Striving for Autonomy? These 3 San Francisco Employees Have Advice.
“Everybody’s working for the weekend.”
It’s a lyric we’ve belted at happy hour karaoke, comedically worked into conversation with co-workers, and felt every Monday morning since Loverboy released the titular song in 1981. But in 2022, as hybrid work becomes the norm and employees experience more freedom, does the essence of the decades-old tune still ring true?
Not quite: In this modern age, everybody’s working for autonomy. In fact, according to a 2022 global report published by Jabra, employees with high autonomy were more than 80 percent likely to experience an increase in motivation, productivity and a sense of work-life balance.
Individual contributor roles come with set obligations that are clearly outlined before joining an organization’s team. But where those expectations used to solely exist within the confines of a 9-to-5 office schedule, today are balanced within a sprawling, work-from-home itinerary. Productivity no longer exists under the guise of micromanaged cubicles, but in between daycare drop-offs and midday workouts, allowing employees to decipher how and when they work most effectively.
However, autonomy isn’t simply about giving employees the reins to their schedules. To Greg Dalin, project manager of IT, operations & security at Volta Charging, it’s about having the opportunity to ask for support, thanks to a culture of transparent communication. To Shweta Kamble, data scientist at Zoom, it’s about building trust in relationships with managers, colleagues and herself.
“With autonomy comes the responsibility of owning your learnings and growth in ways that will help your data product improve,” Kamble said. “You are constantly looking for ways to improve the solutions you deliver and your relationships with your partners and colleagues.”
If autonomy is synonymous with elements like “trust” and “freedom,” it’s clear why more individual contributors are carving out space for self-reliance in their careers. Built In San Francisco sat down with Dalin, Kamble and Tonkean’s Community Lead Briana Okyere to learn more about how they developed their autonomous roles in tech and the beneficial side effects they’ve experienced as a result.
What does autonomy at work mean to you?
Autonomy means “trust” to me. My colleagues, my boss and my partners trust me to provide them with an effective solution to a problem and support them in ways that enable progress for the company. The autonomy at Zoom goes to an important question that we all get to take ownership of: What are the most important problems to solve this quarter?
As a data scientist, I have the opportunity to think about the most important problems to solve from a machine learning, customer and ROI standpoint. For our vertical, I get to play an integral role in our quarterly planning process to prioritize those problems for our customers and partners. I love that this autonomy and trust helps our team build strong relationships based on thought leadership in data strategy and solutions.
How have you been able to build a satisfactory level of autonomy at Zoom?
At Zoom, we are all owners of our data products. We make strategic decisions based on the needs of our customers. I have not experienced this level of autonomy and ownership in my career before, so it can be a double-edged sword where you get to make strategic decisions about your career. You have the freedom to choose how you want to grow.
I led business intelligence in my first year at Zoom and pivoted to machine learning in a more individual contributor role in my second year. I could make that decision after talking to my head of data to see where I want to drive my career long term. Zoom allows you to be agile — not only in the solutions you deliver but also in your career development.
Zoom allows you to be agile — not only in the solutions you deliver but also in your career development.”
How does leadership at Zoom support you in finding the autonomy you need in your career?
With autonomy comes the responsibility of owning your learnings and growth in ways that will help your data product improve. You are constantly looking for ways to improve the solutions you deliver and your relationships with your partners and colleagues.
Happiness is at the core of Zoom’s culture; we value, respect, guide and help our colleagues in their growth journey. So when I feel stuck or need active feedback, I look to my manager and colleagues to guide me in areas that could be blind spots. Catching up in our weekly one-on-ones and having a systematic agile development process, where you deliver iterative results and measure your success, are all meaningful ways of support that I get from my team and my manager.
What does autonomy at work mean to you?
Autonomy at work is usually defined as giving employees the freedom to work in a way that suits them. However, I view autonomy as a level of trust built with your manager and team in that I can be relied upon to accomplish my work as expected. This example of autonomy fulfillment helped me understand the company’s mission and learn more about how I can contribute to its overall success.
One goal for Volta was to become a data-driven company — to help drive towards that goal, I was tasked with setting up the Data Steering Committee (SteerCo). This initiative was a unique challenge as I was relatively new to working with data lakes and business intelligence. This opportunity allowed me to interact with various C-level executives to understand their priorities and how SteerCo can aid in prioritizing projects that move forward the company goals.
Another example was a project where the deliverables were to create an asset management system utilizing Monday.com and send an asset tag to users with company-owned devices across the U.S. This was unique as I was given complete autonomy to deliver this project which required coordination with multiple teams and a vendor to help deliver the tags.
How have you been able to build a satisfactory level of autonomy at Volta?
Volta has been such a fantastic company in helping me build my level of autonomy since day one. On my first day, my manager provided me with a game plan to help me understand my role and the path to success during my first 90 days. Initially, I joined Volta to back the IT operations and security team, but now I also support our data lake team.
Within less than six months at Volta, I was promoted to the next level, which I did not expect — especially during my first year. With the support and trust of the management, I can confidently say that I am satisfied with how my career at the company is driving forward.
Within less than six months at Volta I was promoted to the next level, which I did not expect — especially during my first year.”
How does leadership at Volta support you in finding the autonomy you need in your career?
My manager has allowed me to fully own my responsibilities while also being available when I need assistance. She has constantly encouraged me to provide feedback on initiatives and projects during our team meetings and our weekly one-on-ones. I work a fairly standard work week but have proved capable of delivering my work on time. I never have to worry when I need to take time for a personal errand in the middle of the day.
I also want to give a shout-out to the entire Volta business systems and IT team. Every team member has always been ready to go to bat to support each challenge, whether big or small, and consistently deliver on it 100 percent. This team is one key reason that Volta continuously helps me find autonomy in my career. As the old saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team,” which is completely true here.
What does autonomy at work mean to you?
Autonomy plays a massive role in my work. When I’m interviewing for a new role, I always ask “How much autonomy will I have?” To me, autonomy equals freedom. In my current role running the community team at Tonkean, I am given it in spades. In addition to unlimited vacation days — and at this company, unlimited actually means unlimited — I enjoy a flexible work-from-home schedule.
But arguably the most important aspect of my work that shows the value of autonomy is the ability to set my own goals. I work on them, bring them to leadership, mold them and then am told to “go get it done in whatever way you think is best.” That level of trust in me by leadership gives me ownership over my domain, and promotes productivity because I decided what those goals were, not someone else.
How have you been able to build a satisfactory level of autonomy at Tonkean?
Autonomy is baked into our company culture and it has been from the start. If you do your job well at Tonkean, you are given the flexibility and autonomy to do it in whatever way is best for you, which is so valuable.
The most important aspect of my work that shows the value of autonomy is the ability to set my own goals.”
How does leadership at Tonkean support you in finding the autonomy you need in your career?
Management is key to helping me build and maintain autonomy at Tonkean. In weekly check-ins, I’m asked what I need — not the other way around. I set my own goals and report on my progress. I am never micromanaged, just given the support I need to succeed.