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“How to successfully manage a team.” with Fotis Georgiadis & Allison Hernandez

Challenging collaborations. Due to the nature of our work, we are constantly feeding off of each other’s ideas and visions. Being able to ask the co-worker next to you their opinion on a project is not as natural as before, while relying on technology. Fostering human interaction is always encouraged at our workplace. As a […]

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Challenging collaborations. Due to the nature of our work, we are constantly feeding off of each other’s ideas and visions. Being able to ask the co-worker next to you their opinion on a project is not as natural as before, while relying on technology. Fostering human interaction is always encouraged at our workplace.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Hernandez.

Allison Hernandez’s deep expertise in business operations, human resources, and change management is a driving force behind the success of lotus823. She established the award- winning integrated marketing agency in 2010 with her husband, David, and brought more than 20 years of experience to the business that supported its swift and steady growth. As a leading force at lotus823 and with a mantra rooted in strong and passionate leadership, Allison has brought to life her vision of creating a company culture that attracts the best people and fosters growth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Prior to lotus823, I spearheaded change management initiatives (including Six Sigma and ISO 9000 programs) at companies such as Toshiba and Office Depot that resulted in significant, sustainable business improvement and increased profitability. Like many entrepreneurial companies, lotus823 had humble beginnings… namely, the dining room table. It was here where my husband David and I developed the idea of an integrated approach to marketing communications. The new concept was born, in 2010, out of a realization that in order for brands to gain a competitive advantage and increase market share, we needed to help them address a major shift in consumer behavior. Brands were no longer discovered in traditional media only; instead, increasingly, consumers were discovering and embracing brands through cross-channel experiences in traditional media and searching online.

We evolved with the changing business models our clients need. Now a full-service agency, lotus823 combines traditional public relations, progressive content marketing, search engine optimization, and social media as well as Amazon marketing and website design for fully integrated strategies. This cross-platform approach helps increase brand visibility both online and offline, creating an immersive experience for brands and their publics.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Both interesting and shocking, as head of HR, it was brought to my attention that two married employees were having an affair, including them doing so in an office at lunch time. It was a manager and one of his direct reports, which of course was against company policy. When confronted about the affair, both employees denied it. Other employees continued to complain. I was asked by our corporate office to barge in during one of their sessions. I’ll spare you the details, but will say, I was petrified and asked them to come see me in my office. I had to put them both on leave of absence and later terminate them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not so sure this is funny, as much as it is embarrassing. In our first few months of business, we were successful with securing quite a few media opportunities for a new client, one of them was with “Oprah Magazine.” The magazine agreed to review our client’s product and include them as an editor’s recommended buy. This was a huge win for our brand-new agency.

It was our procedure to send a handwritten thank you note to each media contact. We would typically send the samples directly, but in this case, the client was sending the samples. Our brand-new account rep, with us for just a week, overnighted the thank you notes to our client to include with the shipments. When the client received the thank you notes, they noticed all of them were written on the backside of the thank you note cards and written upside down. Needless to say, the client was very upset about our sloppy work. We learned to ensure better training and review for any new employee for every procedure.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

One of our top priorities is to keep our team’s spirits up, especially during this time. As a team that loves to be surrounded by one another in our open office setting, we are encouraging and scheduling virtual coffee breaks and happy hours to check in with one another. Our entire team also shares articles, memes, and fun moments in our Positivity Board group chat to keep the open office setting present while apart. Another way we are keeping morale up is by continuing to celebrate birthdays by hosting video chats, as well as sending employees their favorite birthday treats to their home to celebrate.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to transition to working from home full-time for the past few months. However, prior to this we had implemented Work from Home Fridays for all employees for several years. This consisted of a rotating schedule, with half of the team members working from home, while the others came into the office.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

Managing a team remotely has presented new challenges that are foreign to many of us, but we have learned so much in a short period of time.

Challenging collaborations. Due to the nature of our work, we are constantly feeding off of each other’s ideas and visions. Being able to ask the co-worker next to you their opinion on a project is not as natural as before, while relying on technology. Fostering human interaction is always encouraged at our workplace.

Delayed connections. As many of us are wearing multiple hats at the moment, our responses to each other may be delayed as opposed to when we are in an office setting. We overcome this challenge by setting aside time each day to discuss our day-to-day responsibilities.

Loneliness. We will admit, we are missing the faces of our colleagues, friends, and office pups. Being cooped up inside is less than ideal, but we continue to promote virtual meetings whenever our colleagues need a pick-me-up!

