Lalit Mangal is the co-founder and CEO of Airmeet — a virtual event platform that is shaping the future of live events. He has always been drawn to technology and believes that computers are humble companions that follow all of your instructions.Follow Follow
Welcome to this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast with William Tincup. Today, he speaks with Lalit Mangal about the new relationship between employee autonomy and employee retention.
As co-founder and CEO, Lalit is currently building Airmeet, which is a virtual event platform that helps planners facilitate more efficiently and creatively, as well as create a highly interactive experience for attendees. He began to ideate on the idea of virtual events in 2016 after attending a start-up conference and observing less-than-ideal setups. This experience prompted his passion to bring innovation to the event industry and thus kick-started the creation of Airmeet.
Airmeet is a fully customizable and immersive hybrid events platform designed for exceptional engagement and ROI. It offers a virtual venue that allows participants to move freely across multiple sessions, a networking lounge and exhibition booths to have meaningful interactions. The company is now two years old and among the top five virtual exhibitions platforms available today.
A few things we cover: Should businesses restructure the narrative around living at work? Is talent responding positively or negatively to management techniques used with remote work? How will the relationship with autonomy be upheld when returning to the office or to a hybrid environment?
There’s more, of course! Please listen in and drop your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 28 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s RecruitingLive Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition each week. We take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Lalit Mangal, from Airmeet, and we’re going to be talking about the new relationship between employee autonomy and employee retention. So what is that relationship? What is it now and what should it be? And we’re going to jump into all of those things. So why don’t we do introductions first. Lalit, why don’t you introduce yourself and Airmeet, and then we’ll jump into the topic.
Thanks William. Thanks for having me here. Really great to be on your podcast. My name is Lalit, and I’m from India and I’m a single entrepreneur, and I’m right now building this virtual event platform, which helps event planners facilitate better and more interactions from our participants.
And, where are you at in the construction of the product? Where are you in the kind of your new build?
So we are already two years old and we are among the top five virtual events platform out there. We have delivered more than 100 million minutes of event streaming. We have hosted close to 15,000 events on our platform. And we have super happy customers like Volvo, Johnson & Johnson, [inaudible 00:01:56] and lot of customers, a lot of impact communities as well, high potential communities like the ACM community, which is the community for computer program, right? So, really high value events, they really extract the value of virtual events through it.
Well, I’ll tell you what you came to market at the right time.
Yeah. Not hoping for that.
I know, you can’t plan these things, but I’m happy for you because, it’s just perfect timing, coming to the market with a great solution and new technology to help people. So congratulations on that. Let’s start with just some of the basics. When we think of this relationship between autonomy, because you all sit at the center of a lot of what’s going on with virtual work. So you get to see a lot of things. So I love the [inaudible 00:02:48] in which you get to see the market. Do you believe businesses should restructure the narrative around living at work and if so, why?
Sure. I think so. So your question was should businesses restructure around living at work?
Yeah, people are struggling. HR is struggling with both attracting talent, but also the retention of talent. And some of the retention is that people that have worked remotely want to continue to work remotely. And they’ve kind of fallen in love with being remote and also having a large amount of autonomy. And, so I was just wondering what you think about the narrative of living at work, working at home remote, et cetera, and, how that tethers to the retention of top talent?
Sure. Great question William, and to be very honest, I’ve heard living at work for the very first time. Hence, my request for clarification. The way I like to articulate this new found freedom is work from anywhere. And, literally work is reaching places. It is reaching to pools of talent, which never had the access to deliver the quality of work that now they’re able to deliver, right? So, let’s just emphasize on the positive things around it. And then let me just come back to the challenges and employers should really look at it, right?
So I think what remote work is able to deliver is great. It’s like a new equalizing opportunity, right? It’s leveling the playing field with a respect to talent. What we have seen in the past couple of decades is that, certain geographies had disproportionate advantage in terms of just by being there, right? So if you haven’t to be in a certain geography opportunities would come flowing to you, connections would happen. And then, you would get disproportionate advantage over other peers who were not in that geographies, right? So based upon that location, your economic standard and your social mobility, all of it was just determined by predominantly the geography where you were born in or where you happen to be living.
And, this has resulted into definitely the divide, as we talk about the income divide, as well as the divide in terms of opportunities. And also we’ve sort of taken cities to the edge of sustainability, right? So it’s becoming expensive to live in cities. There’s a huge cost of environment that we end up paying through high density population centers, right? So, all in all, I think there’s a really positive change that remote work is bringing about. And, now let me talk about the challenges, right? So the challenge is, especially for the employers, is that they really have to restructure their mindset in terms of defining what is work. Work earlier was about, asking for a commitment of time and then everything else was after that.
