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Piret Kerem, Head Of Engineering at Xolo

It's not everyday you get the chance to connect with a leader who is a firm believer in a people-first management style where a culture of autonomy and personal responsibility is prized above all else. In this interview, we were lucky enough to speak with Piret Kerem, a leader who displays this management style with class and grace. As the Head of Engineering at Xolo, together with her team, they help independent business owners manage their company from anywhere as well as free them from the costs & confusion of running traditional businesses.

At Xolo, Piret collaborates with the CPO and CTO in assembling a team that is capable of delivering their product in accordance with their company goals and technical requirements. It’s all about team management, recruitment and deciding on processes that enable them to work to create value most efficiently. Piret's background in communications has taught her the importance of transparency, clear expectation and creating a candid & kind feedback culture.

"My days consist of activities that are aligned with management, and helping our Product Managers and other stakeholders in understanding the company's goals. As I have more than 20 engineers working under me, a large chunk of my time is devoted to my team: supporting them in achieving the goals, career growth and self-development."

Way of Working at Xolo

"We allow people to make their own decisions and decide on their preferences [of where to work and when]. We don’t have requirements as we trust people to choose where they work the best. Our offices are open and the possibility is there. As long as everything is aligned and functioning, we trust their decisions and hope they evaluate the situation according to the circumstances."

At Xolo, remote working was supported even before the pandemic happened, and since then their remote-work culture has been on steroids. The majority of the team worked remotely and the ones that still went to the office found a way to isolate themselves. After restrictions were lifted, many decided to continue working remotely. Others have resumed coming in every day, and the rest have adopted a hybrid model where they come to the office when they want to.

When asked to share her experience on the switch to hybrid, Piret's response was - "Change full of lessons learned".

How Xolo Makes Hybrid Work

The transition to hybrid is definitely not an easy one, and like most teams, there were positive and negative impacts on performance, employee engagement, and happiness. At Xolo, the experience has been a bit of a mix.

Piret commented that in the beginning, it was harder for some people who found it easier to communicate and brainstorm while working in the same room. For some, there were difficulties in finding a good working rhythm at home and defining their working hours for themselves. For others, it was a question of balancing work and personal life, missing out on socializing and being left with the feeling of isolation. She shared that this affected their performance and sometimes mental wellbeing. Xolo provided support for setting up home offices — but also mental health support for those in need of it. After a while, a good balance and rhythm was achieved by most of the team.

"I think the biggest learning was on how to work as a team by finding the best fit for everyday communication channels and processes. But it definitely made people more aware of independence, autonomy and setting boundaries. It also signalled that in the end, goals are achieved, work is done and our people have more freedom in deciding how to live life on their terms."

Hybrid Work Insights Q&A

How has your investment in transitioning to hybrid benefited the business?

It definitely has impacted how openly we recruit from a global perspective and given new possibilities, assuring people that we can make it work.

What's your main apprehension working through the transition to hybrid?

The team is well working if everybody is remote or everybody is in the office. But now the challenge is to figure out how to make it work when some have returned to the office without making remote workers feel like they're missing out (or left out!).

Explain your transition plan to hybrid & how you plan to scale it long term

Understanding the issues that might occur and analysing them with all team members. Investing in new processes and communication channels to support hybrid working.

What challenges do you see hybrid posing for your organization?

Communication errors, confusion, people feeling left out and losing the connection with other team members.

How do you schedule who is in the office, making sure that the right people are in together?

As we have divided our full team into smaller domain teams, individual members have the autonomy to decide when it is necessary to collaborate in real life. I support a candid feedback culture that enables us to pinpoint issues in the early stage so they can be immediately addressed.  What we have suggested is that if there are important kick-off or alignment meetings, then to have them together as much as possible, using a variety of security measures (rapid tests available for everyone in the office, etc).

How do you foster better teamwork and understanding across the workforce?

I support teams in finding their own solutions and support in the discovery phase. In accordance with the team members' feedback, we have suggested virtual coffee breaks, knowledge sharing during workshops and regular meetings for cross-team learnings.

— If you enjoyed Piret's insights on her team's transition to hybrid, share this post on social and tag a hybrid or remote leader who you feel is an accomplished peep and deserves a little extra recognition. —