Company culture. Maintaining a healthy company culture with a remote team can be challenging. As working from home continues, managers have implemented a few activities to help stay connected as a team. We offer a fun working environment, to continue that, we have implemented things like:

  • Virtual coffee talks — We regularly schedule a few people on a video call sharing fun stories, plans for the weekend, etc. with no talk of COVID-19.
  • Virtual Happy hours
  • We encourage the team to bring children and their pets on our internal calls. Their faces always bring smiles.
  • Positivity board — We have a company-wide chat where the entire team post things like team achievements, funny memes, etc.
  • Question of the Week — Each week one person is chosen to ask a fun and thought-provoking question on our positivity board chat for all to participate.

Scheduling difficulties. For teams who have employees in different time zones, finding a time that works well for everyone requires proper planning and prioritization. Whether it be a phone call or video conference, it may take some time to figure out work schedules.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Consistent communication. While working remotely, we continue to maintain normalcy by hosting our regular weekly meetings for each client account and bi-weekly check-ins to discuss each member’s individual professional development goals. Even though we can’t be together, we can continue to communicate regularly ­– something our team does best! We meet at our weekly 1-on-1 meetings via video chat.

Trust. We are truly grateful to manage a self-motivated team that does not require micromanaging. Upon informing our staff on the weekly client tasks, we feel confident knowing all work will be completed with professionalism. We also encourage our team members to reach out any time they may need help with meeting a deadline.

Relying on digital tools. We already had implemented a variety of software and tools to increase productivity and promote collaborations. We use a software, 15Five, which increases engagement and deepens the connection between employees, managers and peers by empowering transparency and continual feedback. It provides a platform for people to share how things are going.

We use Google Meet regularly. Google Meet is our chat room that allows our team to connect with each other privately, or within their client teams and includes the ability to do video conferencing and screen sharing. These tools have been a vital asset to check in with our teams and ensuring productivity and transparency. Another tool we have begun integrating into our processes is Zoom. This video communication solution allows us to connect with our clients and prospects, as it is widely popular and available to businesses across the world.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing 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 employee?

If you are managing your team remotely, there may be some confusion of best practices and how to provide constructive criticism while in a new work environment. With providing feedback to employees, working from home or not, it is best to reinforce positive behavior and explain areas of improvement. When delivering constructive feedback, provide specific information, what you have learned from observations and facts, and offer an achievable solution. These types of conversations are typically done on video chat. We all know how written communication can be misconstrued.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Back to my point of written communication being misconstrued, constructive feedback is best given in conversation vs. in writing. When in writing it may lack tone and intention. However, sometimes it is necessary to email. Starting out with an expression of appreciation and calling out the positives is a good way to open. Including the logic behind the thought process helps the person to understand better the why behind your thought process. End with encouraging the person to discuss it if they would like. As a general rule of thumb, my belief is that if an email is more than a paragraph or two, it should be a discussion.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

For those adjusting to working remotely, ensuring that there is an easily accessible open line of communication between you and your team members is crucial. With the new normal of working apart, a potential obstacle you could face is there being a lack of communication.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Invest in a performance software management tool. Our team utilizes 15Five, a continuous feedback platform that is designed to help managers better support their people as well as a place to bring your voices, share wins and ideas, appreciate each other, and collaboratively work through challenges. This has completely opened private communication between managers and their employees. It’s a continuous practice that helps form the backbone of our 1-on-1’s and performance development.

Virtual human interaction. While we can’t be together in person, we can connect virtually with the technology we have available! Being able to see our colleagues’ smiles on video calls allows us to feed off of each other’s energy and emulate similar interaction we participate in at the office. It also reminds our team that we are always available to talk through any challenges face-to-face.

Keeping morale up. One of our highest priorities is to keep our team’s spirits up and add an element of fun to our current situation. lotus823 loves happy hour, so we thought, why not host a virtual happy hour! We encourage our team to grab a beverage (completely optional) and join a company-wide video call to connect and share some laughs at the end of the day. With all the stressful news and challenging situations, this reminded our team how truly blessed we are to have each other! Although we are unable to be together for birthday celebrations, we are continuing to celebrate by hosting video chats and sending the employee their favorite birthday treat they enjoy every year in the office, but also while working from home!

Encouraging time outside. Spending time outdoors and getting some exercise in seems to be one of the most beneficial and safe activities to participate in right now. Having video calls while taking walks is a great way to get it all done! We are able to discuss important details while taking care of our bodies. We call that a win-win!

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. 🙂

If I were to start a movement, it would be to help women that are victims of domestic violence. Approximately 1 in 4 women are victims of domestic violence. I’ve dreamed of creating a non-profit that helps battered women by providing shelter, protection, and post-traumatic therapy. Support would also provide continual care, as the abuse doesn’t necessarily stop even when no longer together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The best advice I received was from my brother-in-law, who was a psychologist/psychoanalyst. When I was having difficulty dealing with my ex-husband, he advised me to treat conversations with him as though it was a business conversation versus taking it personally. It completely changed my perspective and positioning in the conversations and gave me the no-nonsense approach I needed.

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