Encourage your team to lean on each other. Unless you are the only one who can answer a particular question, encourage your employees to take questions to their colleagues or leads. They’ll get in the habit of relying more on each other than on you, which is a good thing. It builds camaraderie and respect (and also frees up your time.) I’d say 50% of the time when I’m asked a direct question I tell my employees to check in with someone else. If you adopt this make sure to name someone specific rather than just saying “go ask someone else”, which sounds like you don’t care.
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 Diony McPherson.
Originally trained as a curator and historian, Diony pivoted careers during her time working at Google Arts and Culture, when she saw how tech can be used to engage audiences. She is now the Co-founder and COO of Paperform, a no-code form creation tool she launched with her husband in late 2016. The initial idea was for Paperform to be a side gig; a way to bring in some extra cash to support their lifestyle. Fast forward four years, and the bootstrapped business started at their kitchen table is a full-scale SaaS platform approaching 2 million dollars ARR.
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, my backstory begins like all great backstories: scooping poop out of a kitty-litter tray. That was my first paid gig as an entrepreneurial five-year-old, and I haven’t stopped working since. Despite the less than glamorous nature of the job, I’ll never forget the feeling of empowerment and opportunity that came with being paid for my services. It was a real “aha moment” for me. Sure, there was the tangible reward of money that I could spend on whatever I saw fit, but it was more than that — it was an acknowledgement that my actions could have value. It was instrumental in building my work ethic and taught me to take pride in whatever I’m tasked with.
I grew up in a small Aussie coastal town called Coffs Harbour and moved to Sydney to attend university. I started out studying psychology, then moved to ancient history with the intention of becoming an academic. I followed that path for a while, but as much as I love history and classical languages, academia wasn’t for me. Though I wouldn’t change a thing about the years I spent studying and publishing as a historian, and later working as a curator. Those research and critical thinking skills I honed during that time have been invaluable in my work as a SaaS founder and without it, I would never have been offered the position at Google that led to my career in tech.
I worked at Google for well over a year, mainly helping cultural organisations across Australia and New Zealand share their stories and collections with the world online. It was during this time that Dean, who is a self-taught web developer, started working on what would become Paperform every day before work. The idea was planted because he had friends regularly asking him to build forms for event registrations despite being tech-savvy enough to use the existing solutions. He figured that maybe other folks might be looking for a better solution too. Boom. Paperform was born.
I’ll never forget the moment Dean asked whether I wanted to turn this “thing”, whatever it was, into a business. At first, I hesitated to say yes. I knew it was going to be something. Something failing isn’t ideal, but I could deal with failure. It was the idea of something taking off that was truly frightening. But how could I say no? My role at Google had set me up for running Paperform in many ways, particularly in understanding the dynamics between the user, product, devs, and end-audiences. Despite my fears, I was all in.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
If I have to pick just one, it’s a story that illustrates just how small the world can be — and a cautionary tale to business owners to do your due diligence.
As you can imagine Dean and I didn’t just pick our business name out of a hat. We spent a lot of time researching and choosing it. We even met with a close friend, who is an excellent IP lawyer, to make sure we went through all the right processes. On his advice, we made sure the company structure was set up correctly, and that we fully understood the principles and requirements of business names and trademarks.
So based on his advice we created a shortlist of names. We then cross-checked our shortlist against domains and trademark registrations across all the major markets to confirm everything was above board. There are a bunch of great databases to give you a hand, but it’s still a bunch of work. Finally, we settled on “Paperform” and checked it wasn’t being used by another business operating within our goods and services and that there wasn’t a registered trademark for our goods and services. As far as we could tell we were in the clear. Or so we thought.
A few months prior to our launch in December of 2016 we registered the business and applied for a trademark in the USA and Australia. So far so good. Until May the following year, when my MacBook pinged with an email that made my eyes pop — it was a cease and desist. Now I would probably just shrug and take another sip of tea, but in the early days of being a business owner, my skin wasn’t quite as thick. I felt like the ceiling was caving in.
It turned out that the cease and desist had been issued by an Australian artist. They had been operating for ten years (in an entirely different space) and though they had failed to register a trademark, were claiming rights on Paperform. After some consideration and investigation, we realised this business had no right to prevent us from using the name, and that there was no reason we couldn’t coexist using the same name in our respective industries. It’s like one Brad Pitt being an actor and another Brad Pitt being an exotic bird salesman. Who cares?
