Building and Leading Remote Teams

Nora Peterson, Co-Founder @ Halo Incubator

Startup Grad School Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

[00:00:04] Alright, I will get started here. You’re nice, too, nice to meet you virtually. I’m really excited to be part of Ascent this year. My name is Nora Peterson, and I’ll give a brief introduction on myself before I just dove into the topic, which is building and hiring remote teams. And this is applicable for really early stage startups or any stage startups as well as big corporations. My background is in both, so I like to think it’s applicable to my advice is going to be able to both. All right, so just a quick background on myself, I currently work at Dixie Technology, which is a 20 million dollar outsourcing company, and we recently took our hundred and thirty thousand employees virtual. I also run a incubator for early stage women entrepreneurs, which I started in New York City. It’s since gone virtual and we’re nationwide now. We’ve been around for about two years and we’re actually in the middle of our fifth cohort right now. And then in addition, I also teach an entrepreneurship class at NYU that’s this fall. We just began a month ago and then that as well. I started teaching there right when it hit. So had to take that virtual as well. So a lot of what I’m going to be talking about today is just my experience and taking of working at three different companies and going virtual all at once with them. Different learnings from all of them. And just I want to I got my MBA from University of Chicago, where I studied entrepreneurship, spent some years at Aon, including leading their incubator, internal incubator in Singapore for three years and moved to New York to go work at Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones.

[00:01:44] All right, so agenda today. Just a few stats on future of work, which I’m sure a lot of you have been reading about this, not a whole lot of change in the last six months, but I think a lot of people’s attitudes towards it have and then to managing, building and empowering teams, which is important in nurturing a virtual culture, which is a bit difficult to do. And I saw this tweet. I actually don’t know any idea who that is or if even if it’s a real person. But I like what this person had to say. And that was a work from home, at work, from work, which I think we can all relate to between the endless breaks that we would take with our coworkers and just shopping online from our cubicles. But now we’re kind of doing the same from home. But I think the key to really strive in this environment now is to really manage your time well, manage your team’s time well. And that’s what I’ll be talking about. If you stats, 90 percent of employers say working remotely hasn’t hurt productivity. I think that’s true. But I think there are some in some areas like sales, where it’s becoming increasingly difficult. I think salespeople are starting to realize that not getting that face to face time with their prospects or clients is it’s really difficult to nurture those virtual relationships. That’s why how you show up on Zoome and how you interact with people on video as well as the phone is just very, very important. Right now I’m in a lot of offices are seeing remote until next year, some permanently. And a lot of companies are also realizing this is a huge cost savings to them, and especially with a lot of their employees already having moved out of the city that their offices in.

[00:03:34] And expanding on that, just a few, I’ll read off a few of these, you can see them on the screen here. About eighty two percent of business leaders plan to let employees work from home, at least some of the time, which is the current state. Now, even the offices that are starting to open up the stores are rotating between employees coming in and out so that there’s less people in the office. But as far as companies have to become more competitive, hiring talent, one of the things that people are asking for employees or asking for is having that remote option. And that’s that’s I think many of us see that as a trend moving forward. And just having a less rigid nine to five schedule, I don’t know about all of you, but at least the thing I hated least about going into the office, which I enjoy being in every now and then, but just the commute depends where you are. But it’s no fun crawling out of bed, still like coffee in your hand, running down the streets of Manhattan, at least for me, that was just it was awful. So I’m I’m frankly enjoying this, but I do miss the interaction I used to get from people in person.

[00:04:44] All right.

[00:04:46] So some of the challenges, though, that I think is key for people to start really addressing because it’s becoming it’s it’s not going to get any easier, and that’s one and the topic I’ll focus on today, and that’s onboarding and training new employees.

