Adapt quickly and Trust Your Team — Lean into remote collaboration tools and embrace change. Invest in your employees and invest in your company but finding the right tools that foster collaborative communication that can be sustained post-pandemic.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
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. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Rousset.
As managing director for Americas and VP Global Alliances of LMS365, Christopher Rousset is responsible for all commercial operations in North and Latin America. Additionally, Christopher is responsible for LMS365’s Global Alliances and Partner Program. Christopher brings close to 20 years of professional experience in various domains including information systems management, document management and automation, customer relationship management, project management and technical service and support management. Christopher holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s in econometrics and a master’s in business information management.
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?
I was born in Paris and grew up in Brussels, Belgium. I completed my education at the U.L.B (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and started my career as an economic journalist for various magazines. I continued my career working for Bureau van Dijk (recently purchased by Moody’s).
I moved to the US in 2007 and worked for Boyd Gaming Corporation, a large casino operator based in Las Vegas, where I was responsible for the management, implementation, integration and migration of a wide range of learning, collaboration and productivity technologies such as SharePoint, Exchange, LMS365 on premises, Microsoft Office products, etc.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There was one instance our videoconferencing tool wasn’t working and I was working with a customer who had sent me their preferred videoconferencing tool. What I didn’t know was that their tool automatically turned on your webcam. Let’s just say… I wasn’t dressed appropriately yet.
So always expect the worst and always be prepared.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” is a quote that I’ve lived my life by. You will have objectives in life, but the main thing is to enjoy the journey of getting to them and enjoy the people that you’re working with. Even if you don’t achieve your objectives, you shouldn’t be discouraged. You always learn something during the journey of success or failure.
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’m particularly grateful for my colleague Thomas, who I’ve worked with for years. He was my mentor, for lack of a better word. He really helped me a lot in building up my confidence and my strengths, and he really believed in me. I can confidently say he is the one who has helped me the most in my career.
Work aside, he also helped me quite a bit when it comes to appreciating life. I would say to a certain extent that we’re always chasing the next thing. Thomas helped me see that I can just enjoy the moment and the journey, because tomorrow you never know what will happen.
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 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?
One of the main benefits of being physically together is bonding, along with having team spirit, stronger communication and building culture. When you’re not in the same space, it takes a little bit more organization.
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?
One of the main challenges is collaboration. It’s easy to quickly feel isolated when you aren’t in the same physical space and you don’t have that sensation of working toward the same objective. You also don’t have constant validation, which helps ensure you are working in the right direction. There is a strong, psychological and positive effect of working, and that really comes from being part of society. This is more of a challenge when you are working in a more isolated fashion.
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 ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
If you have a remote team you have to invest in a collaboration platform. It’s not possible to just use traditional phone and email correspondence alone. A robust online digital space is where folks can communicate and collaborate.
The other important thing is to avoid isolation. When organizations do invest in robust collaboration platforms it’s kind of like a digital representation of what a physical space would be. For example, Microsoft Teams and Slack are good tools for each business unit. Within that, you’ve got your different channels, which are like the different rooms that you’d go into and talk to people. It is kind of like a digital representation of what your organization would be in a physical space.
Another key thing to consider when having a remote workforce is conducting regular team check-ins, using different methods. Private chats, informal check-ins and team meetings are great, and needed more regularly when not in the same physical space. During meetings, I think that’s very important to emphasize visuals with pictures, drawings and PowerPoints. I personally think that visual communication is the most effective communication.
- Adapt quickly and Trust Your Team — Lean into remote collaboration tools and embrace change. Invest in your employees and invest in your company but finding the right tools that foster collaborative communication that can be sustained post-pandemic. Businesses also need to invest in trust. Micromanaging doesn’t breed trust, and though tempting, employers need to trust their employees to show results.
- Set communication guidelines — After embracing collaborative remote technologies, it is key to set guidelines on how to use them for meetings, task tracking and communications. For our organization, Microsoft Teams is the lifeblood of our organization and we happened to have already invested in it, since we are a remote team by nature. Everything in our organization happens in teams from meetings to communication to tasks, learning and collaboration. It does make life easier having a one stop shop. At some point, guidelines need to be set because so much productivity can actually create counter-productivity, unless specific guidelines are set around how to communicate– and where– in collaboration platforms.