So you really have to be in the office for 9 to 5 or those 40 hours a week. And then we’ll talk about what needs to be done in those 40 hours. That has changed a lot, right? Because of times zones, because of people enjoying the flexibility, in fact, demanding the flexibility of pursuing their passion along with the work. So, employers have to now redefine what work is, right? So it has to be lot more goal oriented. It has to be driven from top down. So the leadership now has to be lot more clear about the goals, what do they expect from certain employee? It’s not about the number of hours it’s actually about the output that someone has delivered in whatever would be the number of hours that they have actually worked on for, right? So that is the first challenge, right? Just the change in the mindset.
The second challenge is, there are a lot of leadership today in companies. They have a generational gap from especially the frontline employees, right? So frontline employees like developers, product marketers, content writers, they are of a certain different generation than the leadership in most of these companies, right? And the leadership really associates their job with seeing people, having this ability to see people in a location, ability to just talk to anybody, get to know what their day was, or drive everybody in the meeting room or conference room. So, they’ve gotten nurtured in a different era of work, right? And it’s the hardest for them, especially to come to terms with the new reality, right?
And the whole urgency of announcing dates of, by this time we are going to be open up again. And, by announcing that we are going to be opening offices again, and forcing people to come back, that urgency or the rush with which all of those announcements are being made, it’s a clear signal that leadership of a certain age is actually struggling with it. That is a second challenge.
Yeah. Well, along with lines, really, let me ask just a really quick question around, I don’t want to use micromanagement, but when we think of autonomy, especially with knowledge workers, it’s outcome based. We kind of set what the goal is and then we let the person go, when we’re all in an office, it was easier to check in, I guess, to talk to people, tap people on the shoulder, all that stuff, even though we have all these other tools that we can use to communicate. I’ve been in an office where we’re texting, literally sitting next to each other, texting back and forth. So, my question is around micromanagement and the kind of the management of talent and autonomy and through the pandemic, what you’ve seen since the beginning of Airmeet, what you’ve seen with how people help talent likes to work as opposed to we’ll deal with how management wants talent to work. But, how you see talent in terms of how they are responding to either positively or negatively to the management of their talent?
Sure, absolutely. So, first of all, let me start by acknowledging that those casual check-ins are just asking about statuses over coffee. Let’s say, those were just certain mechanisms to enrich the human relationship that is there between two workers, right? Those are kind of this icebreakers of the moment, right? And, the conversation wouldn’t just end on the status update, it was also linked to how was the weekend and all of it. You certainly would be getting to know your colleagues a lot more through these casual conversations around status updates, et cetera right? So that is important. And that is one of the challenges with remote work and as a society, we have to be able to solve for that, we have to really balance the benefits of remote work with some of these challenges, which we are now seeing. We can cover that later in the podcast.
Specifically, when you asked about autonomy and how talent views what work is, and what is the change in mindset that they have sort of adopted? In my own experience, I’ve actually worked in large companies and I’ve also founded a few other companies before this. So the amount of time that someone spends in office, it’s not always required to spend all of that time in office. Sometimes they have to do some personal work, which they were not able to do because they’re in office, right? So, there’s a lot of struggle on the personal front, because you are committing contiguous amount of time of your life to a certain profession.
So that contiguous amount of time that you commit almost on a daily basis to an organization, that leaves very little for your personal life and that is why it was difficult for people to pursue their hobbies. It was difficult for people to focus on their health. It was difficult earlier for people to even have a work life balance of sort, right? And that’s why it was like a big issue in the non remote work, right? What we have seen today is that, the true productive work, especially when we talk about knowledged work, the minds of the knowledge professional actually works like an athlete, right? So it’s like an athletic performance where you really are productive in certain times of the day. You really want to focus on the work for those hours, and then deliver a really great output. Then you want to take a break, balance out your life with work, have a wholesome existence, and then come back to work when you are in the right mode, right?
And not saying that you have to deliver less, you can even deliver more. Infact, what we have seen, looking at our fully remote workforce that, they have been able to beat delivery deadlines. And they have been able to surpass our own expectation of product milestones in terms of complexity and timelines, through a fully remote team. And, what has made this possible is the sense of freedom with the sense of responsibility, right? So as a remote company, we have this as a motto. One of our cultural motto is that, there is freedom with the responsibility, right? So we never ask, what time are you going to be available? If there are some prescheduled meetings, it is expected for you available.
