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Damien Lavis of Epro: “Professional development ”

Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal. Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest […]

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Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

When it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.


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

Damien has worked across technology, media, military, and health tech companies, bringing to each his expertise in Quality Assurance and testing, his excellent team management ability, and his dry sardonic sense of humour. He is the Quality Assurance and Test Manager at Epro, a healthtech company helping the NHS in the UK to focus on patients, not paperwork.


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”?

After studying Computer Science at the University of Swansea, I have worked for a number of tech companies, both big and small. From managing the digital rights of video games to military security, the companies I have worked for have given me a varied career to date and now I’m the Head of Test and Quality Assurance at Epro.

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

Years ago when I was a child, my mother was a Greenham Common protestor. She used to take me in a pram to rallies, decked out with stickers and badges with slogans such as, “I want to grow up not blow up!”

Fast forward a few decades, and I was working for Babcock International, and I had to cross the picket line of some of the original protestors. For all I knew, I had met them before but as a child.

It made me reevaluate my job and choose to move into something that had a more tangible positive outcome for the people around. It’s why I have moved into healthcare, and giving back to the NHS through my work here at Epro.

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?

I was always warned never to run ‘rm -rf’, or remove recursive force, on a Linux machine. While it’s a useful tool when used correctly, it can result in unrecoverable system damage — and of course, one day, I managed it.

I was reconfiguring a vital system server. I ran the command thinking I was wiping a directory from the disk, but due to a typo I was wiping all files from the disk. I thought “no problem, I’ll restore the backup”. Turns out there were no backups. The irony here was that I was working on a data backup product at the time.

I then had to spend a stressful weekend rebuilding it from scratch. Although it was not something I would ever wish upon someone, it has certainly taught me to always check your backups! I’ve learnt a valuable lesson!

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

Listen to them when they come to you with problems. You hired people you felt were smart enough to do the job. That means if they feel whatever issue is important enough to bring to you, then you should probably listen to what they have to say. It doesn’t matter whether it be a technical concern or something more structural like the feasibility of hitting deadlines.

Your people are your best asset, and you ignore them at your peril.

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 spent three years as the scrum master of three teams split across America, United Kingdom and India — and that means three different time zones, which was a real challenge. It was impossible to have a meeting that everyone could attend, and that meant a lot of non-synchronous work. I ended up acting as a go between where I could, encourage constant digital communication even if we couldn’t all get on a call.

This allowed us to follow the sun, where the Indian part of the team would update the British team with their updates at the end of their day, then the Brit’s would update the Americans, and finally the Americans would update the Indian team.

Since then, I have spent the last half a year managing a new remote team due to COVID-19 restrictions here in the UK. That’s been a different kind of challenge as we have had to adapt our ‘office’ practices to what makes the most sense now we’re in different locations.

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?

  • Communication — absolutely vital for trust, remote teams can suffer from information inequality because you miss informal conversations. The challenge is that you can’t pop to someone’s desk or overhear a conversation that you can input into, and so you miss those types of conversations.
  • Tracking progress — understanding task priority and progress can be difficult in remote teams, even in agile ones, as you are depending on your team to be visible with their workloads.
  • Professional development — how can you direct training and personal growth without being in the office? Training new hires becomes very difficult, as there’s only so much that screen share can do.
  • Loneliness — although not a uniquely COVID experience, we’ve certainly prioritized team cohesion, introducing regular check-ins and making time to talk rather than just formal meetings.
  • Scheduling — communication across time zones is a real challenge, especially as you are not able to see over someone’s shoulder. Getting times in the calendar when everyone is available is a difficult one, especially for handovers during absences.

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

During COVID especially, but for all long-term remote teams, you have to build this stuff in. You can’t just assume it will happen organically.

For communication, I recommend tools like slack or mattermost, as well as regular one-to-ones. Make sure you are including all people in calls and email chains, so no one feels left out. Of course, you need to ensure your employees are doing the same and communicating with one another!

That’s why documentation is so critical: all procedures and required knowledge should be written down in one location in a consistent way, so anyone can pick it up.

For tracking progress, take a look at tools like rally or jira. But it’s so much more than a digital solution; you need to ensure everyone in your team is keeping a sensible work life balance. Overwork is bad, not just for them, but for the company too.

Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

Lastly, when it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.

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?

If you can’t meet face to face, then video is best. It is important to have put in the groundwork of having a good relationship with the employee in advance, because no one likes to feel victimized.

The framing of the call is important. Try to avoid stark lighting or darkness, and your background and attire should be warm or neutral. If video isn’t possible, then make sure it is clear with no distractions, so that it’s clear you are giving your focus to the employee.

Ensure the tone of language is positive: this is a chance for us to improve. Try to schedule the talk in advance so they are aware of what is to be discussed, so that they can be prepared. Ensure you make your point clearly and make sure that any negative outcomes are explained, and also recognize any positives in the situation.

People value honesty. Give honest advice and actively listen to their feedback. They may have suggestions for improvements that you had not considered. Be clear in expectations and summarize them at the end of the call.

And of course, make time for small talk! It can help set the mood and show your interest in the employee and learn more about their motivations, which in turn allows you to tailor their objects to align to both your and their desired outcomes.

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

This is very easy to get wrong. You want to ensure the message is clear and to the point. Do not attempt to joke or add anything which could be misconstrued — make your tone and language positive and give concrete examples of the problem. That will help you to guide the individual on how they could do better.

This is a chance for them to grow, and by framing it that way, the individual is much more likely to take on board what you’re saying. If needed, follow up with a video call later to discuss further.

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?

You can use instant messaging (IM), but don’t rely on it. A call can be much quicker at getting to the point, especially if you’re using screen sharing wherever possible. Ensure you still talk to your co-worker via IM or calls, both about work, and the other things you would do at the office. Don’t assume everyone has heard about something, communicate it widely.

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?

Meeting in person is a great thing to do, even if it’s only occasionally, but that isn’t so easy with COVID restrictions — especially if they vary in different regions. Prioritize your internal regular communication, and live out the values you’re setting for your team so they can see you are holding yourself to the same standard.

I would always encourage leaders to be open and transparent with both issues and opportunities. When you trust people to do their best, and give them the tools to do so, you usually get great results.

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. 🙂

Education is vital. it should be free for those that need it, and allow all applicants to have the same chances. I think all countries should follow Norway’s example of no private schools, which has raised the standard of all schools in the country, and remove university fees.

At the same time, I want to remove any stigma that might prevent people from getting opportunities. I think we should anonymize an applicant’s cultural and educational backgrounds, and instead focus on their achievements and potential — and not their wealth or privilege.

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

“Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.”

Success is built on going from failure to failure without losing your motivation. You learn how to do things through trial and error, and once you work out how to do it, you can be successful.

Thank you for these great insights!

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