Solving the Challenges of Hybrid Teams with AI Technology with Projjal (PJ) Ghatak

Wayne Turmel interviews Projjal (PJ) Ghatak, CEO and co-founder of OnLoop, a habit-forming AI-powered platform for high-functioning teams. They discuss the challenges faced by hybrid teams and the need for increased clarity and visibility in remote work. OnLoop helps managers and team members stay connected and informed through regular check-ins and feedback. The platform aims to address biases and create a level playing field for all employees. Ghatak emphasizes the importance of rethinking traditional work practices and embracing the transition to a hybrid workplace.

Key Takeaways

1. OnLoop helps managers of hybrid teams navigate the reduced visibility and clarity that comes with remote and hybrid work.
2. The platform uses habit-forming technology to make it easier for managers to understand what is happening with each team member.
3. OnLoop aims to close the perception gap and eliminate biases by bringing better visibility into the actual work being done.

View Full Transcript

00:00:08:04 - 00:00:32:16
Wayne Turmel
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Long Distance Work Life, the podcast, where we help you thrive, survive, live. Figure out how to find your way in this crazy, evolving world of remote and hybrid work. My name is Wayne Turmel. I'm a master trainer and coach here at the Kevin Eikenberry Group, coauthor of the Long Distance Work Life Books.

00:00:32:18 - 00:01:05:01
Wayne Turmel
And we'll talk more about those in a bit. This is one of these episodes where Marissa is not with me. That doesn't mean you should leave, because we have another really interesting interview with a really, really smart person. And so to that point, I am going to bring in Brazil P.J. Gottschalk, who is with On Loop. And I'm going to let him introduce himself and what on loop does, and then we'll get into it.

00:01:05:02 - 00:01:38:04
Projjal Ghatak
Hey, man, thank you for having me. So in 2020, I started a company called on Loop. And what on loop really is, is a habit forming gen AI powered platform for goals and feedback in high functioning teams. And I know that that's a bunch of potentially buzzwords. And we can we can go deeper into it. But really, in essence, we were born as a company to help managers of hybrid teams really navigate sort of the reduced visibility that now have on their teams because people are remote or hybrid.

00:01:38:06 - 00:01:54:23
Projjal Ghatak
And so we were born in the pandemic. That was partly luck and that was partly the timing, given everything happening in the world. And our goal is to use our collaborative team developing framework to help hybrid managers do okay.

00:01:54:23 - 00:02:23:17
Wayne Turmel
So as you said, the buzzword alert went off big time during that. And that doesn't mean there aren't some things there that we need to talk about. So the first thing I guess is hybrid teams have certain challenges and whenever I talk to technology people, I'm actually less interested in the nuts and bolts of the technology because I'm not smart enough to understand what any of that is.

00:02:23:19 - 00:02:32:12
Wayne Turmel
What I do care about is what's the problem you're solving for. So when hybrid teams in particular, what were you trying to cure?

00:02:32:14 - 00:02:58:10
Projjal Ghatak
Yeah, so, so the disease really is one of reduced clarity, right? So, so before managers had their team members at their beck and call five days a week in the office. And so it was much easier to infer how someone was doing what they were working on, how it was progressing and giving quick feedback, giving quick coaching or tips and advice.

00:02:58:12 - 00:03:25:15
Projjal Ghatak
That medium has largely now been constrained into a much shorter time frame. And so managers around the world are incredibly anxious as to whether their teams are focusing on the right things and moving in the right direction. At the same time, team members are also anxious as to where they stand because they now have a much more reduce feedback loop with their managers.

00:03:25:17 - 00:03:38:01
Projjal Ghatak
And our job as a company is to really fill in that visibility and clarity gap that has been inserted into the workplace because of a shift to a hybrid feature.

00:03:38:01 - 00:03:55:17
Wayne Turmel
I mean, the thing about technology is it's garbage in, garbage out, right? And so when we're talking about clarity and expectations, how does the technology help a manager who maybe isn't doing a great job at this?

00:03:55:19 - 00:04:20:00
Projjal Ghatak
Yeah. So we all believe that every manager in the world has good intent. Nobody walks into the workplace and says, I'm going to be a bad manager today. But it is also overwhelming for a manager. The average manager has 4 to 6 direct reports. They have their own responsibility and their own pressures coming from their managers and it's a hard job to juggle.

00:04:20:02 - 00:04:20:19
Projjal Ghatak
And so.

