think can be done more efficiently just say so, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you take ownership of something, no matter how small. Don’t limit yourself, look ahead to what you really want to do or where you want to be, and aim for that. Find the things you like and are good at even within something challenging or unknown, and take advice and support from colleagues in other departments to round out your knowledge and ability outside of your comfort zone.

What advice would you give to someone starting your career/field?

You need to experience all the facets of Estates – room bookings and events is a good place to start as you get a huge amount of knowledge about all different areas, demands and expectations that you need to know about going forward. Estates is weird, because the implications and use apply to absolutely everyone, it’s not an area specific to one person, group, department or faculty – it has repercussions for every single person coming through the doors, so the broader your knowledge the better.

What was the last thing you read/heard/saw that inspired you?

I’ve just read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. The man went from selling shoes from the boot of his car to an annual sales return of 30 billion dollars – but mostly he writes about how much he loves shoes, which is perfect – Do what you love!

What do you do to unwind after work?

When my workload is steady, I go out with friends from work or home, see family, potter round the house “fixing” things, wonder why my cooking doesn’t look like it does on MasterChef, binge watch TV…the usual 😊

At “peak” times of the Estates year, I sit in a dark room with a bucket of wine and a straw.

Astrea is a grassroots network for women, transgender and non-binary people in professional and support roles. Find out more on the Birkbeck website.

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Making Working from Home Work for You

The first Birkbeck Astrea event of 2020-21 explored how small changes can make a big difference to wellbeing, productivity and work-life balance while working from home.

Picture of a laptop with coffee and a children's toy.

If you, like much of the UK population, are continuing to work from home in the New Year, how did you feel returning to your desk (/dining room table/kitchen worktop) after the Christmas break? Were you relieved to give a freezing January commute a miss, or disappointed to miss out on catching up with colleagues? Are you returning to your laptop refreshed, or is it already feeling like Groundhog Day? 

If you’ve found the prolonged absence from the office a difficult adjustment in any way, be it the technology, loneliness or struggling to switch off at the end of the day, you’re not alone, as Birkbeck Astrea members discovered in their first formal event of the 2020-21 academic year, Making Working from Home Work for You. 

Working from Home: Love it or Hate it? 

This virtual event began with an opportunity to share the highs and lows of working from homeAmong the bugbears that we’d rather not carry into 2021 were an increasingly sedentary lifestyle; technological issues ranging from Wi-Fi crises to video call etiquette; as well as habits that we just can’t seem to save ourselves from, such as the obsessive reading of bad news on social media known as ‘doomscrolling’. 

It wasn’t all bad though, as colleagues also shared some of the highs from lockdown life, such as getting to know co-workers on a more personal level by being introduced to pets and other elements of home life; having an opportunity to get chores done in the week, leaving the weekend free to relax; and enjoying more comfortable attire, as one member commented: ‘Spending my working day in outside shoes seems ludicrous and I don’t know how I ever did it.’ 

Change One Thing 

While this end of term gathering was a great opportunity to get together and let off steam about working from home, there’s a serious side to this too. The blurred boundaries created by working from home mean that many of us are working longer hours and finding it harder to switch off at the end of the day. Mental health can suffer too, both for those juggling caring responsibilities with work and for those living alone who may feel isolated. So what can we do to make an improvement in 2021? 

Thinking about how we could improve our work/life balance, productivity and foster a healthy mind in the New Year, we asked members for suggestions of one small thing we could do in 2021 to make a difference. Here’s what they said: 

One change to improve work/life balance: 

  • Turn off all notifications: social media, email – they are designed to serve someone else’s priorities. 
  • Ditch the guilt: give yourself permission to take breaks and don’t feel bad for sticking to your agreed working hours. 
  • Make plans to call a loved one on your lunch break or straight after work. 

One change for a healthy mind: 

  • Be kind to yourself: don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish everything on your to do list. 
  • Use your commute time to walk or read a book – whatever helps you switch off from the day. 
  • Go outside: use your lunch break to get some daylight and fresh air. 

One change for increased productivity: 

  • Take breaks away from your desk – in the physical office we were much less attached to our desks than we are now! 
  • Focus on one thing at a time – multitasking is distracting. 
  • If you’re in a meeting, switch off your emails. Don’t try to spread yourself too thinly. 

Got a great tip for working from home? Add it to our list. 

What small change can you make this year to get 2021 off to a great start? Let us know what you’ll do differently in the comments below. 

Birkbeck Astrea is a grassroots networking group for women and non-binary people working in professional services roles at Birkbeck, University of London. Stay in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram.

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