Unfortunately, the business owner didn’t have a grasp of how trademarks work and was hellbent on strongarming us into relinquishing the name. We tried to make the other “Paperform” see reason, but it was of no use. What followed was a two-year battle to finalise the registration of our trademark. Thankfully, because we’d rigorously crossed our i’s and dotted our t’s, we won, but we still had to go through years of exhausting legal and procedural motions.
This was without doubt one of the most stressful, prolonged periods of my adversity in my life (not to mention that while all this was going on I fell pregnant and welcomed our first child, Sterling.) It was tough. But the whole saga taught me a few invaluable lessons about resilience, the importance of due diligence, and the sobering reality that some folks are just plain unreasonable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Choose to be kind every day”. It came from an academic supervisor just before I got married. Like most good advice it’s simple and profound, and I’ve been able to apply it to every relationship I have. It reminds me that how we interact with others is a choice. We can feel a thousand different emotions, and while they are all important, they don’t have to control our behaviour.
Kindness is not an emotion; it’s not something we act on when we feel it. It’s a quality. A verb. Something we choose to possess and act on. It’s not about being a pushover. It’s about being considerate, friendly, and generous. It’s one of our core values at Paperform, alongside candour, creativity, a product-focused mindset, and the ability to argue well.
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 grateful to the team at Zapier, especially Ze G. Proença, who is their Partner Operations Manager. When we first launched, their team tried out the product and reached out about an integration partnership. While I have no doubt it fit in well with their strategy, they approached us with buckets of respect despite how fresh we were. From day one they made it clear that they believed in us and backed us with a partnership that led to a number of highly beneficial PR opportunities. There was never a sense that we were the “little guy” with the Zapier team. We have them to thank for much of our early growth, and they’re now a shining example in my mind of the value of a generous spirit. I hope we have an opportunity to pay it forward someday soon.
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?
The biggest is literally getting to see how people work. In a traditional, non-remote work environment you spend most of your waking hours with these people. For better or worse, you see who they are as people and what their attitude and work ethic are like — it’s a lot harder to hide poor attitude and laziness in a physical workspace than it is in a remote one. It’s also easier to see when someone is struggling and offer help before things get out of hand.
Bringing the team together physically also accelerates the depth and quality of relationships. There’s only so much bonding you can do over Slack and Google Hangouts. That just doesn’t compare to a solid week or weekend away together, which can accelerate the relational development of your team immensely. What might take you a year in a remote environment, or months in an office can be achieved in only a few days with a dedicated retreat.
People forget that it’s the incidental stuff that strengthens bonds between people — having a laugh, sharing a decent meal, taking the opportunity to talk about your personal life. As a general rule, these things don’t need to be manufactured in a physical environment, plus it’s much easier to gauge the meaning and context of what someone is saying when you’re in the same physical space. Around 90% of our expression comes from body language, so you’ve got to think we’re missing out on something with remote workspaces.
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?
I have to say, they are very much counterparts to my last response. It’s harder to assess and monitor someone’s work ethic and to gain insight into what they’re going through professionally and on a personal level. That’s why, as a remote-first team, we prioritise attitude and discipline over proven skills when we’re hiring.
You also have to put in more effort to establish a team dynamic and shape the culture you want. You don’t get that built-in interaction that an office gives you, so you’ve got to go out of your way to truly know your employees. Once you’ve done that you can start to understand how you can bring them together and foster comradery.
Video chats are great, but in any remote team, the majority of comms are written. It’s a bit of a dichotomy. In one way it makes communication simple, but it also makes it tough in the sense that it’s easy for messages to be misunderstood. You’ve got to be careful with not just what you say, but how you say it. As silly as it sounds, this is where resources like GIFs and Emojis come in handy — they help express context and intent. I used to think they were a bit juvenile before running Paperform, but I’ve learned that they are a fantastic substitute for conveying meaning.
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.)
