EP 20: Virtual Velocity: Mastering Remote Work for Optimal Team Performance

Insights and strategies for team empowerment, adoption the right tools and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Welcome to the latest episode of Tech UNMUTED, where we dive into insights and strategies for remote work and explore how to optimally manage a virtual workforce.

Join us as we dissect an insightful article by George Schoenstein (3 Steps to Building a Remote Team That Delivers Excellent Results from CustomerThink) on the keys to success in cultivating a high-performing remote teams.

From hiring self-starters to promoting accountability and empowering with cutting-edge tools, our hosts George and Santi reveal the key ingredients to a successful remote work environment.

Discover practical tips to ensure productivity, work-life balance, and team cohesion in today's dynamic remote landscape. Don't miss this exciting episode!

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INTRODUCTION VOICEOVER: This is Tech UNMUTED. The podcast of modern collaboration – where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. With your hosts, George Schoenstein and Santi Cuellar. Welcome to Tech UNMUTED.

GEORGE: Welcome to the latest episode of Tech UNMUTED. Today, we're going to dissect a little bit an article I wrote a while back about how to really optimally manage a remote workforce. There's a couple different elements in that article. It goes from people, so the team that you have, accountability, and effectively, how you enable them. It's tools and those kind of things. At the start of it, when you think about people and how you make that work remotely, it's about mindset and the right people.

If you're net new hiring people who you are just interviewing in a normal cycle, you're going to look at different attributes that you think might work well in a remote environment or have somebody who's already worked in a remote environment. In our world, Santi, we're 100% remote.

Article Reference:
3 Steps to Building a Remote Team That Delivers Excellent Results
By George Schoenstein for CustomerThink, March 15, 2023

SANTI: 100% remote.

GEORGE: Or 97% best case. When we think about hiring individuals into that environment, it's possible somebody has been in 100% physical work environment, and they could make that shift. With COVID, we saw many professionals, if not all professionals, at some point, having to work remote. Part of the process is talking to people and interacting with people in that interview cycle to really understand how they worked remotely, what things they did differently.

SANTI: Let me ask you a question because it's so hard sometimes. I like the statement you used that they need to be self-starters. How do you quantify that interview? I guess you don't really know they're self-starters till, like the old saying says, "Till the proof is in the pudding." [chuckles] Till they start. By then, they're on your team. You don't want to find out too late. What do you do to identify that fit in the interview process? I'm just curious.

GEORGE: That's a great question. There's actually a pretty straightforward way. If you're hiring in a remote environment, an interview in a remote environment, really pay attention to how that interaction happens with the person you're speaking with and interacting with. Are they following up with emails with meaningful content or follow-up information? Are they using the tools appropriately? Do they get on a video call, and it's clear that they've used a [crosstalk]?

SANTI: Do they know how to?

GEORGE: Correct. Not, "My microphone's not working." "Oh, I don't know how to turn the camera on." "Oh, I haven't really used this platform before." If people have worked in a remote environment like we do, we predominantly use Microsoft Teams, but we're often on a bunch of other platforms. It could be WebEx, it could be Zoom, it could be something else, Google Meet, often on that. That's pretty telltale sign of how does that interaction happen, what's the follow-up look and feel like, are the messages that go back and forth clear and concise?

SANTI: That's a good point.

GEORGE: Because just sitting in an office communicating is very different from doing it on video even, but then the further extension of that is other messaging, either in chat or through emails or other things.

SANTI: It's reading your audience. It's like an old sales technique where you would read your prospect and even try to mimic some of the things they did. There's some commonality. You almost have to do that in an interview process over a webcam. I can see that. I agree with the self-starter piece. In my previous life, I used to actually be a sales trainer. I used to teach sales managers how to interview and select the right candidate.

Self-starter was one of those attributes that I said you always have to make sure they have. That's why I asked you the question. I never really had a good interview question or technique to flush out, "Are you a self-starter?" You usually find out after they start, you're like, "Oh, this guy's not a self-start. I got to be on top of him all the time." That doesn't make sense. That's why I was curious. I agree.

