Puppet: What does the future of work look like?

  • Sync NI spoke with Sinead Heverin, Director of Engineering within global tech firm Puppet’s Belfast operations, to discuss the question that’s been on everyone’s minds basically since the pandemic began

    How do workplaces change as companies decide to go back to work? 

    We sat down with Sinead Heverin, Director of Engineering and the Belfast Site Lead at software company Puppet, to get her answer to this pressing question. Sinead joined Puppet four years ago as a Senior Engineering Manager after 4+ years with Visa as a Director of Engineering. As Site Lead in Belfast, she leads product development teams in the location. 

    Puppet’s products are used by some of the biggest companies and government institutions on the planet. The company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, USA, but has offices all over the world, with Belfast being one of its leading engineering think tanks.

    Puppet has always operated as a hybrid-remote workforce, but Covid-19 has encouraged the company to rethink how they can be even more effective going forward. The company believes a hybrid-remote structure provides an incredible amount of flexibility, and is the ideal approach for its global teams once the time is right to safely resume onsite work.

    Rethinking the workplace and the flexibility factor 

    “Ultimately, there’s a strong desire for Puppet to continue to be hybrid-remote but with some changes,” said Sinead. “We’re trying to find the balance between team productivity and individual productivity, and how our spaces at home and the office can evolve together to meet this.

    “It’s been a privilege to be able to work from home during the pandemic, but it has brought some challenges. 

    “It exposes our personal lives and our constraints. You’ve got people in different circumstances. Some are balancing family life and care-taking responsibilities. You have people living in shared accommodations, with limited outdoor space, or people living on their own, feeling isolated from others.” 

    Puppet’s global workforce has always included permanently remote-based employees even prior to the pandemic, with 37% of its overall personnel hired as full-time remote employees.

    “Because we’re distributed across global time zones, there’s been a lot of investment in the tools and technology to be able to work disparately from one another,” Sinead said.

    “Some of the practices already instituted have meant that the transition to being fully remote-based has been relatively easy for those of us that once went into the office. In addition, Puppet very generously set up a home office allowance program last summer to support employees who were not equipped to work from home after temporarily closing our offices,” she continued.

    The people of Puppet used the home office allowance to buy an ergonomic chair, a desk or a new monitor - whatever met their personal needs. 

    A new approach to the physical office environment - employees’ opinions matter

    Once we are in a world with fewer pandemic-related restrictions in the workplace, Puppet will first evaluate how team members want to use the office space then think creatively about how to make design changes to optimize utilization. For example, some may prefer collaboration space over heads down space. The determination will be done with Puppet’s workplace team and employees’ feedback. 

    It is worth noting that Puppet’s Belfast office in Linenhall Street is nothing short of lively. It’s full of books, games and toys, and is definitely a contender for the city’s most fun work space. 

    Sinead observed that “this time away from the office gives us the opportunity to reimagine what our future workplace looks like. 

    “Our space is quite modular, so we have an opportunity to think about how we want to optimize space utilization. Some potential ideas that come to mind are to look at creating more open team space, where we can get those vital coaching sessions face to face and have more collaborative team space.”

    This all being said, the rollout to reopening the Puppet office will be thoughtful and methodical. 

    Initial re-entry to the office is focused on getting people in who need it the most. Puppet understands that things won’t be back to normal like it was before the pandemic. Its priority initially is reliant on team wellbeing and on those whose health and wellbeing will be elevated in an office setting.

    Health & wellbeing needs to continue to take center stage

    Sinead told us that “Puppet has been very tuned in to the overall health and wellbeing perspective, from leadership all the way down.”

    The organisation has meditation for half hours every Tuesday (two options to cross global time zones), and everyone was given four days extra annual leave last year to “support the extra hours they felt they were doing or just to support the general fatigue of the whole pandemic.”

    “That initiative has been renewed so we already have another two extra days this year so far,” she affirmed. 

    A rule has also been implemented within some departments around “no meetings for anyone in any region on a Friday afternoon” to give people space to unwind and get through the last of their week’s to-do lists so they can finish their days at a reasonable time and avoid taking work stress with them into the weekend.

    Remote onboarding & staying organised with hybrid remote

    As someone who is hiring and onboarding new staff members remotely, Sinead noted that “although some have never stepped foot inside the office, they don’t feel any more disadvantaged because of it.” 

    “Face-to-face contact is obviously missing, but a lot of the content can be delivered through automated learning and online tutorials. We have a pretty robust 90-day onboarding plan that was already in place before the pandemic. It’s just where we would have met people in person, we’re now doing it over Zoom. 

    “Within each of our teams, we’ve encouraged efficiency in terms of calendars and general meeting etiquette. We strive to have an agenda and objective set for the meeting, and we encourage our teams to be clear on boundaries for their individual calendars. 

    “If there are times you need to block out because of dependence or because of how you’re feeling and you just need some quiet time, work with your manager to do that.  

    “There’s a tool called Clockwise that many of the team uses now to try and block out focus time where people can get their heads down and not be interrupted.”

    In probably the most important takeaway when considering the future of work, Sinead concluded: “We’re encouraged to connect with people individually, as a team and also to reassure people it’s OK to not be OK.” 

    This is always top of mind and will be a focus of this year’s Mental Health May, during which time Puppet allocates conversation time to hear from one another about the challenges and opportunities surrounding mental health, and reinforces resources provided by the company, including time away from work, employee assistant programs, and an open door philosophy to foster a culture of wellbeing.

    Stay connected, stay safe and stay positive! 

    Puppet is still hiring for a multitude of tech careers. For more information on the firm, check out their website or find their hiring offerings on Sync NI’s Jobs page. 

    This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to recieve future digital editions here

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