1 . Remote work is a culture. If you plan on installing a few remote-friendly apps, booking in more video chats with your staff and calling it a day, think again. Remote work isn’t about the apps you use: it’s about culture. You need to nail your team’s remote-first culture before you think about anything else. This is easier for new business than it is for established workplaces (the latter need to reinvent the wheel to a degree), but it’s worth it. I’m proud that we run a well-oiled remote machine, but to be honest we got where we are without actively thinking of ourselves as having a “remote work culture”.
Paperform was first intended to be a lifestyle business. We wanted it to be a source of revenue and job contentment that allowed us to put our family and community first. For the first two years we were privileged to live a life where we found fulfilment in our work without it consuming us entirely. Work became about getting tasks done and seeing results rather than punching in and out. We no longer wanted to be paid for our time, but rather for the value of our efforts. That’s immensely motivating and satisfying.
When we realised that Paperform was growing beyond our modest intentions, we decided to actively grow the company and start hiring. But we didn’t want to leave those ideals behind. We wanted to not only retain the lifestyle component of our work for ourselves, but also extend that privilege to anyone who worked with us. To this day, our two measures of success are hard metrics and whether our employees feel valued as people, not just resources. The latter is impossible to quantify, but by no means immeasurable.
Communicating with your team successfully in a remote setting starts with culture. Set a tone of discipline and trust, one that focuses on the achievements of your employees rather than hours worked. Actively and loudly recognise that remote work needs to fit into someone’s personal existence. Each person’s family and community are infinitely more important than a job, and a remote environment has the potential to facilitate that in a way that allows people to produce their best work.
2. Remote work is personal. This concept is counterintuitive to traditional workplaces. We’re taught that being professional means separating our private lives from our job. That makes sense in a physical workplace, as you have a distinct office environment and dozens of small interactions and events that fill in the picture of who someone is. You don’t get that luxury in a remote space.
You need to actively draw people out of their shell and invite them to share some of their personal life with the team. This gets easier as time goes on because once the culture is established, your team will naturally lean into this. We’re social animals. We want to belong. So encourage your employees to share parts of their lives and affirm their contribution in a way that makes them feel recognised — like the team.
This takes finesse. Don’t put employees on the spot and ask them about the most personal aspects of their lives. You don’t want a rundown of their dating lives or their childhood fears. Clearly, that’s not appropriate. Just start by gently asking non-intrusive facts about them, or by responding to opinions they might post in a way that invites them to show more of their personality.
We schedule team games once a month to help this process. Playing games is a great way to get to know someone. Of course, we get to have a laugh (which is important), but it also enables us to discover insightful things about each other, like who is competitive, who has the best motor skills, and who is good at trivia.
On a day to day basis, we ask everyone on the team to post a daily standup outlining their work for the day and what’s going on in their neck of the woods. These often kickstart personal conversations. We also have a #random channel on Slack where we share non-work related stuff we find interesting, funny, or just plain weird. We also play pranks on each other when the opportunity arises — laughter is a powerful way to forge connections.
3. You must over-express yourself. When you operate in a space that is largely void of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, you have to compensate for what you lose. Most of us don’t realise just how expressive we are in person, so you have to overdo it when it comes to communicating online. It can feel odd at first but eventually becomes like a second language.
As a team, we over-express by using Emoji and GIFs prolifically. We don’t settle either. If that GIF from ‘The Office’ isn’t right, we’ll upload another one we’ve sourced online. Over time we have essentially built our own Paperform lexicon, which is very much part of our culture now.
On a personal level, I make a point of psyching myself up for team meetings. I try to bring a lot of energy and give everyone a bright, warm greeting. I really started concentrating on this after watching myself back in a recording and being floored by how deflated I looked. I assumed I was lively and engaging in meetings, but that wasn’t what was coming across. It was like I had been dragged there by force! It was a real eye-opener.
Part of this is par for the course. Most people attending an online meeting stare blankly at the screen. It’s normal to have that response, though no less disheartening when you’re the one talking. I’ve found that by jumping on video calls with a burst of enthusiasm, you can change the vibe instantly and maintain a better level of excitement and engagement. It doesn’t work for every call — there’s only so much excitement you can add to a legal brief — but for team syncs or planning meetings it’s a game-changer. When you do this you can literally see people’s expressions lift.
4. Encourage as much public discussion as possible. In an office, you can just turn to a colleague and ask them a question. When you do that, people nearby might hear what you’re chatting about and chime in. This kind of seemingly small interaction has a profound impact on social dynamic and company workflow.
