If you step away from layered scientific formula, energy can most simply be described as ‘the ability to do work’. The first law of thermodynamics says that energy cannot be created or destroyed only transferred or changed from one form to another. In a fast-growth tech workplace, change, collaboration, new goals, ideas, achievements and different viewpoints, can all drive the ability to do good work and the constant dynamism keeps the energy flowing. Development breakthroughs, securing funding, major customers buying and thriving using your technology and industry recognition, all create momentum throughout the workforce and most tech businesses are constantly pushing forwards.
Back in March when the lockdown was announced, against a backdrop of fear, many people were in fact energized by the newness of the situation. We set up our home working spaces and embraced Microsoft Teams or Zoom, researched local walks and nurtured our sourdough starters. With tech companies used to remote working and global collaboration using a variety of tools, remove a daily commute and add the peace and quiet to think and we may have been lured into thinking the new norm was in fact better.
But six months down the line and with fading memories of what most of your colleagues look like below the shoulders, how are your energy levels now? How easy is it to come up with new ideas? How bold and brave do you feel? How willing to take risks are you and raise the bar in terms of expectations of both yourself and your company?
My need to ensure I had sustained energy was tested when, last month, after seven months in my role as CFO of Speechmatics, I became CEO. A new challenge to lead a talented team with a fantastic product. My normal process of immersion into a new role – one tried and tested with posts such as Finance Director of Transversal or Senior Commercial Manager at Unilever – would be time spent with colleagues. Depending on where you sit on the introvert to extrovert scale, you will find that most of your ‘9-5 and beyond’ energy comes from the power of ‘togetherness’. Of course, I did already know my colleagues but our conversations to date have been through a CFO lens and with different responsibilities and I for one have missed the sense of belonging that the physical office environment gives you. I am looking forward to the day when we can reopen and reconvene in our new ‘COVID secure’ space.
However, whilst stats vary, the overwhelming view is that a permanently full office is a thing of the past. The entire world has shown that working from home ‘works’ but my view is that we need a balance. Lethargy is starting to creep in, particularly with the prospect of stepping back into some kind of lockdown and no doubt more ‘rules of six’ to follow. As the days get shorter and sunny walks turn to rainy walks, what does the balance look like?
In many jobs, but particularly in fast-growth tech, there are ‘thinking’ jobs and ‘doing’ jobs. The ‘doing’ jobs we can do at home, uninterrupted – coding, calculating, writing and even customer support and client engagement. The thinking jobs need collaboration and as good as virtual meetings are, you can’t beat the energy that comes from interactions in real life. We aim to create an in-person office experience that is dedicated to collaborative business planning, brainstorming and developing ideas, problem-solving and socialising – two or three days a week that are really productive rather than just ‘using desk space’. We will aim to work smarter – not harder. Naturally, we have created a ‘comfort zone’ that felt safe when everything else didn’t. And whilst we have won our biggest deal during lockdown and the business has continued to flourish, I am encouraging our teams from engineering to marketing to set their bars higher and to do so without being afraid to fail.
I urge other fast-growth tech leaders to join me in supporting and encouraging their teams to go beyond the comfort zone – to move the ‘could’ and ‘should’ to the ‘must’ and ‘will’. The world is changing at a rapid pace and the fast-growth tech sector is a critical enabler. From homeworking to vaccine production, we need innovative minds to reclaim or maintain their energy because our future quite literally depends on it. The past six months have been both a global disaster and a global awakening, but team energy is critical if we are to ride out the next six months and beyond successfully. This should absolutely be a business priority. If we go back to the law of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or changed from one form to another. Where is your business energy going to come from?
Katy Wigdahl, Speechmatics
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