Gina Yager: “Brainstorming is hard”

Brainstorming is hard — When you’re working side by side in the same office, it’s easy to call impromptu meetings for quick brainstorming sessions or pick a colleague’s brain for a few minutes. But when you work remotely, it can seem like a burden to call the team together for idea generating. I often will wait until […]

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Brainstorming is hard — When you’re working side by side in the same office, it’s easy to call impromptu meetings for quick brainstorming sessions or pick a colleague’s brain for a few minutes. But when you work remotely, it can seem like a burden to call the team together for idea generating. I often will wait until our weekly virtual team meetings to collaborate and share ideas.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Yager.

Gina Yager is a Las Vegas-based public relations agency owner specializing in strategic PR, marketing, branding, community relations, special events and more.

A Southern Nevada resident for 18 years, Yager has 20 years of experience in multiple industries including hospitality, tourism, gaming, food & beverage, entertainment, retail, non-profit and technology, working with national, regional and local companies of all sizes — from start-ups and small businesses, to multinational corporations.

Prior to establishing GYC in 2017, Yager spent 15 years with another mid-size marketing and public relations agency, where she served as the firm’s Vice President. Throughout her years there, Yager handled strategic marketing, public relations and media relations for the company’s highest-profile clients, while also directing special events, internal programming development, recruiting, staffing and training.

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 born and raised in Southern California, attended Cal Poly Pomona and later transferred to San Diego State University, where I graduated with a degree in Marketing in 1999. I was determined to stay in San Diego, but during my last semester in college, I met my husband, who encouraged me to move to LA with him. There, I started my career at a public relations agency that serviced lifestyle consumer products, video games and film studio releases.

Before my first job, my only knowledge of PR was from one chapter in a textbook I read in an advertising class. I had no idea what I was doing! Working in LA was exciting and fast-paced, but I did not enjoy the pretentious attitudes and snobby workplace banter I experienced. So, when the opportunity arose to move to Las Vegas, my husband and I jumped at the chance to relocate to a city that was growing at unprecedented rates, where everyone seemed to be a transplant from somewhere else.

We moved to Las Vegas without jobs and a few thousand dollars in savings. We worked part-time jobs until we found permanent jobs within our fields, and we’ve never looked back. I worked at a local PR agency for 15 years, and learned a ton about managing, operations, client relations, recruiting, staffing, training, leading, motivating and inspiring. The owners of the company took me under their wing, where I flourished and worked my way up the ranks to eventually become Vice President of the company.

It was never my intention to own my own company. In fact, the thought of being a business owner scared me — I thought that being responsible for keeping the business going would make me lose sleep at night. But I think the reason I had those feelings is because of the decision-making power I lacked from being an employee and not a titleholder.

When the agency I was working for began to fold, it was, obviously, time to get out. I figured I would freelance for a while, which I did for a few months, and then I thought, why am I working for someone else’s clients? So, I started GYC Vegas, a PR and marketing agency, and began the networking process to look for my own clients.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Last year, I was introduced to a potential client who is a serial IT entrepreneur. At the time, he was working for a hospitality company but had ideas to create his own startups. We kept in touch over the course of a few months, and each time we met up he had a different idea of a new company he wanted to form — from a travel app to a kitchen appliance and a renewable energy device. At the start of the pandemic we lost touch, and then six months later, he calls to tell me that during the pandemic-induced lockdown he had developed and soft-launched a LIMS software to help laboratories streamline workflow efficiencies — in just three months! He wanted our company to handle the national PR to introduce his tech innovation, which helps labs to fast-track COVID-19 testing to provide same-day results. We officially launched his software to the media in October, which is enabling companies across the country to test, monitor and control access for employees to return to work faster than any other lab solution since the start of the pandemic.

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?

Early in my career, I set up a cooking segment on a local TV news station for a big food & beverage client I was representing. They were a local BBQ restaurant chain, and they were generous enough to always bring enough food to serve lunch to the entire production crew, anchors, camera operators, and newsroom staff. At the end of the segment, I invited the anchors to come over, and gave them each a plate of food, starting with the anchor who did the interview. She declined the food because we only had beef ribs and brisket available, and expressed that she was disappointed we were not serving pork. What I didn’t realize, is that she is of Indian decent, a culture that does not eat beef. I was mortified! What I learned from that moment is to always be prepared to accommodate everyone and to anticipate people’s preferences.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Allow your team to make their own schedules. This might scare you, but when the only thing you have to worry about is whether they meet their deadlines and complete their tasks, it relieves a lot of the pressure for both you and them.

