The CxO Show Podcast: Managing Super-Remote Teams in a locked-down world.

Hear from Evelyn Gebhardt, Senior Director of EMEA Marketing at Altair and Joe Birkedale, CEO of Project36 as they discuss the impact of having to manage ‘super-remote’ teams in a locked-down world.

Podcast (Audio only)


Episode Transcript

Hello, and welcome to The CXO Show, the podcast for C-suite Sales and Marketing Leaders. I’m Joe Birkedale, founder and CEO of Project36, the strategic marketing agency behind the CXO show and in today’s episode, we’re looking at managing a super remote teams in what is now a lockdown world. As business leaders, we’re all having to very quickly transition from one reality to the next. And in as little as three months we’ve gone from business as usual, to having to adapt travel bans, voluntary isolation, super remote working, and now in the UK and in a growing number of other countries and the complete lock there. So how do we manage our now super remote teams? What are the problems they’re going to come across? And how best do we manage our teams in a lockdown world? To discuss this I have with me my special guest speaker and former agency owner who’s now gone client-side is senior director EMEA marketing for global technology company Altairr. So Evelyn Gebhardt, welcome to The CXO Show.

Thank you very much, Joe. I’m really happy to be on the show with you today and to share my experience about the work about working with remote teams. I think this is really a very important topic in general, but in these times especially.

Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think I can remember the last 20 odd years such a transition so quickly with the working world, obviously, with the internet and remote networking software and Zoom and things like that. These things come on in dribs and drabs, everybody’s being forced onto this kind of working world almost overnight. So every like pretty much everyone listening to this podcast, you’re working remotely today. I’m working remotely. Can you explain a little bit out? But before that, what’s your current setup at home? What’s your home office setup?

So Joe, I’ve been actually working from home Longer than many other people in the current situation. When I started to work from home last year in October, when I that was when I changed my job and joined Altair, I left the office environment of my agency and set up my home office. Now I’m having a very nice workspace set up in our living room area with all that I need including a very good internet connection to start with, but also with a great view of Marburg the town in Germany I live in when I look out the window in front of my desk so I can see the hills across the valley and the houses and so I think this is also very important that you really create an environment for yourself that is comfortable, comfortable and working. And the reason I am working from home is to folded out here it doesn’t have any local office, very close to my location. But the more important reason is that my team is routed all over EMEA. And it really doesn’t matter where I stay. Because in order to meet with my team, we all have to get together in one place, or I have to visit them, they have to visit me. Or we have to use the means of modern communication to get together. Regarding Altair, and to give the audience some background on the company I’m working for. Altair is a leading provider of enterprise class engineering software.

That’s great. Thank you. Now as I understand it, Evelyn your role in EMEA as marketing director you are managing a typical remote team. And by that I mean that those members each work in a local or regional office around me and then you oversee them. So how do you well, or rather, how did you manage that remote team? And what problems have you had to work to learn to adopt and to overcome rather than having people sat in an office with you?

Yeah, my team is located all over For me out there there from Turin to London, Sweden, from Israel to Madrid. And obviously, we have some team members in Germany, France and the UK. And then other Mar regions. One team member is even located in Stellenbosch in South Africa. So you can really call that a remote team. I think the problems that we had to overcome were probably how to communicate in a consistent way and how to make sure that everybody feels really part of a team instead of having different silos and all of the countries and areas they are working in. So most of our communication is obviously handled via the internet. We have email, chat and web meetings. But before the current situation, I would also go and visit my team members in their own offices, we arranged meetings for all of them to attend. For example, last time in December, I had all of my team members, and even the extended team of the global Altair marketing organization here in Marburg in December, it’s important to really Keep up the spirit and to do some team building events, to really grow that team. And I really have to admit that it really helps to meet people in person sometimes and your team member in person and times, if you can not have that. You have to find other means and ways to really create that team feeling.

Absolutely. I mean, as you know, going back to the caveman, we’re all tribal, social creatures we like to get together. So being in that in that same environment is really important. In fact, As relationship and it’s the intangible communication, it’s the it’s the hand movements. It’s where we look is the smiles. Technology is an enabler now. But you can’t be the physical presence of being in a room with somebody. Yeah. So totally understand the need to set up those physical, physical meetup system when you can, for those that are sort of managing made sense before. Managing supporting that workforce is always a challenge. We’ve got the global economy. We’ve got global teams, time zones, of course, cultures, even languages to grapple with most things but now, sales marketing leaders are having to wrestle with super remote working and this is, your team’s not in a single location. They’re at home. They’re having to juggle, but all their worries that their home whatever isn’t their health worries about this new this virus, but also the workloads got to get on top of technology that might not have had to ever set up their home before to have stable streaming of their broadband. They’ve got their families in the background running around. Sadly, for too many, there’s going to be the health some of the members of the family, you know, direct or indirect are likely to come down with this virus. So how are you finding this evidence? You know, this shift is super-remote. So rather having one call with a team of people in one room, you’ve now got 10 calls. And how are you teams responding?

