When Tableau Software CEO Christian Chabot told his board members that he wanted to work at the company’s satellite office in London for one year, most thought he was a little crazy.
“I have never heard of anyone doing that,” one told him. “What are you talking about?”
But after spending 12 months with Tableau employees who live and work nearly 5,000 miles away from the company’s headquarters in Seattle, Chabot says his time away from home was absolutely invaluable.
“Yes, our sales in London went up,” Chabot said about working abroad. “But there’s a richer answer here and it has to do with culture and people.”
Having Chabot spend the majority of 2015 working out of Tableau’s London office — the 2,800-person data visualization software company employs about 500 across eight international locations — certainly helped increase business in the U.K. and Europe.
But the real value of working there, Chabot told GeekWire earlier this month, was all about empowerment and understanding the perspective of international employees working for a U.S.-based technology company.
“People who work for the branch offices of American tech companies are used to not being taken very seriously,” the CEO said.
Chabot explained that employees at remote offices can often feel disconnected or not included as part of a global company. That sentiment is compounded even more so when, for example, you’re working for a manager who has never met the person they report to, and that person reports to a higher-up who lives in another country.
It’s tough for those employees to feel like they can be creative and make decisions that truly impact a company that’s headquartered thousands of miles away in what can sometimes be a completely different environment, Chabot said.
“I learned that as a matter of management style and demeanor, you need to bend overboard to empower people when they work in a non-headquarters country,” he noted.
While in Europe, Chabot also had a chance to spend time at the company’s Dublin support center, and he helped open Tableau’s new office in Paris.
“Imagine this: You’re a French employee that just joined an American tech company and the CEO is cutting the ribbon at the office opening,” Chabot said. “It feels different. You feel like the whole ‘let’s take Tableau to France initiative’ is really important. It’s all about the subtleties and not the obvious things that really bring you the benefit of distributing your team to global offices.”
The effects of going to London impacted more than just employees in that city or across Europe, Chabot added.
“Team Asia also celebrated when I announced I was going to London,” he said. “They instantly knew that top executives from Tableau were going to see what it was like not working at headquarters.”
After his experience in London, Chabot encourages his fellow executives at Tableau — as well as other CEOs leading global companies — to work abroad. Kelly Wright, Tableau’s vice president of sales, spent a summer at the company’s Singapore office earlier this year.
“If you go dive in and actually try to be a global company by virtue of having key executives being in different locations, you will strengthen the company like you won’t believe,” Chabot said. “You will do things differently because you have that intimate understanding of how to make it successful.”
Of course, the timing has to be right for a company to send executives to branch offices in different countries. There also has to be adequate infrastructure in place that allows for company leaders to leave the home base, too.
But Chabot said enabling people to work abroad can be a good litmus test for the strength of an executive team.
“If a CEO’s personal situation is viable, then professionally I would be skeptical of someone who says we cannot make this work as a company — especially if, at the same time, they are going on stage and saying we are a global company,” he noted.
Tableau plans to hire another 150 employees for its international offices in the coming year, along with an additional 850 people in the U.S. — 600 of which will be hired in the Seattle region. For more about Tableau’s growth plans in 2016, check out our sit-down interview with Chabot earlier this month.
GeekWire’s John Cook contributed to this piece.