Let personalities shine: Little can take the place of good-ole-fashioned people skills. Take the time to get to know the team in this new world. Work life balance is gone. People are working from home and need to feel like they can show up as themselves, this works better when they feel they can BE themselves. Empathy is a huge part of the group moral staying high.
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 Isis-Rae Goulbourne.
If you think the phrase “anything is possible” is ridiculous, farfetched, or unattainable, then you haven’t met Isis-Rae Goulbourne. She lives her life by challenging the notion that we can’t have it all. As the founder and CEO of the digital innovation agency DEUIT, pronounced, “Do It”, she lives from a place not of “that can’t be done,” but rather, “let’s find a way!”
Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Isis has spent nearly 20 years making it her personal mission to cultivate a well-rounded skill set which she now brings to her daily work. Isis believes that her soul purpose on this planet is to create vehicles of empowerment for others and she does this via the creation of products and services that help people live out their dreams and connect with their own soul purpose.
Her company DEUIT empowers organizations and individuals alike to embrace their creativity and push innovation to new heights. She created the Empowered Innovation Model which is a fresh, new and holistic approach to building solid teams and organizations as a whole. DEUIT also builds apps and websites for their clients and Isis draws from her background in design to make it all happen.
Founder, mother of two boys, intuitive, author, and all around creative badass, Isis plans to live her life by leaving no portion of untapped personal potential on the table when it’s all said and done.
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 was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and moved to the States to attend the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C. Upon graduation, I decided to stay in the U.S.A. and started my career in advertising sales for Discovery Communications. From there I transitioned into a role in corporate partnerships in the MLB for the Washington Nationals Baseball Club. In 2014, I moved into a Marketing and Communications role for a non-profit and left America from 2016–18 to try my hand at my first start-up in Jamaica. When I returned to the U.S. in 2018, I had all of these skills but realized I didn’t want to do any of the things that I knew how to do. I knew I didn’t want to go back into ad sales for a large network, or into sports, or back into the nonprofit world. I felt like my creativity was being stifled and so I went inward to discover exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I was stuck.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2019 I decided to go back to school and sharpen/learn a new skill. I went back to school for UX design and became obsessed with design thinking and agile team structures. I began learning how design thinking is used to develop digital products but also how it can be used to solve problems in general. Design thinking is a creative problem-solving technique used by designers but has so many more applications. Think of it at creative problem solving but keeping the user/customer at the forefront of the solution.
Fast forward, I finished my program and I was doing freelance UX design work when a good friend of mine called me up because he was stuck (seemed to be a lot of ‘stuck’ going around). My friend, an artist, has a large body of work and he had been trying to put together an exhibition for some time. He knew my background in design, and called me up and said ‘Isis, I need your eye and your analytical mind to help me with this.” I went over to his house and we were able to do in two hours what he hadn’t been able to accomplish in almost a year and a half! How? I used design thinking to streamline his creative thought process. I began to affinity map his artwork looking for themes in the data (in his case art). Affinity mapping is a way that designers synthesize data that comes out of the research phase of the design process. From the outside looking in it may have not looked like much, but I was energized in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. I realized that we can use this in so many other areas than just designing tech. I saw a path to take this technical process, walk into any situation and solve a problem with insightful solutions!
He brought me on as his creativity consultant and within two months I was standing in an audience watching him on stage at his amazing art exhibition. I realized that I could help creatives be more creative by streamlining the process with concrete problem-solving techniques! About a month later I started DEUIT. To help bring out creativity and to give people and companies the tools they need to do that thing! Build that prototype, create the platform, whatever it may be. I call us possibility partners, together all things are possible, I want to help others to DEU it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There are no mistakes.”
I say this at least once a day and I only wish I realized it sooner. At one point I felt like I was flighty because I had held so many jobs across so many industries. I felt like I wasn’t building up traction in any one space. Now that I have my own agency, I’m seeing that all of that was for a reason. I understand marketing, sales, budgeting, UX, have a strong design eye and get multiple problem-solving techniques. I have a strong communication background and soft skills I didn’t even know I was building at the time. There are no mistakes and I am a testament to that. Everything is always happening for a reason, even if we don’t see it at the time.
Another example of this; the other day I was on a call with a prospect. I was talking to him about a small job of building his website (which DEUIT also does). When we got on the phone and the first thing he said to me was “I just hired another company to build the website”. I replied to him “there are no mistakes, we are talking for a reason, we just don’t know what that is yet.” After a while I uncovered that he was having issues taking his proprietary software into the cloud, something I could also help him with. Possibility partner, remember?
I think when you have the outlook that you are always exactly where you’re supposed to be and that “there are no mistakes”, you can be more open to finding ways to work through any situation or learn from it.
