Interview With David Liu
Be Deliberate About Creating Opportunities to Connect. My team has been working on a lot of big projects recently and has been a little stressed. Just the other week in our administrative meeting, we introduced sharing positive attributes. We had each person on the call write down a one-word positive attribute about each other. It felt good to receive praise but also put me in a great mood by sharing positive praise with my team. Things like this really help to get your team hyped up and feeling good about themselves and each other.
Find ways to make your team feel connected and confident in not just themselves, but in their teammates.
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 interviewingEmily LaRusch.
Emily is the Founder and CEO Back Office Betties, a virtual receptionist company service small law firms. Her super power lies in the ability to slay problems to streamline and optimize business processes. Before starting the company, she was a trained life coach and hypnotherapist. She credits coaching skills for helping to build a dream team of people smarter than she is manage and serve clients from all over the United States.
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? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It was 2016 and I’d worked around the clock for two years but here sat the company was on life support. I was contemplating pulling the plug on my hopes, dreams, and pride when a very successful friend, Ben Ellis, asked if I’d heard of the Entrepreneur’s Organization. I had tried so many things that didn’t work and was scared to death to join an organization that I wasn’t sure would add any value. I made the biggest gamble of my career and emptied the bank account to join the EO Accelerator program. Within my first 30 days, I received enough mentoring to make an overnight turn around and never looked back. The organization has taken me on adventures, learning quests, and created friendships with people all over the world. EO is one of the highlights of my life and it all started with a casual question from Ben.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Darren Hardy said “Your background and circumstances may have influenced who you are, but you are responsible for who you become.” I spent much of my life blaming circumstance and people for my inability to achieve any happiness or success in life. I spent all of my 30’s unlearning these negative patterns of thought and accepting radical accountability for where I am and where I’m headed and it’s freed me to live a life that I used to only dream of.
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?
Keith Mitnick was one of my EO Accelerator coaches. I showed up one day having done the bare minimum because I was behind and stressed. Keith was bold enough to call me out on it and point out that I was not respecting his time and ultimately, I’m losing out on valuable coaching by not being prepared. It’s so rare in life to have people around you who will hold you accountable to being the best version of yourself. Keith spent a full year coaching, holding me accountable and shaping me into the leader I am today.
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?
High fives, side-by-side training, team collaboration sessions, birthday parties in the break room! Even the best Zoom party can’t rival the energy two or more people working (or partying) in-person.
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?
There’s no doubt that connection is key to relationships and the success of a team depends on it. I interviewed someone recently who has worked remotely for years for his company. When the pandemic hit, everyone went remote and the performance of the team plummeted. He was interviewing with me because the company called remote work a failure and decided to bring all employees back in-person. Some people need in-person social interaction to thrive and they will not adapt well to at-home work, however, this doesn’t mean remote work can’t produce great results.
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.)
- Mandatory Facetime
Too often you find yourself on a call where you’re looking at your phone, you’re checking your texts, you’re looking at email… You’re not fully engaged. This is why we require facetime. When I’m looking at you eye to eye, I’m going to give you my full attention.
Before we required facetime for meetings, it was obvious that the team wasn’t always present. Eye naturally wander and where your eyes wander your focus follows. Stagnant screen shares don’t do the trick either. Being on video and having your team seeing each other helps them feel connected, like they’re occupying the same space. This really keeps the focus on each other, and it’s easier to reinforce that good behavior.
2. Keep a Pulse on Mental Wellness
It’s so important to be aware of where your team is at mentally. It’s true that being apart can sometimes cause feelings of isolation, but the biggest effect is not being able to see your teammates and recognize if they’re having a bad day, or if they’re feeling super excited about new projects or goals.
Use a tool like OfficeVibe or TeamEthos to send quick survey’s to your team daily to drive connection and collaboration. These survey focuses on happiness, health, mindfulness, and any team concerns. One of my favorite features is being able to give a team-wide shoutout to another team member.
In the past, when I noticed that mental wellness was taking a dip, we implemented a wellness day where we gave team members long lunches or time off to go get a massage… immediately we saw moral increase.