The difference with remote work is that you can fall into the habit of direct messaging. When you do this no one else on the team has the benefit of “hearing” what you’re saying. There’s no opportunity to chime in, no chance to get a different perspective. Not only do you miss out on potentially invaluable input and insights from the broader team, but things can also slip through the cracks. It can be easy to forget things like whether someone has been informed of a new task, or brought up to speed on a new project.
That’s why Dean and I encourage our employees to use our exposed Slack channels for 99.9% of work conversations. If someone pings us privately with a question that isn’t sensitive, we ask them to repost it in the appropriate team channel. The beauty of this is that the team learns to rely more on each other for most things. That’s a huge win — autonomy and ownership in a remote work environment are critical. Now we rarely have to do this because we’ve built the habit of asking questions and sharing updates among the entire team.
5. You need to change your hiring strategy to suit a remote work environment. Before you start to think about how your existing team can better communicate outside of the office, update your hiring processes and selection criteria to uncover whether candidates have what it takes to excel in a remote work environment. It’s simply not for everyone.
When hiring we prioritise attitude: qualities like humility, candour, and kindness have become most desirable to us. We pair these traits with skills and potential. Discipline, negotiation, and autonomy form the basis of most roles we hire for. When hiring for a remote team, you need to remember that whomever you hire must be trustworthy. You can’t physically see these people working on a daily basis. They have to demonstrate in the interview process that they hold themselves to a high standard and can self manage.
If you find someone who has all of the experience and desired skills for a role, but they are entitled and are surrounded by drama, don’t hire them. Even if you have no other options at the time. They’ll cost you in the long run. It’s far better to keep looking for someone who desperately wants to work for you specifically, and who prides themselves on a job well done.
We ask questions like, “What’s the worst situation you’ve ever encountered with a colleague at work?”. It often doesn’t matter what the situation they describe is; what we’re looking for is the way in which they answer the question. Are they taking accountability? Do they recognise what they could have done better? Do they show empathy? Did they seek to resolve the situation amicably? Or did they just blame everyone else and take it as an opportunity to whine about old colleagues? The question you use may be different, but you need to figure out which questions will get to the heart of someone’s attitude and work ethic.
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 been remote-first since day one, so the pandemic had little impact on our team operations. I would say that the biggest challenge we’ve faced is managing time zone differences, particularly when making decisions about who to exclude from certain meetings. When you have a remote team you have a wonderful opportunity to work with people from across the globe — the downside is it becomes infinitely harder to book times that suit everyone.
We book meetings to suit the majority of the team. We have employees everywhere from Australia to Barbados, so it’s inevitable that some team members won’t be able to make it. That’s okay. When this happens we record the meeting and share it with everyone so they can watch it in their own (work) time. It’s not ideal, but it works well enough. As a remote team grows, apps like Time and Date AS are worth their weight in gold for juggling multiple time zones.
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?
I’ve already mentioned Slack — it really forms the foundation of team communication at Paperform. As your readers are probably aware, Slack is a chat tool designed for teams. Think of it as a virtual office. You can create as many “channels” as you like to reflect teams, projects, and spaces for conversation. For example, we have a “General” channel where we discuss general goings-on at Paperform, and a range of other ones across marketing, product and support. You can limit these to your team, or you can invite external parties (contractors, vendors, partners etc.) to specific channels to loop them into conversations. It makes for a more conversational tone and prevents massive email threads discussing a single topic.
G Suite is also crucial to our operations. Gmail connects well with other apps in the suite, such as Google Calendar, and Drive. Using their gamut of tools we’re able to communicate with people both internally and externally, and book video calls with ease. Google Drive is excellent for collaboration on docs. We’ve created a digital filing system for our meatier company docs, and the ability to bring multiple contributors to one doc simultaneously still feels like magic.
Notion is another platform we use every day. It’s a no-code notetaking and document creation tool that is extremely powerful. Docs become their own pages that are easily shareable and collaborative, as well as customisable for just about any need. We use it mainly as a “wiki” or a base for our everyday operations. For example, we have a space for Customer Success that holds everything related to that team — policies and procedures, etiquette guides, rosters, tracking sheets, tables, agendas. They are all created and beautifully housed in Notion in a visually digestible way. It really is an excellent place to build a knowledge base for your team.
