TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Sudheesh Nair, CEO of ThoughtSpot, which produces business intelligence analytics software, about asynchronous working. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
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Karen Roby: I’m happy to talk with you today about this idea of asynchronous work. I want you to explain, first, what do you mean by that? Then we’ll get a little bit into why you think that this could be beneficial for companies to consider.
Sudheesh Nair: This is a topic that everyone is discussing. It’s not like I have figured everything out here at ThoughtSpot. But people usually use the word remote. The challenge with that word, remote, I mean, words do matter. Remote means that there are local people, there are headquarters people and there are people out there.
And in the new world, at least what COVID is teaching us, is that if you want to attract the best people no matter where they are, you have to start thinking differently. And distributed is a better way to describe that where the workforce will be. But within that, how people will work, I think there is a better approach, which is asynchronous. What I mean by that is let people work however they want to work, whenever they want to work. And that is the difference.
For example, you are on the East Coast and let’s say, you’re an early riser. You like to get up early, at five o’clock or six o’clock in the morning, and you want to work. West Coast is sleeping, it’s three o’clock here. Can that work? What if you are in Hawaii or what if you are in Nicaragua? I think the ability to let people in whenever they want to work, however long they want to work in a day, I think that’s what asynchronous is about. If you think that way, you have to make more intentional changes in the work process, collaboration process, to enable every one of those people to come into the workforce.
Karen Roby: Talk about why you think it’s so important. I mean, yes, we’re moving into this new normal, whatever this is going to look like and to attract the best talent. But for each individual person, you see this as playing to their strengths. Expand on that for me, the benefits of working this way.
Sudheesh Nair: Let me take one step back. And so we’ve been thinking a lot about this, so there are three to four things that I think that are beneficial in this new model. Office space: We are all holding a lot of real estate in our business and we want to get rid of that as much as possible, that is an obvious one. Productivity: We used to think that probably will not be as good, it’s actually pretty good now. The last part is obviously nobody wants to sit in an airport or traffic, those things are removed.
Having said that, there are also negative things that come with that. The first one is people don’t know when to disconnect when working from home. I’m sure you can relate to that. It’s important to make sure that when you’re 9 to 5 and you drive to work, you come back, there’s an opportunity to switch off. That’s gone. Second, the human connection, the collaboration, the ideation that happens over a cup of coffee or a lunch or a dinner, those things are still important. And the last thing is, if everyone is working remotely, everyone is working in their own homes, how do you measure and stack people who is performing better than others?
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When you think of this, that’s why asynchronous workflow includes at least two different things. The first one is that, let’s say you’re a mother who wants to come back into the workforce because you took a couple of years off, a common thing. The benefit for the companies is that bringing someone with experience back into the workforce, someone who’s energized, wants to deliver more, it’s a great thing for the company to have. But on the other hand, she may not want to work a full day. Maybe she’s getting half day child care and the half day she want to put in. So instead of 40 hours, she wants to work maybe 25, 30 hours.
That will have to work in this new model. That’s where asynchronous approach is better than this true remote and thinking that everyone just work from 9 to 5 from home, is a broken model to make those things work.
Karen Roby: Obviously, Sudheesh, there’s some companies that are way over here, and they have transformed digitally to a far extent, and remote work was nothing new to them when the pandemic hit. And there’s other companies that are way over here and they want the 9 to 5 and everyone in the business are inside, and then plenty in between. So to take an average company that wants to try to be progressive in this way and move towards this model, how much work would go into doing that? I mean, changing people’s mindsets, I guess, is a big piece of that.
Sudheesh Nair: I think it starts with the leadership making a conscious decision that this is not a half-baked effort. In the sense that you have to fundamentally think about how you’re going to hire, how are you going to retain and how are you going to measure people’s output. And if you don’t do all three in a completely holistic way, you will end up having suboptimal results.
For example, if you are able to attract, let’s say, from wherever, because yes, you can now work from wherever. Let’s say you hire somebody from Africa. But if you leave that person out on an island and there are people here in California, for example, let’s say, they’re collaborating, they’re making decisions. Those decisions are made in our daytime. And she wakes up the next morning, and she finds that her inputs were not added because she was not there to defend it. That breaks it. Now you’ve got to think about it. You can’t just say that I can hire wherever, optimize costs, bring more people, unless you think through how are you going to make them as successful, give them as much opportunity as you would give to someone who’s actually local in California.
SEE: IT pro’s roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
That means that you have to start by thinking holistically. Second, information security. This is an extremely important thing to think through. How are you going to secure if people are going to work from home? And remember, sometimes in the US we used to think everyone would have fast access to the internet. People will have separate office space within their homes. That may not be true in every part of the world. In fact, it will not be true. How are you going to say, if they were going to work from a coffee shop or they’re going to go into a co-working space, what happens to information security? How do you compensate them differently from others?
We are in the early phases of this journey. The most important thing is not rushing to anything and say, “Oh, that cool company is doing it that way, so let us just go do it.” Horses for the courses. We all have to run our own races, but it is a good thing that is happening, because to me, it feels like this is a best way to be more inclusive as organizations, give opportunities no matter where they live, and no matter how they want to contribute to the company.
Karen Roby: Talk for a second if you will, touch on how did you become passionate about working in this way? What has really fueled this idea for you that you feel passionate about it?
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Sudheesh Nair: To me it is my own life experiences. I grew up in a southern part of India in a lower middle class family, with absolutely no idea that I’ll end up in the US. I’ve taken every opportunity that is given to me. And I found that no matter where you go, people all want the same things. They want to be happy, they want to be loved, they want to be successful. They want to make the people they care about feel that they are proud of them.
As I moved here and the opportunity that is open to me, it feels like it is important to make sure that while talent is probably university distributed, opportunities are not. When you hear something, like when COVID is given to us as a species in this world, it’s a huge curse. But within that curse, there is a blessing. And we are all sensing that. This is an opportunity for us to come together as a species and make sure that we really make tangible progress in the journey toward inclusion.
And I think, in a small way, as a CEO of a small company in Silicon Valley, I feel like if we can do it for our company and then use opportunities like this to talk about that, it would make a small but meaningful progress. And I think that’s what it’s doing.