Alex Hollander: “Sharing knowledge”

The world is bigger than the environment you grew up in, you can learn so much from other people, different cultures, and different countries. I would really recommend everyone to travel around, get to know different cultures because it will broaden your perspective on life a lot. As a part of our series about the five […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

The world is bigger than the environment you grew up in, you can learn so much from other people, different cultures, and different countries. I would really recommend everyone to travel around, get to know different cultures because it will broaden your perspective on life a lot.

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

Alex Hollander is a digital Marketing Entrepreneur based in Medellin, Colombia. Alex has dedicated his career to helping companies grow their business online, by using performance based digital marketing.

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 am a digital entrepreneur from the Netherlands, with over 11 years of experience in digital marketing and I have owned and managed multiple agencies in the past 8 years.

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

After living on an island in the Caribbean for 5,5 years (Curacao) I decided to move to Medellin, Colombia, where I am now the founder and CEO of TRIBU ( I traveled and worked a lot around the globe especially here in Latin America. I think the most interesting thing about this is that I have learned to deal with different people, cultures, and languages.

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?

Well, back then I did not think it was that funny, but in my first serious agency job 11 years ago, I once spent €10.000 too much on a Google Ads campaign for a client. I was afraid that I would get fired, but the opposite happened. Although I spent the double budget of what was agreed upon, I tripled the results and the client was actually very happy.

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

Communication is key, keep talking. I try to maintain a healthy relationship with all of my employees, I make sure that they feel comfortable talking to me about any problem that might arise. Furthermore, due to COVID-19 we have made some changes. We went from working in the office to working from home, this might become lonely and it is a big change for everyone. To keep my team motivated I try to arrange at least 2 team activities each month to keep the ‘family’ bond that we have within the company. I think it is of high importance to keep your team motivated with the help of these bonding activities. Those activities will result in a stronger confidential bond within the team. I feel like this helps a lot when avoiding burnouts and to keep the team motivated.

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 have around 3 years of experience in managing remote teams and 8 years working remote for clients. Thus, I can say that this was not a new concept for me when the pandemic started. Due to the experience I already had, it became easier to adjust during the pandemic but also to guide my team during these times of big changes.

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. Time Zones
  2. Culture
  3. Quality
  4. Sharing knowledge
  5. Sense of belonging and team spirit

Starting with the first challenge, time zones are a big challenge when managing remote teams. An example for this is, let’s say that I am currently in Colombia and it is 12PM, I am working with a client from the Netherlands and I need some additional information about the project to finish it in time. However, in the Netherlands it is already 6PM, meaning that the workday is most likely over. This will result in me having to wait another day to continue with the project. Therefore, it is super important to constantly keep in mind the different time zones when you have deadlines or pending projects. A clear and strict planning would be very helpful in these kinds of situations.

Now let’s talk about the second challenge which is culture. Each culture has different ways of doing and managing things. One of the things that was quite challenging for me was the punctuality aspect. As might be known, South America and the Caribbean have a more relaxed way of doing things, they usually are not as punctual as we are in the Netherlands. For example, in Curacao and Colombia it is very common to come at least 15–30 minutes late to an appointment and nobody will be bothered, while in the Netherlands this would be seen as rude and inappropriate. For me this was quite difficult when I first started to work with teams from these regions. Now after doing it for so many years it has become normal for me but in the beginning it was quite challenging.

Following up with the quality aspect this is, and was, a big challenge for me. As I now have experience with people from the more relaxed cultures as I just talked about, they are usually satisfied a lot faster with the delivered work than that we are for example in the Netherlands. The work delivered for example here in Colombia will be perceived as high quality, but when I show this work to clients in the Netherlands they will say it could be done better and that it has a poor quality. I am not saying that the work done is not good, what I am trying to say is that different cultures have different perceptions of what good quality is. Therefore, it is of high importance to communicate with the team that you are working with and to really make it clear what the expectations are.

