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Empathy, upskilling, and open communication are keys to collaborate to innovate and accelerate

In the past two years, the corporate world has witnessed the emergence of various tools, solutions, and policies to support the evolving demands of employees and enable seamless online collaboration. And now, as work life is slipping into the hybrid mode, the need for defining rules of collaboration and leadership are again taking centrestage.

Participating in YourStory’s Future of Work 2022 conference, Manish Mittal, Head of Products and PM Site Lead India, Atlassian; Mani Bansal, VP, Engineering, BYJU’s; Ira Pradhan, Director, Global Internal Communications, Freshworks; and Norman Sequeira, Director, Cloud Solution Architect team, Microsoft, spoke on ‘Collaborating to innovate and accelerate growth’.

Role of virtual collaboration in leadership

While remote collaboration has become a reality today, becoming more agile to steer growth is the need of the hour.

Manish shared Atlassian’s efforts in providing their employees with a collaborative environment, even prior to the pandemic. “Over the last two decades, we have been learning from our own collaboration challenges and converting them into products. Fortunately, when the pandemic hit, we had some of the best collaboration tools already, which is why the transition was pretty smooth for us,” he added.

Mani added that the transition to the new normal was not just limited to the employees at BYJU’s. He shared that it was an opportunity that helped them innovate and fast-track the launch of several new products to expand digital education for students globally, adding that the edtech major rolled out their offering in multiple languages, introduced a range of new subjects and formats, and more.

Located in 13 countries with a strong team of 4,800 people, Freshworks is not new to virtual collaboration. Ira highlighted that the SaaS giant has been encouraging its employees to work in tandem with global teams to deliver the highest quality of work.

“Working in synchrony is always on top of our minds in all our leadership meetings. Virtual collaboration brings a broad and diverse skill set to a project. Also, thanks to virtual collaboration, we became more deliberate and mindful about bringing in a sense of belongingness to each meeting. I personally changed my leadership style from being a taskmaster to an empathetic coach almost overnight,” she added.

Speaking about the culture at Microsoft, Norman added that the company has been using communication tools for a while, and remote-first working was already at the forefront. Today, the company has become more intentional about creating virtual avenues that can help foster trust and connections within teams. He also spoke about how driving growth through collaboration is more of a mindset shift than leveraging software tools for Microsoft.

Passion to build global products

Highlighting Atlassian’s belief in unleashing the potential of every team, Manish said, “My role is to support the team and keep up with the immense energy of creativity,” he said, adding that Atlassian has recently been recognised among the top 10 most innovative companies by Fast Company magazine.

For BYJU’s, it is the overall well-being that is at the centre of all that they do. Mani said that the company has been working consistently to build a workplace where employees feel comfortable to discuss challenges, and are compassionate about helping others overcome their struggles. “There is also a culture of open dialogue and transparency that allows employees to bring out their big ideas,” added Mani.

Team bonding and collaboration in a hybrid workspace

Reiterating Freshworks’ inclusive culture, Ira spoke about the company’s belief in creating a “happy work environment and ensuring agility with empowerment”. She added that Freshworks has introduced programmes that do not solely focus on technology, but also on developing global mindsets and inclusion.

“Our CEO has been at the forefront of multiple initiatives focused on our people and has helped us a lot during the pandemic. Just like there’s a state of emergency, we call it the state of empathy, which binds us all together,” she added.

Norman outlined aspects that organisations need to keep in mind while exercising hybrid work cultures. He insisted that it would take some time before we get accustomed to the style of working, and understand the evolving behaviours and priorities of employees.

Humane leadership to foster innovation

“As a people-first organisation, Freshworks puts people before business,” said Ira, highlighting that empathy and relatability are values that are intrinsic to the company.

Talking about Microsoft’s model coach care framework where leaders and managers are encouraged to model values that they are expecting from their teams, Norman said, “The company believes in encouraging employees to put aside some time for their own learning, away from work.” Microsoft is also re-evaluating the time employees spent in meetings, so they could bring down the burnout, he added.

Mani elaborated on empathy being a core value at BYJU’s. He spoke about the culture of actively listening to employees, thereby helping them develop their own opinions and confidence. “We also try to bridge the knowledge gap by sharing short videos from experts to help our employees get better at their skill set. We also check-in on our employees regularly as we do understand the healing power of a simple phone call or text,” he said.

Upskilling: Need of the hour

For Manish, a growth-oriented mindset is foundational, and it is something that can be learned and is “infectious”. At Atlassian, conscious efforts are put into finding the right talent; those who are willing to learn and have a curious mindset. Apart from mentoring and coaching programmes at different levels, Manish mentioned the organisation’s policies that enable employees to explore roles in cross-functional teams.

Reiterating Microsoft’s efforts to encourage employees to upskill, Norman said, “We use insights to ensure that employees have dedicated learning time or dedicated quiet hours, when they can detach from their day-to-day execution and take time out to learn.”

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