Kenise Etwaru: “Constantly praise your team for working together”

Including everyone on emails so that the team is updated, and everyone is in the loop. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Acknowledge when there are challenges. However, work together to bridge the gap daily. Constantly praise your team for working together. You’ll find they will work harder and be more efficient. We are living in a new world […]

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Including everyone on emails so that the team is updated, and everyone is in the loop. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

Acknowledge when there are challenges. However, work together to bridge the gap daily.

Constantly praise your team for working together. You’ll find they will work harder and be more efficient.

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 Kenise A. Etwaru.

Kenise Etwaru is an energetic, trail-blazing force of nature. She is the CEO/Co-Founder of her own thriving Publishing company, a Human Resources Executive / Consultant, a 3x bestselling author, Executive Leadership Coach and Women Empowerment Strategist and sought-after Motivational Speaker all rolled into one! She is fearlessly pursuing leaving a LEGACY and fiercely helping others find their purpose and destiny so that they can be LEGACY MAKERS as well. #SuccessIsInSuccession

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?

Of course. I love sharing my story. I’m originally from Guyana, South America and my parents migrated to the United States when I was 9 years old so that my sister and I could get a better education. Well, that’s exactly what I did. I pursued my education in Business and Psychology and instead of becoming a Brain Surgeon, I decided to work in Human Resources after interning at a company on Long Island, New York during my senior year of High School. I worked full-time for the company after High School and attended college full-time. I pushed myself to graduate in 3 years with my undergraduate degree instead of 4 years and began my HR career. After graduation, I worked for about a year, at tech start-up company as their HR Generalist.

A few weeks after I started the new position, the HR Manager resigned. The CEO of the company asked me if I wanted the HR Manager role and of course my response was HELL YEAH!!! A few years later, I left and went on to work at an international tour company as their HR Director. After a few years, I left and went to work for one of the largest nonprofits in New York City as their first HR Director. I was hired to build their HR department from the ground up. After 11 years, I left as the Chief Technology and Human Resources Officer and started my own Executive HR Consulting practice. I work predominately with nonprofit organizations around the country, in addition to working with New York’s largest mental health nonprofit organization as the Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer.

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

I have so many interesting stories because of the years I’ve spent working with an array of personalities. However, one of my favorite stories in my career was when I interviewed for the HR Director position at the international tour company. I interviewed with the CEO twice and I knew they were going to offer me the position. However, they decided not to move with me because the CEO thought I didn’t have enough experience to build his HR department from the ground up. I decided to write him an email outlining in great detail the two key components every CEO wants to see from their employees… (1) what value do you bring to their company and (2) what’s the return on their investment. My email specifically stated how I would bring value to his company and what the ROI would be. In less than an hour, he responded to my email and offered me the position. Mind blowing!

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

“Reach for the moon and even if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars”. This was the first quote I remember seeing during my High School HR internship and now I live by it daily. I reach daily for the moon, but I know if I miss, I’m still be among the stars.

This is really relevant to my career because I always felt as if the opportunities I had in front of me were limitless. I have always pushed myself to achieve and attain the best in my career and in my life. To even reach for the moon, one has to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk. You will never know if you can reach for the moon if you haven’t tried. Go ahead, step out of your comfort zone and reach for the moon. Don’t worry, if you miss, you’ll land among the stars; however, keep trying because you will get there if you keep at it. You won’t be able to get there if you stop trying. Those are the words I live by.

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?

Yes! I’m a strong believer that SUCCESS is SUCCESSION. During my High School internship, there was an HR Manager who took me under her wings. She ensured that I learnt every facet of the company’s HR department and mentored me through the entire process.

One day, I was sitting in her office working on a project for her and she walked into the office and took a polaroid picture of me. She handed me the picture and asked me to keep it so that I would always remember where I wanted to go in my career. She encouraged me to visualize where I wanted to be, and I wanted to an HR Executive making a 6-figure salary. She reminded me daily to work hard always because hard work does in fact pay off. She was right!

She also taught me to dress for the role I wanted in the future. I knew I wanted to be a Vice President or CEO one day, so there I was, the High School intern all dressed up in her suit and high heels while working in the file room. I certainly made an impression on the entire company. No one believed that I was just a High School intern.

Her mentorship has made me into the HR enthusiast 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?

Most of us are made to have face to face interaction with others. Having teams and departments located physically together is paramount to building a strong team bond and team atmosphere that drive results. There’s more comradery, efficiency, higher morale, more innovation and better effectiveness when teams are working physically together.

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?

When teams are not in the same space together as a unit, there tends to be more disconnect, miscommunication, misunderstandings. These are some of the challenges that businesses face which in turn affects the work environment, the attitude of the employees, overall morale and culture. In the long run, it brings the entire company down because it affects the bottom line and the clients who are being served.