[00:04:59] It is really easy for to hire right now because there’s a lot more talent on there’s a lot more talent in the marketplace because there’s been a lot of furloughs and layoffs. But you’re the onboarding process isn’t great, virtually. I don’t know if anyone’s that great at it yet, except for the companies have been virtual for a long time. But the key to remember is really you need to put in a time upfront. You need to figure out ways to bond with your employees and get that virtual Face-To-Face time, because otherwise you’re not going to be that committed to you. The company that the team there on the second day get another opportunity, which might be two months down the line. There’s an easy for them to just leave unless they really feel that there’s some connection. So I would focus on if you’re a manager or a founder of an early stage company, make sure you’re getting some sort of one on one time with your employees, and you’re going to have to schedule that a lot more than you used to in person. Just just also just a remote collaboration, I’ve seen this big companies as well as the startups, the collaboration can cause a lot of friction and communication issues. I tend to be very direct person, so when I communicate, it might just be in a sentence or two. I have to tweak that a little bit and make sure that my message is coming across authentically and and in a kind of matter where people aren’t misinterpreting what I’m saying. So I think taking the time to write out emails is taking a little bit longer. And that’s why a lot of people are. What I’m advising people to do is just to jump on a call, on a phone call a lot more now than you used to have to, just because everyone’s just emailing back and forth all day long and not seeing each other. There’s just a tone changes and there’s a lot more friction. And negativity can can bubble up. And I’ll touch on one more thing here, and that’s there’s a lot of unclear work compadres, as as we all know, whether that’s not really getting dressed up properly to show up to work each day, having your kids in the background of your dog like my dog, my puppy. Right now, I have a 10 week old. He’s playing with your squeaky toys in case you hear that in the background. So there’s a lot of interruptions. And I really need to figure out your schedule and your team’s schedule in term to make it work and to make it productive. I’m not saying to micromanage anyone and but to give them the leeway to incorporate these activities into their day, which might be taking care of the kids, taking care of their animals, doing what they need to do to feel healthy and productive. And that might mean taking more walk meetings that are when they’re walking.

[00:07:42] So just having that understanding of they’re not going to be at their desk all day long throughout the clock, which throughout the day, which which I think some managers still have that impression that that’s how the new world is. And that’s that’s not the case. Still developing that understanding, if that’s that has been your management style in the past.

[00:08:05] All right, so a little bit more managing our team. You really need to shift your management strategy if you are if you have been a manager for a long time, things are a lot different now, especially with the new generation GenZE and millennials. You really need to manage their performance, not their presence. And there’s a few ways to do that. It’s really focusing on communicating the projects clearly that you sign them. This is especially important as you’re getting to know new employees. A lot of what I’m talking about is really relevant when you’re hiring new employees, when you’re giving them their first few projects. Clearly state the objective of the project expected results and the quality that you expect, whether that’s taking the time to write out examples of exactly what you’re looking to get out of the project that you’re signing. Don’t just send off a few sentences like, hey, can you do this? That’s usually not going to produce greatest results. They might also just spinning their wheels for a day and not really understand what what you want. And then you’re in a situation where they’re just at home, not really being productive, don’t know what to do. They’re too intimidated to reach out to to ask you for advice because, again, they haven’t even had that face time with you. They don’t really know you. So the key is always just to be very, very clear on everything and making sure to take the time to get to know them in the beginning. And this has to be obvious, because if you’re not able to meet them in person and if you’re in the same city.

[00:09:31] You know, with masks and social distancing, of course. And then just be patient.

[00:09:37] I’m not the most patient person, so that’s something I always preach to myself, I, I anticipate that just just going to be more time spent communicating with with your team members, your colleagues or your peers or your your bosses just takes a lot longer now because there’s a lot more activity happening. There’s less again, there’s just less that one on one time. So a lot, lot more of the communication is being misconstrued.

[00:10:03] So if you’re building a new team, attracting qualified staff candidates has always been a struggle and it might seem people might think it’s a lot easier to hire now because there’s just a lot more supply in the market versus demand and jobs.

[00:10:20] But once new jobs start to pop up, if you don’t really take the time to screen for candidates that believe in your culture, that want to be part of your team, they’re just going to be turned over. And you just want to make sure that also expectations are aligned on both sides. And in order to attract candidates that are going to stay with you long term, you do want to talk about your company culture, because I’m assuming most companies will stay remote your school to some degree. So and the candidates on the marketplace, most of them do want to stay remote to some degree. So making sure that you’re talking about what your company culture is like when it comes to remote work, when it comes to a management style. Talk about this on your social channels. When you’re when you’re recruiting for candidates, you could have a blog on your website just talking about companies opportunities for a long time, having a blog post on the culture, but really highlighting examples of what remote culture really looks like, whether that’s videos or actual meetings, screenshots, whatever it is to kind of showcase. That is a fun culture and that you are very real friendly, even if you are an office part of the time. And then just offer Putin benefits, part of the job description, make sure you’re offering flexible work options and perks and all know is the network offer that it’s a very competitive market. So you want to show how you’re differentiated as a company and then invest in upskilling and training opportunities.