3. Party! … Online of Course
Our team is located in four different states, so pre-pandemic we held regional get togethers. In 2020, we had to make a change. How do we make up for it? Virtual parties! I’ve done a lot of fun parties online. One of my favorites was playing Loteria. A local restaurant sent us taco and margarita kits and Loteria cards, which we played together. Another fun one was playing trivia where we all had to dress as our favorite TV character. The whole team had a blast with that one.
Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean you can’t party together and have team building events.
4. Have a Hypeman
It’s so important to keep your team engaged and interactive throughout the day. Everyone has that one person in the office who’s always bouncing around in a good mood lifting everyone’s spirits. And if you don’t, you need to! It’s the same for virtual offices.
A lot of my team is really sweet, kind of introverted and quiet, but we have an amazing hype-woman. If we need to get people excited about working on a common goal, we know Kate is the woman for the job. She is going to stay engaged in the team chat, make us laugh, and post progress updates while cheering us on.
5. Be Deliberate About Creating Opportunities to Connect
My team has been working on a lot of big projects recently and has been a little stressed. Just the other week in our administrative meeting, we introduced sharing positive attributes. We had each person on the call write down a one-word positive attribute about each other. It felt good to receive praise but also put me in a great mood by sharing positive praise with my team. Things like this really help to get your team hyped up and feeling good about themselves and each other.
Find ways to make your team feel connected and confident in not just themselves, but in their teammates.
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?
The biggest issue I’ve had is trying to force my team to take time off when we’re really busy. I had one employee tell me he was clocking out so he didn’t log overtime but not to worry because his work would be done off the clock and gave me a winky face. I was like “You can’t work off the clock. It’s a) not legal and b) not cool with me to have someone working unpaid. GO TAKE YOUR WEEKEND AND ENJOY IT!” He smiled and said “I hear you boss”, and then gave me another wink. I had to go back and say “No wink wink! I mean it. Please do not ever work unpaid even if it’s to check email on Saturday for five minutes.” Being able to work from home can make it hard to set good boundaries. I make it clear to my team that I want them to enjoy their time off and want them refreshed and energized on Monday mornings.
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?
Chat software like Slack and Zoho Cliq have replaced the water cooler for our team. We have one chitter chatter channel open where we can talk about the latest episode of 90 Day Fiance and what we are did over the weekend. This helps to create connection and interaction between teammates who may never meet in-person.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I would design an intranet dashboard that our team can view current intraday metrics, their performance numbers and any news alerts from the company.
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?
Early on in the business each of my team members had no less than eight tools to log into daily to communicate and conduct basic work. Even with tools like 1Password, it was driving me insane. I switch to Zoho which brought our email, CRM, bookkeeping, invoicing, support desk, team chat, intranet, password vault, online conferencing and campaign manager all under one single sign on. This decision has been a blessing and brought sanity to our application madness.
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?
Tech tools are great, but I believe it is in our nature to need human to human interaction. I think that the tools can be used to supplement and support teams, but some level of in-person connection is important for our well-being.
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?
I took a different approach and began printing and mailing our monthly newsletter last year. As more businesses doubled down on electronic communications, I wanted to offer our clients and subscribers an a more tangible experience. As soon as we began popping the newsletters into the mail, we received feedback from readers at how much they enjoyed receiving them each month. When we were sending these electronically, we didn’t receive the same reactions.
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?
I have learned the best way to give feedback is via face-to-face communication. This way expression and tonality can be taken into account. If video isn’t available, the next best thing is a phone conversation. The
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. 🙂
The Darren Hardy philosophy behind the quote “Your background and circumstances may have influenced who you are, but you are responsible for who you become.” has changed my life. I believe so strongly that mindset influences our reality that I’ve begun including trainings for my team to help teach them assertiveness and accountability to empower them to design their lives and careers with intention. If I could influence other leaders it would be to encourage them to incorporate trainings like the How to Say Anything to Anyone with Shari Harley into their organizations.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
LinkedIn Personal: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-larusch
LI Business: https://www.linkedin.com/company/backofficebetties
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.