A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent.
This month, Jen spoke with Bec about working remotely — and off-grid — in Castlemaine with her bike and resident possum Polly, and how a career in the fitness industry led her to return from a dream holiday in Italy to eventually work at Cogent.
Name: Bec Covington
Job: Head of People
Time at Cogent: Three months
Hi Bec. You’ve been here for three months, but it feels like you’ve been here forever. You’ve slotted in straight away!
Thanks, Jen – I feel the same!
Where are you based?
I’m based in a little part of the Castlemaine region called Barkers Creek, so just outside of Castlemaine. It’s an hour and a half out of Melbourne, I’m on 30 acres off grid. So, yeah, I’m in the bush.
The property has a Nature Trust on it, which means that it’s basically like living in a national park. It’s got very similar kinds of regulations to what we can and can’t do with it. And the idea is to protect the flora and fauna and create a safe habitat for them.
Bec’s favourite view from the house and often where she sits while working
Well, it must be really wonderful living there.
It is. It is our own little haven, surrounded by all the birds, kangaroos, wallabies and a few other animals, lizards and things.
And have you started bird watching?
Oh, yeah, loving my binoculars! They’re awesome. It’s so cool seeing all the little details of the birds! There are so many birds and lizards who happily play and live in our garden. Apparently a very lazy red belly black snake too, but we haven’t seen him yet! Actually, the two stumpy tail lizards that normally hide under the plant out the front were on my pavement under the veranda the other day. And apparently over summer they spend a lot of time on our front veranda. So I am really excited for that.
Have you got names ready for them when they pop out?
Not for the lizards yet, no. I’ve got a name for the possum that lives in the shed: her name’s Polly. She’s got a little baby and she’s got a regular routine of being in there every second night.
Oh, nice! Do you mostly work remotely? And can you tell us a little bit about your home office setup?
We’ve got this little nook in the lounge room that I think actually used to be a bedroom, but it’s opened up now, and that’s my study. I’ve got a nice little outlook onto both sides of our garden. I’ve got a standing desk — or a sit-stand desk, an electric one — which I just got and I love it. I’ve got my bike in the background.
You can’t be Cogent without a bike!
Can’t be Cogent and can’t be Bec without a bike, absolutely!
Bec on the Blue Tier trail in Derby
How has this changed since pre-COVID? What do you like or dislike about remote working?
Interestingly, the job I was in for four years before Cogent had really flexible work. So I worked from home then too, but certainly not as much as I am now. I’m also more of an introvert, so I like my own space and really enjoy working from home, actually. But I miss coffee catch ups and I miss running into people and chatting to people that I don’t necessarily get to chat to when I’m working from home, and jumping in and out of meetings.
So I think that’s probably the main thing is just getting to know people that I don’t necessarily have day-to-day dealings with in my work. I miss that, especially when you’re new. I am relatively shy, so I’m not always great at initiating conversation. But there’s something about standing at the coffee machine or, I don’t know, the lolly jar, and sparking up a conversation with someone that I might not normally talk to. I miss that.
So how did you get into what you do? And have you always wanted to be doing this?
It is a really long story so I’m going to try and keep it short and sweet. I haven’t always wanted to do this. I had a lot of ideas coming out of school. I think I always loved psychology, it was always my favourite subject at school. But of course, nobody tells you at school that psychology doesn’t have to mean sitting in a room, listening to people talk about the things going on for them – there’s a world of careers available. It was actually through being a personal trainer in the fitness industry, and becoming a customer service manager that I realised actually what I really loved was setting up my team for success. I started a whole new team of 30 people in a big aquatic centre, and I realised what I loved about that was enabling them to be great at what they do, giving them the confidence and the autonomy to just do their job really well. The outcome of that was great customer service.
And soon enough, I realised that that had a bit of a link with organisational psychology and, yeah, one thing flowed on to another and I landed myself an organisational development job. Then I moved from local government into tech. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and now I’m here.
I love what I do. I love that my job is literally to enable people to do their best work and to enjoy coming to work and getting something back for what they put in. That’s a pretty special job to have.
We can see that over the time you’ve been here, short as it may be, that you’re very passionate about it. So, run me through a typical day working at Cogent.
Ah, what’s typical?! I couldn’t even tell you, to be honest. It’s just there’s so much going on right now, I think, and it’s like layers of things.
I guess at the moment, updates to our parental leave policy is a big one that you and I have been working on. So that’s been a big chunk of time, having really complex conversations and trying to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by everyone. So, that’s one.
Lots of conversations about all the big picture work we are focussed on at the moment, like how we’re updating our transparent salary table and evaluating performance in a very “Cogent” way. And everything going on with COVID and returning to the office and what that looks like, and how we balance all the safety stuff with keeping all the great things that are what Cogent’s about.
Bec with some of the People team enjoying some post-lockdown freedoms in Melbourne
It does sound busy! Now, if you could be one other thing professionally, what would you be?
Oh, I don’t know, probably an architect. It was something I always wanted to do as a kid. And I’ve been mucking around with it since we moved into this place. I was literally working on something last night, trying to plan out what the house could look like, because we want to do some renovation – and I love that. I like realestate.com. That’s my favourite app. I’m forever just looking at houses and house layouts and stuff. It’s less about the interior design and more about how houses are laid out.
I’m just laughing because I spend half an hour every night looking on realestate.com!
Totally. I’ll come across somebody who’ll talk about a particular place in, I don’t know, Victoria, or even outside of Victoria, and I’ll be like, “Ah, I wonder what that place is like.” And I just zoom in on the map and start looking at houses. That’s how we landed in Castlemaine actually. It was through realestate.com. I’m a walking real estate.com ad, I think!
