Alessandra Gybe of GreenRope: “Discipline and time management”

Technology: The technology your team uses plays a HUGE part in successful remote work. You want a system that your entire team can use and that allows your team access to the data they need. For example, a marketing team needs access to both sales and customer service data in order to create personas, lead […]

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Technology: The technology your team uses plays a HUGE part in successful remote work. You want a system that your entire team can use and that allows your team access to the data they need. For example, a marketing team needs access to both sales and customer service data in order to create personas, lead nurturing campaigns, analyze results, and more. I did some consulting for a company a few years back. They used a plethora of different systems and none of them spoke to one another. Getting the information I needed took forever. I had to email another team member to request access or have them export and send me the data I needed. SO inefficient.

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

Alessandra Gyben understands marketing and what it takes to manage a successful remote team. As the Marketing Director for complete CRM software company, GreenRope, she oversees all of their marketing, including marketing automation strategy, customer experience, campaign management, content, social, and more. She also heads up their Implementation department, helping GreenRope’s clients with strategy, planning, and execution. As a member of the GreenRope Team for over 9 years, Alessandra has worked and managed her team remotely from the beginning. Alessandra currently lives in Reno/Tahoe with her husband, two dogs, 1 bunny, and 5 chickens.

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”?

How long do we have? Ha. After graduating USC in 2009, I started working in the PR world. I interned and worked for a few different agencies. GreenRope was a client at a San Diego agency I was working with at the time I. I didn’t work on their account regularly, but I did run a few social campaigns for them, which the CEO really liked. We kept in touch for a while, and eventually he offered me the position of content creator for his company, GreenRope. I accepted! I wanted to get out of the agency world and felt that GreenRope was the perfect fit for growing my career as a marketer. I started just doing email marketing, blogging, and social media. 10 years later, here I am, running GreenRope’s marketing and implementation departments.

Throughout my entire working relationship with GreenRope, I have lived in LA, San Diego, Aspen, and Reno/Tahoe. We have always been a virtual company, and everyone on the team is given the opportunity to travel and work wherever they are in the world. That was another reason I was so attracted to the company. I have lived in 3 different countries, including France for high school, so traveling has always been a huge part of my life.

GreenRope has given me the opportunity to grow my professional career, but also my personal life. Through remote work, I am able to accomplish both career and personal goals with more freedom and flexibility. I think that’s one of the reasons why GreenRope’s team is so loyal, and why our company culture is so special.

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

I think one of the most interesting things that has happened to me in my career was being approached by a competitor of GreenRope. I’m not going to mention the company name, but they are one of the biggest in our industry. One of employees had seen my writing somewhere and approached me to see if I wanted to write for their team.

While very flattered, I declined the offer. Some people thought I was insane for not taking a job for one of the biggest companies out there, but I knew in my heart that I was loyal to GreenRope and the vision we were working hard to achieve. Every day, I am happy that I stuck with GreenRope. While we are still small and competing against these much larger companies, I am so proud with what we have accomplished and feel so lucky to be a part of the GreenRope company culture.

Not sure that’s super interesting, but I believe that a lot of people would have taken the job.

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?

Oh man…I’ve made a few! We all do, right? I’m going to say this is funny now, but at the time it was horrifying. We had hired an intern over the Summer, and at this time I was living in San Diego and would go into the ‘office’ to work with the team a couple of days a week. I had asked the intern to go and publish a blog post, or fix something on the blog, and she somehow she managed to delete our entire website. Yes, I am not joking. I was absolutely horrified.

I definitely learned that in order to be a manager, you have to manage, provide direction, and never assume that someone knows what they are doing. I am not totally sure how she even made that mistake, but when push comes to shove, it was still my responsibility. As a manager, you have to set you team up for success, and that means having attention to detail, proper training, and ensuring that your team understands the tasks they are given.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Give your employees freedom and flexibility. I mean this in two ways. First, give them the freedom to enjoy a healthy work-life balance, to work from home, and to travel. Second, give them the freedom and flexibility to be creative and assertive at work. Encourage open dialogue and collaboration. Allow your team to take ownership of their work and really see their ideas, their tasks, their projects through. The more trust you put in your team, the happier and more confident they are, driving better results.

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?

Ever since I started managing a team it’s been a remote team. To this day, I have only met one of my team members once, and our new hire, I have not yet met in person! I would say, I have about 6 years of remote management.

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?

Comradery: Even though we are primarily a virtual company, the majority of the team lives in San Diego. Pre-Covid, the team met once a week, participated in community events together, and of course celebrated holidays, birthdays, etc. Being separated from all of that can be hard sometimes. You aren’t a part of all the fun they have when together, and this can make you feel distant or ‘less’ of a team member if you don’t know how to manage those feelings.

Communication: Instead of in-person meetings where you can read body language, gauge attitudes, etc., you have to do all of your communicating over email, phone, chat, and video conferencing. For many, this just isn’t the same. I’ve had team members who I have literally asked to do something in a video conference, and 5 minutes later they are asking me what I said, because they were either tuned out or just not paying attention. That doesn’t happen as much in person.

Technology: The technology your team uses plays a HUGE part in successful remote work. You want a system that your entire team can use and that allows your team access to the data they need. For example, a marketing team needs access to both sales and customer service data in order to create personas, lead nurturing campaigns, analyze results, and more. I did some consulting for a company a few years back. They used a plethora of different systems and none of them spoke to one another. Getting the information I needed took forever. I had to email another team member to request access or have them export and send me the data I needed. SO inefficient.