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 father Raymond Goulbourne. He was born and raised in Jamaica and has made a way for not only himself but his entire family. His dedication and perseverance have always acted as guiding light on how to move forward in my darkest times. He has taught me to approach every situation with a level head and objectivity.
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?
While the exact percentage is disputed, there are studies that show that anywhere from 70 to 93% of all communication is non-verbal. Body language and other non-verbal cues are such an important part of team communication and synergy. Having a team in person means that you can zero in on so much more than what is just being said via a zoom or email.
Collaboration is essential in practically all aspects of life and work. Especially in businesses that are lean, agile, and/or implementing design thinking processes. Not to get too meta-physical but we all have our own energy fields and as humans we feed off of each other. When teams together can draw on each other’s energy in a way that just doesn’t happen as effectively when remote. Sure, work can still get done remotely but I’m talking about that human spark of creativity and that sometimes is lighting in a bottle. There are a ton of tools in the market to bring people together but there will never truly be a replacement for in-person human connection. In-person also builds camaraderie and general team spirit which elevates synergy and enables task flows to be implemented more easily.
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?
Communication gaps and a lack of high-trust relationships can develop easily with remote teams. When teams are not in the same space daily, and their interactions are solely digital blind spots that can develop. This can become more prevalent when working with different time zones. Communication is no longer real time and a lot can get lost in translation.
Something else that I am noticing is the lack of overall work/life balance. Many employers may feel that if their team is working remote, they are not going to be working. I experience the opposite; I find my team is working almost around the clock. It’s hard to turn it all off when you’re at home anyways. When does the workday really begin or end? When is break time? Oddly enough working at home has caused burn-out to be at an all-time high.
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.)
- Alignment calls. These have been vital for me during this time. My the development teams working on projects across different time zones and things can easily get lost in the sauce. I must be dialed into things at all times and recognize the red flags and then make sure we are getting back on the right page. Having someone that is looking at things from the birds-eye-view and making sure that everything is staying on track and when it isn’t bringing it back to the center is so important.
- Pivot faster! Abandon waterfall! Waterfall is a decision-making methodology that is old and antiquated many companies are still using. This is where the decisions are made from then top and then decimated to everyone to carry out. The work is completed and then reviewed from the top once again. This method is not ideal for remote working environments. More companies need to start switching to Agile and in this environment, can’t afford not to. This is an iterative decision-making process that requires flexibility, adaptation, and efficient collaboration. This stops teams from going too far down the wrong path and being able to pivot as new information becomes available.
- Accountability. As I said before, much of communication happens from a non-verbal place. It’s important to remember that there are underlying interpersonal communication barriers thattech can’t solve when working remotely. Enter accountability. DEUIT has a teamwork and collaboration workshop where we talk a lot about this. The individual team members need to take action when resistance arises, or if there is a communication that brings up negative feelings for them. Also, giving constructive feedback is one thing but being able to take it is another. Everyone taking accountability for the role that they are playing is crucial.
- Boundaries. Understanding different working and behavioral styles and setting communication expectations is important. Learning the best way of how everyone can work best together. Not everyone responds to being communicated with in the same way. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was managing marketing and communications for a non-profit in Virginia. I was having an email exchange with one of the administrative assistants and it became evident that my tone was being mis-interpreted. I got up from my desk, walked down the hall and asked her in person what was wrong and tried to smooth things out. What I felt was a direct way to get to the bottom of the issue, she took further offense and it went downhill from there. My error? I didn’t understand the way she liked to communicate. With her, I should have picked up the phone and not gone in person. Ever since then I ask people how they best like to be communicated with beforehand so that I can set the expectation and respect their boundaries. Now, more than ever, we need to put this into practice. How people want to be communicated with is important. Zoom calls that could be emails, emails that should be conference calls. Conference calls that should be zoom calls and around we go. Asking for communication preferences and setting expectations can really change the group dynamic in a positive way.
- Let personalities shine: Little can take the place of good-ole-fashioned people skills. Take the time to get to know the team in this new world. Work life balance is gone. People are working from home and need to feel like they can show up as themselves, this works better when they feel they can BE themselves. Empathy is a huge part of the group moral staying high.
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?
I think the biggest issue has been the misuse of the communication products / tools that we have on hand. For example, we use Trello a lot to manage timelines and projects. Trello is great for that! It’s a project management and productivity tool. Things were getting complicated as the team was trying to use a workflow productivity tool to try and communicate solutions for technical design problems. Trello isn’t built for that and I had to get everyone on the phone for an alignment call before it all went too far off the rails.
Tech can’t solve everything. We have to be careful to be sure that the communication modality we are using truly supports the task at hand.
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?
- Some of my favorite tools which have existed for years are now implementing collaboration features that weren’t there before. An example of this is the design tool “Sketch” that we use to create prototype designs. In the past, Sketch did not allow for team collaboration which is now a feature. I think in addition to companies coming out of the woodworks with more tools, existing tools have had to become more collaborative and I really appreciate that. Adapting to this new normal has become key!