Also, I think personality, there has to be, you imagine in today's world where we are always video facing, and you have somebody who has no personality. [laughs] You could probably get away with that in a traditional setting where it's just a phone call, and maybe they just come across as very professional and very proper. Imagine somebody who's just awkwardly awkward on camera, and if they're-- depending on the role, but imagine a sales role like that. I don't know.

GEORGE: Part of that, and maybe personality is not the right word. It's engagement. Are they engaging?


GEORGE: Do they actively want to participate in the conversation?

SANTI: And how do they engage...

GEORGE: What have they done with their background? We've had numerous discussions [crosstalk] podcasts. What do we use as a background? I'm using an actual background. You're using a green screen, which looks great. Have they prepared to interact in that environment? You've got to take into account people are in different personal situations of where they're at or locations they could do calls from.

If you're interviewing for a job, get yourself in a place with good lighting. We know both of us, for these podcasts that we're doing, the way that we make lighting work with additional lighting and potentially natural lighting. I know in my own situation, it's a fairly sunny day. It's a little overcast today, but the lighting is great in my office. I know that if it were a cloudy, rainy day, and folks can take a look at our video stream, there's a couple on there, I look a little gray. Those were days that the lighting wasn't great. I haven't really invested in a tremendous amount of fixed lighting, but know that that matters.

SANTI: It's a good point.

GEORGE: You want to be engaged. You want to appear engaged, and you want that person you're interacting with to appear engaged. Once you have the team in place, it goes to the second part of it in the article, which is that accountability. How do you hold people accountable? There's been a lot in the news about this. There have been some CEOs who've said the entire team needs to come back to the office because I know they're doing their laundry for two hours every day, and they're walking their dog, and they're going out to get coffee, and they're not really doing their job. To me, that's the wrong message. That's a message to your employees right off the bat that I don't trust my employees.

SANTI: Thank you. Not only that. At the end of the day, if you're truly are a results-driven company, then the results should be what you focus on. Listen, we work from home.


SANTI: It is very easy to take a quick walk outside and get some fresh air. It's very easy to run to the pharmacy and pick up some medication that you know is waiting for you, or just like with my case, sometimes I have to drop one of my kids off to their job. It's just easy. It's very convenient. Then we're back at it again. The key here is this new remote/virtual work, in my opinion, it's really more about work styles than anything else. It's how you do work and are you producing the results that are expected of you, so long as those results are there. By the way, when it's time to go above and beyond, you're available. I don't care if they're walking their dog. [laughs]

GEORGE: Agreed. There's a balance.

SANTI: There is a balance.

GEORGE: You're paying people for a certain number of hours a week, and the US is typically 40 hours a week, is the standard thing that you're paying somebody for. There is an expectation that you're working those 40 hours. We, as a team, won a gold Stevie Award a month or two ago for marketing team of the year. One of the things I've repeated when people ask me about it was it was not the level of effort that the team put into all the things we did. It was the result that we delivered that mattered.

SANTI: Yes, the outcome.

GEORGE: There are new projects you're working on that the effort does matter because you're trying to get to the finish line to be successful, and that is a near-term measurement, but at the end of the day, it's the actual results. The way that I manage our team is through a really deliberate scorecard. It's marketing focus. We broke it down into three categories around business, brand, and culture. The business metrics are the heaviest weighted metrics, followed by brand, followed by culture, but we are accountable, and we talk about it daily, where we're at against those business metrics, how many MQLs, SQLs, [crosstalk], booked business. Everything that's in there is important to the team.

SANTI: How every single contribution from every single member skews that number, either in the right way or the wrong way. That's the whole thing about that scorecard is that everything we do individually is impacting that scorecard. We got to keep that in mind. I think accountability, in this space, the way we're handling with a very clear defined scorecard that's measurable, and we're looking at results.

