Sarah Bullock is a Senior Associate in Cornwalls’ Sydney office. She is known for going above and beyond what is expected from both her clients and her team.
Sarah is an experienced corporate and transactional lawyer, and has played a vital role in a number of high-value M&A and corporate transactions, including advising a major global player in the aesthetic medicine and skincare industry, advising one of Australia’s leading security companies and advising Europe’s leading construction and engineering SaaS provider.
In April 2019, Sarah relocated to Toronto, Canada, and became the sole employee of Cornwalls’ unofficial Canadian office. Sarah discusses working remotely from Canada during the pandemic, her return to Australia and her hopes for the future.
How did the pandemic impact your life in Canada? Was there any impact to your work?
My work did not change much with the pandemic. I was already well versed in remote working, so I was prepared for the ‘new normal’. Our Corporate / M&A group was lucky in that we did not experience any downturn in workload – in fact, we were incredibly busy!
On a personal level, the lockdown in Canada was very strict and lasted for longer than what was experienced in Australia (the stay at home orders in Toronto are finally being eased this week, although people still cannot go to the hairdressers, eat out, have gathering etc). As some will have sympathy for, this made it quite lonely at times.
Were you able to balance personal and professional life?
Not really! However, the issue was the time zone difference, not working from home.
When I ‘WFH’ in Sydney, I have more time with my friends and loved ones as I have 2 additional hours each day when I am not sitting on a bus commuting to and from work. When I was ‘WFH’ in Canada, I was on call and/or working Sunday through to Friday with only Saturday ‘free’. WFH worked perfectly – it was the timezone which made my situation hard!
To separate professional and personal life, I tried to create physical barriers. I made a point of having a separate room to work in, which was my dedicated work space. Anything outside of that room was ‘home time’. Maintaining a routine was also important. Although I didn’t put on a suit every morning, I made sure I was tidy and presentable every time I ‘went to work’. It helped me to get into the mindset of work.
Are there any major differences between working from Australia and Canada?
I now have more free time!
When I was ‘WFH’ in Canada, there was no ‘end-time’ – the emails / calls went through my night, so I lived on my phone. Now I am back in Sydney, I am really enjoying clocking off at the end of the day.
I have to admit that I am less efficient now that I am back in the office though! There are a lot of natural distractions and interruptions in the office which I don’t have at home (although others may say differently – for example, I take my hat off to all the parents who have been homeschooling this past year). However, it is these distractions and interruptions which build culture – something which is often overlooked in the WFH model, but which adds team bonding and fun to the workplace.
Do you think flexible working arrangements will become less taboo in post-pandemic life?
I think remote working arrangements have definitely become more embraced. However, remote working isn’t the same as flexible working. While there will be some businesses that embrace flexibility, it will be a long time before we are completely rid of the mentality that the measure of an employee’s commitment and effort is based on their visibility.
How was your return to Australia?
The return home was a series of disasters! Flights were extremely limited when I was trying to get home. 48 hours before I was due to fly home, the Australian Government announced new flight caps and my ticket home was cancelled. The travel agent advised that there were no other economy tickets for the next 6 months, the lease on the Toronto apartment was expiring the following week, all our belongings had been shipping back to Australia, my partner’s visa was expiring and the Australian Government departments were unhelpful. I ended up having to fly to London, quarantine for 2 weeks in London, then get a business class ticket back to Sydney (as all economy tickets were cancelled). I quarantined an additional 2 weeks in a hotel in Sydney. It ended up taking a lot longer than expected to get home but I can’t complain – thousands are still stuck overseas.
Were you able to continue your work throughout the return journey?
I only had 2 days off – 1 to fly to London and 1 to fly to Sydney.
We were really busy at the time. A lawyer from my team left (and we were only a team of 3!), and I had no way of knowing when I would get home. The Australian Government had reserved the right to change travel restrictions for international travelers with only 48 hours notice, so I ended up working the entire period. I went back to the office 1 day after being released from my second quarantine. In short, it was hard work!
You had a very memorable year last year, being awarded Senior Associate of the Year at the Australian Law Awards and Senior Associate of the Year at the Women in Law Awards. What’s next?
I’m still in shock that I won, so I have no grand plans (although I have teased my team with the idea of me becoming managing partner!). I would like to continue to work with my colleagues to build the Cornwalls brand in Sydney – to be known as being a place where quality work is done by good people.
I also want to continue to work with female lawyers. I think female lawyers face unique challenges – gender discrimination and bias still occurs in various forms – and I would like to support and help younger female lawyers navigate such challenges, just as I have had strong female role models and male champions of change support me.