Don’t Shy Away from Video Calls: There’s something about seeing someone’s facial expressions that makes communication easier. If there is an important decision to be made between team members, they can book a 30-minute call with one another to discuss it “face-to-face.” On top of this, there should be weekly video calls where all team members can share their progress and learn from each other. It’s also a good time to interact and form a rapport with the rest of the team.
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 interviewingDeepak Shukla.
Deepak Shukla is the Founder and CEO of Pearl Lemon, an award-winning SEO and digital marketing agency in London. His remote agency employs people from all over the world and caters to a global clientele.
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?
Well, I’m British Indian, I’m a Leo, and my nickname is Dee. Rapping is one of my hobbies, I’ve actually recorded hundreds of songs and started a recording studio when I was younger. I’m a marathon runner, and I love getting tattoos (I have about 53 now). I’d say I’m very adventurous since I spent my gap year backpacking across the world trying to ‘find myself.’
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I quit my job at Deloitte where I worked as a tax consultant to become a rapper and music producer. About 150 rap songs later, I had two recording studios and a movement known as Deep Impakt Recordings. However, I had to let that phase go because I wanted to create a new startup. This led to my first funded startup, Meet My Tutor, an online marketplace connecting students to tutors. I had about 75,000 pounds to start this business, which eventually led to another startup, The CV Guy in 2014. In the midst of all this, I was starting and stopping, constantly. But that changed after I founded Pearl Lemon in 2016 and I’ve been growing this company ever since.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In 20 years, you’ll regret more what you haven’t done than what you’ve done.” This quote is from Mark Twain, and I got it tattooed on my arm, actually! It meant a lot to me when I was travelling around the world in my early 20’s when I was trying to find myself. The quote really grounded me and gave me perspective on seizing the opportunity to travel.
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?
My dad is a great role model because of his hard work in support of my mother. He worked 10-hour days 5–6 days per week trying to support my family. He worked so hard that we didn’t have to worry about money, he really took care of us in this way. He worked really hard till his retirement at 65. He taught me to work hard and to provide for my family without complaining.
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?
Having a team work together in-person provides unique opportunities for relationship building. There are also far fewer communication barriers because face-to-face interactions can be quite efficient when done well. Of course, office events and celebrations that bring us together as a team are a great morale booster. When a team is physically together, it is easier to develop moral boosting strategies than it is virtually.
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 challenges managers and leaders face is forming healthy work relationships with the team. This is different from being able to sit down for a coffee with a new recruit, or a struggling intern. There’s a danger of seeming impersonal with long, stern emails and missing that human connection with others. It’s challenging to develop and maintain healthy work relationships with a remote team, it requires constant innovative strategies and intentionality.
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.)
- Take Advantage of WhatsApp: For project-based teams, set up WhatsApp groups where they can easily and quickly share information with each other. This is better than having a long email thread that takes too long to read. When communicating through WhatsApp, use voice notes to avoid the task of typing out long messages. Try to use WhatsApp Web for your WhatsApp Business account that is separate from your personal WhatsApp account. This is crucial, you don’t want to mix business and pleasure!
- Don’t Shy Away from Video Calls: There’s something about seeing someone’s facial expressions that makes communication easier. If there is an important decision to be made between team members, they can book a 30-minute call with one another to discuss it “face-to-face.” On top of this, there should be weekly video calls where all team members can share their progress and learn from each other. It’s also a good time to interact and form a rapport with the rest of the team.
- Use Apps Like Loom Instead of Sending Long Emails: If I am dissatisfied with an email copywriting campaign, instead of writing a long email about it, I share my screen and use my webcam as I explain how to improve. I use this on a regular basis with my team. It’s common to hear us say, “I’ll send you a Loom,” or “Check out this Loom in case you’re confused.” This means we spend less time typing emails, and more time showing instead of telling. This has been incredibly helpful especially when we’re training new recruits who are trying to navigate new tools we use at the company.
- Use voice notes instead of video calls: When people try to set up a meeting, we like to make sure that they ask their questions through voice note first. This often leads to them getting their questions answered without actually having to schedule a video call. It makes our communication much faster and efficient because we avoid developing Zoom fatigue.
- Practice good communication strategies: This means that even through text messages, phone calls, emails and video calls, we can practice good communication strategies. This relates to the impact vs. intent conversation where we try to phrase our words carefully to give people a good impression. We think carefully about our words and how we say things in order to retain a healthy atmosphere.
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?
During the pandemic, there were some issues that arose that were unpredictable and couldn’t be helped. For example, our employees in India, had a hard time with communication at some point because the pandemic really hampered their communication. We also have parents who have to keep their toddlers at home while they work because daycares and K-12 schools were shut down by the government.
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?
Whereby is a good video-conference tool that we can personalize for our company needs. Alternatively, Zoom works well for video meetings too. Video call platforms are really useful in making us feel like we are better connected because we can all see each other in real-time. Loom is fantastic for sharing important information with the screen-sharing and webcam feature. WhatsApp groups also help us communicate with each other in real-time and it’s quite helpful when we need immediate responses.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
A communication feature like Loom that enables people to simultaneously have the same experience they’d have on a video chat tool like Whereby all available on email would be cool.
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?
The pandemic has created an environment where using unified communications technology is essential. With new social distancing measures and work-from-home restrictions, the pandemic has increased our need for UC technologies. This is true especially for remote teams and virtual learning.
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?
Not particularly, no.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Not particularly, no.
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?
Pearl Lemon is a remote SEO agency. The pandemic didn’t dramatically affect the way we interact and engage with our clients. We’ve always communicated with them digitally, and the same goes for internal communications. Our team is fully remote based in different time zones around the world. By the time the pandemic hit, we’d already established a work environment that was completely remote. All our interactions are through messaging apps, phone and video calls.
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?
My remote team understands that sometimes I have to give harsh criticism in order for them to perform better. We have discussions about this on a regular basis and I encourage everyone to give honest feedback to each other as well. This is important because, without honest feedback, there cannot be true growth and learning. Giving constructive criticism is all about phrasing, tonality, and context. Even in a remote setting, these three elements can impact the way someone perceives your feedback.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
This takes time to build. But having regular weekly team meetings helps us build rapport with each other. Even in these meetings, we do activities and ice breakers to get to know each other better. Our meetings are light-hearted and encourage team cohesion.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Your readers can subscribe to my weekly newsletter on deepakshukla.com where I publish regular content about business, productivity, and entrepreneurship.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.