Yeah, well, it is a little bit of a challenge to work with that new kind of situation. But on the other hand, we are really lucky while working for Altair because Altair has a culture that has always supported remote working. And it was a little bit easier probably even for the team members to adapt to the new situation and get used to more FaceTime and internet chats than meeting with their team members and with the other team members. Bruce of the EMEA marketing team remotely.

It is

difficult for some of them they have to judge juggle their times a little bit better obviously, as you said there are families also working from home now, partners working from home, there might only be one office space for everybody. You have to homeschool kids. And you have really have to juggle that. But altaira has been very supportive in creating an environment that enables people to do that. In addition to obviously making sure that everybody has the remote access to all of the company’s systems, it has also been very good in giving the employees more flexible times. So sometimes, maybe they Start working very early in the morning, before the kids off or before the other four before the partner is already starting to work and needing the workspace as well. Or they’re working a little bit later than they usually would. So that has been a big help.

Yeah, and I think you touched on a really important point in their culture. So technology, yes, it’s an enabler. And as long as you’re not banging holes in pieces of metal and need to be in a physical factory, for the vast majority of us to work in a service organization, whether it be software, whether it be advice and guidance to consultancy, design, and things like that. They can be physically done remotely. So that shift isn’t so much the issue. It’s, we find it’s the culture if you if you hire for a culture of remote working, then there’s an understanding there’s a trust level, there’s that way of life is that mentality and understanding of how to go about it. For others. It’s very, very difficult. If you’re transitioning to be a remote worker, you may have had 10, 20, 30 years – even more sometimes have a morning routine, get up, get dressed, suited, booted, the morning commute, arrive at the office socialize, to take that away that can be very difficult for people. You say that your team’s obviously been enabled because the technology provided that and the culture there. How has your role had to evolve since that outbreak, and then you know, experiencing different issues with your super-remote team as you did with your previous remote team.

I think I’m putting more time into personal context with all of my team members both as a group and individually. And since we’re meeting less or not any more in person for the time being. It is really important to set a part some times and to also create the social atmosphere of Team so what several teams at Altera have started to do is to create virtual coffee breaks. So we would have some FaceTime even not discussing business topics but discussing personal things just chatting, having a coffee together and really taking a break away from the from, from the routine to at least virtually create this feeling of you’re not alone. You’re part of a team.

Yeah, and then I said remote work in is known to have negative mental health effects because people as I said before we associate social creatures to remote work, you can actually feel very isolated,

sadly and we are really working on establishing channels to make sure nobody feels like they’re left alone at home. As I mentioned, We are having this virtual coffee breaks within the teams. Also, our executive management has reached out regularly providing information and providing the environment to really interact virtually, for example, we are using teams a lot. And within those teams, we have created channels where people can post what they’re currently doing post videos, photos, photos of their work environment, so we can picture each other sitting at our desks and know a little bit more about the situation. Everybody is in