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?

In the mid-2010s, more and more remote companies began sprouting up, and the image of the typical corporate structure began to shift. The idea of remote working had always appealed to me, so when I started my own company in 2017, I knew structuring it that way would be progressive and appealing to future employees while allowing me to save a ton of money in overhead.

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?

  1. Brainstorming is hard. 
    When you’re working side by side in the same office, it’s easy to call impromptu meetings for quick brainstorming sessions or pick a colleague’s brain for a few minutes. But when you work remotely, it can seem like a burden to call the team together for idea-generating. I often will wait until our weekly virtual team meetings to collaborate and share ideas.
  2. It can get lonely. 
    For people who love a buzzing office environment, when there’s no one to talk to it can get lonely. However, I actually see this as a huge bonus. Every conversation I have with my team members is intentional. There is no water cooler B.S.
  3. It’s tough to bond with your team.
    Because we only see each other a few times per week on Zooms or over the phone, it can be hard to really get to know your team one-on-one and for them to get to know each other, but I make it a point to add personal conversation into every virtual meeting we have. We also schedule in-person team meetings, lunches, happy hours, special events and client meetings in person, so we can strengthen our relationships. This has been difficult during COVID, but we plan to resume those activities once things are back to normal. For those team members who live out of state, we will continue communicating and bonding over Zooms.
  4. Trusting your team can be challenging.
    If you’ve always been able to easily monitor your team from within the office, it can be challenging to ensure they are on track to meet their deadlines, being diligent in executing their responsibilities, and maximizing their efforts. This is something that’s been difficult for me to let go of, so I just started implementing one-on-one meetings with my staff to align with them on their action items, goals and current status of projects. It has helped tremendously to put my mind at ease.
  5. It can be difficult to edit/oversee work.
    If you rely on in-person conversations and reviewing hard copy drafts to monitor and edit your team’s work, it can be difficult to transition to doing those same functions digitally. When you edit documents using track changes, it can be hard to teach and explain your edits without verbal communication unless you make time to get on the phone or hop on a Zoom. To control this, we utilize project management tools and productivity apps to communicate as best we can, as well as phone calls, Zooms, and texting.

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?

Email can be curt, but if you conduct enough virtual meetings and phone calls with your team members to support the direction or feedback you provide in emails, your team will understand to read between the lines and understand the way your written communications are intended to come across.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I tend to use inclusive, team-focused phrases like, “We should do this” or “how about revising this part?” and “What are your thoughts?” My directives never come off as orders, but rather suggestions. It also helps when you communicate enough in every other way, with regular phone calls, emails, Zooms, and texts, that your team knows you well enough to not take feedback personally.

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?

Make sure everyone has a strong internet connection, and reliable computer equipment. Next, create a new system and protocols for accessing information, turning in assignments, and sharing documents and files by using tools that are free or inexpensive, that everyone has the ability to access from anywhere. Our system is very simple — we use a cloud-based file-sharing system (Box) as our server, Zoom for meetings, and Asana for project management. Then, we have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, and send texts and group emails to communicate and catch up with each other.

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?

Make sure that there is a role for everyone to work together, even if it’s small. I run a team of five, and we all work together on various clients and tasks, as well as provide feedback and inspiration to each other during our team meetings. I also have teammates work together on various projects without me, to make sure they trust and learn from each other, and are comfortable seeking mutual guidance from each other to grow their skills.

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. 🙂

I would inspire people to follow their passions and do what brings them joy. I know that sounds cliché, but people who are happy in their jobs are the most successful. If you love what you do, it won’t seem like work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I work in such a fast-paced environment that I have to remind myself to take things easy and not get ahead of myself. One of my favorite quotes is a Bible verse, Psalm 46:10 — “Be still, and know that I am God.” This is God’s way of commanding you to let go of your stress and worries, because He is the one in control. Whatever happens, happens for a reason and is ultimately beyond your control. And, nothing we do in the business world is life or death — and nothing matters more than faith, love and family, so why sweat what you have going on at work?

Thank you for these great insights!

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