- The development of things such as virtual whiteboards are making a huge push. I love using MURAL for brainstorming which is a virtual whiteboard that you can use as a team to collaborate in new and exciting ways.
- My third has been Calendly. Going back and forth trying to sort out dates for everyone to meet can be such a hassle. This tool makes scheduling meetings with teams, prospects, clients seamless.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I am! DEUIT is in the process of working with a client at the moment to build a new and innovative platform that we believe is going to change the communication landscape. The platform is called Boho and its founder is a brilliant visionary named Xynn Tii who believes that the current way we are communicating is antiquated and filled with pain points that we just seem to work around.
What I think is missing from the communication platforms for teams is the humanity component. Learning who someone is, what they stand for, how they are experiencing life allows for more empathy and empathy is a vital part of what makes human relationships and communication richer.
Boho will bring humanity and creativity into communications and I can’t wait for it to launch later this year. Stay tuned!
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?
I think in general everyone likes to communicate differently and being able to meet people where they are is important. This is even more important when you’re dealing with teams in different countries like I am. if I submit something to the Trello board they need to be able to view it in different formats, on the go, or in email, etc.
It’s important to me to communicate in a way that feels seamless. We are no longer living in a place where everything can happen in front of a single computer. Being able to hop on a zoom call on your phone, computer, tablet allows teams to connect the way they feel most comfortable. Giving people more freedom to work as they choose means that work can get done faster.
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?
Yes! I have my eye on a Vibe board that is new to market which is an updated spin to the SMART boards that we have been seeing in classrooms for the last few years. Why I like it? The board is a collaboration hub and offers multi-user real time Whiteboarding. It also integrates with 50+ apps and allows you to annotate and screencast from any device. Basically, it puts all the collaboration tools in one place, and I love it!
Something else that I’m keeping my eye on is VR meetings. I have to admit, they are not quite there yet, but the technology is starting to become more and more refined. The day is coming where you get to your desk, don your VR headset and sit around a conference table with all of your coworkers. Companies like Spatial are in the early stages of this and it’s truly exciting.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Yes, as much of a tech geek as I am, I wonder about the long-term implications. The more we distance ourselves via remote environments the more we create to make it all feasible and productive. We really don’t know the consequences this will have for humanity and its evolution. Will we begin to lose senses? Lose the ability to read body language and become tone deaf and less empathic in person? Only time will tell.
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?
Before the pandemic I did a lot of in-person networking. I was able to go sit down with clients and really connect with them and identify their pain points, goals and what not. I feed off of body language and the energy in a room. When I’m presenting a pitch, I like to read body language and that is just not something I have the luxury of doing anymore. Because of this, I prefer to get on video calls with clients and really don’t rely on email and messaging apps. I value human interaction and want to take the time to see people and gauge how they are feeling. Much of what we do is not about what people are saying but by what they are not saying.
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?
One technique that we teach in our teamwork workshop is something called “grow-glow feedback”. Telling a co-worker something great that they’ve done along with something that could use improvement opens the door for a more constructive conversation. People are more open to hearing constructive criticism when it actually feels constructive and not like an attack.
Example of glow and grow: “Tanya, I loved what you did with that report you sent me on Friday, it was really clear. Can we be sure that we get it in on the due date of Monday next time so that we can all stay on track?” Rather than saying “Hey, Tanya, the report was late, it’s due Monday not Friday.” Tanya is much more likely to be open to the feedback in the first example. The second example may cause her to become defensive and even turn the report on time but without the attention to detail that you loved.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Everything doesn’t have to be about work. Lots of companies are popping up that help with this. One company that I love that is doing this is called Ailse Mine and they do corporate virtual cooking events and mocktail workshops. Fun ways to get your team together that isn’t about work. In a time when happy hour and bowling outings may be a thing of the past it’s still important to build the bonds within the confines of this new digital reality.
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. 🙂
According to a recent global study, only 15% percent of workers agree that their employers are doing enough to support their well-being. I would start a movement to ‘feel the feels’. I think that people are disregarding how they feel because they have to ‘show up’ but are not feeling whole.
Part of the work that I continue to do with DEUIT is 1:1 work helping people with their individual creativity and empower them to hold space for themselves and take time to do well for them. At the end of the day, we are living through a pandemic! There are no guidelines for it. In a time where work-life balance is all out of whack, it’s going to become increasingly important for organizations to support the individual and their outlets.
You can give a team all of the tools that are under the sun, but if the individual members are not healthy, happy and feeling creative there will be problems that I think many companies are not currently accounting for. Heal the individual, heal the team, heal the team, heal the organization, heal the organization and the sky’s the limit!
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.