When we are talking about sharing knowledge it has more difficulties when having to do it remotely. This is because everything is going online instead of in a direct way. Therefore, it may take longer for someone to see it and to read it. It just does not go as fast, compared to when you share certain knowledge face to face. This can be challenging when you want everyone to be up to date to the things that are being shared. It can help to set specific times for doing this but sometimes something will just come up that you want to share immediately, and then it is just hoping that everybody will see and read it in time.

Continuing to the final challenge that I have mentioned which is team spirit and the sense of belonging. The sense of belonging is crucial for teamwork. Sometimes it might happen that someone in your designated team feels like ‘what am I doing here?’, ‘do I actually belong here?’, when you have someone in the team that feels or thinks this way this can affect the functionality of the team. Therefore, it is of high importance to really select your team wisely because it is crucial in building high-performing teams.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Like I have mentioned in the question above, it is very important to create a team wisely. Furthermore, keeping a positive vibe within the team will overall help a lot in most of the aspects. When there is a good vibe and group dynamic within the team it becomes a lot easier to address certain problems and/or challenges that might arise during the work journey. Based on my experience it is also important to treat each other with respect and also respect each other’s cultures and ways of doing certain things. When there is trust and respect it is likely that these challenges are easier to tackle. Of course sometimes it is needed to address problems but like I said, when the dynamics are good it is likely that things will be taken in a positive way and positive change will be a result of that.

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?

I would say that in the first place it is important to see if there is a possibility to give feedback in the form of a video call. Facial expression and the nuance can be picked up and it will usually avoid missed perceptions. However, not in every situation a direct communication will be possible. When giving honest feedback in an e-mail or any other written communication I think it is crucial to use respectable language. What might help is using the ‘hamburger method’. When offering a critique, you first start with a constructive compliment on something that the person does well. Then you get to the meat of the matter, which is the constructive criticism part. Then finally you end with giving a constructive compliment again. In this way you address the problem/critic, but you also give the person compliments which will most likely result in the person not going into defense mode too fast, and understanding the problem.

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

As I have mentioned above I think a good method to use when giving constructive feedback is the ‘hamburger method’. This method will disarm the critical sound of the constructive criticism and it will result in people letting their guard down and being more open for the feedback they are receiving.

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?

First of all it is important to take everybody’s feelings into consideration, as it might be very difficult for a lot of people to not be physically around their team anymore. You should give your team the time to adjust to the changes in the work. Potential obstacles could be that people will become demotivated which will result in the quality of the work going down. Therefore, it is super important to keep the team motivated and to stimulate them to talk if they have any kind of difficulties with the remote way of working. It could be an idea to schedule team video calls each week where everybody tells about what they have done during the week(end), in that way the team will be able to at least see each other on the screen and to have the conversations that they would usually have on the work floor. Additionally, when the rules in a certain country make it possible, team activities in real life will help a lot with keeping the team spirit and motivation up.

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?

Like I said try to schedule video calls where everybody can let their guard down and talk freely about anything they want. Also make sure that everybody treats one another with respect and in a way that a person will feel approachable for the other person. In this way there will be a feeling of safety amongst the team and they will be able to communicate with each other a lot easier. When having an environment like this it will work empowering for each member of the team.

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. 🙂

The world is bigger than the environment you grew up in, you can learn so much from other people, different cultures, and different countries. I would really recommend everyone to travel around, get to know different cultures because it will broaden your perspective on life a lot.

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

‘Your only limitation is your own mind’. I have really learned to trust my gut feeling. Most people are usually scared to take risks and to take the leap of faith. I am a person who always used to take action on the things that I wanted to do even if that involved taking a risk. I do not regret anything and I am glad that every time I pushed myself over the fear of failing. If I did not take the risks I would not be where I am standing at right now in this moment.

Thank you for these great insights!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Alex Tomchenko of Glambook: “Be yourself”

by Candice Georgiadis

“To avoid burnout, put the smartphone down or at least set limits on social media” With Holly Rollins of 10xdigital

by Christina D. Warner, MBA

Geoff Crain of Kingstar Media: “Preparation”

by Orlando Zayas
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.