Create Structures to Free Employees to be Their Best, with Preeti Somal, VP of Engineering at HashiCorp, and Mark Thiele, CEO and Founder of Edgewana

IT Visionaries Podcast

The world has changed; work has too. Many people are reassessing both their personal and professional lives. The truth is that the personal and professional worlds have always been intertwined. People never left their humanity outside the front door of the office. Now, due to the increase in remote work, there may not even be a physical office. And the integration of personal and professional life is more obvious today than ever before. Work is being done at home, but so is taking care of the household or kids. There’s a lot of life for people to sort out. It’s a challenging time, for sure, but also one filled with potential.

Companies have an opportunity to take care of their employees in new ways. Or, if they are reluctant to change, employees can leave for other opportunities. Instead of an outdated and unhelpful mentality about controlling workers, companies have to adjust to make sure employees have the freedom they need to do their best work.

Part of this is making sure that work culture is good. Leaders don’t try to control employees; they make sure their path is smooth to do their work. It’s also about providing the right tools at the opportune time to get work done efficiently. Most people are decent and hard working. They want to be productive and to be respected. If companies take care of their core needs, employees will produce, increase ROI, innovate, and care for customers.

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Preeti Somal, the VP of Engineering at HashiCorp, and Mark Thiele, the CEO and Founder of Edgevana, discussed how companies can transform to create more productive work environments in this new era of increased personal and professional integration. Somal gave her take on the reasons why there has been a great deal of recent movement between companies for engineers.

“One dimension is, certainly, individuals wanting to stay in a remote work environment and really looking for an optimal approach that companies have found there,” Somal said. “Then the second very critical dimension is: ‘How difficult is it for me as an engineer to do my job? Am I able to focus on building those scalable, secure experiences? Am I able to innovate rapidly?’”

Thiele pointed out that nominal leaders who wrongly try to control employees have led to dissatisfaction at some companies.

“This notion of control has been exacerbated by the fact that most of us would be leaders,” Thiele said. “And I say would be leaders because frankly, if you’re a leader, this isn’t your problem because you don’t have the issue of worrying about control of your staff, but for would be leaders who were threatened in general, in a traditional workplace, the idea of having a distributed workforce or a workforce that could make choices in real time, well, frankly, scares the crap out of them.”

When it comes down to it, life and work have always been interconnected. This is not a novel situation given more remote work. What is new, however, is the complexity that comes with working from home. Unfortunately, some companies are stuck in old patterns about how to know work is being done and to evaluate it.

“Life intrudes on work,” Thiele said. “The whole point for many people working remotely is to allow life to occur and to allow w3ork to occur where life isn’t intruding. And most people are very generous with that distribution. Most people are more than happy to put in more than the eight or nine or ten hours that the average organization expects of them because of that assumed flexibility. And so when a manager or a leader decides to try to collapse that and say, ‘No, we’re taking your office and we’re putting it in your home and I’m putting a camera above your desk so I can keep an eye on what the hell you’re doing all day long,’ that changes that dynamic.”

Where control and surveillance will lead employees to exit via the nearest escape hatch, companies that create a supportive, structured environment that allows for maximum freedom will retain employees and attract talent.

“I’m a huge believer in, put the guard rails in place [and] build the internal platforms that you need to,” Somal said. “There’s a lot of tooling, including ours, that helps you do it now and then get out of the way of the developer. Let them focus on coding and innovating. And frankly, in our industry right now, fast movers have the advantage. It’s no longer the case where you can afford to not innovate rapidly and we’re seeing that all around us.”

The tools must be efficient and allow workers to be productive.

“People want to be able to feel like they’re productive when they’re working and if they can’t get that, they’re going to go somewhere else where they can find it,” Thiele said.

The way to retain great employees is to realize that having the right tools, process, and work culture are all interconnected.

“We also believe that the process and the culture of how remote work gets done is really important,” Somal said.

Due to low-code and no-code advancements, many new tools can be created internally in order to support employees. This can be game-changing to easily create effective tools and target them to specific employees.

“Literally, there’s been more improvement in low-code and no-code in the last year than there was in the previous five years…and that’s not going to slow down,” Thiele said. Companies are going to have to figure out frameworks because this becomes sort of the equivalent of accepted shadow IT for lack of a better description.”

Companies must establish an organizational process to keep track of all the new tools.

“My number one [piece of] advice is to create a small internal platforms team and charter that team with making the engineers successful in the proliferation of these apps and tooling that’s going to happen,” Somal said. “What that internal platform team can do is create a self-service environment where they can use tooling like ours, or others, where getting a cloud environment is really easy, but it happens through a layer where you know what’s happening and you can just track it and you can clean up after it and so on.”

With the right tools, organization, and culture, employees will prosper. Most employees want to be productive. Companies need to create just enough structure to free them to be their best. Leaders should direct their attention to supporting individual employees, as each employee has a unique skill set, and then turn their attention to consider the larger group of workers overall.

“Focus your energies on what people do well individually,” Thiele said. “Get them to maximize where they have the most potential. Instead of spending 80% of your time on a place where they can add 20% value, spend 20% of your time on a place where they can add 80% value. And the same thing goes to the larger picture. Focus on what the group of people in general are likely to be able to accomplish if you give them fertile ground to work in.”

To hear more about how companies can create liberating structures for employees from two leaders with experience building infrastructure, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

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