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.)

Love this question, because I practice the following 5 things daily/weekly:

  1. Daily communication with my team — a simple check in text / email / call is very important.
  2. Weekly update team meetings — schedule it and stick to the schedule.
  3. Including everyone on emails so that the team is updated, and everyone is in the loop. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
  4. Acknowledge when there are challenges. However, work together to bridge the gap daily.
  5. Constantly praise your team for working together. You’ll find they will work harder and be more efficient.

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?

About 90% of our workforce have transitioned to working from home. They are all using their own cell phones to make calls and personal computers for work.

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 love how you zoom was used as a pun — LOL. For all of my meetings, I use ZOOM and Microsoft TEAMS. I want to be able to see my staff when we’re meeting so that we can at least connect face to face (virtually).

Another tool I use is scheduling a one-on-one check in call with everyone on my team every Monday morning. I do a quick 2–3 minute check in call with them to see how the weekend was and ask any questions relating to their family, weekend plans, etc. It’s important that the team feel the genuine care and appreciation by their manager.

I also text them during the day to ask quick questions and use different emojis to keep things fun and light. Everyone is dealing with a lot these days, so not putting additional pressure really helps to maintain the open-door communication.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

As an Executive that work with large teams and also a Consultant that work with major organizations and their teams, I wish my email system could do everything. I want to be able to email, text, facetime and even have a photo gallery where I can put pictures of my dog and what I did over the weekend. Instagram meets Facebook, meets Office 365.

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?

100%. I’ve worked with organizations that did not use video conferencing or text messaging nor did they have any of their employees working remotely prior to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, they had to quickly pivot to having the staff work from home and be able use unified communication platforms otherwise, the organizations would have had gone out of business. I’ve been very fortunate to help the process at multiple essential provider organizations in New York to help them quickly transition their teams to remote and get them on platforms that were unified communication.

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?

New technology like VR, AR and Mixed Reality is amazing. Just like AI and automation, I feel having a mixture of these platforms are essential and will continue to grow and enhance our virtual workforce. I’ve been looking at a few possibilities with a number of my clients and there are two that stand out specifically based on their needs: TEAMVIEWER and Next Tech AR Solutions.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

I think it’s exciting and concerning at the same time. As a Human Resources Executive/Consultant, I’m very concerned about the people interaction component. This pandemic has surely given us a glimpse into how we can be in a silo which is not a healthy working environment. We were made for face-to-face human interaction. There is no substitution for that kind of interaction. I work with a number of mental health providers and one of the biggest causes of depression for employees during the pandemic has been the challenge of people not being able to be around their co-workers, families and friends. The lack of human interaction is my biggest concern.

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?

The same way my staff had to pivot to be able to work remotely, most of the clients I work with who receive mental health services were all affected as well. It has been extremely challenging working with our clients to educate them on how to utilize a video conferencing platform. Some of the organizations I work with had to train some of their employees and create new roles specifically assigned to assisting clients on how to use the virtual platform in order to receive services. All of our client / employee interaction has moved 100% to the telephonic or video therapy.

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 been giving constructive criticism during the entire pandemic. It never stopped nor slowed down. Employee relations increased by 200%. I definitely feel I am a pro at giving constructive criticism to a remote team member by now. A few things to keep in mind are:

  1. Make sure it’s a video call and not just a telephone call
  2. Schedule a specific time
  3. Celebrate their wins/achievements
  4. Ask them to provide feedback on how they are performing
  5. Give the constructive criticism. Ensure that you are looking at them and focused on the conversation and not something else.
  6. Be compassionate and show empathy
  7. Review ways on rectifying the areas of concern
  8. Reiterate your support
  9. Take time to answer any questions
  10. Always set a time for a follow up meeting before ending the virtual conversation

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Constantly bringing your staff together is important. It needs to be done once to twice per week. Remember, they are working from home, so being with their co-workers is something special these days. As team leaders, it’s our job to foster an ongoing relationship and communication that will bring the teams together. I’ve done virtual trivia nights and paint nights just with my team so that we are not just focused on work, but also team building.

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. 🙂

This is such a loaded question because I’m all about paving roads in the middle of forests and creating legacy. There are so many movements I would like to start that would significantly change the lives of people. But, for this article, I’ll just choose one. I would love to have a movement that would bring better awareness and educate families, schools, businesses, places of worship, etc. about mental health. Mental Health was such a hot topic before the pandemic and has been set ablaze now more than ever since the start of the pandemic. There’s still so much stigma that hinders children and families from receiving the mental health therapy they need. This is a simple and cost-efficient perk for companies to offer to their employees, especially during this time. That’s what I would love to see happen across the country.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way is to follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and of course, they can contact me via my website at

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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