00:04:21:01 - 00:04:21:09
Wayne Turmel

00:04:21:09 - 00:04:44:23
Projjal Ghatak
We do with our platform is make it much easier for the manager to get a sense of what is happening with each of the team members, and that might be related to the person's wellbeing. It might be related to the fact that they may not be clear what they're working on. It might be they're not receiving enough feedback so that they can take the right action at the right time for the right team member.

00:04:45:01 - 00:05:23:12
Projjal Ghatak
And and where we take a lot of inspiration from is fitness apps. And so we've seen products like the Woo Band and the Aura Ring take concepts like diet and exercise and sleep and give each individual a readiness score and also suggested next actions of what they can do around their readiness. And we sort of draw that parallel to clarity and we help managers navigate where a team member might be blocked or where they might need help so that they can invest the time in the place that accelerates the team in the best way possible.

00:05:23:14 - 00:05:50:17
Wayne Turmel
Yeah, I don't want to get too hung up on the technology, but this is fascinating for me. So how does walk me through? I'm stuck. I'm working on something and I'm stuck. How does the I magical Genie robot thing? Yeah. Been to my manager. And what does he hear or see that tells him that I need help?

00:05:50:19 - 00:06:12:04
Projjal Ghatak
Natalie So, you know, one of the things, as you said, garbage in, garbage out. So all of the things we do in our product is make it much more habit forming. So when people use the on loop app, we see much more regular updates that team members are making towards as to what is the state of their wellbeing or how a day progressing against their goals.

00:06:12:04 - 00:06:50:08
Projjal Ghatak
And, and when people are reflecting and checking in on a much more bite sized continual visit, it's much easier to spot when something's off track or things that to be brought on track. And so, you know, there is no magician reading through your emails or Slack messages making up stuff. It's really making it really easy for managers and team members to keep each other updated of what's happening and discovering things that might be going off track much sooner than a weekly one on one conversation, or even worse, off a team meeting that happens every two weeks.

00:06:50:10 - 00:07:18:23
Wayne Turmel
How do you what are the conversations like with clients as you're talking about integrate this? Because I see the benefit everything you're talking about. And there is a lot of push back right now from employees about, oh, this is glorified keystroke monitoring. Yeah, you know, they're going to come and take me away if I'm not putting in so many minutes per hour at the keyboard.

00:07:19:01 - 00:07:24:19
Wayne Turmel
How do you have those conversations and what are those look like?

00:07:25:01 - 00:07:56:23
Projjal Ghatak
And that's a really good question. And so all of our messaging, as well as onboarding new customers, is very much targeted to the icons, the individual contributors and the managers, because unfortunately, practices like performance management has created a ton of baggage around form filling and check boxing and compliance exercises that don't make the employee feel that the stuff they're doing is actually for their benefit.

00:07:57:01 - 00:08:23:19
Projjal Ghatak
And so part of our package when we onboard a new customer is obviously the app, but also a fairly intense 12 week success program where we build the habits that drive that clarity and give team members that benefit. And and there's no other product in the world bar none that's focused on the end user and not on a functional organization like h.r.

00:08:23:19 - 00:08:50:17
Projjal Ghatak
So for us, h.r. Is a stakeholder, but our customer is really the manager and good teams, and that's what's very important for the managers and the teams to see the benefit for them to then adopt a product and only the product is adopted to drive the impact that it aspires to have. And therefore, for us, we basically serve the hybrid manager and the organization above all else.

00:08:50:19 - 00:09:00:05
Wayne Turmel
What are some of the habits and best practices that managers need to develop that you're seeing need that kind of support?

00:09:00:07 - 00:09:21:06
Projjal Ghatak
Yeah. So one of the great sort of habits, one of my customer success team members came up with was called to want to check in every week, which is making two well-being checks, making one celebrate capsule about something that went well and then requesting one piece of feedback on a goal that they're working towards and and it's an easy thing to do.

00:09:21:07 - 00:09:54:19
Projjal Ghatak
You can do it in a matter of seconds, if not a minute. And what that does is build up a rhythm of getting a pulse of what's going on and not requiring a manager to pester and check in being like, what's happening on this project and what's happening on that project? And so the very simple habits that we can create and also tack on to other things that are happening often on loop will get used as part of a team meeting to do celebrate peers or to solicit feedback or to brainstorm around a project someone stuck on.

00:09:54:21 - 00:10:36:19
Projjal Ghatak
And so habit formation is a lot about taking what's already happening and that might be one on one or team huddles and conversations and inserting technology or new habits into that so that they stack the right way. But but these take a lot of time and effort to design the product. And in fact, right now we're doing a full design overhaul of the product based on user feedback to really make these habits second nature so that people don't see it as a chore to be done, which is how people have typically viewed goals and feedback works, is something that's making their life easier and allowing them to cross their goals much faster.

