Chris Wacker of Laserfiche: “Shifting to remote has been a good experience for us and the last nine months have taught us a lot”

Shifting to remote has been a good experience for us and the last nine months have taught us a lot. We have always known that employees have different preferences, but we now know that our employees can be extremely effective in a remote work situation. In a sense, our employees are working longer hours since […]

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Shifting to remote has been a good experience for us and the last nine months have taught us a lot. We have always known that employees have different preferences, but we now know that our employees can be extremely effective in a remote work situation. In a sense, our employees are working longer hours since their commutes have been cut from the picture, but we’ve also found them to be more productive. As a software development company, we have different types of people working for us — some work well in isolation, while our younger staffers might be sharing a living space and find that they’re more productive working in an office setting versus at home. We understand that people have different working styles, so we ensure that our team members feel supported in order for them to get their work done in an efficient manner.


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

Chris Wacker is a technology entrepreneur and CEO of Laserfiche, an elite provider of enterprise software for automating business processes and enabling digital transformation.

As CEO, Wacker sets Laserfiche’s strategic vision and drives business growth. With 30 years of industry experience, Wacker has a unique perspective on connecting inspiration and information, technology’s capabilities and the human touch. He is committed to leading a customer-centric organization — ensuring that every single user has an exceptional, distinctive experience. His dedication to a customer-focused approach to business is inspired by the Laserfiche community and its passion for efficiency and transformation.

Wacker graduated from Hofstra University in 1976, and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for Hofstra University DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In 2019, he received the Hofstra Alumni Achievement Award for distinguishing himself in the technology industry as well as for rendering exemplary service to the institution. Wacker is also actively involved in his local community as a member of the board of directors for the Long Beach Economic Partnership and the Long Beach Rotary Club. He is a former member of the board of directors for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach.

Wacker has worked and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He has a stepson, Peter Wayman, and currently lives in Long Beach, California, with his wife, Sumera, and son, Liam.


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”?

Before working at Laserfiche, I worked as a researcher for the U.S. State Department and then as an analyst in municipal government development. I was passionate about computer technology, which was a new field at the time.

Over three decades ago, my late wife, Nien-Ling Wacker founded Laserfiche built on the idea that technology could help the world work smarter. During this time, Laserfiche was focused on enabling offices to create paperless workplaces — something that many businesses still have yet to accomplish. This provided me the opportunity to lean into a passion of mine, so I joined the company to help manage sales and marketing while Nien-Ling held the role of CEO and oversaw product development. Over the years, the company has grown to have users in over 80 countries and we have evolved the product tremendously, which now offers business process automation and data analytics that enable enterprise-wide digital transformation.

I assumed the role of CEO when Nien-Ling passed away in late 2014 after a long battle with cancer. I’m proud to continue her legacy and build on her vision of inspiring people to reimagine how technology can transform lives.

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

In my 20s, I worked at Ralph & Parsons in Saudi Arabia on a large construction project to build an industrial city on the Red Sea. This project was an effort by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s government to spread wealth throughout the region. We built the city from scratch to support a population of 50,000 by 2020 and it has actually exceeded that goal. We wanted to create a space that supported every type of life that would also be self-sustaining.

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?

In the early days of Laserfiche, we configured hardware to be compatible with our software. This was back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when not every monitor was capable of showing high-resolution images (and the ones that could had to be set up manually). At some point in these first couple of years, I was in a sales meeting and attempted to connect a high-resolution monitor to a PC for a software demonstration. Suddenly, the monitor started smoking and nearly caught on fire. Needless to say, we didn’t win that deal, but I learned a valuable lesson in testing everything in advance from that point forward.

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

This pandemic is a unique situation and I realize it’s been stressful for employees for a variety of different reasons. I’d encourage other business leaders to ensure their staff is taking time off when they need it in an effort to avoid burnout. Allowing employees to focus on their families, friends and personal passions can make a world of difference. No matter the company, employees miss being in the office and interacting with others socially, so encouraging them to have virtual social gatherings to stay connected is another one of the ways they can ease some of their anxieties.

It’s also important for companies to have a robust internal communication strategy in place. Productivity is helped tremendously when remote workforces have access to communication channels so that they’re able to get connected to the people, information and systems they need to do their jobs. The biggest thing for me though is to consistently check in with employees to ask them how we as a company can do better, or what they need to do their jobs better, while working remotely. These might seem like small things, but it’s key for business leaders to keep their minds and hearts open to ideas that will help their staff be both efficient and productive.

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?

