Driving engagement and belonging in remote/hybrid world.

Interview with Bhavesh Mehta, Engineering Leadership @ Uber
February 1, 2022
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Bhavesh Mehta is an Engineering Manager leading Customer Obsession initiatives at Uber. He started his professional journey at VMware, where he built a strong foundation of identifying and implementing software enhancements, product development, product management, demonstrating engineering principles and processes that engage stakeholders to drive incredible business outcomes. Collaborating with emerging technologists in the industry by working in startups like IO Turbine, and Springpath, Bhavesh has successfully delivered brand new software products like ioTurbine - industry first flash cache solution for VMware and HXDP - an innovative private cloud infrastructure into the market having a worldwide reach. Prior to Uber, Bhavesh spearheaded engineering efforts for Hyperflex Data Protection software at Cisco, where he was responsible for driving business strategy while overseeing the global product organization, support services, and engineering operations.

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What is employee engagement and why is it important?

Employee engagement is a human resources (HR) concept that describes the level of enthusiasm, belongingness, and dedication a worker feels toward their job. Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference. Engaged employees find personal meaning in their work, take pride in what they do and where they do it, and believe that their organization values them. 

Lack of engagement creates detachment from the purpose, challenges to drive sustained excellence, leaves people devoid of consistent support, and finally, it seeds disenchantment in the company’s future - this I believe is the chief cause of the ongoing phenomenon named The Great Resignation. While a new opportunity aligned with your values and passion can renew your optimism along these pillars, I believe deliberate action is needed from the leadership and from the employees to tackle the engagement issue. Naturally, the question arises - What to do about it? What works and what doesn’t? I say lead with trust and don't work had and play hard.

Tell us more about your thoughts on the “Work Hard Play Hard” culture.

Keeping your work-self separate from your play-self (or home-self) is not effective, or even practical anymore. You need to show up with your full-self, always. What this means for the leaders is to venture onto the vulnerable path, and not shy away from expressing the human part of them. You also need to empathize with your reports to deeply understand their new ways of life in this changing world, and how you can provide the best support for them to excel at work, and at life. In 1:1s, you often talk about “top of mind” issues. These issues will now be intertwined between work and life, and as a leadership coach, you need to provide guidance and support for all issues. I believe this tenet has always been true, but remote/hybrid work certainly has made it more important and urgent. It’s time to double down on building authentic relationships.

What do you think is the key to connecting with your team?

I’ve always had an open door policy with my extended teams. It worked well - the team appreciated this model as it naturally created opportunities for more informal conversations; and I truly enjoyed being in the midst of innovation, healthy debates, office humor, and personal connections. Open door policy has now morphed to open zoom policy whenever the schedule permits. Prior to the pandemic, all my 1:1s used to be in an office setting. I now encourage these conversations over a shared virtual walk, or a coffee meet depending on comfort level. It allows both parties to shift the mindset from being office drones. In addition, you have to create opportunities for the team to connect with one another on a non-project basis. Some of the ideas I’ve seen work well in practice - book club, board games, trivial contests, chocolate tasting, virtual water cooler. The specifics may vary and will depend on your team’s interests, but as a leader, you have to prioritize such opportunities.


What are some tips for remote work?

Getting a bit tactical here. Remote work has resulted in you collaborating with all your colleagues over zoom, so much so, there is now a phenomenon called zoom fatigue. While video conferencing tools have greatly aided collaboration and productivity in this remote/hybrid work environment, there is a growing consensus that it’s not quite the same as in-person meetings or that it can ever fully replace in-person meetings. One reason for this is voice + video doesn’t fully capture the three dimensional energy a person brings to the meeting. You tend to miss a lot of non verbal cues over zoom. 

This is especially exacerbated in audio only meetings. In addition to missing a variety of nonverbal cues, audio-only meetings make it easy to give in to distractions - and in this era there are plenty! I’d strongly encourage making video an integral part of your remote collaboration experience. It doesn’t need to be 100% and it doesn’t need to be continuous - as you juggle work and life, use your best judgment. However, figure out how you can lead by example and encourage your team to do the same. If you had to prioritize, all your 1:1s must be on video - this is where you’re more likely to have sensitive discussions and you don’t want to make it impersonal. You can apply the same principle to evaluate where you absolutely need to have the video on. 

What’s your advice to leaders who are new to remote management?

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, defines “executives” to be those knowledge workers, managers, or individual professionals who are expected by virtue of their position or their knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that has an impact on the performance and results of the whole. The most subordinate, we now know, may do the same kind of work as the president of the company or the administrator of the government agency, that is, plan, organize, integrate, motivate, and measure. His compass may be quite limited, but within his sphere, he is an executive. In a high tech engineering world, where everyone is an executive by this definition, the only effective way of leading is with a high level of trust and latitude. A remote work environment makes this an urgent necessity, because all other approaches, well, fail. 

Pre-pandemic, leaders, and organizations had greater control over how the work got done. That control is all but frail now. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you learn to harness it correctly, trust can lead to powerful work experiences and dramatic business results. But it will require a collective shift in mindset, an innovative approach to remote management, and perhaps a little bit of leap of faith. Go hire that remote talent - and set them up for success. Don’t be alarmed by the occasional meeting absences of your team members - they might be juggling one ball too many. Setup the engineering productivity metrics - but evaluate them with the human lens. Develop empathy with the team members - and get to a deeper understanding of work complexity. Show the team what success looks like - and let the magic happen. In summary, invest in developer productivity tools and processes, set ambitious goals for your team, and then trust them to do the right thing.

Read more from Bhavesh on his blog, 10xManager.

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