00:10:36:21 - 00:10:57:12
Wayne Turmel
And of course, a big part of your marketing, your message to the world is around hybrid teams. And I know that there are some specific What are the challenges to hybrid teams that you're seeing in your clients that managers need to be super vigilant about?

00:10:57:14 - 00:11:16:20
Projjal Ghatak
Yeah, So, you know hybrids obviously a new buzzword that the pandemic's created. So I often also use the word distributed, right? So I used to work for a company called Uber for many years and we had thousands of people around the world. And so when I was living in Singapore in a global role at Uber, I was working with team members around the world.

00:11:16:22 - 00:11:43:13
Projjal Ghatak
And so when the pandemic happened, it was that we are to spend many hours on a on a Zoom call. But but really instead of the technology that we had built to get work done was very much centered around facilitating an in office workplace and and you know, leaders tend to be older and and older people are creatures of habit and they.

00:11:43:13 - 00:11:47:00
Wayne Turmel
Don't I have no idea what you're talking.

00:11:47:02 - 00:11:56:19
Projjal Ghatak
And they don't like changing things all that often. Although you do move continent to continent every every few years that might be that might be an exception.

00:11:57:00 - 00:11:59:16
Wayne Turmel
And so, you know, people are used.

00:11:59:16 - 00:12:24:10
Projjal Ghatak
To seeing work getting done. And just because they can't see work getting done, they're anxious that work is not getting done. And Microsoft calls that the productivity paranoia, that 12% of leaders believe that their teams are productive, which is 87% of employees are saying they are perfectly productive in this new world. And so that creates a big perception gap.

00:12:24:12 - 00:12:53:17
Projjal Ghatak
And and sort of as we think about pooling our approaches, we need to close that perception gap, because I think reality is showing us that hybrids the way we move is, in fact, things like API, things like VR and AR are only going to make teams more dispersed and be able to effectively collaborate across borders. So in the next three, five, ten years, we'll see more teams distributed around the world.

00:12:53:17 - 00:13:09:17
Projjal Ghatak
And so this train has left the station, so there's no point putting the genie back in the bottle. We just need to rethink the experience so that we are thinking of pools and processes to cater to this new world versus trying to force an old world that is never coming back.

00:13:09:18 - 00:13:41:07
Wayne Turmel
And that brings us to something that I know you at on Loop are very cognizant of, which is the idea of proximity bias. Right. And that to me is what I'm hearing over and over and over again as the biggest hurdle. It shouldn't be, it seems to me, but it is the biggest hurdle that managers of distributed teams and if they're fully distributed, it's much less of an issue than if they've got a core group of people in the office.

00:13:41:09 - 00:13:52:04
Wayne Turmel
So, you know, tell me a little bit about that problem that you're solving for and then how will technology and tools help deal with that now?

00:13:52:04 - 00:14:07:23
Projjal Ghatak
I mean, proximity bias is a good way of framing it. I, I call it eloquence bias that that people who sound better are perceived to be better or the people who are talking more about their work are doing more work. And there's and there's very good proven research.

00:14:07:23 - 00:14:10:14
Wayne Turmel
That some of us have made a career out of that that.

00:14:10:16 - 00:14:33:22
Projjal Ghatak
I like. I agree. Right. And I'm and I want to fix that because I've benefited from it. And I think that's entirely fair. And so people talk a lot about closing the gender pay gap or die at work. But the reality is that no amount of training is going to change those issues. What's going to change is how are we assessing?

00:14:33:22 - 00:14:54:14
Projjal Ghatak
We're getting done and so often that we see and we're probably going to take out a couple of case studies about this, about certain individuals using the on loop team, on loop on the app, on how much more seen they feel like work, because now their work is now equally seen where it says who has the most confidence to speak up in a room.

00:14:54:16 - 00:15:15:17
Projjal Ghatak
And we feel very passionately about just bringing fairness and visibility across the board to everyone's work. Equally worse is who has drinks with the manager or who's speaking up more in meetings. And the people who struggle to speak up in in-person settings struggle even more in hybrid settings. And it's much harder to speak up in a Zoom call or speak up in a room.

00:15:15:22 - 00:15:26:14
Projjal Ghatak
And so that bias is only getting worse. And we believe the only way we can fix that or close that gap is by bringing better visibility into the actual work that each person's doing.

