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Lee Rigley returns from a working sabbatical in the UK

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Lee Rigley, Senior Associate Environmental Engineer, is based at ATC Williams Brisbane office. Lee has dedicated the last four years of his twenty-year career providing project management and technical support to the Queensland tailings, water and waste management teams. We talk about his determination to create a work/life balance.

What work are you involved with currently?

I am currently working on a dam design for a coal mine site in central Queensland, assisting the waste management team with various landfill and transfer station projects. Next up, I'm about to get started on coordinating development of the final deliverables for a tailings dam feasibility study for a Mongolian mining project.

I have never specialised in any one technical discipline and prefer to take a generalist approach. I like the variety that comes with being involved with different aspects of multiple projects, and get a buzz from successful project completions and happy clients who return with more work.

What is behind your decision to work part-time?

In 2019, my wife and I decided to take a year out. We went over to the UK with our four-year-old son, to travel and spend quality time with our UK relatives. We'd recently seen a few people we know pass away far too young, and this caused us to re-evaluate our lives – we were really keen on trying to find a way to achieve a better work/life balance.

We travelled in a motorhome for a large part of that time, and while away I was still assisting the Queensland teams remotely for 1 or 2 days, spread across the week. I would work from wherever we were at the time. This photo from our travel blog shows me doing some work from a lovely inland beach on a Scottish Loch! I discovered that it definitely requires discipline to do this type of work remotely, and there were quite a few late nights or early mornings juggling time zone differences and meeting milestones.

How does working three days a week influence your time?

I find I am very focused and productive with my time when I am at the office. Of course, there is the flexibility to do more from home if the project timeline demands it in any given week, but overall I find I have lower stress levels, and I enjoy seeing more of my wife and young son.

I'm lucky that ATC Williams is a family-friendly company, firstly giving me the flexibility to continue to work while away in the UK, and then accommodating my shift to three days a week upon our return.

What do you do with the other days?

I've set up a dog grooming business space at home, and I have a growing clientele. I've always loved animals, and I may have been a vet if a bad week of work experience hadn't changed my mind during high school! My wife helps me with marketing and ideas, so it's a fun and challenging experiment which offers the right amount of balance right now.

You've had a career focused on environmental strategy and sustainability, where do you see that change is still needed?

I pursued my forte in maths and physics by doing engineering at the University of Queensland and also completed a Masters in Energy Studies a few years ago, so energy use is always front of mind, along with climate change and sustainability. Global warming is a long-term trend which I'm afraid I can get too pessimistic about at times.

From our recent time in the UK, it was interesting to see how proactive and innovative their local authorities and councils are in this space. There are many progressive initiatives in Australia, but it can ebb and flow depending on the government of the day. Although, I do see that the public attitude is shifting and as individuals, the government doesn't have to be solely responsible for the environment anymore. We need to be aware how climate change will impact us, but there is only so much worry that people can take on at any one time, and right now, the global focus has shifted to coronavirus.

I've lived in Queensland since I was ten and I love calling it home. Australia has a great lifestyle, but I do think we're over-consumptive, so we'd need to sacrifice that somewhat in the years to come to effect any real change. We are trying to lead by example with our son. We share one car, choose not to eat meat, compost our waste, and are mindful of energy consumption. They seem like small things to us, but I hope they add up to something bigger.