When it comes to communication, I also find that teams that are closely bonded together tend to be better and healthier at communication. Host in-person meet-ups or retreats for your team once in a while! Many remote teams are taking this on to host yearly or biannual retreats to allow the team members to bond and get to know each other. You can also consider giving a stipend for your remote team members that are close by to meet up with one another for a co-working session or coffee chat. One team I managed — we hosted a virtual trivia night for Christmas where we all participated live — it was super fun and was great to see everyone outside of a regular work meeting.
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 Deya Aliaga Kuhnle.
Deya is the Founder & CEO at DBM Bootcamp. She has worked as a freelance Digital Business Manager for the past 4 years supporting 6–7 figure entrepreneurs and digital business owners with remote project, team and systems management. She has been featured in Business Insider, FairyGodBoss, and Digital Nomad Girls.
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 definitely climbed the freelancer ranks from the bottom of the ladder — I started as a Content Assistant, became a Content Manager, then a Project Manager and from there, discovered what I truly wanted to do. I found my passion and interest for managing specifically digital projects and remote teams, and I became a Digital Business Manager working exclusively with 6–7 figure entrepreneurs.
As a Digital Business Manager, I manage digital projects (like development of online courses, membership sites, blogs, podcasts) and remote teams filled with amazing contractors, freelancers and employees spanning all continents (except Antarctica!)
There were a lot of benefits to the growth that I had as I got to see firsthand what it was like to work remotely in a team and slowly from there, grow to manage those same remote teams. That allowed me quickly to learn what the biggest gaps in communication and team culture were and work to fill those gaps as a manager of those teams.
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 my Martin Luther King Jr.: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
This has applied to every big step in my career; everything that feels impossible or vague or unclear in the moment just requires you to take that very first, small step. You don’t have to see what the end result looks like — you don’t have to know how to exactly get there. Along the way, the following steps will reveal themselves slowly.
That has helped me start a lot of impossible-feeling projects including starting my own business and landing dream clients as a freelancer.
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 parents were definitely my biggest supporters along my freelance career journey. Not just in their general support for me to veer off the ‘conventional’ path but also in preparing me to be a good communicator in my work. Since middle school, my dad has been giving me books like “Crucial Conversations” and “Effective Executive” to prepare me to one day to hopefully lead teams well. I think that was where I got my interest in how to communicate properly especially in a workplace setting. Good communication and conflict resolution skills are underrated in the workplace — and especially in a remote setting, they are must-have skills to ensure the success of any business and team.
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?
Obviously there is a lot to be said about face-to-face interaction with a team. It is easier to build connection and relationships face-to-face, and that in turn, can be better for communication as you know everyone on a better level.
Working alongside team members can build repertoire, strengthen team culture and be great for morale and motivation to push forward on projects together as you feel others are working alongside you. It can also be better for focus as everyone knows when they are physically together, it is in a work setting and they are here to work.
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?
Along similar lines, it can be easier for miscommunication or lack of communication to occur when you’re not physically present. It makes collaboration trickier, people tend to feel more isolated, and there is a less obvious team culture when you’re not physically present in the same space. People may also communicate less as they’re more focused on their projects and tasks and less aware of the fact that there is a team working on the same project/tasks alongside them.
If you have teams members spread out across the world, another issue could potentially be time zones and asynchronous communication that may be inefficient for driving projects forward.
Verbal and written communication also have different nuances and can be misconstrued in different ways as well; oftentimes, you will have misunderstandings more often in written communication if people are less clear when writing or more “abrasive” than when speaking.
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.)
- There are amazing communication tools that exist for remote teams nowadays to stay in contact regardless of distance and space. If you haven’t already, set up Slack for instant communication and/or Zoom or Google Hangouts to jump on calls easier. I have also hosted coworking sessions for teams before where we hang out on Zoom together, mute ourselves and get work done. It can easily ‘mimic’ an office setting if you’d like company while working from home.
- Set up a clear communication guide and make it clear what style of communication fits for your team culture; which communication tools should people use for which purpose? Should they send emails, should they send a Slack message, should they try to book a call with you? When should they do what? Plus, what kind of communication style is representative of your team culture — do you prioritize transparency and honesty? Do you heavily value empathy and thoughtfulness? Do you prioritize ownership and iterating fast instead of asking for permission at every turn? Establish those expectations so that everyone is clear what is expected for what scenarios. Here, you can also ask how everyone prefers to communicate when they join your team and make those clear to everyone else.
- Establish clear conflict resolution guidelines. What happens when there is a conflict? Who should be involved? How is the conflict resolved? Set up a step-by-step system so that everyone is clear about what should happen if and when a conflict arises.
- There are also wonderful project collaboration tools that exist for remote teams that can help with project-based communication — set up tools like Clickup, Asana, Basecamp or Monday, Airtable to keep your team on the same page and allow for task-specific communication to take place. Ditch the constant emails or Google Docs to keep track of random to-do’s. This is a life changer for all the remote teams that I’ve managed over the years.
