Chris Rowe of Rowe Fenestration: “Don’t Assume”

Don’t Assume. Speak Up.Adjust Your Message for the Medium.Break Up Monotony.Don’t Rush to Fill the Silence.Ask For Feedback. In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools, and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. I had the […]

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Don’t Assume. Speak Up.Adjust Your Message for the Medium.Break Up Monotony.Don’t Rush to Fill the Silence.Ask For Feedback.

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools, and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Rowe, Manufacturers’ Representative and Customer Advocate, at Rowe Fenestration.

Growing up in a household supported by glass and metal, Chris was never able to escape his destiny of becoming a glass geek himself. After a short stint in Korea, he came back stateside in and joined the Rowe Fenestration team as an outside sales arm, customer advocate, and architectural liaison. Now with almost a decade of experience in the metal, glass, and glazing industry, Chris is poised to lead Rowe Fenestration as the next generation of architectural sales professionals.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Happy to be here, thank you. I was teaching English overseas and started to look for work back stateside, and I was ready for a career outside of education. One of the positions I was offered was an internship at an architectural products rep firm, my now current company. I thought Scott Rowe was joking when he said he would pay me in shoes and fancy dress shirts. If you know anything about Scott, you understand this statement!

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

Seeing my first large project finally get installed. I had been working with this architectural firm for over a year to help lock in a design. I naively thought it was going to be easy to watch the product find its way onto the project, but it took another 6–9 months to wrestle with the bidders’ list and general contractor to make sure the architect got what they drew! It was a wake-up call for me to understand the lengths one needs to go to see a project from concept to completion and to follow a design all the way to a sale and successful installation.

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

If it was easy, anyone could do it. It has morphed into a mantra that goes beyond my work life that helps remind me to never give up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am fortunate enough to have had several mentors in my life. My father and a couple of special uncles have been instrumental in various stages of my personal and professional development. I will save the majority of those stories for another time, but it is safe to say I have caused many of the grey hairs on my parents’ heads.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides a great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

The amount of information that can be addressed concisely and clearly, and the emotion that can be conveyed or read from a face-to-face audience is second to none, and a big part of what makes a great salesman. With everyone on zoom and often with cameras off, it is hard to gauge your audience and to see how your message or new material is being received. There is a level of personality or an aura that comes with the physical interactions when minds occupy the same space. With video conferencing, we are missing out on some of that energy.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

In my world of architectural products and design, taking a physical material, like a piece of glass or a metal finish; seeing how the light hits it, or how the grain runs, it’s a lot harder to express the subtleties and elegance through a video call or sending a link to a webpage.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space?

  1. Don’t Assume. Speak Up. If something is — or isn’t — working, let your team know. What can feel like over-communication or just common sense to you, may be the missing piece that someone is looking for!
  2. Adjust Your Message for the Medium. Take a moment to think about what you are trying to convey. The message is going to come across differently in the physical world vs the virtual world, in written form vs spoken. How do you want or need that message to come across?
  3. Break Up Monotony. Be creative, try new things, and engage your audience in ways that are meaningful to them. Monotony can lose attention. But so can fluff.
  4. Don’t Rush to Fill the Silence. Be patient when delivering information. Let it sink in, and allow room for questions, concerns, and discussion.
  5. Ask For Feedback. What do you want to see happening? Ask for pain points, frustrations, or successes. Celebrate the wins and find solutions to the challenges.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Our company is and has always been, remote. As a group, we have remote offices, but communicate regularly and connect in the field as projects and roles cross over on a case-by-case/project-by-project basis. Being flexible in how we communicate (call, text, email, face to face, etc) was key to our business before the pandemic, and set us up for minimal disruption as we navigated new challenges and social norms.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

On-site video chat certainly helps cut directly to the chase when looking at site conditions or reviewing materials. Traditionally there tends to be a lot of back and forth communication from emails and while this is certainly helpful from a documentation standpoint, the stringer can start to get long and convoluted. I think sometimes going right to a video screen to see something firsthand can help cut to the chase. We can send a summary email after the visual exploration and discovery.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

I have a dream of getting a CRM/note/file sharing and storage/messenger system that is available through one provider and is not cost-prohibitive. We use a few different apps, tools, and CRMs that are specialized to our business needs. As a small business, the existing enterprise-level platforms that we have entertained do not offer the ROI at their price point to make them a smart business tool for us at this time.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

I think this is exactly the type of thing I am waiting for. It feels like we are at a turning point of having so many options that we need to focus back in on the necessary items and not all of the possibilities. What works, what doesn’t, and how can we keep things streamlined, simple and effective without getting bogged down in flashy and superfluous offerings that we don’t need.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

Yes, I am really excited about the continued progression of 3D printing and drawings and the tolls that accompany those elements. For example, we have seen the addition of on-site laser scans that build 3D fabrication drawings based on real-world conditions. This takes a lot of the heavy lifting and liability off of the installation team.

I am also really excited to see where tablets/phones and their respective tools to make revisions are heading. The ability to make adjustments to drawings on the fly or take photos of site conditions and draw over the photos for production sizes with a digital pencil is something I would like to see get more adoption.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

With shareholders scrutinizing profit margins and requiring continuous growth, we are seeing humanity leave the industry. The customer is becoming an afterthought to shareholder profit and the workers are getting squeezed out for further automation. This streamlining is great in some aspects but where do these people and their respective jobs go? I think part of that answer is continual training and education as our industry and world shift and evolves.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

Our team definitely had an easier time adjusting to changes in our industry over the last 18 months as communications tools became an integral part of our everyday business. As a fully remote company from the beginning, the adoption of these digital tools was seamless internally and gave us an advantage when it came to assisting and serving our customers, some of whom were newer to these tools.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with 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 team member?

This is certainly an art form that I am trying to perfect. My first instinct is to go and visit the person so we can have a conversation, and that may not always be an option. A visit to me shows that you are putting in the effort to show up and do all you can in an honest and meaningful way. You are taking the time to go there and listen and fix the situation. When you don’t have that option I think the second best thing is to take a minute and lay out a list of conversation points that can be addressed on a phone call. That way you can stay on topic and provide some tangible goals or adjustments for them to look at.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Care about your people and teams. Ask questions that are relevant to a person’s life outside of work, remind each other that we are humans with personal lives outside of our work selves. And believe that everyone is trying their best.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. 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. 🙂

Wow, you left the meatiest one till the very end…I would want to bring back the human element and feelings of prioritizing people over profit. In today’s fast-paced world I fear that we are losing focus on the fact that there is a person behind the screen or the phone. By keeping the humanity in our interactions, I feel that it helps break down communication barriers and helps ease difficult situations or cases of finger-pointing. When we do that, it is much easier to work as a team towards a single solution.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow Chris on LinkedIn and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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