Most of our meetings in Airmeet, are now fully asynchronous, where you don’t really have to be on a video call. It can actually happen over [inaudible 00:13:23], this is an asynchronous meeting, or it can just happen over text. So, what we’ve seen is that people really love this freedom and with a sense of responsibility, they’re able to bring back the best hours of their life, the best hours of their productivity to work. And, they have surprised us with the amount of output that we have seen.
It’s interesting because things like commute, right? So, those that have faced a long commutes to work, those hours are just not productive, no matter how you commute, they’re not as productive as you’d like for them to be. And also, life gets in the way of productivity occasionally from time to time. And so if there’s a flexibility, which I love the way that you’re positioning, this is like, listen, we’re going to talk about trust in a second, but it’s like, listen, it’s about the job, it’s about the project. It’s about communicating with your team, et cetera. It’s whether or not you’re tethered to a desk at this specific time, probably never mattered, but we’ve learned, we’ve proven it to ourselves over the last year and a half or so, that it really doesn’t matter. It’s about the quality of the work.
I want to get your take on two things. One is the hybrid model that you see and hear and read about how people want to, when there’s a return to an office, how they want to create flexible conditions, et cetera, and that relationship with autonomy. So that’s the first thing, I just want to get your take on that. And the second is trust and the relationship that you see with your own employees and with your clients as well, is that relationship with autonomy and trust?
Absolutely. So on the hybrid model of work, right? So I think what we are seeing is that increasingly the employee footprint, right? Your employees are your internal stakeholders, right? So that stakeholder footprint, is becoming more and more distributed with every passing quarter, right? Take any typical company, if they had all their employees in a certain city, two quarters down the line, some of those employees would move to different locations, or they would move to different companies and new people who join would not be the same city, right? So over time, we’ll see that the internal stakeholders will be a 100% distributed. This is one of the [inaudible 00:16:08] will be fully scattered and the footprint would be such that it would be a coincidence that a bunch of people are found in the same city.
Earlier, it was a norm, you have to be relocated to a city, but in future, it’s going to be a coincidence that two coworkers are a part of the same city. They need not be of the same team, right? So for example, someone from design and someone from finance, they happen to be in the same city, but then there’s no direct collaboration expectation of them, right? So this is going to be one of the major challenges with the hybrid work model that people are talking about, because hybrid work model assumes that your employee footprint is going to be local to your office locations, which you cannot really control all of that. If you make that as a priority, then you’re really not leveraging the power of remote to the fullest, right? You’re still going to be limited with the talent pool that you can actually go for, will still be limited to the mechanisms and the adoption of technology in terms of your collaboration.
So it’ll be a very limiting factor if you stick to the more popular hybrid model, right? The hybrid model that I foresee that will be with widespread adoption would be that it is going to be a fully distributed workforce. And there will be periodic in person catchups and those could be productive catchups, those could be absolutely social catchups as well, right? So what we have done in Airmeet, is that we have close to 200 plus employees, and this employee base is spread across close to 60 cities and so what we have done is we’ve sort of given regional budgets, right? So folks can in a quarter, they can decide that they want to, let’s say, travel to the nearby city on a certain occasion and then they can actually have a good time with their colleagues.
And then we are planning to have a cadence of, let’s say the management team to meet at a quarterly basis and let’s say once a year, probably people who can afford to have the time they could just come at a company offsite. So that cadence, I think that will gain a lot more popularity that gives a really high quality in person time, along with this autonomy and freedom to bring your best version to work, right? That, I think will have a more lot more widespread option.
I love that because, it’s putting the emphasis on the talent and saying flexibility, productivity. So you’ve got ultimate flexibility, which creates that autonomy to then work as you need to work, to reach the goals that you need to reach and be as productive. And I love the way that you said the best version of yourself. And so, again, there can be for those that want to go to a place, they just want to get out of their house, there’s flexibility there too. There’s ways to treat that. There’s all kinds of different technology and other types of ways to deal with that. So I love that.
What’s your take on the relationship between trust and autonomy? What have you seen the testing of that, especially during the pandemic, especially, during these times, and distributed work is a lot about trust, ultimately, right? You trust the person to be able to do the things that they say they can do, but when they say they can do them, et cetera. So what’s that relationship look like for you?
