Meg Sanford and Isabel Maun of Hotwire: “Tech troubles happen”

Meg and Isabel: Working remotely allows us to connect with coworkers or clients across the globe without geographical restraint. People now have the ability to form more intimate relationships and normalize working on projects with teams across regions and in broader markets — imagine working on a presentation with coworkers based in Singapore, then hopping on a […]

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Meg and Isabel: Working remotely allows us to connect with coworkers or clients across the globe without geographical restraint. People now have the ability to form more intimate relationships and normalize working on projects with teams across regions and in broader markets — imagine working on a presentation with coworkers based in Singapore, then hopping on a call with a client across the country. Newly adopted technologies provide enhanced communication and opportunities to gain new perspectives despite the physical distance.

As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Sanford and Isabel Maun.

Isabel Maun is an associate at Hotwire, a global tech communications consultancy, where she enjoys delving into technology software and industry innovation on each account she sits on. Previously, Isabel has held positions at a design PR firm, in politics and fresh juice production. With a passion for social justice and public health movements, she leverages her hometown of New York City to educate herself and raise awareness about issues facing the community.

Meg Sanford is an associate at Hotwire, a global tech communications consultancy. Meg works across multiple teams, supporting tech companies within the AI, telecommunications, advertising industries, and beyond. Originally hailing from the Bay Area and now living in New York City, Meg enjoys traveling, hiking, cooking, writing and keeping up with the latest wellness trends.

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”?

Meg: I grew up in a town just south of San Francisco, California. My entire family has lived in California for decades and believe it or not, I am an eighth generation Californian. Growing up as a Gen Z-er in Silicon Valley, I have always had an interest in tech, but that said, I was raised surrounded by nature, which gave me a passion for the outdoors, the arts, and travel.

From the Bay Area I moved to Dallas, Texas, where I received my undergraduate degree in Communication Studies with minors in Law and Advertising. I have always had a passion for travel and my fields of study in college gave me the opportunity to study in London, England for one summer and Sydney, Australia for one semester. These experiences gave me a view into how other parts of the world operate and further fueled my love of travel.

After graduation, I was ready for yet another change and I moved to New York City where I now live and work. In college, I began my professional career working in digital advertising and design-driven marketing. I now work at Hotwire, a global tech communications consultancy that has allowed me to combine my interests in tech, the arts, and global exploration (whether that be virtually or in-person). I find that letting your passions be a part of your work is paramount and I like to believe that is one of the key ingredients to success.

Isabel: My backstory begins in New York City, where I currently reside and work at Hotwire with Meg — now remotely. Growing up in the city, I enjoyed learning every nook and cranny of the Manhattan grid and taking in art from museums to the streets around me. Being surrounded by such a dynamic culture, I was excited by the breadth of opportunities I had at my fingertips and wanted to do more. During my undergrad years at The George Washington University, I was taken by my policy-driven classmates who took action and began advocating for universal issues at the forefront of my mind such as human rights and sexual violence. Through coursework, individual research, and holding survivor support groups, my effort to speak out against these issues became essential. I felt compelled to assist individuals seeking justice.

My passion for travel and international perspectives led me to study in France for a semester during college. Venturing to other countries made me realize the power that communication holds. Be it in verbal or nonverbal cues, we all have a great impact on our intertwined society. The power of communications through all mediums moved me to seek a profession in conveying messages for a lasting good, to wide audiences.

I was fortunate enough to begin my career in public relations for software companies, while also continuing my passion for advocacy through social campaigns against sexual violence. Although my professional career is only beginning to take shape, it has echoed how interconnected the world of technology is and unveiled how eager people are to use it for good. Its potential to deliver real impact ignites a track I am pursuing and hope to expand upon.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

Meg: One of the biggest benefits of working remotely that immediately jumps out is that we have this newfound flexibility in our day-to-day schedules. Working remotely gives us the feeling that we have more time in the day since commute time is non-existent and the amount of time it takes to get ready for work in the mornings has been cut down. Prior to working remotely, our days were much more structured and we had to find time wherever we could to squeeze in other responsibilities. Being fresh out of college, Isabel and I were only exposed to traditional in-person office environments for a few months before the world shut down as a result of COVID-19. In school we were used to creating our own schedules based on our personal preferences so we were relatively accustomed to this more flexible type of work structure.

