Hetal felt her colleagues' prying eyes on her as she walked into the office. There was something odd in the air. But she couldn't identify what.
Then she heard it—"Here comes her majesty, gracing us with her presence."
She understood what these jeers meant. But by then, it didn't matter anymore.
Things had already reached a tipping point.
Hetal Mistry is the Director of Delivery Services at Axelerant.
For more than a decade, she’s been leading teams and projects across different time zones and cultures, delivering bespoke results for clients—from budding start-ups to Fortune 500 giants.
If you’re ever in doubt about any of the following topics, reach out to her, and she’ll gently nudge you to the right path:
- Project health
- Client empathy
- Team management
- Stakeholder management
She is equally excited about the small things that make life special, like her son's first day at school, reading the newest Fredrik Backman novel, and binging on the latest Netflix show.
Like most parents, Hetal and her husband run out of shows that they can watch as a family. "My son, Harshiv, has learned to read movie subtitles now," she shared.
So, if they want to watch 'Inventing Anna,' Hetal and her husband wait until Harshiv falls asleep.
"I've started wondering: Is it worth all the effort?" she quipped.
After Starting Her Career
Hetal began her career in Ahmedabad, India. It was 2012, and the concept of remote work was...still remote.
She worked from the office.
"I had to punch in and out daily, five to six days a week," recalled Hetal.
Concepts of remote work or flexible hours still hadn’t visited her mind.
But a few experiences from this time nudged her to wonder: was it really necessary to come to the office?
"To even go out for lunch for 30 minutes, people would have to take permission," she recalled.
Few people ever jumped through the hoops to step out.
"Even if you had the permission, returning 10 minutes late would invite stares as if you'd done a crime."
She Realized That She Needed A Change
By the time Hetal contemplated moving to a different city, she had worked in several firms in Ahmedabad.
She was looking for a significant change, and moving to a new place seemed like the best possible solution.
One incident played a particular part in motivating her for this decision.
In one of the organizations, all project managers were asked to stay back in office till 8 PM.
"Nobody understood why they took this decision. Everyone just followed instructions, exchanging blank faces till the clock hit eight," she said.
She would usually be done with her work by 7 PM and wait until allowed to step out.
"One day, I thought I'd had enough and walked out the door."
So She Moved To Mumbai And Things Started Looking Up, Initially
Hetal and her husband moved to Mumbai in 2015.
By this time, she knew that she wanted to work somewhere that didn't require her to go to the office every day.
"The IT sector was waking up to the fact that it was okay to work from home," she recalled.
Luckily, she bagged a remote job at a Drupal agency.
"I was finally happy to get out of this school culture," she said.
In the new office, she enjoyed a hybrid work culture: working from home and office.
But it came with its fair share of challenges, too.
"I didn't know what healthy remote work looked like," she confessed.
Remote work, if not done systematically, blurs the line between working and non-working hours.
Meaning, if Tom leaves the office at 9 PM and you leave three hours before, Tom will still reach out to you for files, doubts, and—if feeling overly zealous—more work.
"There was no fixed time. I was working all kinds of odd hours," Hetal revealed. Proper communication channels and etiquettes were almost absent.
Official communication spilled over from emails to phone calls, social media texts, and any other place where it shouldn’t happen.
The whole thing was flexible, but in a chaotic, toxic way.
And They Decided To Start A Family
"I'd imagined that working from home would make it possible to start a family," she shared.
After experiencing hybrid work culture, she had to come to terms with a hard fact—remote work can be more chaotic.
"It was stressful. I could hardly find time for anything else in life, let alone raising a child."
Hetal had to choose between continuing work and starting a family.
"I took a year off in 2016," she disclosed.
Hetal Rejoined Work After A Year-Long Break
"I like solving problems, facing challenges head-on, launching applications, and learning new things. I had to return to work," she confessed.
After returning to work, she noticed some drastic changes.
"Our firm merged with another organization. Its policies and culture were the polar opposite to what we had before," she recalled.
For starters, remote work was off the table.
But to her, it was non-negotiable.
She had a baby to take care of. Hetal needed work flexibility, and she told them as much.
Only To Struggle
"They wanted me on the team. I was good at what I did. I said, 'If I couldn't work from home, I wouldn't be working at all,'" Hetal shared.
Although she enjoyed her job, Hetal wanted to take things slow. "I was just coming out of motherhood, and it was tough."
Luckily, she succeeded in making them agree to her terms.
But little did she know the challenges that were to come because of it.
"They didn't provide me with a laptop at first," she recalled.
When Hetal told them that she needed a laptop, a person pointed at a desktop computer and said: "This is all we have."
And Reach A Tipping Point
"I was given a challenging project. I had to learn new things and make aggressive deadlines," Hetal recalled.
Usually, she would've loved the opportunity and thrill of it all.
But with a toddler demanding her presence every waking minute, things started getting out of hand pretty fast.
"I was working 16-18 hours a day," she shared.