Some of the team use Asana, though admittedly, it’s not something we use as often as the Google Suite and Notion. Asana is a project management software, and is great for planning and assigning tasks with deadlines. It especially comes in handy when managing large projects across the team and breaking things down into granular tasks.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
We actually do create internal tools where needed, so it’s hard to respond to this as a hypothetical. It’s easy for us to do because we have an in-house dev team, and if you can manage it it’s absolutely worthwhile.
Our internal tools are always born of necessity. When our team becomes roadblocked (usually due to waiting on someone else to action something they are capable of doing) we create a tool to empower them to achieve the outcome themselves. For example, our Product team used to get a lot of requests from the Customer Success team asking them to upgrade or downgrade accounts. We found this to be an unnecessary extra step, so we built a tool to allow them to make those changes themselves. Our team thrives on this dynamic.
If I had to create something that was a pure luxury? It would probably be a virtual video office. It would be nice to have a “space” where you could hop on and just work alongside other people from your team. An environment where you don’t have to be engaging, but also don’t feel so alone. I’m sure something like this probably exists now given the way COVID has introduced people to remote work.
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?
Undoubtedly. We’ve always seen the value in unified communications and the way that using multiple comms tools facilitates flows across the team, streamlines work, and brings us closer together. Quite frankly, the pandemic didn’t change much for us in that way. Though looking at a broader level, the pandemic has required businesses from just about every industry to move their operations to the digital medium and rethink the way they communicate not only within their team but with their customers too.
At Paperform our primary customer base is B2B and solopreneurs. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen a notable increase in their need to integrate their forms with a range of apps. Having a form is just the first step. They need to send captured data — mostly customer-related — to apps that will retain these records and automate entire flows, whether that’s sending a text to confirm an appointment or booking a follow-up video call. What we’ve recognised during the pandemic is that the need to build a personal rapport with customers has only intensified, which is where tech comes in to play.
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 find the simple innovations to be the most exciting — stuff that has the potential to bring the ordinary and mundane to digital life. As I mentioned, it’s hard to express emotion and excitement over video calls, yet they remain vital for remote teams. So, I’m always on the lookout for any tech that I can use to better engage and inspire my team, especially when I’m introducing new projects or goals. At the moment I’m excited about products like Mmhmm that let you apply custom effects, backgrounds and animations to video chats, especially in light of presentations.
I can’t see any real direct benefit coming from VR and AR for our business, but I can see how this type of tech might appeal to other industries like design and medicine.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
There sure is. As a form creator that allows for a high level of customisation, it’s no surprise that we combat abuse of the platform on occasion. Scammers are always searching for a way to access sensitive information from the public, and more often than not this involves some kind of impersonation. We’re hyper-aware of the lengths people will go to exploit tech for malicious purposes.
As the quality of VR and AR becomes more realistic, we become increasingly vulnerable to imposters. What measures will be in place to verify that someone is who they present as? We won’t fully know the risks — and solutions — until they are a reality.
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?
Many of our tools and resources have stayed the same because we’re already in the tech creation space. We’ve just focused on doubling down on our existing support to customers. Part of that was revamping our help centre to be more human, especially in terms of search results. We’re always thinking about the different ways that someone can frame a single question, then teaching our software to return the relevant result.
As more businesses go digital we noticed that users have high anxiety about their ability to salvage their business and move it online quickly. So we implemented a number of things to assist that transition: inviting users to book in video calls where we would normally only provide text chat support, creating a COVID resources hub with commonly used forms and workflows, and even introducing a financial relief program for the many businesses whose income dried up as a result of the pandemic.
We’re mindful of this ongoing anxiety in our interactions with all our customers. We’re extra patient and supportive of their needs as this continues to be an immensely tough time for everyone.
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?
Earlier I mentioned the need to over-emote when speaking to someone by message or video call, but that has to be tempered with what’s appropriate for the specific situation.
Constructive criticism should ideally be delivered by video call, especially when it’s addressing a significant issue. While you miss some of the nuances of an in-person interaction, you still have an opportunity to connect with the employee on a personal level. If that’s not possible, I’d take time to construct a carefully written response and make sure I had a trusted colleague check to ensure the message and tone is right.