I'll tell you something else. Maybe it falls under this bucket or not, but I also think that, from the employee perspective, from the team member perspective, I think transparency is important. If I do have to go run a quick errand, I'm going to let you know about it. You know why? Because if you need to find me, you know I'm either going to be on the Teams mobile or on my laptop. I think there's a give-and-take. Be transparent when there are those things that you have to just take care of, but most importantly, be results-driven. I think that's the key for accountability. Good stuff.

GEORGE: That's just not a remote environment. That's a broader statement.

SANTI: I know. Absolutely.

GEORGE: Anybody who's either been in the workforce or somebody who's newly entering the workforce, you need to deliver results. To a great extent, no one cares about effort. What people care about is the result and the objectives that have been set, but it's incumbent upon the management of a business to set clear goals, and goals that you can cascade down from a high-level corporate set of goals that then hit each individual department, and, to your point, hits each person. There's no one on our team who doesn't understand what our scorecard is.

SANTI: Oh, no. Absolutely, yes. Everybody's on the same page. Absolutely. That's for sure.

GEORGE: To the extent of, we get to the end of the month and everybody's-

SANTI: Everybody knows.

GEORGE: -in the chat room, where are we at, have we hit the bookings number yet this month? Everybody wants to know, right?

SANTI: Yes. I'll tell you something else. Again, empowering your team members because I think, and especially in this environment where we're so dispersed that we get pulled into many different calls. You have to empower people to make decisions so that they don't become a bottleneck. Now, granted, I'm not going to sign off an appeal for $1 million without telling you. [laughs] If it falls within your realm, just take it on, decide how you're going to handle it, and solve the problem.

Then you can tell your management later. Just empowering your folks also because that falls on accountability. At the end of the day, you're going to want to know that yesterday I got dragged into something that was a last-minute thing, and here's what happened, and here's how we delivered our results to solving that problem. Imagine if I now have to say, "Well, hold on, I got to go ping my boss about this and see if he wants me to focus." No, I think there's a level of empowerment that you have to also give your team members so that there can be more effectiveness. We're virtual, this new work style. I think it adds to the effectiveness.

GEORGE: The final piece in the article was effectively around tools. How do you enable people? We talk extensively on this podcast about Microsoft 365.

SANTI: A lot, yes.

GEORGE: Clearly that's our go-to choice. The reason it works so well is the fully integrated nature of the platform. From working on various pieces of content, sharing them in a way, be it just sharing the document using loops or some other tools that we've talked about before, and being able to have real-time visibility into where a certain project is, or having the ease of leveraging a multi communication mode platform to be able to communicate in the way that makes the most sense.

The best example is, and we've gotten much better at it, even in the last 30 days, we have things in chats that a month ago even and clearly six months ago would've been a really long email stream, and it would've been really hard to follow what was going on.

SANTI: Yes, that's true.

GEORGE: It clogs up your email. It makes it difficult to follow the conversation. Having the tools is one thing. As a team, having the culture of leveraging the tools is a completely different thing.

SANTI: Absolutely. By the way, I believe that needs to come from the top. In other words, I believe that if you're in charge of a line of business, part of your job as a leader is to encourage your team to adopt the tools, to adopt the best practices, to maximize the tools. Otherwise, you're only hurting your team because they're not going to get the level of efficiency that other teams are getting. That's something I really appreciate about you is that I don't feel handcuffed.

When I start to do a deep dive into a new potential platform or tool that I think could really impact us, I'm not handcuffed. We go, we look at it, we investigate, we implement, and if it works, we keep it. We maximize, and we encourage everyone else to do it. I think it's top-down.

GEORGE: Back to the earlier point about accountability and results, you've built credibility as well of evaluating new things and making quick decisions of, "Hey, we're going to waste time on this," or, "Hey, there's real business value here," because you can get spun around the axle on these things and lose sight of is there a real business outcome versus, "Wow, this is just some cool thing that I'm playing around with." That's critically important to keep an eye on what the outcome is, not just the level of effort or the evaluation that takes place.