what I saw on the altar, LinkedIn feed today, somebody was talking about their morning commute from coffee machine to desk was about 10 steps. And it’s a nice human touch. And it’s those small details that it’s where, you know, it’s it’s being human, it’s being open, and if you show openness and vulnerability, and we’re all in this together I mean, that’s what makes this secret about working a little bit easier. This is a global issue. So it’s not like the UK is on lockdown, and everybody else is getting on with things as normal and therefore the rest of the world is kind of unsure aware what’s going on a little bit dubious. This is global. So everybody’s in the same boat. So by saying, Yeah, not ideal, but I’m gonna take 10 steps from the coffee machine to the kitchen table where I’m working. And right next to me is my kid doing his homework, and opposite me is my wife doing her work. And in the background is the dog and a delivery driver ringing the bell. That happens. I watched a fantastic webinar yesterday about presentation skills about how important it is if you’re doing virtual calls to have your cameras on. So he was saying that’s an obvious one, you know, physically see each other. But what he said a lot of people don’t do that. Don’t look at the camera, they’re looking at themselves on screen. So look at the camera, look straight down the lens because it’s that human touch is that virtual, being in the present, looking at each other peeking upon body language that makes it that much more human. So those little touches, like you said, They’re, they’re great. And there’s obviously, there’s a whole separate podcast we could do on a technology that’s out there to help you any slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom all these ways of communicating and keep the group together. And I’ve noticed that with my team, we’re always virtual anyway. But we have slack channels, which have got almost exactly the same as we call it, the coffee room. And that’s where you post it for the jokes and things things you’ve heard said. Then you’ve got the various different breakout rooms within that to discuss work stuff. And it’s this understanding of what’s going on and I communicate projections for where we’re going as a business owner, it’s got visibility. And that’s one of the things that I would say is keeping your team fully informed. Mastering the technologies is one as a manager is really important so that you can help or give them tidbits of information. This is a massive period of time. See, if you know that. payrolls gonna be late, for example, that’s something that you need to communicate through, give them extra bits of information. You’ve heard this on the grapevine that on the grapevine you’re doing your best. That creates reassurance, it helps position you as that leader, it helps them, your teams, follow you and understand that you’re on their side, which, which in turn helps them do the work for you.

Absolutely. I totally agree with that. I think transparency is very important, not only in times like these, but in general, and what you mentioned about the FaceTime or actually using your video, I have noticed that a lot more people are using video now if the bandwidth allows for that, obviously, but while previously our meetings were more just audio meetings, now more and more people join the meeting with their web camera can On and really giving the opportunity to look into the space and area your colleague is working in and has to deal with.

Yeah, exactly. Is that understanding if they will have the working from home either call or meeting where all of a sudden there’s a dog barking or the doorbell going – three, four months ago that was that was like, oh, now it’s horrific. Sorry. I’m really sorry. The dog barks. Now it’s an oneupmanship. Everyone’s trying to outdo each other with the worst catastrophe possible. You know, we’ve all seen in the UK, I can’t remember who it was the MP where his his two children came running in whilst he was live on air to the BBC. And then his poor wife comes crawling on her hands and knees desperately trying to drag her back out again. But the camera picked it all up and he was live. These things happen, it’s great, and

they make us more human and more approachable too.

Exactly, exactly the barriers come down. And that’s exactly it. It’s the barriers that we’ve got with technology. You can actually get around a large proportion of that by being open and being human. And yeah. So in every episode of The CxO Show, Evelyn, we asked our guests to give us 3, 4, 5 maybe, top tips; some takeaway piece of info that are other sales, marketing leaders can then think about adapt and possibly adopt into their own specific works scenario. So with that in mind, if you’ve got any tips for managing a super remote workforce?

Yeah, I think my first tip would probably be that you really have to be flexible with the time of your team members. But at the same time, also to make sure that you stay in close contact and that you reach out that you’re approachable. Another tip might be to make enough time for one on one communication with each of your team members. And if possible, meet with each team member at least once a year in person currently, obviously that is not possible. So For my team, I made sure that I have more one on one communication with each of the team member, and members and then all we’re also bringing them all together on a regular daily basis. You have to create an enabling workflows and support the collaboration within your team make each team member feel like they’re a part of the team. And they can approach all of their colleagues, not only me as a leader, but also the other colleagues learn from each other and communicate a lot more and better grow together as a team. Then, another thing that is really important, I think, is to respect cultural differences, while at the same time finding common ground for the entire team, especially whether extreme remote team like the one I’m working with, it is important to understand and to listen and to understand The cultural differences even if we’re closing in Europe or in America, there are some differences in culture and how people behave and react and also how they realize their own environments. And last but not least, I think it is really important to take and to give regular feedback and to create a transparent work environment.

I think I connect every single one of those and intertwining all those tips. I think you’ve got technology, use it. Make, make sure your team happy using it, but nothing beats either a phone call, or a virtual video meeting. Just to say hi, how you doing? I think that really lets people get things off their chest gets to get lots of get worries out. Little things Things become big things if they’re not dealt with. So that’s really good advice there. Okay, so there you have it, Evelyn’s top tips on how you can manage a super remote team in today’s strange economic climate. And that brings us to the close of those podcasts. A huge, huge thank you to my guests Evelyn get hired from Altair for freeing up the time to support the CXO show and our listeners.

Thank you, Joe. It has been a big pleasure.

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