- When it comes to communication, I also find that teams that are closely bonded together tend to be better and healthier at communication. Host in-person meet-ups or retreats for your team once in a while! Many remote teams are taking this on to host yearly or biannual retreats to allow the team members to bond and get to know each other. You can also consider giving a stipend for your remote team members that are close by to meet up with one another for a co-working session or coffee chat. One team I managed — we hosted a virtual trivia night for Christmas where we all participated live — it was super fun and was great to see everyone outside of a regular work 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?
Most issues that I’ve seen with remote teams that I manage is the lack of clear expectations when it comes to communicating.
I always recommend a communication guideline be put into place with:
- How often a team should communicate
- How often an individual should communicate with their supervisors
- Which communication channels the team has and how each one is used
- Any communication boundaries we have — e.g. no phone calls on weekends
- Team culture & team values and how that plays into how we communicate
- Conflict resolution and how that is approached in this business
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?
Here are some of my favorites:
- Zoom / Google Hangouts
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
One feature that I think would be quite interesting in a communication tool is the ability to allow for ‘watercooler chats’ virtually — maybe allowing team members to take their breaks virtually together, have their lunch together and just chat about what’s going on in their lives. I think recreating those little moments of personal connection in the busy day-to-day could be really useful for team bonding and communication.
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?
Definitely! I think more so than ever, there needs to be more scalable yet simple and unified communication systems.
As a company grows in size, it can be trickier to manage all communication in one space; I think a big question will come as to how we can streamline this and manage it in a way that doesn’t cause more work or complication than it’s meant to solve.
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?
I know there are already a few businesses and offices that are already doing this — but I find the idea of having a virtual office super interesting. A virtual office where team members can choose to sit and work “together” could be quite useful for simulating an office environment where there is more focus and morale in working together. It gives people the option to have the freedom that comes from working from home and choosing to have that in-person connection if they are missing it.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
I think work-life balance and isolation tend to be my two biggest concerns with the way the work-from-home wave is going alongside the pandemic.
I think as more and more people are working from home, the separation between work and life blurs, and it takes down boundaries that some of us may have. That’s relatively dangerous as you do want your team members to be able to unplug and have a life outside of work.
Alongside that, isolation in a pandemic world is another huge concern — how do we help people come together virtually in a way that feels as similar to being together physically as possible?
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?
All of my interactions with customers and clients have been using digital tools; I have chatbots set up for my customers to use. They also DM me on Instagram or use Voxer to send voice messages which is a great way to combine verbal communication even if you are not both active at the same time. I also take a lot of video calls with clients and teams that I’m managing to be sure we’re getting face-to-face time.
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?
If it is a relatively big piece of constructive criticism, I would recommend hopping on a video call so there is that element of body language and facial expressions that can be brought across.
If a video call is not possible, I would then recommend trying to have a verbal conversation about it via voice messages or calling each other as that tends to come across more heartfelt than written text as well.
If that is not possible or it’s a small piece of criticism, then I recommend taking emotions out of your communication and simply stating the facts clearly. I also always recommend offering to help them in some way so it comes across not as ‘scolding’ but more so ‘let’s work together to fix this — I’m on your side.’ Of course, common courtesy like “Thank you” can go a long way, too!
Example: “Hey XYZ! I wanted to bring up a small issue with you quickly. I noticed that there were quite a few typos (e.g. give clear examples of typos to them) in the blog post that you published yesterday. I wanted to double check that you have Grammarly installed to filter those out. I know some of those typos can be sneaky; in my experience, doing a quick second-round of proofreading out loud may also help catch those. Let me know what we can do to fix those or how I can support you to get those fixed. Thank you!”
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
There are so many remote team-bonding activities for your teams available nowadays! I highly recommend hosting virtual non-work related events as I mentioned above — coffee chats, mixers, holiday parties, competitions — those can all add a bit of fun to the virtual workplace.
You can book an Airbnb virtual experience or a virtual games night. You can also organize coffee chats between team members so everyone can get to know each other in a 1:1 setting. Another option is hosting non-work mixers!
You can also ship out gifts to team members like a team logo t-shirt or water bottle so they are united in some way shape or form.
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. 🙂
I’d love a movement that shifts away from a ‘life revolving around work’ lifestyle but rather ‘work revolving around your life’ would be super interesting. As a manager, I’ve found that motivation to do good work is an intrinsic quality and that normally comes from someone feeling passionate and in love with their work — and possibly having a healthy work-life balance.
It is not good for businesses, for productivity, for general human happiness to force your team to work weekends, work evenings, to sacrifice hobbies/family/friends for their work. Their lives should be fulfilling and work should be a part of that — but it shouldn’t be the whole part.
As a manager, the priority should be to put people in roles that they love and to nurture their growth along the way so they can get to where they ultimately want to be. Plus, allow them to have balance and nourishing elements in their life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
If you’re curious about digital business management, you can find my website here: http://dbmbootcamp.com/
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.