Friday 23 March 2018

Technology over psychology and the art of switching off

Grace O'Rourke Veitch, the Irish chief of Citrix, tells Donal Lynch that her mission is to tackle the culture of spending life chained to the desk and get us out of the office more

Grace O'Rourke Veitch by Jon Berkeley
Grace O'Rourke Veitch by Jon Berkeley
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

There can be few places in the country or the world grimmer than East Point Business Park. It has the feeling of a superannuated concentration camp - minus the interesting history - or perhaps a large factory farm.

Besuited worker drones shuffle around the dystopian central complex with styrofoam cups in their hand, looking like they've lost the will to live. Taxis hover outside, waiting to spirit the lucky few away. All it's missing is barbed wire. This, as John Grant once sang, is where dreams go to die.

So it feels fitting that I've come here to speak to a woman whose own dream is to help people escape the styleless surrounds of the office and soul-crushing drudge of the morning commute and instead get the day job done in more innovative ways.

If East Point, and places like it, are like a concentration camp, then Grace O'Rourke Veitch is a more beautiful Schindler. She heads up Citrix in Ireland - a leader in mobile workspaces, providing virtualisation, mobility management, networking and cloud services. They power business mobility (read: working at home) through secure, personal workspaces that provide employees with instant access to apps, desktops, data and communications on any device, over any network and cloud.

On the one hand, it probably enables your boss to get you anywhere and makes the point in the day at which work truly ends somewhat indefinable. On the other hand, it probably makes it less likely you'll end up stuck in somewhere like East Point.

"I think the 9-to-5 in an office doesn't exist any more," she tells me, matter-of-factly. "Employers act like it does and we've found that only 5pc of bosses in Ireland allow flexible working hours, which is incredible, but I think it's slowly but surely on the way out. At the end of the day it's about what you get done, not the hours that you work.

"We did a survey recently which showed that 83pc of women asked found that the only way they could consider returning to work after maternity was if that flexibility was there. We've found that managers often have a lack of trust - they want to see people in front of them from 9-to-5. But you could be on Facebook in the office 9-to-5!

"We need to stop measuring people on how many hours they work and instead look at them on what they deliver. Companies and indeed the country is wasting a whole pool of untapped labour - often women - because we are not availing of the technology. That's bad for us as a society and bad for companies. It's an old mentality versus a new one."

And 'new' is making inroads. Citrix recruited 50 new employees in Ireland last year, coming on top of 50 new jobs created in 2012. It now employs 200 people in Ireland and achieved growth in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East region of 8pc during Q2 2014, compared with the same period last year.

It doesn't have individual figures for Ireland but she assures me that the company is growing here and "without wishing to steal thunder" from the press release, there will be an announcement of more jobs soon.

"We're running out of space here. We're reorganising our offices and we have another office in Belfast through an acquisition of ByteMobile. We have another 500 people in the UK."

Even having an office is controversial for Citrix, however, because "we're saying people can get away from that." A lot of her clients, she tells me "have built property into their business case because it's so expensive in Dublin."

Of the recent growth she says: "There's been a perfect storm. IT has gotten so complex and there has been this relatively sudden explosion of the numbers of devices used. There are also a huge amount of apps and SaaS (software as a service) delivery models. So IT for companies is getting more complex.

"The old world of getting everything on a PC and a server and just giving it to your employee is gone. Employees want to use many apps that aren't exactly enterprise-ready. Security is also an issue. What's happening to your corporate information? Our technology gives a company an opportunity to get more in control and serve enterprise-level technology to their employees.

"Updating software in an office is very expensive; ours is also a more cost-effective approach. If you bring it back to a central repository, it's a lot easier. It gets over compliance issues that many of our clients would have.

"I think IT is becoming a bit like iTunes - you draw down what you need to do your job and everyone gets it from one place. It's one simple storefront."

The long-hours culture is another bugbear of O'Rourke Veitch's. As with the wider economy, she says, there is a "squeezed middle" of employees who feel they have to work long hours in the office because their bosses are doing the same, and she echoes Arianna Huffington's calls for a more thoughtful approach to work-life balance in corporate culture.

"We've found that a huge amount of Irish people don't leave the office for lunch and don't take all of their holidays", O'Rourke Veitch says.

"Over 50pc of us have suffered from work-related stress in the last year - and how good is that for a company? You might have short-term gain but what happens long term?

"At the moment we have the worst of all worlds - you're expected to spend long hours in the office but then also be contactable when you go home, and remaining on top of emails. To be more efficient we have to learn the art of switching off. We control these devices, they don't control us."

You get the feeling that her proselytising for mobile workspaces and a better calibrated relaxation ethic is as much personal as it is business. Needless to say, she herself works two days a week from home ("I'm hardly in the office actually") and says she wouldn't manage her job unless she were given that freedom. "I find I'm more productive at certain times of the day."

