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Tonya Lagrasta is the head of ESG for Colliers Real Estate Management Services in Canada.

Remember the planking challenge? You choose an unexpected spot – like your granite kitchen counter or a bus stop – and stretch out face down, body held rigid by your elbows and toes.

Now try this challenge: Pile a chair, laptop and phone on a desk and lift the whole thing with one hand. Then take your laundry hamper, slow cooker, your dog and a couple of your kids and hoist them all up with the other hand.

Can’t do it? Neither can I. I confess that, like a lot of women with busy careers and growing families, I can’t maintain work-life balance.

What I do maintain is perspective – on what works, what doesn’t and what’s most important to me and the people in my work and life at certain points in time.

What’s worked for me time and again is an employer that gives me the flexibility to manage all the activity in my life, and an honest self-understanding of how and where I can best do my job. I’ve been working in hybrid arrangements for more than a decade and I’ve learned there are certain tasks I do better at home – alone and with my head down – and other tasks I do better in the office.

I use technology to stay organized and I make efficient use of time by doing things like scheduling calls – where I can just talk and listen – when I’m in the car.

What doesn’t work for me? Being forced to divide myself into multiple pieces so I can attend to everything and everyone. During working hours, I focus on the work regardless of the location. When I’m off the clock, I focus on the personal aspects of my life, such as my family, friends and my own wellness. It takes discipline to ensure each gets all of me, not mere fractions that, in the end, add up to less than 100 per cent.

Everyone gets all of me, some of the time

Sometimes my workplace gets 100 per cent of me more frequently than my family. Other times, it’s the other way around. Whether it balances in the end isn’t as important as ensuring it all aligns with what’s most important to me and the people in my world of work and personal life.

This is where understanding your values becomes so important. I learned this lesson shortly after I gave birth to my second child. I felt like I had failed because my baby was born prematurely, and I didn’t have time to do a proper work handoff. So while my newborn was in the neonatal intensive care unit, I got on my laptop and began working, trying to finish the handoff.

I was reporting into a senior leader at the time – also a working mother – whose sponsorship helped advance my career. She was quick to call me out: “You just had a baby. Stop working.” I remember saying to her, “I’m just sitting here, watching her. There’s nothing I can do for her and there’s so much I need to finish.” But she wasn’t having it, and she was right.

In that moment, the most important thing in my world was this beautiful and fragile human being I had just brought into this world. I needed to focus on her, and I was grateful that my leader had helped me give myself permission to step away from the work I loved so I could look after the child I loved even more.

More organizations need to build workplace cultures that foster trust and give people space to stretch their abilities while also giving them permission to pause when they need to. They need to build flexibility around the people who need it, such as working parents.

They also need leaders willing to be sponsors for high-performing women, not only to help drive their careers but also to offer support and firm advice when these up-and-comers hit a roadblock or experience a significant life change.

I’ve found employee resource groups (ERGs) to be great spaces where people with shared experiences can connect – something that can be hard to do in a big organization. But for an ERG to be effective, it needs executive sponsorship, and its goals must be tied to the organization’s overall goals. Without these, ERGs might simply become places for conversation, without the tools and direction needed to create change.

Enough said. Signing off for now so I can direct my attention to my two little ones, who are now in grades three and five. They’re pretty good at math now and can quickly tell when I’m not giving them 100 per cent.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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