Celebrate wins and milestones. We have a random slack channel where we celebrate birthdays and other non-work milestones. We try to hand out praise for jobs well done across our weekly meetings and slack channels too. But you have to continually remind yourself to over communicate!
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Louderback, General Manager of VidCon.
Jim Louderback joined VidCon in 2014 as editorial director of the industry track, and took over as CEO in 2017. In early 2018, he led the sale of VidCon to Viacom, where he is now GM of VidCon.
In recent years, Louderback has developed integrated digital video strategies for large media companies — including Viacom, Discovery and National Geographic — and built platform intentional studio facilities while launching new vertically-focused content brands. In addition, as venture partner at seed fund Social Starts he led investments in a variety of media and technology startups, while helping them focus their objectives, reorient audience and customer strategy, improve product design, and develop long-term strategic plans.
Previously Jim was CEO of online video startup Revision3, and led the company to 20x viewer and revenue growth and 9 prestigious awards. In 2012, he sold Revision3 to Discovery, led the integration, launched and acquired 6 new networks, and built Discovery Digital Networks. Prior to that, Jim spent 16 years in increasingly senior editorial and technology management roles at TechTV, PC Magazine and PC Week.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I was a math major in college, and got an MBA with a focus on computer science. After spending the first few years of my career building computer systems for big companies I applied for a job running product reviews at my favorite computer magazine. Surprisingly they hired me! From there I went on to being Editor In Chief of PC Magazine, led content at the launch of technology-focused Cable TV network TechTV, built and sold an early online video/youtube network Revision3, and ended up helping to grow and sell VidCon to Viacom.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The first computer magazine I worked at, PC Week, used to throw EPIC parties at the top computer conventions. The biggest, every year, was in a private villa at The Sands in Las Vegas. My first time attending that party I got to hang out with top computer execs, including Michael Dell and Bill Gates. I even had to break up an argument between Gates and one of my new employees. Fun times.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
ALWAYS have a back-up copy (and a backup plan). We were building a financial computer system for Merrill Lynch in their new building at the World Financial Center in NYC. Much of the building was still under construction. Back then PC computers weren’t connected to networks so everything was stored locally. After about four months of work we walked in one day and our computers had all been stolen. Four months of work down the drain, I thought, and I’m probably going to get fired. Then my lead programmer walked in, took a look around and pulled out a floppy disk from his bag. Unknown to me he was in the habit of backing everything up each night. He saved the day and we all ended up keeping our jobs!
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Make them take vacations, don’t email, slack or text them outside of working hours (if possible), and encourage everyone to step away from their desks for an hour a day. When we went all virtual during the pandemic, we had everyone add a lunch break, from 12–1, onto their calendar. Sure, we occasionally schedule meetings during those breaks, but only if we have to. And we will likely keep that tradition going even after we go back to the office.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?
I’ve been managing remote teams since 2002 when I took over the web business at Ziff Davis.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?
● Interpreting non-verbal communication. It’s hard when you are on the phone or zoom to really understand what someone is saying. I make sure and ask over and over what people really mean when they say something
● Building Team Connections: It’s really hard for teams to gel together when they are physically separate. I budget for a formal offsite once a year for everyone to get together and encourage travel so that separate teams can connect. We even started doing zoom happy hours once we all got shut down in March. It was the right thing to do when we started, and when they stopped being useful, we didn’t just keep them going.
● Respecting different time zones: Not everyone works at the same time. Using tools like slack can help people stay connected — but also we encourage teams to use OOO and emoticons to signify when they are not at work.
● Defusing tension between team members. It’s easy to bring people into a room and air out their differences. It’s so much harder when we are all apart and on zoom. Best practice here is to over communicate and have people talk with each other.
● Celebrating wins and milestones. We have a random slack channel where we celebrate birthdays and other non-work milestones. We try to hand out praise for jobs well done across our weekly meetings and slack channels too. But you have to continually remind yourself to over communicate!
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
Answered above. But overcommunication, tools like slack, letting people know it’s OK to have time off, making people take their vacation.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
Be direct, but give examples and give the employee the opportunity to reflect back. Also lay out some of the issues in one discussion but then say “let’s reflect on it and talk more about it in a few days”, where you can bring more examples and they can share what they think. It’s a more drawn out process.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
I’m not sure you should give feedback over email. If you do it should be just for little things, not big things.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
Remind everyone that there are work life boundaries and try to make sure everyone follows them. Otherwise everyone feels like they have to be ALWAYS ON from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. Set up time to just socialize, at least at first, like we did with Thursday happy hours.
What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
Set boundaries, force people to adhere to them, let the team know that it’s OK to not be in front of your computer every minute of every working day. And when you sense stress or someone saying that someone else is taking advantage of the new flexibility you need to get to the root of the problem, not just ignore it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
An Hour A Day It Goes Away: for an hour a day step away from all connected electronic devices and walk, read, have a glass of wine, cook dinner, or do some other thing that gets you present in the real world. What we really need are personal electromagnetic shrouds or faraday cages that keep wireless signals from penetrating. Be Here Now — at least for an hour.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not much for inspirational quotes, but I think something along the lines of “Find Joy in Everything You Do”. If it doesn’t bring you Joy, then why are you doing it? Look at your job. If you can’t find joy, excitement, passion in at least part of your job then, well, maybe you need a new job. Same with relationships, food, clothing, etc. We get to rent some space here on earth for a limited time. Make sure you’re enjoying as many of those moments as possible.