Remote Career Development: Adit Jain of Leena AI On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
An Interview With David Liu
People having multiple jobs — is a risk we are willing to take. As an employee-centric organization, we believe in people’s ability to deliver quality outcomes. We don’t care what they are doing with their life hours as long as their tasks are completed on time.
Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaboration with others and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adit Jain.
Adit is the co-founder and CEO of Leena AI. An IIT-D grad and Y-Combinator alumni, he prides himself on the astute understanding of what HR teams need to deliver a stellar employee experience. Today, with an annual turnover now coming up to $10M, Leena AI has become one of the leading SaaS products in HR Tech.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
To start from the beginning, I was born and brought up in New Delhi, India. As an outgoing child, fond of outdoor activities, I would spend most of my time with my friends, and very little time studying. But then sometime in high school, things changed. I began to focus on my studies with the goal of clearing the prestigious JE Examination. And I can say that my hard work paid off and I got into the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi which is the MIT of India.
As a kid and as a young engineering student, I always loved the idea of building things with my own hands. From Legos to small electric circuits made for school projects, the act of creating something that would eventually add value to lives around me was extremely exciting. The origins of Leena AI can be traced back to that same passion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
All throughout my graduation at IIT Delhi, I was working towards one goal: of becoming an entrepreneur through the virtue of inventing something great, something useful. In my final year, while others were preparing and applying for jobs, I was meeting investors — pitching my ideas, learning about startups and entrepreneurship, and so on. Since I was on an entirely different path, there were a couple of people at my university who, at the time, advised me to choose a stable job instead. But I kept on going anyway, and persistently followed my passion. By the end of the year, I had secured my first seed funding for my company.
Looking back, I’m glad that I chose to believe in myself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As young tech enthusiasts, instead of finding real-life problems and creating solutions for these problems, we think of technology first such as AI or NLP, then try to fit that technology into that problem. This is a common mistake engineers make in the initial phase of their career — and I say this because we made a similar mistake during our initial days as well.
We were obsessed with conversational bots, and so we invented Chatteron, which was meant to help businesses deploy chatterbots easily and efficiently. In hindsight, that was a mistake on our part because we built a product before conducting a thorough research on whether or not there was any potential market.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If I have to give a life lesson, that would be “sell first, build later.” As a beginner then and a leader now, this philosophy has been my leading light. Every product works based on this core philosophy. So, if you have an idea, create a prototype or a mock-up design and go to at least 5 customers before you market it. Any enterprise should work like that, I believe. At Leena AI, that’s how we operate as well. When we have a product idea, we go out, to potential customers, introduce the product, and if they say, ‘yes, we want to use this’, that’s our cue.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
At Leena AI, being the fast-paced, growing start-up that we are, some of the steps we adopted worked really well for us. There are times and places where we experience burnout ourselves and these steps have helped us fight burnout. One thing we’ve done is give employees control of their calendars. They can choose where and when they want to work, as long as the goals are being met. If they want to take an afternoon nap, they should be able to do so. What organizations want is the movement forward and achievements in terms of KPIs and KRAs. So, in order to achieve your business goals, the employees should feel connected and aligned to these goals, and they should be engaged. By giving them charge of their time, organizations can create a more accountable and self-reliant workforce. Additionally, our internal surveys also show that giving flexibility in terms of working hours has positive impacts.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
From a travel list that all of us had (and were not able to complete) to the freedom of choosing where one wants to be — at their parent’s house, in a metropolitan city, or anywhere in the world — the opportunity is immensely valuable. Having said that, there are some benefits of being somewhere near the office but then again, remote working benefits surpass all of that.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
To begin with, some of my friends, CEOs and CFOs at other organizations, have had to deal with some of their employees having multiple jobs. It is unfortunate, but it is a fact that a small percentage of people end up doing more than one job and that is a risk we have to take.
Secondly, people who don’t have a safe, sane working environment at home, should not be forced to work from home because of a company-wide policy. There should always be some way to allow people to come to some kind of an office environment if they wish to. Every now and then, people would want to take a break or have a change in environment, or perhaps their home environment is not conducive enough to be productive. Either way, organizations need to ensure that their employees always have a choice.
Another challenge is ideation and brainstorming, or rather the ease or lack thereof. I remember being able to visit the rest of our team — whether Tech, or Marketing, or those leading Product — whenever I wanted to discuss an idea quickly. Now, I have to look at everyone’s calendar, find a common time to discuss something that would only take 20 seconds otherwise. That is one of the bigger challenges.
The fourth would be that remote work could possibly create confusion and miscommunications among employees.
Another drawback of not being in the office is the absence or lack of peer learning. Employees tend to miss out on so much information and knowledge that they would otherwise get from unplanned meetings, coffee table discussions and random water cooler conversations.
These are the few main challenges of remote work I can think of. However, like I said, I think at this point the benefits of remote work surpass the setbacks. Besides, I am optimistic that organizations will find ways to overcome these challenges soon.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?
The first challenge — people having multiple jobs — is a risk we are willing to take. As an employee-centric organization, we believe in people’s ability to deliver quality outcomes. We don’t care what they are doing with their life hours as long as their tasks are completed on time.
The next challenge can be resolved by giving the employee the privilege to choose — whether they want to work from home or the office. Organizations should provide co-working spaces. If employees want, they can avail this facility to ensure maximum productivity.
By allowing people to meet once a week or setting up 3-day or 4-day meetings of teams once in a while, we can overcome the third challenge to a great extent. There are logistical issues for this arrangement, but either of these could be implemented. Ideally, everyone in the workforce pipeline should be well-aware of their roles and responsibilities. If the tasks are properly defined and delegated, there won’t be many functional blockers or miscommunications.
Finally, organizations can deal with the lack of peer learning by deploying a centralized knowledge base that is accessible to everyone. Also, to ensure peer interactions, organizations can foster a healthy and humane way of communication. For example, virtual meetings should start with informal chitchats instead of moving directly to serious work discussions.
Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?
This is a golden time for anyone who wants to advance their career, I would say. In a remote work setup, you save some time, for example, the time you save from the absence of a daily commute to the workplace. If you are a hungry professional, this is an ideal time to grow and learn new skills. As you have more control over your day, find ways to upskill yourself. Enroll yourself in online courses or skill-based training programs.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
One of the things managers and organizations can do is to provide subscriptions to the best-known courses or skill-based programs for their team. One of the things we did for our Leena Engage product team is give them access to a specific program discussing employee engagement. This helped our team to learn and add value to the product.
Another step employers can take is including career development one-on-ones in the KRAs of managers. If organizations make sure that managers conduct career development discussions with every employee in quarterly and yearly performance appraisals, it brings great value to both the organization and the employees.
Alignment of career development plans of the employees with organizational development is another effective strategy organizations can implement. Organizations should provide necessary resources, the manager’s role remains to understand the employees’ aspirations and align those with the business goals, and the individual’s responsibility is to put in the effort.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe meetings should not last for more than 30 minutes. And if I had to inspire a movement, I’d go for 30-minute meetings! (laughs)
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow my work on these platforms:
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adit-jain-75713b5a/
Company Website: https://leena.ai/
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success
Thank you for interviewing me!