Managing Remote Employees as a Remote Employee

Tim Maloney, Lifesize Global Channel Sales VP
Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to Lifesize Live! It's the live web show that we produce each week right here in the Lifesize studio.

I'm your host, Julian Fields, and with me today is Tim Maloney. He's our Senior Vice President of Global Channels, and he's here to talk about managing remote employees as a remote employee. So, Tim, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Julian. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Yeah, of course. And you're joining us from your remote office there.

That's right. The battle bunker, if you will. I am based in Chicago and not in our corporate headquarters in Texas.

Right, right. And how long have you been working remotely?

The other way to look at that is how many times have I ever had an in-office job, and that was twice. So basically, during my whole twenty-something years of working, I've always been a remote person and always running teams remotely.

Very interesting. So, I imagine you picked up quite a few tips that you're going to be sharing with us.

Yeah, and a lot of it was through trial and error. So, when we first start talking about this and the value of being remote, how to manage remote employees and how to manage remote employees while being remote, I put some notes down. I think there are four things, or traps, that companies sort of fall into or forget when they talk about their remote employees. The first one, Julian, is that remote employees are people too. And I know it sounds silly, but because of their remoteness and because of the lack of connection, companies shift from saying, "Oh, hey, that's Julian" to "Oh, hey, that's that guy in New Jersey” or “That's that woman in Canada.” It happens. You stop humanizing them and sort of almost talk about them as assets, which could be a fairly negative thing. I think the second thing that people should be aware of or cognizant of is that they are easily overlooked. Like, how many times do companies send out emails that say, "Hey, it's Taco Tuesday in the office" or "Hey, this good thing is happening in the office" or "Hey, we're having a party in the office" yet there are all these remote people who don’t get to take part in any of that in-office activity. Nobody wants to hear about the great fun time that everybody else is having because every single member of the company works really hard and shouldn’t feel like they are missing out. So companies forget and overlook them simply because they aren’t physically around. And again, the more we put people on an island, the more they start to believe they are on one, and then a culture develops. I think, now you get into two elements of physics. One: things happen faster on the edge. This is the HQ and these are your employees, and as it moves, everything happens faster out on the edge.

Right.

So, you have to be cognizant of that: conversations around the water cooler that don't get to them, decisions that they're not a part of. Things always seem to be happening faster when you’re farther away. That's evolution, it's motion and it’s insight. Things happen faster when you're on the edge, and employees who are remote are out on the edge. I think the other thing is that, with the wave, the amplitude growth, the farther away you are from the center, the bigger the impact is. One small shock at HQ is a tsunami by the time it gets to some of my remote employees. They were not a part of the decision process; they're not there every day. So you have to be in a mind-set that says yes, these people are sometimes viewed as assets, they're sometimes overlooked and the natural physics of things happens faster on the edge and the amplitude grows. So, there are all kinds of pitfalls if you're not cognizant of your remote employees.

My first job at a college was remote. So these are all really resonating with me. Being my first job, I was still new in my career, I wasn't doing a lot of meetings, I was pretty much just doing tasks as they were assigned to me. Living alone and working remotely, there were days when it would be five o'clock and I would have not spoken a single word the entire day. So I think you've really highlighted the negatives of the seclusion of working from home.

That's right. And remember, at the end of the day we've hired these people for a reason. You wanted them to be a part of your team. But then, how do we act? And that gets to the heart of culture. "Who are you?" It's nice to have things on the wall and motivational posters, but do you live these values? Do you treat people equally and understand that people who are not in that building have different needs? It is lonely. They fight the perception that “Hey, you're at home, you get to sleep in, you don't have to work like the rest of us,” when in fact you hired that individual on a remote basis. Those are just excuses. People who work remotely have different challenges. In my role I'm fortunate that I have a worldwide ecosystem of wonderful partners who I get to visit and we get to talk about business. Sometimes we’ll have our remote people come to the office and reengage, which is positive and great, but there are times like, "Wait, I now need to get back on the road. I need to leave my office yet again to reconnect.” And it's hard if that is your only reliance.

If it's your only touch point, exactly. If you only get together once a year, it becomes this big celebratory thing and you really miss out on that ongoing relationship.

Exactly. Email is the worst — it doesn't convey tenor or tone. You don't know if that person is making a joke or being serious. I have a counterpart in Germany who sends me whole emails in capitalization all the time, and that's a cultural thing. He's not yelling at me, but if you don't know that, then you move to the next least worst communication method: the phone. At least I can hear you, but when I talk to my remote employees, it's hard for them to understand — are they obedient people? Are they just saying "Yes"? Do they agree, or are they having a problem and you can't see the visual? All you get is the auditory. So, it’s a little better than email but you still don't get the connection.

It says everything. If I'm working with you and you’re my manager, I get to get a little bit of personality out of you just as you do me. So that way if something, some problem, were to come up, I could look at you face to face. We could work on something together. It just makes it that much easier to problem solve and get over an issue.

It is the job, right? That's how problems are started in organizations. Regardless of who you are, it is that miscommunication that we then have to spend cycles to fix, misconceptions that weren't there in the first place. So, how do I do it? One, you have to engage your people all the time but not stand in the way as their only connection to the organization. As a leader of remote people, I drive my people to talk not only with me, but I force them to go find other people in the organization to talk with. We're fortunate at Lifesize because the gentleman who runs our Business Development team is world-class. And he represents the state of Texas in the inside sales organization. So, an easy answer for me would be, "Oh, I heard this from Anil. You should try this,” but a better answer to my people would be "Why don't you call Anil, reach out to him?” That way, you get the answer you’re looking for and you build more pipelines into the organization for the remote people. They're becoming self-sustaining in that they can call out to other people for help. So a tip for anyone who has remote people is to help them, but help them it in a way that's sustainable, that drives the connection that you want in your company with remote employees. Give them the tools to be successful. I'm grateful that I work for a company that has enabled me to have this HD quality communication so you and I are almost in the same room together. When I had my worldwide staff meeting, it was amazing that people said, "I actually haven't met you in real life yet, but we've been working together for months." We're a highly efficient, well-operating team. And when you can see, you can listen. I have teams in Singapore, in Germany, in Brazil — you name it. And, whether it's language, culture, difficult discussions or even just reconnecting, this visual approach is what makes that relationship that much better. We don't think twice about giving remote employees the tools they need. It’s important to consider why you hired these remote employees in the first place, and to not give them a viable solution to connect themselves to draw out their best for the company is foolish. If you can’t or don’t want to provide your team with the tools they need, then you shouldn’t hire them in the first place. The Lifesize solution is an amazing tool that has enabled me to run by remote teams like never before.

It has completely changed everything.

I've compressed the cycle of a building a team and learning. We rolled out a global partner program and a global pricing program. We've hired people and did that remotely because we run a well-connected organization that communicates effectively through these kinds of collaborative tools. So, my guidance to people is, these far-end employees are important, you hired them for a reason, but it’s important to equip them to do the things that you want them to do and treat them like you do everyone else, right? Some organizations that don’t invest in the remote people, don’t give them the tools they need, and don’t treat them the same way are shocked that these remote employees don’t perform at a high level. These are the hard lessons I've learned over twenty years of doing this.

Well, Tim, I thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your wisdom with us. I know we've gotten a couple of questions that have come in through the stream, so I'll follow up with you and we can get a blog together and answer those questions.

Perfect, that'll be great, Julian, and thank you so much for having me on today.

Yeah, and again, thank you so much for joining, and for everyone out there, thank you for tuning in live and we'll see you next time.

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