Make time to know people beyond work. It is imperative to schedule calls to NOT discuss work. Know families, challenges, health, and anything that builds a deeper connection with your team. Knowing people and their personal challenges will make work less robotic and more collaborative. Our Executive team spends time each week talking to the team members to ensure we know the pulse of the organization. By doing this, the group understands when we can push hard, or pull back if the team is feeling overwhelmed. I learned early on that the team usually wants to help and if you push too hard you can break groups easily. Early on at FieldView they came to me one day and said, ‘Fred, please stop emailing us at 4 in the morning, you are killing us.’ At this moment I realized my insane work habits are not normal and I cannot, nor should I, try to inflict this on anyone, except me.
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 Fred Dirla, Jr.
Fred Dirla, Jr. is CEO of award-winning innovative technology company, Radix IoT, providers of Mango OS, market-leading unified IoT platform for limitless monitoring and management rooted in intelligence–a browser-based software/hardware platform that empowers users to access, collect, decipher, and store limitless data variety and volume, from multiple sources and portfolio sizes. Radix IoT was selected in 2021 by CRN as among the 10 Coolest Industrial IoT Companies. As a recognized industry thought leader in mission-critical and commercial facility management, automation, engineering, and software development, Dirla has over 35 years’ experience in various industry leadership roles for Fortune 500 companies.
Through both acquisition and organic development Dirla has centralized the Radix IoT mission around the concept of simplifying what has traditionally been a complex and confusing world of infrastructure monitoring for data centers, telecommunications, industrial automation and building intelligence.
He manages over 50 globally distributed, culturally diverse team members as part of Radix IoT’s centralized mission to empower global tech companies with actionable data insights for best business decisions, maximizing profits while maintaining market competitiveness. This requires working across various time zones, cultural traditions, and personalities–while ensuring that no one feels left out, less valued, or not as appreciated as all the executive team members.
Having established and successfully scaled data management and software businesses, Dirla was previously founder and CEO of FieldView Solutions, the leading Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) provider. Under Dirla’s leadership, FieldView Solutions was recognized with numerous industry awards including: “Cool Vendor” at Gartner IT Summit, Clean Technology Company of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT), Enviro/Energy Company of the Year Award by New Jersey Technology Council, AlwaysOn GoingGreen Global 200, selected as 10 Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work by New York Enterprise Report and NJBiz Business of the Year Award. In recognition of his leadership style fostering a creative and collaborative workplace culture, Dirla was awarded with SmartCEO 2012 Philadelphia VOLT: Leader in Technology Finalist, Corporate Culture Award by SmartCEO, New York, and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, New Jersey Region.
Dirla was responsible for FieldView Solutions’ overall strategy, operations, and financial management before it was acquired by Nlyte Software where he served as COO. Previously, he was the COO of Energy Options, Service Manager at Johnson Controls, and General Manager of the Utilities privatization Division of Enron.
Dirla’s “Family First” philosophy is a hallmark of his corporate leadership success and commitment. A long-time employee once said, “Fred walks it, doesn’t just talk it. Family first is not just lip service.”
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’m a native of New Jersey, and my career started with way too many things to list, so we will start 30 years ago when I became a national standards manager at Johnson Controls. I moved to Enron as the General Manager of Utility privatization group focused on
government privatization of military bases. Following that, I went on to Energy Options as COO before founding FieldView Solutions, a venture-backed private software company which became an industry-leading provider of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software helping data center managers, IT and Facilities personnel run their IT environments at peak efficiency — ensuring they maximize uptime, optimize power and cooling, and enhance green initiatives. Our clients included six of the top ten banks, five of the 10 largest technology and cloud providers, and 15 of the biggest co-location players in the United States, Europe, and Asia/Pacific. FieldView Solutions was the first company to receive financing through New Jersey’s Edison Innovation Green Growth Fund (EIGGF)–a 1 million dollars growth capital loan from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA).