Luckily for us, even prior to COVID, our company has had a long-standing “Thoughtful Working” policy that encourages employees to work when and where they think they’ll be most productive– whether that be in the office, on clients’ sites, at home, or just about anywhere. This made our transition into an entirely remote workforce feel slightly more natural.

Meg and Isabel: Working remotely allows us to connect with coworkers or clients across the globe without geographical restraint. People now have the ability to form more intimate relationships and normalize working on projects with teams across regions and in broader markets — imagine working on a presentation with coworkers based in Singapore, then hopping on a call with a client across the country. Newly adopted technologies provide enhanced communication and opportunities to gain new perspectives despite the physical distance.

Isabel: An additional outcome of this way of working is that we’ve seen companies expand upon their technology to bolster their remote workforces. At first, companies were pushed to adapt to the remote workplace and make do with the equipment they had. However, now that we have been working remotely for almost a year, companies are realizing the value of work from home and are expanding their technological infrastructure to allow us to work efficiently. The investment in virtual equipment has provided us tools to grow and expand global business, while also allowing for enhanced data accessibility, and for companies to develop smarter security policies. These tech-forward updates have offered us the virtual networks that we can access from anywhere and that foster a collective remote work environment.

As Gen-Zers we had barely jumpstarted our professional careers when the pandemic first started and turned our connections to virtual. That said, we felt especially equipped to make this transition as we have been tech savvy our entire lives.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

  1. Isabel: One of the biggest challenges to remote working is the “remote” portion. Going into our workplace and having day-to-day interactions grants us a sense of community that we lose by being confined to a personal work environment. Not only does the pandemic prevent us from seeing people outside of our living space, but our remote workspace often excludes any interactions aside from virtual. We can therefore feel detached as we are stripped of impromptu in-person interactions and conversations with colleagues in a common workspace. It’s easy to lose a sense of belonging that comes along with “coworking” since we’re driven apart.
  2. Isabel: Secondly, many work-from-home setups are makeshift and less than ideal. Many people share workspaces with family members or roommates, making work / life separation seem impossible and responsibilities even harder to balance. A difficult aspect to remote work is separating work life from personal life, especially when physical office spaces used to do so for us. It is not uncommon for people to work in the same room as they sleep in, resulting in even more difficulties when it comes to disconnecting from work devices during off hours.
  3. Meg: Another challenge of working remotely is that teams have had to adapt their communication methods as face-to-face communication is no longer an option. One of the biggest issues with technology is that the luxury of in-person conversation no longer exists and that communication can get lost in translation.
  4. Meg: We also of course find ourselves in a place where both our work and personal lives rely on technology more than ever before. Minor tech mishaps like unreliable Wi-Fi or computer updates suddenly turn into big inconveniences due to our “always connected” mentality. A broken laptop or monitor can feel like the end of the world when working remotely.
  5. Meg: Finally, the combination of all of these challenges can lead to burnout. Too much concentrated work can exhaust anyone. Without the daily commute, social interaction with co-workers, and the physical separation of work and home, it’s easy for work to completely consume our lives. Feeling like we have to be connected constantly can be dangerous for mental health when we have so many other priorities to juggle outside of work.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

Meg and Isabel:

  1. Feeling detached is not easy for anyone, but growing up with the internet and your friends at your fingertips makes this feeling of detachment especially difficult for a Gen Z-er. We recommend checking in with co-workers to get non-work-related life updates, calling family members or friends to chat when taking breaks, and of course making the most of your Zoom meetings by seeing it as an opportunity to re-engage and collaborate with your teams.
  2. As Gen Z-ers we know all about dealing with family members, pets, roommates — you name it — in this new “co-working” space. Our advice is to do exactly that — treat them like your co-workers and try your best to set work boundaries and expectations within your household.
  3. Growing up with a cell phone taught us how to properly communicate with our peers and mentors via virtual mediums, so we have more than enough experience communicating via technology. Our main tip here? Be friendly, clear, and concise when communicating with colleagues online.
  4. Tech troubles happen. Notify your co-workers (if possible of course), work with your tech team, and know that there will be a solution.
  5. Our advice on how to handle burnout? Unplug. Go outside, get some fresh air, stretch your legs, and reset.

Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?

Meg: Before the pandemic, working professionals were used to a regimented daily routine whether they were aware of it or not. Shifting to remote work disrupted that repetitiveness. It is important to create and stick to a routine even when rolling out of bed one minute before work might seem like the easiest option. We recommend creating a morning routine and sticking to it. What you do in the morning sets the tone for your entire day. Do something to mentally signify that you are getting ready for your day. Even just making your bed or going on a quick walk around the block can make a huge improvement in your mental health, daily attitude, and productivity.

