When our CCO, Alan Giles joined the team at VoxSmart, he had not planned on quite the virtual experience COVID-19 had in store for him. His management roles have previously had him leading teams regionally, globally for pre-exit, start-up and scale-up organisations, but he has never had to manage a fully remote team, 100% of the time.
We catch up with Alan not even 2 months in to see how he’s getting on in his new virtual environment.
Alan, how are you taking to remote work?
Better than I expected! I have usually had an element of remote working within my roles and have always had remote workers in my teams - someone reporting to me that is ‘the first man on the ground’ in a territory or region let’s say. This type of role often needs to work remotely from a headquarter office but doing it full-time is certainly a first, as it is for many of us, I’m sure.
How does it feel being on-boarded virtually?
On-boarding remotely has been interesting to say the least. In a fast-paced, dynamic organisation like VoxSmart, there has definitely been a requirement to ‘hit the ground running’! Thankfully, like most modern technology vendors, VoxSmart relies mainly on cloud-based solutions and services to get the job done, so getting access to systems was fairly easy with most of them being pretty familiar to me already. It also helps when the IT department are as responsive as they are – I was up and working within 20 minutes of my laptop being delivered to my door!
What’s it like not meeting your team face-to-face?
Meeting my team(s) has been a little different. Like most leaders, I am very keen on developing individual relationships with those that I work with, and whilst Video Conferencing has helped to put faces to names, I very much look forward to actually meeting my colleagues rather than everything being virtual.
What have you had to think about as a manager?
It’s worth reminding ourselves that during this uncertain time, people have been stuck in their homes with little or no interaction with those around them. Allowing people a little more time to respond to things…to deliver, and to talk when you have one to one meetings – that can make a huge difference to how people think and feel, so allowing time is key for me.
I have also had the task of changing how some people work, how the team is made up, how we report etc. Taking this step by step has been important so that the teams have a chance to reflect on why the changes are being made and the longer-term benefits. All of which, would have been easier in physical meetings but it can’t be helped.
How does the remote working environment compare with office-based management?
I have found that the flexibility offered by remote working almost always drives productivity upwards, and if approached in a mature way can be beneficial to employee and employer alike. I also think it helps your work/life balance (generally speaking), not to mention the environmental impact of having less commuters on the roads or public transport.
There is always cons, for example relationships aren’t the same virtually. Personally, I miss the social interaction of an office-based setting. While I did mention that work/life balance improves for some staff, others can suffer from ‘always-on’ behaviour so it’s important to make sure everyone is remembering to switch off after work.
What changes have you had to make to your management style?
Interestingly, I have chosen to reduce the cadence around reporting, to try and give people time to just do their jobs rather than constantly feel like they are reporting on the ‘doing’ of it. I find that the temptation to over cadence when you can’t see people can actually have a detrimental effect on productivity. I much prefer that people call me for guidance or advice when they need it, rather than have over regular sessions programmed.
In general, I prefer a mix of remote and office-based management. I find it key to allow people to be flexible and to have the option of working remotely. I personally like to be visible to my team, so that they feel they can come to me for anything whenever they like, without having to diarise a session. This is harder when remote.
Is there anything new you have started with your team due to the current situation?
Not new to me, but new to some of my team. I have introduced that the team report their status updates to the whole team, rather than in just a 1 to 1 manner. This provides visibility to the whole group and allows them to feel like they are still part of a wider team, rather than isolated in their function. This also allows my 1 to 1 time with people to be as much about them and how they are as it is about the business needs.
What would your top tips for keeping productivity high?
I would say there are five essentials. 1) Trust your people. Trust that they will be doing what they need to do to be successful whether you are looking over their shoulder or not (never do this by the way!). If you hired the right people, they will do the right things. 2) Resist the temptation to over cadence – it becomes reporting for reporting’s sake – let people do the job rather than telling you every day how they are doing the job. 3) Expect your customers are having similar issues to you. Call them, for a chat, ask about their situation and challenges – without overtly selling to them - the relationships you take care of now will sustain. 4) Celebrate success- In tough times, continuing to be able to succeed is a gift so share the good news, let everyone feel the glow. Lastly, 5) Be transparent. Communication is an absolute necessity when you can’t have the ‘water cooler’ moments in an office. Don’t wait for formal sessions to talk to your team members, just pick up the phone.