00:15:26:18 - 00:15:53:04
Wayne Turmel
And in our work, Kevin and I, in a number of our books have talked about what we call ethical visibility, which is the responsibility of the employee to be visible to their manager and their colleagues for exactly that reason. I'm guessing that tech that the technology is not just one way, it's not just manager to employee, but the employee can be more proactive about it.

00:15:53:06 - 00:16:20:04
Projjal Ghatak
So so one thing I've learned is and you know, I had imagined Santas in the past as well, if someone can advocate for themselves, why should I go out of my way? And what I've learned is that is privilege working at its very best, because often people don't understand the confidence gap that a lot of people who are minorities or come from socially disadvantaged families or women often struggle with and having the confidence of speaking up.

00:16:20:04 - 00:16:51:13
Projjal Ghatak
And so we absolutely need to build tools and approaches that allows everybody to be visible irrespective of how much confidence they have to speak up in a room. And as I've got older and I've been reminded of my own privileges, I've got a lot more cognizant to the fact that just because someone's not standing up or advocating for themselves, it may not be in their control and might go back to deep rooted situations on where they come from.

00:16:51:16 - 00:17:16:01
Wayne Turmel
Well, the fact that there is an inherent power gap in every employer employee relationship is there. I am fascinated by what you just said. I think that's huge. And as usual, as an old cis white male, I feel I feel both seen and attacked, which is probably as it should be. So thank you very much for raising that.

00:17:16:02 - 00:17:22:16
Wayne Turmel
Anything. PJ Before we close out the show and send people on their way.

00:17:22:18 - 00:17:44:09
Projjal Ghatak
No, thank you for all the work that you are doing. I think more and more people need to be focused on this transition to a hybrid workplace, and I think we will have to rethink a lot of things that we've taken for granted pre-pandemic. And it is it is both exciting and daunting to hopefully do our small bit in that transition.

00:17:44:12 - 00:18:08:12
Wayne Turmel
Excellent. Thank you so much. Profile PJ Gottschalk, thank you so much for being with us. I am going to remove you from the room for just a moment while I close up. Thank you for listening. There was a lot of really good stuff in this interview. I liked the piece at the end actually about how technology can help a level playing field, so I think that's so important.

00:18:08:14 - 00:18:47:16
Wayne Turmel
But on the other hand, if you are a regular listener, please like and subscribe to the show. If you enjoyed this conversation, if you want links to project two on loop to any or just to recap some of what we talked about, you can find those show notes at long distance work life dot com. If you are interested in building a hybrid team, perhaps using some of these tools, but want to know what goes into that, check out Kevin Eikenberry and his new book, The Long Distance Team Designing Your Team for Everyone six.

00:18:47:18 - 00:19:13:09
Wayne Turmel
Marisa will be back next week. We are having a blast hearing from you with your pet peeves, your questions. People are kind of digging the chance to snark and vent a little bit. So we love hearing from you. Please drop us a line. Wayne at Kevin Eikenberry dot com Marissa at Kevin Eikenberry ecom or connect with us on LinkedIn.

00:19:13:09 - 00:19:25:23
Wayne Turmel
That's it thank you so much. I appreciate your time. Thank you to P.J. for stopping in. We will see you on the next episode of the long distance Work Life. Don't let the weasels get you down.


00:00 Introduction to the podcast and Projjal Ghatak
01:05 The problem of reduced clarity in hybrid teams
03:55 How technology helps managers with clarity and expectations
05:50 Addressing concerns about employee monitoring
09:00 Developing habits and best practices for managers
10:57 Challenges of hybrid teams and the need for visibility
13:41 Solving the problem of proximity bias in hybrid teams
15:26 The importance of ethical visibility for all employees
17:44 Closing remarks

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Featured Guest

Projjal (PJ) Ghatak

Name: Projjal (PJ) Ghatak

What He Does: CEO and Co-Founder of OnLoop

Notable: Projjal Ghatak is the founder of On Loop, a habit-forming AI-powered platform for goals and feedback in high-functioning teams. On Loop was created to help managers of hybrid teams navigate the reduced visibility and clarity that comes with remote and hybrid work. Projjal has a background in working with global teams and is passionate about bringing fairness and visibility to everyone's work.

Additional Resources

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Remote leadership experts, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, help leaders navigate the new world of remote and hybrid teams to design the culture they desire for their teams and organizations in their new book!

Your Host

Wayne Turmel

Master Trainer and Coach for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere, and trainer of remote teams for over twenty years.

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