Improving employee experience is hard - but ignore it at your peril

Improving employee experience is hard - but ignore it at your peril
PJ Hough, Chief Product Officer, Citrix, is responsible for overseeing the company’s technology direction. Picture: Peter Houlihan

In conversation with John Daly

Even the responsible role of executive vice president and chief product officer for Citrix sometimes takes a backseat to sporting events 5,000 miles away.

Such was the situation confronting PJ Hough recently when his native Tipperary contested the All Ireland Hurling Final against Kilkenny. Though geographical circumstances kept him a number of time zones distant to the action in Croke Park, the man from Borrisokane was still lending his voice to cheering on the stickmen from the Premier County.

“I was wearing the jersey underneath my shirt everyday, and it remains one of the many wonderful things about home that still matters so much regardless of what part of the world you happen to be living in,” he explained of those particular home thoughts from abroad. “The GAA is global now, with hurling and football being viewed everywhere around the world, and is a part of home so many of us are immensely proud of.”

Responsible for supervising Citrix’s current and future technology direction, including mergers and acquisitions strategy, product alignment and growth across the portfolio, Hough brings more than 25 years of industry experience to the company, having previously worked as Microsoft Vice President of Developer Division and Office Program Management, culminating with introduction of Office365.

“I spend as much time as possible in Ireland, but particularly given our recently upgraded facility in Dublin. Having worked at Microsoft for a considerable period before Citrix, I have a long experience of understanding the value of a footprint for technology companies in Ireland.

Indeed, my first job was with Digital in Galway, so my entire career has been with US companies who’ve had a strong relationship with Ireland and I greatly value the kind of talent that we get access to and the opportunity it gives us to grow our business in Europe.

Citrix invested €6.7m to develop a completed 49,500sq ft of space at its East Gate location — designed to bring together different EMEA teams, including digital sales, finance, HR, technical support and consulting services.

From his earliest days the world of technology held a fascination for the boy from Borrisokane, going back to vocational school, when he successfully scoured Limerick in search of a manual for an Apple 2 computer, which none of his teachers were trained to operate. Aware that computers were the future, he went on to do a BA in Computer Application at the NIHE, now DCU, graduating with a fist class honours master’s degree.

He spent eight years with Digital in Galway, a learning experience that informed his future career progress: “Digital were an anchor employer in Galway and I particularly remember the focus they put on training, it put me on a track to think of work as a place where you learn.”

In 1994, PJ successfully entered the ‘green card lottery,’ moving to the US and spending the next twenty years working with Microsoft, and leading the team that was responsible for the Office product still in use today.

Having joined Citrix in 2016, he is now based in Santa Clara, California, heading up the entire product portfolio and helping usher in a new era of employee engagement and productivity.

“It has been an interesting time to be part of a new management team leading a transformation in the company — a very exciting and challenging time. Despite all my time in technology, this is my first time working in Silicon Valley and the access to information and the pace of development is greater even than I previously experienced in other places.

"Citrix is this year celebrating 30 years as an independent software company, so obviously they were doing a bunch of things right before we arrived. That said, I think there is always a need and a demand for companies to re-invent themselves,” he adds.

While relishing the new challenge at Citrix, PJ cites the experience garnered on the Office programmes at Microsoft as a suitable preparation. “My skill set is as a change agent and so a business that was going through a transition fit very well with what I was looking for,” he said. With employee numbers at Citrix almost 10,000, it is approximately the equivalent of his previous domain at the Office division.

“When I looked at the portfolio, I saw the similarity in the scale and the possibility of bringing some order to the complexity of products,” he said.

On a recent visit home, PJ spoke at his alma mater, Dublin City University and “saw the future of work” in the students at DCU and in the innovators at the Dublin Tech Summit and the Silicon Docks. “They’re adopting an any-location, any-device style of work and demanding user-friendly, cloud-based technologies.

"They’re helping to drive a shift to user-centric solutions that empower and engage and that help them be more productive. As organisations, we already do well at organising work so that we understand the tasks that need to get done as part of our daily activities.”

The intelligent workspace will help us go beyond that and have a direct impact on employee experience, he predicts: “The future of work is one in which these workspaces use machine learning to guide what we do, simplifying workflows and predicting and presenting tasks so we can focus on work that advances our organisation and not on finding what we need six clicks deep into an application.”

He adds that the future of work is one in which employee experience and the technologies that support it, like intelligent workspaces, will drive competitive advantage. In the office of today, professionals have to use multiple apps and different technologies throughout the day, often overly complex and killing productivity.

“There’s a lot of distraction in the workplace today that keeps us from doing what we want and are paid to do,” he says. “Make no mistake, improving employee experience is hard work, but you ignore it at your own peril.

"There’s already a war for skilled talent, and it’s only going to get fiercer as older workers leave the workforce, and freelancers, consultants, and part-time workers, who prefer a mobile, anywhere, anytime work style, make up more and more of the labour pool.

"By 2030, you can expect a global talent shortage of 85 million workers, so you’ll have to fight harder to attract and retain people.”

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