If it’s a minor issue or the employee’s work just needs tweaking, you can DM them. Keep it short and clear. It’s not helpful to waffle on and usually creates extra anxiety and confusion. At Paperform we give feedback on each other’s work often — we invite it. I think our team would take more offence in not receiving any feedback than from a healthy bit of constructive feedback.
As much as you need to watch your delivery, how your employees respond to feedback depends on the culture that you have created. If your employees feel appreciated, valued, and productive, if they know you and the purity of your intentions, they’ll have no trouble receiving constructive feedback. It’s up to you to create and foster that culture.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
We’re intentional about developing our team dynamic because we’re aware it can’t form as naturally as it would in a physical space. By default I find forced relational situations to be corny and often cringe-worthy, so we spent a lot of time coming up with ways to build team cohesion that didn’t feel forced. Dean and I are proud of how tight our team is, and think we’ve found ways to foster camaraderie in intentional, yet authentic, ways. Here’s what works for us:
- Hire with remote work in mind. This means valuing attitude and personality as much as skill. If we find someone who is excellent at what they do but is clearly abrasive and unfriendly, we simply won’t hire them. Even if there are slim pickings, hiring someone who is unkind, entitled, obnoxious, or doesn’t value menial work would be detrimental to our team. Those qualities are only magnified in a remote environment and we stay away from them at all costs. Those who value kindness lift the bar in your company and are better at getting to the heart of issues without ruffling feathers.
- Set up short meet and greets as part of your onboarding process. As part of the onboarding process, we organise for the new hire to have a quick chat with each team member. It’s a great way for everyone to forge a personal connection quickly and put a face to the name that appears in our online chats. We provide a list of ice-breaker questions to help the conversation along, but most of the time find that folks are more than happy to shoot the breeze. Small companies like ours might arrange one-on-one meetings with employees like we do, but large companies might want to restrict these to the direct team the new employee is working with.
- Play team games frequently. We do this monthly and I can’t recommend it highly enough. We play everything from online multiplayer video games to trivia — there’s no better way to have a laugh and draw out people’s personalities.
- Encourage your team to lean on each other. Unless you are the only one who can answer a particular question, encourage your employees to take questions to their colleagues or leads. They’ll get in the habit of relying more on each other than on you, which is a good thing. It builds camaraderie and respect (and also frees up your time.) I’d say 50% of the time when I’m asked a direct question I tell my employees to check in with someone else. If you adopt this make sure to name someone specific rather than just saying “go ask someone else”, which sounds like you don’t care.
- Set the tone as a leader. Your team will take their social queues largely from you. Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time, and be intentional about exposing your personality. This will set an example that the rest of your team will follow. Dean and I both love to use dry humour (it’s a given as we’re Aussie) on a daily basis. I also enjoy playing pranks on the team when I’ve got the time. When done tastefully humour and little pranks can make work feel more like a family — just make sure you don’t push the boundaries too far.
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. 🙂
It would be championing a simple mantra. Maybe a hashtag: #smartiskind. We operate in a space that glorifies bravado and ego-centricism in its leaders. The startup and tech scene is dominated by stories about “unicorn” businesses generating millions in funding and glamorous founders who post selfies of themselves working on a yacht living the #startuplife.
The world needs more stories about sustainable and truly successful businesses; successful not just because they are growing well and creating quality products, but due to the fact that anyone who works for them is treated with respect and given leeway to prioritise what is most important in life — family, or whatever community supports them.
Good leadership is about serving your team well and openly valuing kindness. There’s a misconception about what kindness is. It’s not “being nice”. It’s about assuming the best in someone until you’re proven otherwise, so that even if they’re being unreasonable, they are held to a standard they can’t avoid. It’s difficult for someone to be defensive or on the attack when you approach them with consideration and gentleness. Above all, kindness means being clear and honest about issues and raising them in a thoughtful way. It’s not about passivity at all.
If I could effect one change, it would be to have leaders in my space champion kindness and to acknowledge that true intelligence goes hand in hand with being considerate and generous — and isn’t defined by how much stock you own.
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Catch me on Twitter at @DionyMcPherson, or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dionysia-mcpherson-673894a0/
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.