SANTI: Speaking of accountability and tools, George, one of the things I think about is, I don't know if you use it, I've been using it lately, and it's Viva Insights. It's a Microsoft tool. It's built into Teams. It does a couple of things. It shows me what my productivity was. By the way, I only get to see this. It's a personal dashboard, which is nice. If you're worried about privacy and big brother, it's really just for you.

It shows my productivity, where I spend my most time. It also gives me a snapshot at the end of each day as to what my next day is. I can take the last 30 minutes of my day while I'm trying to wind down and start to plan what are the things I have to do first thing when I get back online. It gives me some other things that help you also focus and give you some breathers because you could burn out in a remote. That's another thing.

Burnout is very easy to do when you're home all the time, and you're just working all the time. I use Viva Insights, and it's one of those things that helps me identify if there's an area that is just eating up too much of my time, and then I can say, "You know what? I need to shift focus on something else." Again, one of those tools or ways of monitoring, how to monitor your productivity as an individual within this virtual, remote, hybrid environment we work in now.

GEORGE: I did have a late call last night. Viva did pop up and say, "It's time for you to start your virtual commute at home."

SANTI: I like the virtual commute.

GEORGE: It knew I was at home. I must have put that in at some point, or I set it, and it knows where my location is. One of the two or both. I don't know. To your earlier point, you need to schedule your day and manage your day. You don't want to sit at your desk for 8 or 10 hours in your home office straight through and not get up and maybe eat your lunch at your desk, which I happen to do every day.

SANTI: I happen to do it every day.

GEORGE: I try to distract myself from the TV. I'll watch from the PC. I'll watch something on TV briefly. I do try to get out every day. That's a good thing for people to do as well. I try to walk for 30 to 40 minutes or more each day, broken up into a couple of chunks. If I'm up early, and I check things, everything looks fine, try to take a walk around the neighborhood. Somewhere around the lunchtime period, try to grab some lunch, take another little walk. Do it again in the afternoon.

It's a nice break to the day to keep you fresh. Again, staying aware of what's going on that day, what are you accountable for that day, and what are any particular outcomes you need to get that day. If you have a deliverable that's due that day, you need to get it done that day. That's work effort plus the deliverable and the result of the deliverable.

SANTI: Sure. Listen, great article. I remember when you published it, and I read it back then, it was back in May, if I'm not mistaken. Then I read it again recently in preparation for our discussion today. There was a couple things that I had forgotten right from when the first time I read it. I think it was a great article. You did a good job. Congrats on that. Listen, it's still a viable solution. Remote work, we proved it.

It took a pandemic, but we proved it. Those of us who have been doing this for a while, by the way, I've been working remotely for 10 years. Unlike others where they were forced to work remote due to a pandemic, I've been doing it for 10 years, and I can tell you I am a lot more productive, and I get a lot more stuff done when I'm not in a traditional water cooler type environment.

Anyway, folks, this brings our podcast to an end. Thanks, George, for this great article. We will put a link to this article in our description, so you can go back and read it in detail. Please remember to subscribe to Tech UNMUTED on your favorite podcast platform, and you can also follow us on YouTube. Until next time, folks, remember this, stay connected.

CLOSING VOICEOVER: Visit www.fusionconnect.com/techunmuted for show notes and more episodes. Thanks for listening.

Episode Credits:

Produced by: Fusion Connect

2023 TMCnet Best Tech Podcast award winner

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Tech UNMUTED, the podcast of modern collaboration, where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. Humans have collaborated since the beginning of time – we’re wired to work together to solve complex problems, brainstorm novel solutions and build a connected community. On Tech UNMUTED, we’ll cover the latest industry trends and dive into real-world examples of how technology is inspiring businesses and communities to be more efficient and connected. Tune in to learn how today's table-stakes technologies are fostering a collaborative culture, serving as the anchor for exceptional customer service.

Get show notes, transcripts, and other details at www.fusionconnect.com/techUNMUTED. Tech UNMUTED is a production of Fusion Connect, LLC.