Haha! So, what kind of projects are you working on at the moment? Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on since you started at Cogent?
It’s so early, it’s got to be the parental leave policy, though. To be part of an organisation that wants to break down the gender norms associated with caregiving and trying to make a difference in that space is pretty cool. I’ve learnt an awful lot through that, actually. And being able to work so closely with the likes of you and Stu and have all these really complex conversations about, like I said, what it means for our people and how that impacts budget, has been a big learning curve. And to see where we’ve landed with it is really exciting. That’s definitely the favourite one so far.
Okay. What’s your favourite thing about working at Cogent?
There’s probably two. I think that how smart people are and how genuinely passionate people are is one. I love that. And how accepting people are of other people. I think everyone’s just been so welcoming and generous with their time, and encouraging of me and accepting of a new role in this team. And certainly there’s so much knowledge — that’s pretty amazing. Seeing how genuine we are in what we’re trying to achieve and the impact we’re trying to have — and that our board is all about doing the right thing and making the right decisions and that we’re trying to have an actual difference in this world. There’s just something really special about working for an organisation that’s actually thinking about something other than itself. It’s amazing.
Totally agree with you there. Alrighty. What do you like to do on a weekend or in your time off?
Ride my bike way too much. It’s all about the bike! There is nothing else. Actually, there is, that’s a lie. There is now lots of gardening and stuff to do around the house as well, which is another big part of my spare time. But, yeah, my hobby is definitely all about the bike and particularly all about the gravel at the moment — finding new gravel roads to explore and adventure and spend way too long on the bike, and not too much else.
Bec 170kms deep into a big gravel ride, about the only time she drinks Coke!
Just last weekend you rode 189 kilometers. How long did that take you?
Too long. Yeah, it was 182k’s and it took us about 10 hours. We rode from Castlemaine all the way out to Heathcote and back, on a big loop. And we got to experience all the things that you get to experience on gravel adventures. We got a snake; we got a burnt-out car; we got fence crossings, and accidentally ended up on somebody’s property; we got lots of bakery treats. That’s the best thing about riding bikes is you get to eat everything and you don’t have to worry.
That sounds awesome.
Yeah. We met an old guy on the Heathcote Rail Trail and he chatted to us for ages on his e-bike. And just all the things you get to experience: the sun, crazy storm coming back into Castlemaine again where the wind picked up. We got everything that day, and food cooked for us when we got home. That was the best bit!
Oh, that’s pretty cool.
And we had a cheer squad coming back into Castlemaine. Two of our mates were waiting for us because we had our Garmins going and they could see where we were up to. And so they waited for us just outside of Castlemaine and gave us a big cheer as we came in. It was very cute. That was awesome.
Did you think you were on the Tour de France?
Yeah, something like that!
Okay. What’s the best place you’ve ever been?
Bormio, 100%. Bormio in Italy. Yeah. For all the cycling, for the small Italian town vibes, for their amazing local pasta dish, which was my favourite dish in Bormio and in Italy, sorry. Stelvio, the mountain. Riding into Switzerland from Italy. I need to get back there again. It was amazing. The thunderstorms that come with being in the Alps, they’re awesome – it was all awesome!
Bec riding in the Dolomites, Italy
How long did you do that for?
We were in Bormio for a week. We spent four weeks in Italy, and we did a week in the Dolomites riding, and then a week in Bormio, and then two weeks travelling around the rest of Italy. But I really actually wanted to go and stay there and work from Bormio for a little while and just ride my bike and work. So that was always the plan, and then COVID hit and things changed.
Oh, well maybe one day! If you had a private chef for a night, what would you get them to make you?
I don’t even know if I could answer that. I just love food. I think I’d get them to surprise me with something. And they’d definitely need to make a good dessert because it’s all about dessert for me.
What’s your favourite dessert?
I just love lollies and chocolate and anything super, super sweet. I had a little bit of an obsession lately, I think I told you, with The Cookie Dough Company in Northcote. So any really sweet cookie dough kind of stuff. And anything with lemon in it!
Alrighty. What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
I reckon this one’s a little bit deep — maybe too deep for this interview — but it is definitely the best advice I’ve ever had, and probably one of my strongest memories. I grew up in Gembrook, I grew up riding horses. My mum or my dad, depending on the day, would take my sister and I for a ride on the horses down into the forest, because we were right next to Bunyip State Forest. It was a rough time for our family with a few family tragedies happening in short succession and I remember Dad saying to us, “Whatever happens, things will always get better.” And as a kid, you don’t think much of it, but it was clear dad was trying to tell us to never give up hope. Not long after that, my dad got diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Oh dear – I’m sorry to hear that
Thanks Jen, in many ways, we’re very lucky as he’s still with us today, but he’s gone through peaks and troughs with learning to live with MND. And to watch him come out the other side and learn to live a pretty fulfilling life even though he’s had a lot taken away from him, I think it’s made me much more resilient to what life throws at me and helped me to always have hope through situations. So, yeah, that has to be the best advice I’ve ever received.
Well, I think it’s a pretty good piece of advice too.
Yeah, I think so. It’s just a bit deep, but yeah, it’s definitely the best piece I’ve had.
Alrighty. If you could have a good long in-depth conversation with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
I would love to be able to talk to the traditional owners of the land I live on. I’d love to understand how they used the land and what the significance of different places are around me. I think that would be pretty epic to be able to understand it and understand how to listen better to the environment around me.
I think that would be awesome. Thanks for your time, Bec!
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