Absolutely. I think, if I were to say that the leadership principles for the future of work, have to be re-written. I think the old leadership principles, they definitely would require an adaptation to what is applicable in the new future of work. And the biggest driving force is that most of our colleagues would not have the fortune to meet in person. So of the 200 people that work at Airmeet, I’ve not met more than two people in person. Other than the founders, only two people that I’ve actually had the chance to meet in person. So, the whole process of recruiting, basically conveying the vision of the company, the mission of the company, and making sure that they understand why this is important for them, all of those conversations are fully remote, right? And they’re bound to be fully, right?
So, the fact that you haven’t really met the person, there is a very strong amount of trust that the person is putting in you. The employees are also putting a lot of trust in you and they are making a decision and an equal amount of trust is being put in the employee from the company’s perspective, without having met the person, we are actually offering this role, this responsibility and this new project, right? So leading with trust is the only option yet and, there is a condition attached, right? There’s terms and conditions for that and there are two sides of the trust point here.
So one is, company’s responsibility, the employer’s responsibility to make sure that the employee is landed well, right? You are definitely trusting the person, but really to make sure that they land well, they are oriented well, they really have the right information and the environment to be productive. Otherwise, you will invariably be pointing out to trust issue where the root cause of let’s say, relationship going bad is something else. The orientation itself was not right. So as humans, especially knowledge workers who are choosing to go remote, I think we are assuming that trust is going to be an important piece. And people are coming with an open mindset and they are trusting the companies and companies are trusting employees, but employees have to make sure that the other adjacent factors, right?
Trust is definitely the center piece, but there are so many more conditional factors which I would say for lack of a better word, it has to be nailed properly, so that the person who is putting the trust in the company, they land really well, and they’re able to be productive and they start feeling that they’re part of an organization without a mess.
And on the employee side, when you are joining a company, you really have to put that personal discipline, bring your best version to work, right? It’s that basic personal amount of that responsibility that you’re not really, I would say, taking advantage of lack of an oversight or mis-communicating or not being true to your commitments or true to any information that you’re sharing, that personal amount, that personal hygiene and discipline that is really very important. Personal hygiene in the sense that, the whole communication hygiene, documenting, communicating, all of those things, as well as a personal discipline, to make sure that your time is valued. You value your time and hence you value the time of the organization that they’re putting to work with you, right? So, environmental things that they can care of, I think the question of trust and autonomy can really work beautiful.
I love that. And, I love the way you framed up trust is a 2-way street. At the end of the day, it’s the employer trusting the employee, the employee trusting the employer and that goes around, right? Employees trusting each other, employees trusting their teams. But trust is again, it’s not one direction, it’s bi-directional and multi-directional if you will. Last question as we go out and I really want to get your take on your best advice around retention. For the CHROs and the even the C-suite that’s listening. This is the number one thing that’s keeping people up at night is, how are they going to retain their top talent? What are the things that they need to do? How do they need to rethink et cetera, technology, their approach, but your best advice to those folks as it relates to the retention of top talent?
Absolutely. So there are two of very, very important words, which I would like the CHROs to focus on. One is cadence, second is moments, right? So let me pick moments first. In the employee life cycle, right from when someone is exploring an opportunity with their company, from that point to let’s say they are really productive employee, or maybe they exiting after two years of great work, right? So that entire employee life cycle is studded with moments, right? So the very first day, the very first meeting, the very first week, the very first month, those are important moments. The very first encounter with the leadership team, right? So those moments have to be treated very special for every employee, because for example, if someone joins my company, it should not feel like they they’re now just logging into a different slack workspace. It should feel significant. It should feel significant.
It should feel significant, their first day at work should feel really significant, that moment, right? That moment has to be made significant and like that there are many moments in the employee life cycle that if the HR leadership can ensure to practice, to process that those moments are significant for the employee, I think it’s going to add a tremendous amount of value to the relationship. And the second is cadence, right? It’s a internal communication cadence, right? So you really have to stick to a cadence of your departmental town halls, your company wide town halls, your brown bag sessions. If there is a budget for offsite, then quarterly offsite, if you stick to that cadence, that is going to really fill for a lot of perceived gaps in the remote work, those would be my work [inaudible 00:27:19]
I love that. And, on the moment side, it’s certain there’s an element of ceremony and traditions that I love. I love both, I love cadence. Again, once you get people used to, here, we’re going to have a Friday, call, et cetera, you can listen to it, prerecorded, whatever, but there’s a cadence. Once you’ve communicated, now you’ve set an expectation and it’s fulfilling on that expectation. I love both of those. Well done. Wonderful podcast. Lalit, thank you so much for coming on the RecruitingDaily Podcast.
Absolutely and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.