[00:11:48] The world is changing very quickly. There’s a lot of jobs being displaced. Most candidates, especially younger ones, they are looking for ways to to learn more and to continue their growth path. So that’s something that they’re looking for, often more so than just money alone.

[00:12:08] And when you’re interviewing, make sure you’re asking them more specific questions. This could be anything like, hey, describe your your working style when, you know, for the past six months when you’ve been remote and what you like about it, what don’t you like about it? How do you best manager projects, time management, et cetera. So those open ended questions can tell you a lot about a candidate.

[00:12:32] Keeping track of time here. All right, I think I have about 10 more minutes and just a few notes on writing a compelling job description, you do want to include key words about flexibility and remote work. Again, this hasn’t really been showcased in job descriptions to date or maybe just one sentence on it. But I would expand on that a lot more. And what that actually means, specific and specific terms, not just, hey, we’re real friendly. Great. So is everyone right now. What does that actually mean for your company? And then emphasize commitment to remote and flexible work in any post covid office safety plans, people want to know that some people aren’t ready or willing to come to the office and have quit their jobs over over there. So if you do plan to keep a flexible arrangement, make sure that you’re also alone outlining what twenty, twenty one will look like, especially as we’re nearing your end.

[00:13:24] People are very they’re very hesitant on what will happen in the next year.

[00:13:31] And any benefits, perks that you’re offering? Make sure you include those that could just be that would just mean, hey, we’re we’re going to buy you a nice chair or monitor that that stuff doesn’t matter to people.

[00:13:42] And it’s a nice just a nice addition to a job description. Things I would stay away from is anything around micromanagement. No one likes to be micromanaged, though. That needs to happen at times for sure and depending on a role. But people generally aren’t drawn to that sort of leadership style. So especially remote workers if you’re hiring seasonal workers. So I would they want to they want to work in a trusted environment. So stay away from those those keywords for sure. And then. Do not include activities or skills that are not actually needed for the jobs. Everyone has a laundry list of skills that they’re looking for that actually I don’t even need additional to be fun. This is that would be fun to have a perfect person that doesn’t exist, that weeds out a lot of candidates. It’s also shown to weed out a lot more women candidates and studies in the past because women tend to be a little bit more perfectionist. And I forgot the stats. But women, I think, tend to apply for like. Seventy percent of the jobs or something along those lines that if they don’t meet all that, if they don’t meet all the qualifications versus men will just apply for. So that will just give you a larger job, job pool if you if you just keep it very specific to what the job is.

[00:15:08] All right, onboarding and this is super, super, super important, I’ve been on boarding a lot of people over the past few months and just just getting to getting to know even the students at my NYU class and make sure that you are spending time in the first few weeks with them on camera, even if they don’t offer. I don’t ever like to force or ask anyone to be on camera necessarily because know a one camera all day long, like, I get I get some fatigue. I don’t always want to be on camera, so I don’t like to put I don’t like to make it mandatory because that’s just that’s also not a fun working work environment. It becomes very tiring. But for meetings where I need to kind of lead a team or get to know someone, I’ll go on camera, even if they’re not just so they can at least look me nice, get to know me better, and we can start to establish a rapport.

[00:16:01] So make sure that’s what you are doing that and have a good work home set up that that includes your Wi-Fi, obviously, but things like Web cam. And if you can offer some sort of stipend to your employees, they’re taking on a lot, lot more costs right now in some ways working from home. So any sort of small stipend you can provide them is really helpful and shows that you care.

