It’s also vital to create transparent communication channels between different departments. During remote work, teams can work independently. Unfortunately, it will not allow a company to work as a whole. So, if you create weekly meetings, teams will be able to stay in touch, share information and work effectively.
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 Dasha Kroshkina, CEO & Founder of StudyFree.
The 27-year-old Dasha Kroshkina is a solo entrepreneur. Earlier, she won scholarships and grants that allowed her to study in Spain, China and the U.S. (Stanford University), without any costs. After completing her studies, she created StudyFree platform to help students from around the world to make their dreams of studying abroad come true, no matter what their financial situation. With its help, international students have already received scholarships and grants worth over 4M dollars to study in the leading universities across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.
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 a town where opportunities regarding ambitions were minimized. The desire to leave my comfort zone and explore the world drove me to attend one of the top universities in Russia. Then, I continued my educational journey by winning over 100k dollars worth of scholarships and grants to study abroad in Spain, China, and the USA (Stanford University). At 24 I created StudyFree, which is now helping over 50,000 students worldwide to receive over 4m dollars worth of scholarships and grants. In 2017 I became a McKinsey Next Generation Women Leaders award winner and I started the company in 2018. As the company grew, I was awarded the Seedstars Global Competition award in 2020, and became its first female winner. I was also selected to participate in two highly renowned accelerators: Berkeley’s SkyDeck and TechStars New York.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think it can be a story of how I managed to move to the US during the pandemic. We were selected to participate in two of the top business accelerators — Berkeley SkyDeck and Techstars NYC. However, the pandemic started ruining my plans. Countries closed their borders (including the US), flights were cancelled. However, my gut feeling told me that there could be a chance to go to the US. Monitoring the airport websites 24/7, I came across a flight to New York. I didn’t lose a minute and caught the flight to the US to participate in business accelerators and continue to develop my business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “The distance between dreams and reality is called discipline”. These words motivate and inspire me to achieve the boldest dreams with perseverance and determination. Since my earliest years, I was growing up being the smartest one, yet, the clumsiest one as well. Whether I trained in judo, swimming, or skiing, I was the slowest one to show the progress at the beginning. Nevertheless, I always kept plugging away towards my goals till I climbed to the top.
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 lucky to be surrounded by the most talented mentors and advisors who have helped me tremendously and have supported me both morally and professionally. However, the first person who saw my potential right away was my English teacher. She opened a world of opportunities to this small girl — a girl who couldn’t even imagine that she would be where I am now. She helped me advance my language skills, and she also showed me that the dream of studying in different countries was possible.
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?
I reckon that the main benefit is the opportunity to stand up and approach the person. Thus, you can receive feedback, ask a question and solve the issue faster than waiting for a reply through email or messenger. I especially miss this while working in different time zones. Sometimes you need a response right now, however, you should wait until the person wakes up in another part of the world. Personally, I wake up every day at 5 am PT to be in touch with my team most of their midday and evening. Of course, in 3 years of constantly working on such a schedule we have already adapted to communicating in different time zones and find a lot of benefits. Nevertheless, having a team physically together can be a little bit easier in some cases.
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?
When a team works remotely, the main challenge is to support the emotional connection. When you work in a team, there are two main aspects: motivation that can be boosted through goal achievement and socialization. During the remote work conditions, there will be less social contact, as a result, less emotional connection.
What’s more, it can be hard to deliver your thoughts and ideas as your team member can misinterpret them. When you can’t see the person’s reaction, sometimes it’s hard to understand whether they catch the main idea.
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.)
- Regular syncs are the first significant aspect during remote work. If you have a platform where you can regularly share the relevant information, it will help to track the work processes, results, and achievements. So, you’ll be sure that you don’t miss anything.
- It’s also vital to create transparent communication channels between different departments. During remote work, teams can work independently. Unfortunately, it will not allow a company to work as a whole. So, if you create weekly meetings, teams will be able to stay in touch, share information and work effectively.
- What I highly recommend to every team that works remotely is to make follow-ups. It will help to highlight the main tasks and make sure that your team members clearly understood the key objectives of the meeting.