She lives in her "forever" home on the Wicklow-Wexford border. Her husband Martyn minds the children - a boy, Samuel (12) and a girl, Tegan (11) - and she says she wouldn't be able to do the job she does without his support.

"It enables me to travel when I need to," she tells me, "but I know it doesn't work as well for everyone. We had friends over recently and they both have full-time jobs but she still has to do most of the cooking and cleaning. And to be honest, that's unsustainable. Hats off to any woman who can do that, but it seems kind of unfair.

"I think my husband has a tougher job than I do. It used to be the woman's work is never done. But now it's his work is never done. He never clocks off."

If the gender roles in her family are atypical, so too has been her career path. In a week in which the Leaving Cert results came she is living proof that it is possible to succeed without third level.

She grew up in Greystones, Co Wicklow, where her father was a self-employed auto electrician and her mother a stay-at-home mum. She was never very academic she tells me and was "obsessed" with horses throughout her youth.

"Evenings or holidays I was in the riding schools. I was always trying to get rides off people," she tells me, before bursting into gales of embarrassed laughter. "Horse rides! No, no, don't print that…you know what I mean!"

Given her good looks and winning personality, you can't imagine either half of that double entendre would have been a problem, but the horsey set proved a little impenetrable. She wanted to be a show-jumper when she left school at 17 and didn't do "particularly well" in the Leaving. She went to Switzerland to become a groom, hoping this would pave the way to a career in show-jumping.

But with neither money nor connections behind her she soon realised she wasn't going to make it. She returned to Ireland and various jobs in retail - including a stint in Golden Discs on Grafton Street - before enrolling in a FAS course in IT for six months. Then American technology giant Gateway came to town - and changed her life.

"They were looking for young people who could sell. Good communicators. And they were going to provide all the training. It was my niche and I loved it. I moved around - but I was continually learning from people in each job. You could say I've been to the university of life.

"And I think that's still possible. There's an awful lot of pressure on young people to do degrees or masters - but it's not the only option and I'm a testament to that."

She would go on to work all around the world, spending lengthy stints in the US (in Sioux City, Iowa, where Gateway is based) and the UK and working for other ICT companies, including Microsoft and 3DLabs, and also founding her own consultancy firm, Indigo Solutions.

She found that "quite isolating" at times and whilst it taught her "valuable lessons in self-discipline" she missed office camaraderie and the satisfaction of working long-term with the same company.

"I was getting into companies and helping them in their route-to-market strategy. But just as things are getting interesting, you leave. You've set them on their way. I really wanted to be able to lead a business and that was why I joined Citrix. But if they hadn't been as flexible as they are, I probably would not have come back into mainstream work."

The IT solutions field was, and is, predominantly male and she encountered her fair share of sexism.

"I've heard many male colleagues talk about many female colleagues not very nicely," she tells me. ("Before Citrix" her PR man is careful to clarify.) "But you just have to ignore it. You can't let it stop you. You've just got be strong and confident in your own convictions.

"There will be someone out there - be they man or woman - who doesn't want you to do well. You've just got to deal with that. What I'd like to do is to help to bring more women into the industry because it is a great career."

She's worked as a mentor with Enterprise Ireland and tells me that too was about "encouraging more women into this space."

Her life has come full circle in recent years. She may not have made it as a show jumper but she now owns her own horses (which have left her "broke" she laughs) and has her own stables attached to the property.

"I've had difficulties in the whole property area. We suffered like everyone else. We did quite a bit of buying houses and selling them. But we're fine now. I've a good job and there's many out there who don't have jobs. We're not badly off, to be honest. I love my job, I have a great family, I really couldn't ask for more.

"I'm excited about the future at Citrix and the changes that we're seeing in society and in the workplace. We have the technology to strike the right work-life balance - now we just need to address the psychology."



My favourite share is...

"that's a tough one. Besides Citrix? I'll say Disney. The whole gaming industry has just become massive."

The best gift I received recently was...

"I was away in the States with the company - and my daughter gave me a card with a big heart saying 'I missed you so much, I love you.' It's not the jewels, it's not the furs any more. It's the love hearts from a little girl who is at the very sweet age of 11."

My best travel experience...

"my honeymoon. We went to some islands off Indonesia. They were very remote. We went out on this rickety boat in shark-infested waters and it was in the middle of nowhere. It was magical."

The advice I would give my younger self would be...

"my younger self wouldn't listen to anyone. Not to parents, not to teachers. So I think she's hardly likely to listen to me. I'm not saying I'm all that now but I'd tell her just keep learning and doing what you're doing because it's going to bring you to great places."

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