In 2020, I joined BitBox USA as CEO to manage the overall strategy and operations and global expansion working closely with the founder to develop and execute strategic initiatives which led to acquisitions that helped us found Radix IoT–which combines the market’s leading solution for edge monitoring, Mango IoT Platform, with the award-winning BitBox USA IoT Platform for distributed facilities’ operational intelligence. We offer unprecedented efficiency of data-driven business decisions for critical facilities, edge data centers, utilities, carrier edge/telecom infrastructure, industrial facilities, and property management.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This is an interesting question since I have so many years under my belt and have seen several extremely interesting situations. However, the one that comes to mind was I had a team member get deathly ill in a hotel while traveling for business and trying to get help for him when the hotel was not aware he was ill, was a strange and very scary event.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Jimmy Valvano is one of, if not my most admired, motivational speaker. Stealing one of his: “Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Things” has been a pillar for me as it represents the most important piece to building a team–and that is the people aspect. This quote feeds into a business principle of People–Process–Tools, and if you can imagine, this is a triangle the People are at the base and make the foundation stable. So, in my career I look for ordinary people to help do extraordinary things!
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?
Can I share a story? I am Italian from Jersey City I could probably share thousands! The thing is many people have helped shape my career beyond the skills God has given me. Those that have helped the most were the ones that saw beyond my rough veneer and invested in me and gave me a chance. Paying this back to others is why I believe so deeply in investing in people and helping them to achieve their full potential.
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?
As we all have endured a very rough 18 months of being forced to be remote, the emphasis on having physical connection is heightened. So, I will attempt to temper this and speak in terms of the need not the utter want we all have to be in physical contact again. Trying to replace spontaneous collaboration is impossible without being physically together so remote misses this very important aspect of team building. Being in the same location allows the team to “know” each other in a deeper sense than being remote. There are roles that being face-to-face is less impactful, still impactful but less so, but there are roles that you need to be face-to-face, especially when it comes to strategy, software development or when a large group needs to group-think a problem. Remote takes exponentially longer, and you never get the room chemistry. In short, there is no replacement for face-to-face meetings under certain conditions. Now, do I agree it is an all or nothing? No. I think it is a hybrid as most have overcome so many of the challenges that remotely disparate groups face. Electronic Whiteboards where teams can collaborate live for example, has been a game changer. In the end knowing people and teams in a deeper level only occurs when face-to-face. This deeper relationship allows leaders to impact culture faster and deeper, whereas being remote falls way short and does strain culture.
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?
Managing a team of over 50 individuals who are globally distributed, and culturally diverse to make sure that we meet our centralized mission to empower global tech companies with actionable data insights for best business decisions, maximize their profits while maintaining our customers’ market competitiveness requires working across various time zones, cultural traditions, and personalities. And this means that I must make sure no one feels left out, less valued, or not appreciated by the executive team members. It’s not all about work. The Pandemic has put a light on how important it is for the team to feel part of the company, and as leaders you need to find the levers and ways to encourage this “family” mentality. We are all here to do our jobs, but it does not have to feel like a burden.
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.)
- Make time to know people beyond work. It is imperative to schedule calls to NOT discuss work. Know families, challenges, health, and anything that builds a deeper connection with your team. Knowing people and their personal challenges will make work less robotic and more collaborative. Our Executive team spends time each week talking to the team members to ensure we know the pulse of the organization. By doing this, the group understands when we can push hard, or pull back if the team is feeling overwhelmed. I learned early on that the team usually wants to help and if you push too hard you can break groups easily. Early on at FieldView they came to me one day and said, ‘Fred, please stop emailing us at 4 in the morning, you are killing us.’ At this moment I realized my insane work habits are not normal and I cannot, nor should I, try to inflict this on anyone, except me.
- Try to have a focus for the meetings and minimize long meetings. In long meetings people get lost in words, so keeping messaging to short bursts is important.
- Task-based objectives that can be measured are important and keep the groups focused on tasks that align with the firm’s mission.
- Acknowledging birthdays and special achievements of the whole team is a critical part of the “family” culture and makes everyone feel appreciated.
- Integrating employees in Corporate Social Responsibility mission by asking their input in causes and organizations that are critical to their social support is another way to involve and get employees more invested in the overall corporate goals.
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?
Interesting question but does not truly apply to our firm as our team has been a BYD (Bring your own device) firm since inception so the team uses their own devices–99.9% of the time. In addition, most of the “calls” are done through Teams, Slack or Zoom so very rarely are we doing cell calls. We try to do video so we can see each other and attempt to see body language.
