Dr. Sriram Somasundaram joined OSG Analytics in a consulting capacity and then as the Managing Director of the Bengaluru office, to continue leading and mentoring through team management in his retirement.
Up until his retirement, he worked as an engineer, both in academia at Texas A&M University and in research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). At PNNL, he worked in energy efficiency and HVAC system technologies, as well as serving as a group manager and mentor within his teams. Outside of work, he served on the Board of Directors for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and on the board of Richland Public Library, and volunteers for causes that he cares about, such as the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival and local Science Bowl competitions.
As one of the newest members of the OSG Analytics leadership team, what brought you to OSG?
I had been retired for two years when I was asked if I was ready for a new challenging assignment, and that was to make the India teams more accountable and responsible, and to get them to work together as a team. In my prior professional work, I managed teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, here in Washington state, so this was right up my alley. Managing people is similar across the board, whether it is for market research, engineering, or a design project. The necessary roles and responsibilities are the same, just the core topic is different. You are still working with lots of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise.
When I first got to the Bengaluru office, there were about 40 people, divided among 6-8 teams, comprised of a mix of older and younger professionals. My first responsibility was to get them together, talk about what they do, how they do it, learn from that, and evaluate their systems. Girish (the Bengaluru office manager and Chief of Staff) and I did evaluations over the previous year’s performance, learned a lot over that process about the support the teams needed and then start on the hiring process to fill out those needs.
Now, as of March 2021, our India team has about 115 people, so our workforce has more than doubled since February 2019, when I started on this journey! Moving forward, we will be using a “hybrid work routine model” of teams coming to the office on a rotation basis once or twice a week for face-to-face meetings to collaborate on discussions and move forward on projects.
How has the pandemic affected how the Bengaluru office is functioning, especially with team management going remote?
When the COVID-19 lockdowns went into place, we were quickly able to shift gears and ramp down our office operations. Many team members went back to their hometowns or native places and joined their families to cut down on their own household costs. In this way, the Bengaluru team became an “all-India” team and became dependent on uncertain power and internet connections for meetings and collaboration, due to infrastructure challenges across the country with the workforce shift.
After making sure our people were set up safely, we had to decide what to do with our big unnecessary office space. Since we did not know how long the lockdown would be for, we moved out of that office where we were paying huge electrical bills due to square footage. Now we have moved to an office a third of the size, with divided workspace with partitions. It is better for our current needs, with conference rooms and separate offices for visiting leadership. We completed the move in the middle of August 2020, which is when I came back to US. We have been using the new office space whenever someone is in town in Bengaluru and when they want to have meetings or onboard new talent, so we are ready for when the lockdown ends.
What has kept you motivated during working from home during the pandemic?
Leena Nair, Unilever’s chief human resources office, gave an interview recently, and one quote stuck with me that I’ve heard echoed throughout the past year: “we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.” What that means to me is we have offices all over the world that were all hit by the pandemic, however the solutions for coming back to work and going into a new normal is going to be different in various parts of the world. Experiences have not been the same, people have changed, everyone is in different boats and still are, but having similar experience in radically changed world has brought us closer as a team. We need to deliver a good workable solution that solves problems for companies and audiences in various parts of the world. This is the challenge now: how do we rise to this occasion and move into the future?
How have you seen your team management work at OSG change during the transition to working from home?
It was interesting to be back in Bengaluru after growing up and going to high school there and seeing how the generations have changed, but how some things remained the same. It’s definitely grown into a burgeoning tech capitol, and with that comes a shift in culture. Our challenges were trying to recruit people, especially in IT, and people would come for an interview and use the offers we make to leverage with other companies for higher offers. So, I learned about the hiring version of “ghosting” where candidates would accept offers and then not show up for the job. So hiring and onboarding now looks like finding a candidate and hoping they come to work for us even when they agree to do so, and then going back to the drawing board if they don’t.
Most of my team management work has stayed consistent, but we have learned a lot during the hiring and onboarding processes, especially during the pandemic. Since we are doing interviews remotely and online these days, it is more important than ever to find out how the candidates think and work. To do this, we usually probe the candidates with interesting questions to understand how they think. Once you make them an offer, there is the question of making sure they “show up” to work and do excellent work while working from home. So with that, we have developed a team culture of accountability to better support each other but also know what everyone else is working on towards our common goals.