[00:16:25] And then, as you umba, new employees just make sure that you’re studying not strategic, but very purposeful about setting the agenda for the next week, the next month, it’s really hard to get on board new employees virtually, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend with them. So let’s say you only get to spend about an hour a week with them. That’s really hard if you’re not able to actually in writing put like, oh, here’s kind of here’s what I want to work on for the next week or the next two days. Here are some resources. Here’s another person on my team that will meet with you every day. So make sure that they have an action plan. Otherwise they’re going to get lost and kind of get it is easy for employees to get very disengaged in the first month unless they’re on board improperly. And this is one of the and no one ever takes the time to truly on board, even though this has been talked about for years on employees complain at the onboarding process for both companies. So small, little things you can do. And it really just requires your your time up front and getting set up with with a buddy or another employee to help them. That already shows a lot. And then I would a few a few other things I would do is if you can send some sort of welcome, welcome package to them, even if it’s just kind of your lame, like, company logo pens or something, it is still something that they receive in the mail, like, OK, I’m remote, but they know where I live. And actually they sent this to me that that does also speak volumes. And then last I would I would focus on I would figure out a schedule where you can do a monthly virtual happy hour, whatever kind of format you want to do. But we’re bringing in a bigger group. If it’s your media team, must have a team of five do that once a week, really get the team to bond and make it. I always declare that we are not talking about work for the next hour. You can bring your pet, you can see your cute puppy, we can talk about your vacation plans, anything. But we’re not talking about work. And I’ve been very strict to to hold to that. And I and I think that’s important because otherwise you’re just it’s just another work meeting that is disguised as a happy hour. And then talking a little bit more communication cadence, which I can’t emphasize how important it is, it’s when I haven’t spent time on this or focus on this, it’s always gotten me in trouble.

[00:18:54] So when in doubt, just over communicate, it helps reiterate the messages and resolve challenges from any miscommunications that might come. Also, people are just flooded with emails and content that they’re getting every day. So I would focus on being able to write very clear, distinct emails and making sure they’re over communicating your messages. When you talk to them, you’re going to get a lot more a lot better results from your team that way and from your other employees at your company. And then I would I would get another besides the happy hours that I talked to, another cadence type of meeting I was set up this morning. Check if you have if you have a team that is working on critical projects, I would even do a morning every morning check in, just making sure everyone’s on track, kind of like you being a project manager like it was was it on last week? What’s up next? What’s going on for later on a day was in charge of that. So I think that really helps to rhythm and keeps people also motivated on task. And then if you are less, find out a company or a manager at or a business unit or at a larger company, whatever it is, setting these larger team meetings or town halls is always key that that really brings the wider company together and helps helps gives you an avenue to talk more about that to longer term goals and vision versus those weekly meetings that you might be hosting and then just spend time one on one that’s scheduling one on ones in advance with your team members, making sure that you’re taking notes just to get feedback from them, just to listen to what they’re going through. And not that you just talking at them on whatever’s going on with the business, but actually taking the time to listen to them. That’s super, super important. I try to do that with the people I work for, the people that work for me, at least I’d say once a month.

[00:21:00] And on that note, I will end there, but we don’t have time for Q&A, but I think one of the questions I get a lot is just kind of like, oh, what kind of fun things could I be doing with my team? People have all sorts of costume parties that they show off for these happy hours. Frankly, I haven’t I haven’t done that, but I don’t know how much I think it’s for me it’s all about, you know, what my team actually likes and is motivated by and that the only way to know that is by getting to know them and talking to them. So I’m more focused on just making sure that whenever the meetings that we do have are productive, that they’re positive in tone, that we’re getting things done. And everyone’s everyone’s leading a balanced life at home as well. So they’re not working until midnight all around the clock. So I’m more focused on people being happy in that matter versus having these fun experiences for them. That said, if you’re at a startup where things tend to be a little bit more on a fun side in terms of activities, I would then I would then look to have more of these virtual happy hours, maybe do something costume related for Halloween. And there’s other ideas out there like that. But that’s that’s not usually something I personally focus on.

[00:22:19] But and then another question I think I get a lot is just.

[00:22:28] It’s more so around, you know, if you’re a first time manager, how do you how do you figure out the best way to to hire remotely? And how do you how do you find the candidates that are that are ready for remote work and are good, good quality, have the right qualifications? I would actually look at job postings for similar companies as yours are for start up look at like kind of look at what others are posting an angel list or on LinkedIn. I get a lot of inspiration from those and then make it your own, make it make it your own voice to make sure it speaks to who you are and your company is. You don’t want to be lying in a job description. Someone gets there and it’s completely wrong image. So don’t don’t in any way pretend something you’re not be very, very authentic. People figure out very quickly, you know, what what the culture is like. And if it’s completely misaligned from what was advertised, it’s you know, it’s not going to end well and then you’re going to end up with employees that are very disheartened. So I would you know, I would just take some time. I know it’s not fun just taking the time to write out the job description that really speaks to to your leadership style in your company.

[00:23:43] And on that note, we are at that time and hope to see you all in person one day. Thank you.

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