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?
Video calls for sure and having team / group meetings where you are doing something fun. We have used a firm that we do a Jeopardy style mid-day break and that seems to have worked really well. We are doing birthday gift packages that are also well received and lets the team know we care past work. It’s hard but not impossible, just focus on people and their needs.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
Holographic video, or Star Trek Transporter system! Honestly would be great to eliminate “other” work while on video calls. What is difficult is watching people work while on calls. No one can multi-task when on video calls. My sense is we are not productive when we are distracted. This “new” working model is worse by far than having people on cell calls when in meetings. I have often thought of developing a software package that locks computers and only allows video and if you need to work, you need to ask the presenter. I know this is not realistic, so I have given up, but do dream of having undivided attention when on video calls.
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?
YES!!!!! Personally, I think we have WAY too many disparate options for messaging and communications, so yes, I wish there was ONE platform where all were on! I have looked and cannot seem to find a true consolidated way to not have 3–5 systems open all the time. I think this is totally impossible and is a case of too many choices which actually adds workload. To add to the pain, our clients have different tools than we do, and we need to be monitoring those as well.
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?
The VR space is getting close to the Holographic mention earlier, but will be more arcade than anything, so not sure how that adoption will be at scale. The cost to suit everyone up and have the compute power may keep this cool. So, in all earnest I think consolidation of tools and enhancement to current video conferencing will be best for the next few cycles.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Cost is always a concern, especially if you are in between brick and mortar and virtual. This sets up the scenario of paying double. My mind still wanders to what is the hybrid model that you can be virtual and attract a larger talent pool but allow for the culture building we discussed earlier. When I solve this, I will tell you.
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?
Biggest change is the stall in new business development at the pace a company of ours needs. We are 90% virtual with our clients as we are with our internal teams. However, this is not sustainable long-term for new business development, brand recognition via trade shows etc. This needs to be physical locations with people talking to people. Business really needs to be face-to-face. Not the level we had pre-pandemic but a lot more than during the pandemic. Again, this is an area that has changed, and businesses will look at travel much differently and be more purposeful and thoughtful in my opinion.
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?
Spend more time with team members so you can pick up the signals via video, as well as ensuring you are not only communicating when things are bad. This is the trickiest part of being so remote as it does cause the reality of having and needing more meetings. To do one-on-ones for both personal and business, plus strategy, plus group meetings I find the team is on 7–9 hours of calls–but it is needed. So, balancing this, but forcing the team to keep each other in check so we are not doing days on end of meeting after meeting. Integrating some personal calls, in between business calls, eases having those harder business conversations without creating a negative environment.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Humor! Humor makes work enjoyable, even amidst a pandemic. Make sure no meeting is boring. Uniting a global team to work in unison around a common purpose–to drive a redefinition of critical infrastructure in the age of IoT–and a deeply rooted ethical foundation is what has allowed me to mature several companies over my career.
While we remain highly professional, I make sure everyone is working hard while having loads of fun. From galvanizing my team across 3 continents to work long hours, to ensuring everyone is rewarded, feels happy and part of the team. In inspiring my entire team to share my purpose, passion, drive, and intensity I can succeed as a resilient leader. With a supportive team behind me, I’m ready for large-scale changes and exponential company growth across the globe.
As technology integrators, we must strengthen Radix IoT’s offerings. This calls for working tirelessly to engage large, global enterprises in building out a robust customer ecosystem who are taking advantage of our innovative product lines. By fostering relationships with the same dedication and passion as to my Radix IoT team, I ensure superb customer service and satisfaction, which has become a hallmark of the company’s services.
I’m also committed to a Family First corporate culture–I deeply care about my team and consider employees as individuals. I’m very involved in my employees’ lives. I know them well, and I uphold work-life balance to its utmost degree.
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. 😊
Create a culture of respect, humility, and kindness! It seems as the years go by, we get farther away from kindness and humility. This divisiveness is not stemmed from one thing– as we’ve always had this in our human history. We need to look deeper and control what we can– and starting with ourselves. We need to be kinder.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.