She would wake up, start working, take care of household chores intermittently within work, and go to sleep at night.
"We had to find a daycare for Harshiv. He'd cry every day before leaving home," she recalled. "He soon developed this habit of not eating properly. I knew that he was sad."
At the office, people sneered behind her whenever she was required to go in.
"They saw me as someone privileged, whereas I was miserable. I cried myself to sleep for months," Hetal shared.
Before Joining Axelerant
"One day, I was returning from work, and I had this epiphany—things needed to change," said Hetal.
In the backseat of a cab, she could recall the name 'Axelerant,' a company she'd heard about in Drupal events.
She remembered how a former colleague had once boasted about Axelerant's culture.
"I checked Axelerant's careers page and couldn't find an opening for a project manager role," she said. "But I applied for a different role anyway."
And as luck would have it, Axelerant was looking for a project manager.
"During the interview, when they said that they were looking for a project manager, I was like, 'Yeah, sign me up, please!'"
Hetal Realized That She Had Made The Right Choice
"It was the first company I worked in that was fully remote. Within months of joining Axelerant, I knew I had made the right choice," she said.
"I was surprised to see how everything worked harmoniously," she recalled and continued:
"I realized the difference between a bad remote culture and a good one for the first time."
There Was A Level Playing Field
"People are set up for success in remote work at Axelerant. That's the most significant difference I noticed after joining," Hetal recalled.
Remote work without properly established tools and processes can become tedious, as it did for Hetal.
Incorporating the right communication tools, setting up agile work processes for efficiency, and reducing noise are non-negotiable priorities at Axelerant.
"I'd also seen in the past that people who work from the office display feelings of superiority—as if they are working harder or better than those working remotely," she shared.
At Axelerant, there's a level playing field since everyone works remotely.
Those who don't prefer working from home take advantage of the co-working space allowance to work from cafes and co-working offices.
Transparency And Openness
Openness is one of our core values. We not only value transparency but strongly expect it in everything we do.
"I was amazed the first time I saw the status channel on Slack. People openly post when and why they will be away from work—taking kids to school, going for walks, praying, or taking breaks," shared Hetal.
She never imagined being able to take breaks from work for personal reasons openly.
"I felt that I belonged here," she recalled.
And Most Of All, There’s Real Work-Life Flexibility
"Even my cook has work flexibility now because of me," Hetal joked before getting up to open the door to her cook at 11:30 AM.
She shared quick instructions and continued: "Flexibility is the most important thing at work. You want to work when you're the most productive."
Harshiv, Hetal's son, recently started going to school after it reopened post pandemic.
But during the pandemic, Hetal would have to take care of him while managing her work.
"We’ve certainly improved in that aspect," she said, referring to the childcare allowance that was introduced recently for parents.
Hetal hasn’t felt the need to use the benefit yet.
"I like being there for him. I like picking him up from school, taking him to the park, and having meals with him," she clarified.
They have gradually grown accustomed to each others' schedules.
"My son knows not to disturb me when I'm working. We have got this understanding now," she shared, smiling.
She Knows That Her Team Will Always Have Her Back
Hetal's family moved back to Ahmedabad after she joined Axelerant. "We didn't want Harshiv to grow up in Mumbai."
Hetal and her husband foresaw Harshiv's childhood among friends and family in Ahmedabad.
Joining Axelerant made it possible to turn their wish into reality.
"Our lives took a significant shift," she shared.
Her husband always wanted to start his own business in Ahmedabad. After they returned home, he finally embarked on this path.
"Today, he runs his own business. It never would've worked had we not come back, and I could take care of things at home," she said.
Through Thick And Thin
Hetal stood firm with her husband through his journey of battling ulcerative colitis.
"He went through four surgeries in the past two years," she said. Hetal would spend long hours in the hospital at her husband's bedside.
"It was an emotional phase for us," she recalled.
After his discharge, it was up to her to take care of him and look after the family.
"I couldn't hire any help because it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"I had to change his colostomy bag every fourth day, which took me somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes. How could I have done that, had I been in the office?" she emphasized.
But at one point, Hetal felt that she wasn’t doing justice to her role at work.
"I went to my manager, Michael, and asked him to demote me," Hetal shared.
To her surprise, Axelerant Chief Success Officer Michael Cannon rejected her plea.
"Michael was like, 'No, we are not doing that. We'll extend you any help you need,’" Hetal shared.
As Would Hetal For Her Team
"I'm in a transitional phase now," Hetal shared and continued, laughing: "I'm giving bits and pieces of my work to others."
Hetal is training the next group of Axelerant leaders as she explores new growth avenues in her career.
"Axelerant's culture lives through our team members. We'll nurture and carry it forward for everyone who joins us," she said.
About the Author
Rohit Ganguly, Content Marketer
Rohit is a content marketer first and a YouTuber second. He loves to interact with animals, feed them, clean his apartment, and spend time with friends and family. Curious by nature, he also enjoys literature, movies, meditation, and calligraphy.