Has the culture of the teams shifted since working from home?
Bengaluru is notorious for its messy traffic patterns, so before the pandemic, many people wanted to work from home more often just for avoiding the long commutes to and from home. But now we are all realizing we had better be careful what we wish for, because now that we are working from home, we are faced with distractions, pressures, paranoia, restlessness, accompanied by not being allowed to leave our houses, other than for a necessity or emergency. Everyone is working to keep themselves distracted amidst all the negative news and events surrounding them, so the home-work atmosphere was suffocating. Within 6 months, people wanted a break from it.
It was easier previously to turn off work and then come home to spend time with family, and now it is difficult to shut down work and spend time with family, so we’re all facing feelings of guilt and confusion about work boundaries. Coming out of this, we must find out how everything will work. Slowly, one step at a time, we all must find a “hybrid work routine” that works for us.
My personal challenge was of time management. Having come back to the US, the time difference of when best to work with people in India because of the 12.5-hour difference became difficult. I usually work from early morning until 10am, and then have time to myself the rest of the day. Then I start up again at 6pm, when the India team wakes up again. In this way, it was a staggered workday for me, getting up quite early and then relaxing during daytime, which were mostly gloomy winter days, and then late evening and late-night meetings, which affected my sleep schedule a little, but I adjusted after a couple of weeks.
Any new hobbies and interests while working from home?
Nothing new hobby-wise, just continuing to maintain our garden and continuing my photography habit by taking pictures of the garden. I have been spending more time reading and catching up on news, magazines, and books, more so than before. Some of my recent favorite books are:
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
- The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Reading these books have gotten me into a writing mood, so I’ve been writing whitepapers and reviews for these and other books and sharing them with friends and family, at least for the reviews.
Other than reading and writing for fun, I got a request at the end of 2020 from an old friend who knew of my work in thermal energy storage and energy storage in general. He asked if I would be willing to give a webinar on energy storage, specifically thermal energy, during GITAM Hyderabad’s 5-day program on Energy Storage. I was able to do everything online and it was recorded and made available to the 200+ attendees scattered around India, all lecturers, professors, or graduate students. This served as an introduction into the latest research going on in energy, materials, and storage technologies around the world.
Any interesting or fun stories since shifting to remote and virtual team management?
In November, the India office came together for a two-hour virtual show-and-tell, you could call it, for sharing what activities and hobbies everyone has outside of work, and we even had some wonderful music performances from our colleagues. It was great to hear from everyone on what they have been doing and what they have created during the pandemic lockdown, which was much stricter in India than in the US. We listened to interesting lectures on pet projects and topics and shared physical activity ideas that we use to keep busy, and even some good paintings. Some people shared that during this time, they had helped with teaching kids through the Teach for India program. It was a great parallel between US and Indian society in terms of different generations of professionals having a lot to learn from each other, especially during such a stressful and unexpected global work transition.
What are some successes you’ve seen at OSG?
We are on our way to more successes, but we have seen plenty of wins so far, like forming a strong technology team that is starting to gel together and hired from diverse backgrounds to create pods/teams to develop new software. We’re looking to acquire smaller companies and their products and software to meld with our current solutions to make them stronger, so we’re looking forward to more successes in the product arena.
With the framework of PxidaCX and PxidaTX forming, we are working on finding wider audiences and customers for those survey products. We are also launching new features to our o360 platform, and working with new clients, in new markets, such as the Middle east, South America, Asia and Europe.
What do you see in the future for OSG and the world?
The management team has set a goal of doubling our revenue between 2020 and 2021 and doubling that again by the end of 2022. We are also switching from tech-based consulting services company to a hybrid model of service and product delivery, where product-derived business solutions are delivered for large and medium sized companies. This way, we can better evaluate talent and customer experience, increase market share in the different verticals, and get more involved in the industries we currently serve, as well as some new ones, such as energy!
Regarding my interest in energy technology and research, I am looking forward to exciting opportunities in the new decarbonized economy and renewable energy technology. I have been keeping track of research of how the economy has to be altered to tackle climate change issues so that there will be less carbon emissions and more carbon capture and sequestration. More and more renewable energy is being brought online, hydrogen and fuel cells are being used for transportation, and this is changing how industrial processes work to use less and less carbon-based fuels.
I am looking forward to the 2030 vision of the future!
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