Leadership in Uncertain Times, Part II: Advice From the New York City Tech Scene

March 24, 2020
An aerial view of Central Park
PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

There’s no playbook for leading a team or company during a time of pandemic. However, these New York tech leaders are in the process of writing one.

In Part II of our series on leadership in the time of COVID-19, we spoke with six local tech execs and department heads to learn how they’re providing stability and guidance to their teams in these ever-changing times. What follows is a snapshot of how New York tech is adapting to fully remote life and tips from leaders on how to make tough decisions, deal with stress and find silver linings in gray skies. 

 

 

Pratiksha Patel
SVP OF PEOPLE

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

Looking ahead, our team will want to know how to best surface, validate and test new ideas for supporting our customers. We are already structured in pods that serve as forums to unearth new thinking and are amping up our communication channels and leadership collaboration so we can scale and systematize new ideas quickly. 

We expect our team to optimize their personal productivity and are providing education on simple frameworks, tools and hacks. In addition, we’re discussing new challenges to productivity, such as the lack of social interaction and physical activity. Fortunately, we have a culture where folks organically set up virtual coffees and lunches, share pictures of sweet work-from-home setups and their pets and children, and trade workout resources.

 

NYC is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large? 

We’re all in this together and need to support each other and those we serve. It’s still early, but the effects are widespread and deep. Even if we’re not directly affected, our friends, families, colleagues and communities will be. It’s also important to keep this in perspective: The sacrifices we’re making today are to preserve our health and that of those around us.

 

Yevgeniya Davis
Head of Dedicated Customer Success, North America

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

I often look to my peers for support as they are likely encountering similar challenges and operating in an environment that’s akin to mine. Unsurprisingly, I also draw a lot of energy and motivation from my direct reports, and while I try not burden them with my “feelings,” being vulnerable with my team builds trust and strengthens our relationship.

We expect our teams to operate in an environment that’s often plagued by ambiguity, and as leaders it’s our responsibility to lead by example. This is hard and often results in a buildup of anxiety. A framework that I use to overcome and reduce this kind of anxiety is the sphere of control. In short, I chunk things into three buckets: things I can control, things I can help influence and everything outside my control and influence. I mostly focus my energy on bucket number one, some on number two and toss number three out the window. Being intentional about how I spend my time and what I worry about helps me deal with the world of uncertainty.

 

Jarlath Doherty
Chief People Officer

NYC is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

With so many business apps, mobile tools and video conferencing services available, working remotely has become a way of life. It’s been easier than expected for many office-based employees to transition to remote work by utilizing all of these technologies and finding new ways to integrate them into their daily routines.

The current situation has presented an amazing learning opportunity. We’ve become creative in our remote-work approach, which has helped to identify how we can better support our fully remote colleagues throughout the year. Virtual onboarding for new hires, virtual happy hours, daily stand-ups, gamification, video messaging and online learning are quickly becoming the norm, and recognition is increasing as people become more deliberate about highlighting success. 

 

Sandra McNeill
SVP of People

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?  

My biggest concern is that either an employee or employee’s family member tests positive for the coronavirus. We’re a tight-knit and supportive group, and no one wants to hear that news.  We pay well and have good leave policies in place, but we’re also offering tailored support to our employees. Everyone has different needs at a time like this and we’ve asked our employees to let us know what they need. Whatever it is, we’ll try to help.

We’re 100 percent working from home now and I don’t think that’s going to change soon. As this health crisis unfolds and peaks, people will become tired and maybe even a bit passive about staying engaged with their teams and maintaining all the established health guidelines. We’re working on ways to keep folks engaged and just had our first virtual happy hour. We’re committed to keeping everyone up to date and have a business continuity team that communicates regularly via Zoom, Slack and email, and we distribute a weekly employee bulletin.

 

Tania Alibrandi
Head of Human Resources

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

We have to find the delicate balance between making quick and thoughtful decisions that are based on common sense and the facts we know to be true. At the same time, we need to operate with the right amount of foresight to see the short- and long-term impact our decisions will have. Sometimes our decisions are unpopular, and we have to be OK with that. Strong leaders know and trust that their decisions are what’s best for those around them. If they are fact-based, logical and made with positive intention then they’re worth standing up for no matter what others may think. 

There are times when decisions, sometimes with far-reaching and deep organizational impacts, need to be made in a vacuum and without anyone else’s input. As leaders, we have to be up for that challenge at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by highly accomplished leaders I trust who help me feel confident in the decisions I make, both inside Kensho and in my own professional and personal networks. 

It’s times like these I turn to my family, friends and colleagues for support. In them I see glimmers of hope every day, and that’s what I try to focus on. Whether it’s an understanding company like Kensho that allows working parents who’ve suddenly also become teachers to balance both homeschooling and working from home or news of some positive action a community member has taken to help those less fortunate, they are all reminders that we are in this together and will get through this together. 

 

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