- Informal communication is also the key to building a friendly working environment. Thus, it would be great if you can wish Happy Birthday to every team member, share news, organize engaging events that will make the work process a rewarding experience for everyone. For instance, we held “cross-cultural communication sessions” where we learned and discussed how to effectively organize communication with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
- I will not hesitate to mention the work in different time zones. When your team operates in several time zones, it’s significant to structure work processes, so your employees will be able to plan their day in accordance with the time zones of other team members.
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?
Of course, we encountered some challenges. For instance, lack of transparent communication resulted in the out of sync during project implementation. Although the departments could start working on the same thing, there was a lack of clear understanding how the other teams were involved in the task. Furthermore, some tasks could be misinterpreted which could lead to different outcomes. As a result, we made an informed decision to do regular syncs, make follow-ups after every call, and implement platforms and task managers for clear communication.
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?
Zoom, Miro, Google Documents, Task Managers — are my favorite tools to keep in touch with the team, receive updates, plan strategically as well as track everyone’s activities.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I think it would be the perfect mix of Slack, e-mail, and task manager. So, you will be able to make treads, structure messages, and create tasks. The sync with Calendar will be also a great way to understand when a person is available or when you can receive an answer, and so on.
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?
Since day one we’re working remotely from different parts of the world. That’s why we always saw the need for Unified Communications where you can have a chat, video conferences, and other useful communication channels in one place. I believe that for companies who only shifted to remote working conditions, Unified Communications will be the key to boost productivity and efficiently interact with each other.
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?
In our communication with the team, we don’t use VR and AR. However, we’re always aiming for faster, more efficient communication with the team. So if something engaging for our team occurs, we will definitely implement these technologies to improve the communication.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
I think a chance to implement VR and AR to create a sense of being physically in one place is the most exciting part of the future for me. When you’re working remotely, it can be a key to create a virtual working space where you can meet your colleagues in the halls, discuss the latest updates or just have quick chat in the halls of your virtual office.
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?
Online communication for us is the natural way to interact and build a business. That’s why we don’t encounter challenges or have an adaptation period during the pandemic. As for our clients, the implementation of messengers, chat-bots were also not connected with the pandemic. All our communication channels were focused on the customers’ needs and preferences. Every company should give their customers a choice of what type of communication channel to use. That’s why since the first days we included a lot of communication channels, from messengers, chat-both, online conferences to make the work process with a client a comfortable experience for our customer.
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?
To be honest, I don’t think that remote working conditions can become an obstacle to freely communicate with your employees and give constructive feedback. Every team leader should possess a high level of emotional intelligence. In this case, you will understand what employees feel. You can have a deep conversation only when you have a burning desire to listen and respect your team. What’s more, when you want to achieve success, you should not criticize people but, vice versa, create the most comfortable conditions where your employees will be able to realize their potential. Thus, in these conditions, you can notice some weaknesses that you can improve together and help your team members to grow.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
The only thing that will contribute to the creation of a sense of camaraderie is the vision that the team leader is delivering. When your team members understand where your company is going and what values you transfer, employers will support your mission. You should also create conditions where team members will be able to freely communicate and provide feedback. So you will know what team prefers, what challenges they face, or what you should change as a team leader to make work comfortable. What’s more, you should launch activities where employees will be able to communicate in an informal environment. For instance, we hold speaking clubs and cross-cultural communication sessions that allow learning more about foreign cultures and gain respect for their traditions, holidays. Respect is also important to create cohesion because when you work in a different time zone, it’s essential to adapt to the working style and not to make team members leave their comfort zone to stay on the calls late at night.
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. 🙂
As a person who overcame a lot of challenges while building the company, I’ll create the movement called “Let’s keep it real”. It will be a movement where people can freely share their feelings and emotions. They can tell how they struggle, what challenges they face, and how they overcome them. I’m sure it would be very helpful to every person who’s afraid of revealing their emotions. I think it will create less social pressure and people will be happy to know that they have someone to share their ups and downs with.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I really love to share my business journey with all ups and downs through social media. So you can find me on:
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.