Friday, February 23, 2024

Behind the Scenes of Airbase’s Remote Work Culture: Insights from Thejo Kote

Leaders Perception Magazine is currently running an interview series called – Leadership in Times of Crisis
Today, we had the opportunity to interview Thejo Kote, Founder of Airbase.

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern business, remote work has become more than just a trend – it’s a transformative way of operating. Thejo Kote, Founder and CEO of Airbase, has not only embraced this shift but has also mastered the art of remote work leadership. His journey from India to Silicon Valley, coupled with his experience in building successful tech startups, has uniquely positioned him to navigate the challenges and reap the benefits of a remote work culture. Join us as we delve into Thejo Kote’s insights and strategies for thriving in the remote work revolution.

Interviewee Name: Thejo Kote

Company: Airbase

Thejo Kote‘s favourite quote: One of my favorite quotes, which is almost like a guiding principle for me as a founder and entrepreneur, relates to the importance of speed and urgency. I’m not sure who to attribute it to, but it is: ‘The sense of urgency is all you have.’ This quote is a constant reminder to me of the fast-paced and evolving nature of the tech industry and the significance of being agile and responsive to maintain momentum. Beyond famous quotes, though, I find a great deal of inspiration in the lives of the people closest to me, such as my grandfather and my mother. Their sacrifices and relentless effort have had a profound impact on my life and career. While there’s much to learn from successful entrepreneurs who’ve built large businesses, it’s the personal stories and experiences from my family that inspire me on a deeper level as a leader, a human being, and a parent

The Interview

Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your backstory?

Thejo Kote : My journey in the world of tech startups began in India,, where I realized that despite having a stellar software product, breaking through on a global scale required more. I understood that I needed to be in the epicenter of the tech startup world. So, I decided to pursue a master’s degree at UC Berkeley and later, in 2011, took the plunge into the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem.

My first venture was a company called Automatic. We achieved considerable success and in 2017, we sold it to SiriusXM for $110 million. However, my experience at Automatic was an eye-opener. I saw firsthand the widespread inefficiencies in accounting and finance within small to midsize companies. I realized that these inefficiencies were not just hindrances, they could actually curtail a company’s growth.

The most glaring inefficiency I saw was non-payroll spend. There was no fully articulated, consolidated software solution to address this broken process. This realization led me to my next venture, Airbase, which I founded in 2018.

At Airbase, we’re dedicated to solving this big and important problem. We’ve developed a world class spend management platform for midsize companies, and we’ve raised over $100 million in venture funding from prestigious firms like Menlo Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and First Round Capital.

I firmly believe that good companies solve big and important problems, and that’s exactly what we strive to do at Airbase every day.

How do you ensure effective communication and collaboration among remote team members? Can you share any specific tools or practices that have been particularly effective for your organization?

Thejo Kote : Effective communication and collaboration are critical for any successful remote team. However, it’s essential to understand there’s no silver bullet solution. Every method we adopt is a calculated trade-off, aiming to capture the best of both remote and in-person work.

While being co-located has its advantages, we strive to harness the benefits of remote work, like accessing global talent. However, it brings with it the challenges of maintaining seamless communication and collaboration. We’ve learned there’s no one-size-fits-all solution; instead, we employ a suite of strategies and tools tailored to our unique needs.

To navigate the challenges posed by our team being globally distributed across multiple time zones, we’ve fostered a culture of asynchronous and written communication. This approach allows us to organize thoughts, ensure information is captured accurately, and allows team members to respond when it’s most convenient for them. Tools like Slack and internal wikis have become central to facilitating this culture.

Further, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and productivity levels is of prime importance to us. We encourage team members to have a dedicated workspace at home, and to stick to a consistent work schedule that suits their peak productivity periods. This blend of structure and flexibility supports both professional effectiveness and personal well-being.

We’ve also learned to embrace the nature of asynchronous communication inherent in remote work. It was a paradigm shift to let go of the expectation for immediate responses to Slack or email messages, but it turned out to be incredibly powerful. By doing so, team members can carve out uninterrupted time for focused work, boosting productivity and reducing stress.

Over-communication is another principle we adhere to. Written communication often lacks the context provided by tone of voice or body language in face-to-face conversations, so we make an extra effort to provide additional context. This includes the use of emojis, GIFs, and other visual aids to better communicate emotions.

Even as we operate remotely, we understand and respect the importance of human interaction. We ensure opportunities for virtual socialization and even in-person meetups a few times a year.

Finally, and crucially, we are flexible. We understand that sometimes, especially when working on time-sensitive projects, in-person collaboration can be more effective. When those situations arise, we don’t hesitate to bring people together. For instance, there are times I find myself traveling to India to spend a week with our team there.

In essence, while there is no silver bullet solution to communication and collaboration in a remote setting, our approach of written communication, strategic use of tools, and a flexible work approach has helped us build a successful remote work culture.

Maintaining work-life balance can be challenging in a remote work environment. What strategies do you recommend for remote employees to create boundaries between work and personal life? How can organizations support their employees in achieving a healthy work-life balance?

Thejo Kote: Achieving work-life balance in a remote environment can indeed be challenging, but it’s not impossible. There are a number of strategies that we recommend for employees to create boundaries between work and personal life.

Firstly, it’s important to approach remote work with a similar mindset to traditional office work. Even though you’re working from home, consider a specific area in your home as your office. When you enter that space, you’re ‘at work’. It could be a dedicated room or even just a specific seat at a table. Try not to work from your couch or bed, as it can blur the line between work and relaxation, making it harder to switch off when you’re done for the day.

Routine also plays a crucial role. Acting as though you’re going to work by maintaining a regular schedule helps in segregating work time from personal time. This routine will also help set expectations with your family or those you share your living space with, making it clear that when you’re ‘at work’, the same rules about interruptions apply as if you were at an office.

However, even with these measures in place, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s easy to fall into the trap of always being ‘on’ because the work is right there. It requires active thought and discipline to not succumb to this trap. This is where organizational support and leadership come into play. Leaders and managers must encourage employees to take breaks, set boundaries, and respect those boundaries.

Despite these best practices, there are unique challenges in globally distributed teams. In my role, for example, my day spans multiple time zones, often starting at 8 AM and ending around 11:30 PM. However, it doesn’t mean I’m working that entire time, because that would be unsustainable. Instead, I’m disciplined about taking breaks in the middle, spending time with family, and ensuring that work and life get interspersed. Remote work has its pros and cons, and it’s crucial to be mindful about finding the right balance within those constraints.

Ultimately, work-life balance in a remote setting is a continuously evolving process that requires thought, discipline, and active support from the organization. We encourage our employees to experiment and discover what works best for them, and we stand ready to assist them in maintaining that balance.

Leaders Perception would like to thank Thejo Kote and Airbase for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!

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