Another habit that we find is key for a productive work-from-home day is to create a daily schedule. This may sound like a lot of work, but trust us, taking five minutes each day to do this will dramatically improve your productivity and mental wellbeing. Write down a schedule for the work day that includes every detail of how you will spend your time and track against it. This includes coffee and lunch breaks, meetings for the day, and tasks to work on throughout the day. Our company really encourages employees to take breaks to avoid fatigue. To take it a step further, we recommend scheduling calendar holds for your personal breaks to ensure that you will actually follow through with them and to signify to your co-workers not to schedule over this time.

Finally, creating boundaries between work and personal life is more important now than ever before. If possible, unplug whenever you can: close your computer and don’t open it again, turn off notifications when possible, and go for a walk or schedule a workout or meditation to signify to yourself that it’s the end of the day.

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

Meg and Isabel: At the forefront, working remotely requires communication across organizations in the same capacity as working in person. It is helpful even more so now for senior leadership to overly communicate within organizations. Whether that means company leaders popping on to an internal team meeting, recording a video update about the business, or letting employees know they are open to virtual coffee meetings; minor communication efforts like these are even more important during this period when employees are looking for a little extra guidance.

Another way to help employees thrive, is to properly integrate each individual into new roles and team structures. Make this actionable by setting up a team sync to go over expectations and enforce a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities whenever a change occurs. Our people and culture team at Hotwire, for example, sets up meet and greets with recent hires over Zoom so that new and existing employees alike feel connected.

Finally, one of the biggest ways business leaders can help employees avoid burnout is by showing employees that the company cares not only about them but also about real-world issues that impact its employees. For example, our company holds bi-monthly DEI meetings and discussions around news and political happenings. We find that this is a great signifier of the unity and positive culture of the company, which often starts from the top down.

Can you share any recommendations for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic?

Isabel: For teams just making the transition to remote work we recommend holding virtual staff meetings, lunch dates and happy hours, to maintain a sense of team culture. When setting up weekly syncs with teammates to revise account activity, we think it’s helpful to meet face to face on video conferencing to review even small tasks. This smooths out any miscommunication that might happen online.

Prior to working-from-home, people could physically see when we were at our desks or when we had departed. Now, with our reliance on devices, we assume that people are always connected. We suggest making sure that teams are considering everyone’s time zones, schedules and personal time. For example, one of our previous projects included a coworker in Ireland. At the beginning of working together we were setting up calls that really pushed her work hours. Not realizing the mistake we had made at first, we quickly set time zone boundaries for the team and checked with her on best times to communicate. As a result, we no longer scheduled calls after 12pm EST for that specific team. Considering our coworkers schedules and timelines in advance is beneficial for resourcing and team efficiency as we are valuing each other’s boundaries.

Building off of this, we recommend individuals take the responsibility to inform their teams when they might be slower to reply or when a busy week is coming up. Establishing a schedule with co-workers as early as possible allows teams to accommodate each individuals’ time. Accordingly, this will result in higher rates of productivity and fewer unnecessary messages back and forth. It’s a win-win!

What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Isabel: At the root, an empowering work culture requires the tools for coworkers to build upon and foster connectivity. Portals that support teammate familiarity and acknowledgement lend itself to empowering teams. Bonusly, for example, is an online system that allows organizations to give their employees a monthly allowance for the purpose of acknowledging their colleague’s accomplishments and generosity in a monetary way. This is a great way to encourage employees to recognize one another for small but mighty contributions to work and one that Hotwire employs.

Meg: Another one of the biggest gaps in remote work environments is in-office interaction and the natural team bonding that usually comes along with it. While team-building activities are hard to replicate virtually, it is still important to invest in work culture on a broader level. Our company has done a great job of implementing team-building activities in correspondence with events and holidays going on in the world. For example, we had a murder mystery party around Halloween and an Inauguration watch party this January.

Isabel: Along with emphasizing team-building activities, a company’s work culture comes down to each individual. A note of gratitude or recognition of a co-worker’s hard work can be incrementally fulfilling when we are glued to the computer all day. This makes sitting down at our computer to begin work each day more purposeful — no matter where that set up might be.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Read our latest blog post, “3 Predictions About Gen Z-ers’ Transition Into the Virtual Workforce.”

We can also be found on LinkedIn:

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success

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