Leadership in Uncertain Times, Part II: Advice From the Austin Tech Scene

by Quinten Dol
March 24, 2020
austin skyline coronavirus
Shutterstock

While Austin techies are busy setting up home offices, completing work projects, wrangling stuck-at-home children, washing hands and surfaces and checking in on loved ones, we’re also watching the news — and lately, it hasn’t been great.

There’s no workshop, book or TED Talk that teaches the skills needed to lead in the time of a pandemic. Austin’s tech leaders have been figuring things out as they go, relying on their teams, professional networks and families for support and trusting their gut when tough calls need to be made.

In Part II of our ongoing series on corporate leadership during trying times, we spoke with executives and team heads at four local tech companies about how they’re preparing themselves and their teams for whatever awaits us.

 

 

As a leader, you are the person who people in your company turn to. 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?

Our team. Every day I’m in awe of their resilience as a team to ensure they support the company and each other. I would advise other leaders during this time to not underestimate the strength of your people. During moments of uncertainty, people will rise up to help one another if asked.

 

Austin is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty?

This moment is a great opportunity to put the work-from-home model to its truest test. Let’s lean in. Encourage one another to be good to their neighbors, offer help when needed. Let’s show others who may not understand the tech community at large that at times of precariousness, we can be relied upon to stand up and assist in any need.

 

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

The major concern from anyone during this time is how long we’ll be navigating the impact. We are all eager to get back together in person and collaborate. We’re taking that question one step at a time, with transparency and encouragement. We may not know the length of this season, but we do know that if we take the time to hold video conferences, share jokes and a cocktail recipe or two, everything will be alright in the end.

 

As a leader, you are the person who people in your company turn to. 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?

There are silver linings in these times. Incredible people are surfacing from a number of places that aren’t always top of mind in normal circumstances. As a quick example that we are all feeling, grocers and their employees are demonstrating incredible leadership by keeping an essential service available during this chaotic time. The healthcare industry is another example of incredible courage and resolve during this time as they continue to support our communities. On a personal level, my mom is a nurse at a veteran’s nursing home and regularly works with elderly veterans. She continues to fully engage in her job and stays optimistic even though she faces more challenges than I do. I look at what she manages on a daily basis and it helps me put my “work from home” situation into perspective.

My advice for other leaders is to embrace the uncertainty with data and agility. You’ve likely been chosen as a leader in your organization for your decision-making skills. While it may not be the best time to take on large or extra risks in the business, it does need to move forward. Leverage the data that’s available and use it to help move the organization forward.

 

Austin is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty?

Showing empathy for each other and our unique circumstances will go a long way.  To the extent that networking events can still go on in a virtual way, I would encourage those forums to continue so we maintain support for one another. Get creative in ways we can socialize and support one another during these times. For the tech community at large, we should reflect on the work we are doing and how we can impact those most struggling or at-risk communities we touch. 

At ScaleFactor, we build technology and provide accounting back office solutions for small businesses. When President Trump addressed the nation and rolled out several measures his administration plans to take to combat the negative effects of the coronavirus outbreak, we started working with our customers and even made a blog post addressing how some of the economic announcements could impact them. I would encourage the tech community to see how the technology they’ve built can be best leveraged in our current situation.

 

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

Over the coming weeks and months, many of us have a new cadence of work which involves some amount of, if not all, remote work. In this environment, it is critical to over-communicate about what decisions are being made, who is involved in making them, and who needs to be informed. 

On my team, I have a running document that is used at our weekly meetings in addition to a separate document for 1:1s. Each week, members of the team write their weekly goals in the team document for everyone else to see, and we talk about them in our meetings. Using both the written document and virtual team meeting discussion, we make clear what everyone is working on, how their work is impacting each other and the business at large, and try to minimize miscommunication while we move forward. Keeping the team in sync this way also helps us recreate pieces of the collaboration we are each yearning for while we’re working remotely.

 

As a leader, you are the person who people in your company turn to. 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?

This is truly a team effort for businesses as it impacts all functions. I look to my peers on the executive leadership team for inspiration, support and motivation. I also lean on advice from trusted mentors and former colleagues. In this difficult time, it’s more important than ever to present a united front across all leadership in your business. Your employees, customers and community are looking to you for guidance and confidence above all else.

Be transparent with employees and customers, let them in to see the process and how we’re all learning and growing together. Being in sync with your fellow leaders, keeping your direct line management updated, and communicating often can help fight uncertainty and instill a sense of confidence in your business that echoes throughout your community.

 

Austin is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty?

Fortunately for technology companies, people are turning to digital communication to help keep them productive while much of their workforce is remote. The technology community has an opportunity to step up, set an example and be the voice of confidence through this uncertainty. We are supporting companies to keep their businesses moving, and in many cases faster than before.

My specific advice for the tech community is to lean in and use your expertise to support customers, employees and the wider community to adjust to this new reality. Companies are already moving quickly in this way. For example, here at WP Engine we offered our customers free templates to create a business continuity webpage, and local Austin agency GLIDE is helping their clients build crisis communication information into their sites.

 

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

The obvious and most pressing concern will be the health and continued safety of our employees. We are actively communicating with our employees on a daily basis about best practices to keep their families healthy and safe. I also see a possible issue arising due to isolation and weeks or even months of working from home. We are addressing this concern by encouraging all meetings and calls to use video, we’re encouraging daily and weekly team meetings that can be both work-related and water cooler talk, and we are leaning on our digital communication tools to share fun stories and actively engage with one another.

 

Luvlynn McAllister
VP of Inside Sales

As a leader, you are the person who people in your company turn to. 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 get motivation and energy from my teams. I’m incredibly fortunate to work alongside a team that rallies for our customers and for each other, particularly in a time of need. That gives me the motivation I need to remain steady for them. This is new territory for all of us. We need to remain focused on the things we can control. We have implemented daily huddles to maintain a sense of connectedness and tribe that is working pretty well. 

 

Jennifer Taylor
VP of the Global People Team

First and foremost, we are focused on supporting our teammates’ health and well-being. We continue to communicate our commitment to providing a safe and supportive work environment as we settle into our “new normal.” Just this week, we were focused on creating new support services for our employees who are new to the home office work environment. The concerns and questions will continue to evolve as the impact of this global crisis is absorbed. The key for our team is to be as transparent and consistent with communication and updates as possible. 

 

Jobs from companies in this blog31 open jobs
All Jobs
Design + UX
Dev + Engineer
Marketing
Operations
Product
Sales
Content
Design + UX
new
WP Engine
Austin
Sales
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Content
new
Kendra Scott
Austin
Sales
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Sales
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Sales
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Developer
new
ScaleFactor
Austin
Sales
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Product
new
WP Engine
Austin
Sales
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Operations
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Design + UX
new
WP Engine
Austin
Operations
new
WP Engine
Austin
Sales
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Developer
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Sales
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Developer
new
ThousandEyes
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Marketing
new
WP Engine
Austin
Product
new
WP Engine
Austin
Developer
new
WP Engine
Austin
Sales
new
WP Engine
Austin
Design + UX
new
Kendra Scott
Austin
Design + UX
new
Kendra Scott
Austin
Operations
new
WP Engine
Austin

Austin startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Austin
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Software Engineer Jobs in Austin
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Tech Offices in Austin
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Sales Jobs in Austin
Developer Jobs
View 230 jobs
Design + UX Jobs
View 30 jobs
Marketing Jobs
View 72 jobs
Product Jobs
View 45 jobs
Sales Jobs
View 221 jobs
Data Jobs
View 45 jobs