While I’ve been overseeing Laserfiche for the last three decades, this is the first time that we’ve had a fully remote staff. As you can imagine, we quickly had to pivot (almost overnight) to having our entire team working from home while simultaneously ensuring we had the ability to make this transition as smooth as possible. A few things that helped us do this successfully was determining ahead of time that we had sufficient bandwidth to handle all employees logging into VPN (virtual private network) and identifying which tasks might require VPN access in advance. Additionally, making a list of the day-to-day activities that would normally require human interaction to ensure we were able to troubleshoot processes before any issues came up.

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?

Shifting to remote has been a good experience for us and the last nine months have taught us a lot. We have always known that employees have different preferences, but we now know that our employees can be extremely effective in a remote work situation. In a sense, our employees are working longer hours since their commutes have been cut from the picture, but we’ve also found them to be more productive. As a software development company, we have different types of people working for us — some work well in isolation, while our younger staffers might be sharing a living space and find that they’re more productive working in an office setting versus at home. We understand that people have different working styles, so we ensure that our team members feel supported in order for them to get their work done in an efficient manner.

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

It’s important during this time of isolation to get out on the weekends (in a safe manner), to go to interesting places, take a car ride — anything to really just give yourself a welcome break from the isolation. It’s good to experience new things and look at things from a different lens for a short period. It can be really inspiring and give you a very welcome break from isolation and focus on work.

One disadvantage I’ve found from working remotely is that everyone has access to your schedule, so some days you’re in back to back meetings and there is almost no time for a break (or to actually get work done) during the day. While it might be more productive, it’s exhausting. There needs to be a balance in the workflow to ensure employees don’t burn out.

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?

It’s important to still structure feedback similarly to how you would in person. You should actively try to provide constructive criticism and encourage people, while being conscious about harsh comments that may not be received as intended. Start these conversations with what the employee is doing well and only then then cite areas for improvement or development.

I don’t really see a difference in delivering feedback face to face versus virtually. At the end of the day, you’re right in front of somebody you know and you’re able to pick up body language or mannerisms which can help you determine the best way to continue to approach a conversation that might be a little tough to have.

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?

While we’ve been working remotely for the last nine months, it’s still key for us to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and supported during this time. This is unlikely to change in the near future.

One obstacle that people may encounter when working remotely is culture — if there are gaps or problems with your company or team culture, they are likely to be highlighted or exacerbated in a remote situation. At Laserfiche, we have built a strong culture of trust and accountability that has certainly helped us avoid those challenges. Our employees don’t require someone checking in on them regularly to ensure their work is being completed.

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?

We’ve been fortunate to be able to allow employees to work from home, but we also recognize that it’s more important than ever to stay connected during this time. Beyond leveraging videoconferencing tools for meetings and virtual happy hours, we’ve also hosted companywide events online.

Our annual summer party was held virtually this year, allowing us to create “breakout rooms” for employees to engage in friendly competitions and bring everyone back together in a main chat throughout the afternoon. We also hosted a virtual party to celebrate a milestone in the construction of our new headquarters in Long Beach, which is slated to open in 2021.This was done through YouTube Live, and to add a level of employee engagement, we sent employees electronic gift cards for ice cream.

Each year, Laserfiche hosts a health fair, aimed at encouraging healthy lifestyles and providing educational resources, complete with various booths and giveaways. This year, we held a virtual health fair and hosted a healthy cooking class, emotional well-being workshop, games, raffles and more.

On the topic of wellness, Laserfiche offers yoga to employees three times per week, and we’ve been able to continue this with our yoga teacher who has moved her sessions online using Zoom. And since we know that parenting during a pandemic is extremely challenging, we created a bi-monthly virtual happy hour geared specifically for the parents at Laserfiche.

We’re known for our culture, so it’s pivotal for us more than ever to continue to create a healthy and empowering work culture even if it’s done virtually.

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’m currently involved with Universal Basic Internet, which is part of the Long Beach Digital Divide. The group aims to bridge the gaps in internet access, devices and resources to ensure all Long Beach residents have access to a broadband connection. The pandemic certainly heightened the awareness of the disparities people in our communities face, so it’s essential that the private and public sector work together in an effort to try to bridge these gaps to ensure everyone has internet access. Several sectors have been affected by the pandemic, especially those in low income communities, so accelerating the close of the digital divide ensures people have equal opportunities.

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

My favorite “life lesson quote” is one that has been instilled in me since I began working at Laserfiche over 30 years ago: “Money is a byproduct of a job well done.” Monetary success should never be the sole goal of any job. Laserfiche was founded on the principle of providing solutions to help solve our users’ problems. By focusing on our customers, we are able to provide them with the proper tools, while simultaneously achieving financial successes.

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