Being too lenient or too much of a micro-manager: When you do not have that face-to-face connection, it can be hard to gauge the level of management your team requires. I hold a team marketing meeting on Monday. During that meeting we discuss current projects and outline priorities. I’ve had instances in the past where a team member has not taken notes during our meeting, did not ask questions, or did not refer back to our meeting summary and missed important deadlines. Of course, I blamed myself, as I should not have assumed they would get it done without my follow up. Some team members are more organized and others require more follow-up.

Discipline and time management: Being a remote worker requires discipline. Working from home, we have a lot of distractions…pets, the kitchen, roommates or significant others, etc. I once managed a marketing coordinator who told me that he could not get his work done because his cats were outside of his room fighting. Now, whether that was true or not, he basically revealed he was too distracted to get any work done.

I would say these are the most common pain points that people (and myself) have experienced when managing a remote team. As social beings, humans enjoy being together, engaging, and connecting. All of that becomes much more difficult when you work remotely.

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

Comradery: To help encourage comradery, I think it’s really important to have weekly meetings with your team. Instead of getting to business right away, make some time for some ‘chit chat’. On Monday’s we always start with asking each other how our weekends were, if there is anything new and exciting going on, or anything they would like to share. I feel this gives my team a chance to connect with each other even though we can’t be in the same room. Through the use of chat and video conferencing, I have formed great relationships with my team, even those I have never even met!

Communication: Working remotely means you have to be a good communicator. Your team needs to know you have a pulse and that you are getting the work done. Make sure your team actively responds to emails, even if it’s just a “Got it.” response. Always let the person know their message was received, understood, and processed. Using chat services like Slack, Skype, or Google Hangouts are also great tools for communicating. It’s so easy to shoot over a quick question to a team member when you can see they are online.

Technology: If you are on the marketing team (or my marketing team),it is not enough to just have access to email marketing, social media, or a marketing automation platform. You need an integrated software solution like a Complete CRM that integrates sales, marketing, and customer service, and allows permission-based access, so everyone has access to the data they need, when they need. Since we are not all sitting around in the same office, this is critical to remote work. Find a system that the entire team can use.

Being too lenient or too much of a micro-manager: This is where having experience comes into play. This one can’t really be taught. You just have to gauge the different personalities, work ethics, etc.. Who requires more follow up? Who can you count on to meet all deadlines? Delegate accordingly.

Discipline and time management: Use a project manager and timer to keep track of progress and time spent working on each task. We use GreenRope’s built-in project management system that comes with a timer. At the end of each day, each team member updates their project with everything they worked on and the time spent doing it. This keeps your team accountable. Also, using a timer helps me manage my time. I know once I’ve reached a specific number of hours worked that it’s time to take a break or pack up for the night.

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?

Call them. Do not do this over email. I personally like to do it over a video chat or screenshare. That way I can show them or coach them on what they did and how they can improve. Work with your team and set them up for success. Also, if you want to give constructive criticism, try and do it between the two of you and not in front of everyone on the team.

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

If I do send feedback over email, I always try and start with something positive. It sets a more positive tone and can change the way they perceive the feedback.

I also like to include something like, “Please let me know how I can do a better job of explaining this.” or something similar. That way I put some of the responsibility on myself, hopefully making them feel more at ease and comfortable with the feedback. Plus, I want them to know that I, too, am open to feedback. It’s a two-way relationship.

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?

Everything I mentioned above: Communication, technology, management style, project management, and comradery. This is especially true for teams that are new to working remotely. They are used to seeing someone face to face in an office environment. Now, they have to maintain productivity, but without immediate feedback or communication.

To make this transition easier, management should create a strategic plan for setting up their employees for success. Invest in technology and train your team on the systems that are set up to make their jobs better. Commit to weekly team meetings and talk to your team about what is working or not working for them during this transition. Everyone has a different style of learning and adapting to change, and you want to make sure you are attuned to what’s going on with your team.

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?

Go beyond the work. Talk with your team. Ask them how they are doing. Commit to spending a few minutes before or after meetings with small talk. Create an inclusive environment. Encourage your team to provide feedback on current processes. Openly discuss what everyone can do to increase productivity, encourage comradery, better utilize the systems you have in place, and more.

I would also say that you should plan a virtual happy hour with your team! Just because you can’t be together in person, doesn’t mean you can’t ‘be together’.

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. 🙂

One compliment, one smile. I strive to give at least one compliment to someone every day, as well as smile at people as much as I can. Now, I am smiling more with my eyes since I am wearing a mask, but people know you are smiling! Giving a compliment to someone can do SO much more than you know. It can completely change someone’s day, not to mention your own. The same goes with smiling. Now, more than ever, we all need to spread the love.

Challenge yourself to give one compliment and smile at one person each day — even if it’s over a Facetime or Zoom meeting. I promise it will change your life.

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

“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.” This is from my favorite book, The Great Gatsby. The lesson here, in my opinion, is to create as many meaningful relationships in your life as you can. Do not wait, for we are not on this earth forever. We must communicate, share, love, and be kind to our fellow man. We are all humans and we all deserve love and friendship.

Thank you for these great insights!

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