- Be short & to the point — Collaboration platforms are like social media networks but in a professional environment. Don’t write long paragraphs, get to the point of what you are trying to say because attention spans tend to be pretty short and collaborative platforms tend to move fast.
- Use collaboration platforms for more than work — The idea is to remain connected while working. Although lots of colleagues are connected on social media and can share their ideas that way, it is important to maintain trust when working remotely. This can be built and maintained by creating a space in your digital collaboration for things aside from business, a place where people can bond and socialize.
- Facilitate team building — In addition to the above, organizations should lead team building activities and create a safe space for team members to bond. During team meetings, organizations could facilitate team building activities or games to help keep connection with each other. In our organization, we play games like Kahoot! In our team meeting.
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?
We’ve always been a virtual team, so it hasn’t changed much for us. When the pandemic hit, we were actually ready for it. The main difference is, we can’t see customers, we can’t have team meetings and build personal connections in-person, so that was a little bit difficult. And of course, as a global team, we are juggling different time zones for videoconferences.
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?
With all these digital workspaces and tools, oftentimes people don’t know what to use and why to use it, and they do need a lot of guidance. All of a sudden, when COVID hit, everybody was kind of forced to use these tools to do their business. Embedding learning about how to use these within your collaboration space is extremely important so you can maximize the impact of the collaboration space.
There are many different techniques when it comes to learning. Having an online learning system within your collaboration tool that you can access at any point in time to understand the different functions, features, options, and best practices should be a prerequisite. When we ask our customers what they use Microsoft Teams for, my favorite and most common answer is — “I have no idea, but I use it every day,” and I think that says it all.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
The main thing is that a communication system needs to be intuitive. There can be a big learning curve on how to use it, but it needs to be accessible for everyone and have inclusive capabilities. For me, Microsoft Teams is the perfect communication system.
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?
AR and VR is definitely important right now from a communication and collaboration perspective. Soon we’ll have virtual meetings where we might have our virtual reality glasses on and it’ll give the feeling that we are all together in a virtual physical environment. This will really take more effect when we’re doing demonstrations or presenting at conferences.
I really think virtual reality will be a game changer when it comes to learning because you can emulate a virtual lab where you demonstrate your learnings and showcase your knowledge for hands-on things like surgery, repairing machinery, etc. What’s exciting is that it would be connected to a learning software where you will get feedback in real time, so you know if you are doing it right or wrong.
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?
Onsite sales calls and customer meetings went away and in 2020 — there was no way around it. Having proximity to the customer in those situations really creates bonding and relationships which are key for longevity with customers. The only positive thing in this situation is that everyone was on the same boat so they understood there wasn’t another choice.
The pandemic brought a lot of humanization. For example, if you are in a meeting with the CEO of a company and you see their kids running through the background, it really brings everyone to the same level.
As far as big changes go, it made us more productive. The amount of time we spent traveling to see customers for in-person meetings was replaced with productivity time. Instead we do more regular meetings on a daily basis to get more business done.
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?
When it comes to constructive criticism, the conversation needs to be kept light and you need to be mindful of the way you are writing your messages to others. When you aren’t in person, the tone of the message disappears and you may think something is really funny, but somebody might be offended by it. This can create frustration within the internal team.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
It is crucial to always keep a space in your digital collaboration environment for social activities where you don’t talk about work. The idea is to really get to know each other and learn how the week went for someone else on a personal level, the good and the frustrating. Folks can talk about what they’re doing over the weekend, or if they have vacation plans or what their passion projects are.
There’s a lot of online game that you can play together as a team — we do that quite a bit. I think it creates a lot of camaraderie between the team.
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. 🙂
COVID-19 basically exposed a lot of things that we never would have done. It proved to a lot of organizations that in order to be productive and effective, you don’t have to have a physical office space and you can work remotely in a very, very efficient way.
I’d like to inspire a movement for companies to expand their employee search to look beyond the big cities their HQ’s are in. In this national movement, all companies would seek remote workers in areas that have a low employment rate and are struggling socioeconomically and give all individuals a chance at a higher quality of life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.