2 Austin Tech Leaders on How Their Teams Are Coming Together Right Now

April 1, 2020
Built In Austin #UnitedWeTech
Built In

The coronavirus has upended the lives of people all across Austin, and those who are fortunate enough to still be working are adjusting to a new normal, one in which their home also serves as their office and, for some, their child’s daycare center or school. The way people work has also changed, with all in-person interactions replaced by video chats, messaging apps and email. 

It’s a stressful and lonely time for many, and things may get harder before they get better. Yet even as many of us struggle to navigate the uncertainty of it all, many more are finding ways to lift each other up. We recently checked in with leaders from tech companies across Austin to see if they’ve encountered any bright spots during these dark times and were greeted with story after story of teams coming together and connecting in unique and thoughtful ways.

How are you and your teams coming together? Share your story using #UnitedWeTech.

 

Katie Fang
Founder & CEO

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

SchooLinks is a SaaS platform for school districts to help students plan for college and careers. With school closures, many states have set the expectation around virtual learning to be "enrichment only," meaning there aren't grades or academic credit at stake. The biggest determining factor of how useful this time will be for students is motivation — to what degree do they understand why and how studying can help them reach their goals. So, the silver lining is that, now that there are no grades to worry about for the time being, educators and districts are scrambling to find ways to intrinsically motivate their students to engage.

This is such an amazing shift in mindset. The process of helping students cultivate motivation is something we obsess over. We analyze, study and build our student experiences around this pursuit.

In much the same way that students use our platform over the summer to explore, learn, stay on top of their college matriculation responsibilities and discover virtual opportunities, we're seeing students engage and recommit to their goals during this time off. And because summer this year may end up being twice as long, we have launched a free package for all school districts that are impacted by COVID-19 to ensure that their students can still have access to counseling resources and can plan for college and careers from home.

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

We have always believed that if you can put decision-making and planning into the hands of students with the right toolset, they'll internalize their choices more deeply and understand the consequences. Some of our partners embrace this wholeheartedly and expect students to engage in their planning on their own. Others are at times skeptical of students' abilities to do these things and would prefer to walk through picking courses or setting career goals with students.

For the latter group, what's happening on our platform — the exploration, the initiative we see students taking — is really inspiring. It's helping districts put more trust in their students. We've learned this is very much one of those "show, don't tell" things, because seeing the results and the documentation of course plans, thoughtful discussion and questions students leave really shows that, with the right toolset, students can be responsible for the direction of their academic careers. We'll encourage districts in "normal times" to have their students give some of our activities a go on their own and work more on providing scaffolding rather than holding students' hands through a process.

 

Molly Middleton
Recruiting Manager

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

Our Slack has exploded with new channels, including a #fitness channel, where we’ve started a series of challenges to keep us active even when our gyms and classes are closed. Our team is also rallying to share even more of their interests with one another than we might have in the office.

Spinning up a video call with Zoom and throwing out an open invite for virtual coffees, virtual water coolers and virtual happy hours has allowed us to continue interacting spontaneously and informally in ways that some of us thought were only possible in the office.

Seeing more children, pets and loved ones in video call backgrounds means that we’re learning a lot more about one another and really strengthening our personal connections. These new “team members” have been joining us regularly in meetings and are definitely becoming an even greater part of our culture.

We’re able to memorialize this period by sending out Praxent-branded quarantine t-shirts and five-minute journals to help make it a shared experience that we, as a team, have gone through and to help us feel more connected even though we’re apart. We are a stronger and more empathetic team because of it. 

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal? 

The importance of communication with remote work. We are proud to say that remote work has always been part of our DNA. Our Austin team members, who have grown accustomed to the daily drive to and from our brick-and-mortar office, have gained a greater understanding and deeper empathy for our fully remote team members located in North Carolina and Latin America.

Transparency and candor from leadership are key, and our open-book financial management style has paid dividends. The literacy that the team has about the economy and our financial engine allows our leadership team to speak candidly and collaboratively about how best to support our clients, our company and one another. 

We’ve also learned that we’re all in this together. Our North Carolina and international teams have come together to give advice on best practices to keep work and home life separated in a healthy way. 

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