Ketan Dattani of Buckingham Futures: “Communication”

Communication: When teams work remotely, it isn’t always easy to foster open communication. Fostering open lines of communication is critical to preventing employees from feeling isolated. As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ketan Dattani, CEO and Founding […]

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Communication: When teams work remotely, it isn’t always easy to foster open communication. Fostering open lines of communication is critical to preventing employees from feeling isolated.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ketan Dattani, CEO and Founding Owner of Buckingham Futures.

Ketan Dattani is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur. He holds over 20 years of recruitment experience and has a high profile within the sector. He is widely documented as an expert on Employment Law, Employee Rights, and for providing Careers Advice.

He is the Founding Owner and CEO of Buckingham Futures, a specialist Environmental Health Recruitment Business that provides bespoke permanent and temporary recruitment and consultancy solutions to public and private sector employers.

Academically Ketan is a graduate of Environmental Biology and a post-graduate of Environmental Planning and Management.

He also holds a Certificate in Employment Law and The Certificate in Recruitment Practice which is a nationally recognised recruitment qualification developed jointly by the REC and key employers.

Outside of business, Ketan volunteers with a number of schools, colleges, and universities providing career guidance, CV & interview technique workshops, and conducting mock interviews.

He also offers work experience programs and opportunities at Buckingham Futures for students and young people to help them achieve their potential by giving them an insight into the world of work.

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”?

Thank you for this opportunity!

I was born in Leicester in the early 1970s after my parents were forcefully expelled from their birthplace of Uganda by a military dictatorship.

My early memories are of growing up in a small house with lots of uncles and aunts and tons of cousins. With the loss of much of Leicester’s industry during the mid-1970s my parents moved to London to seek employment, which is where I grew up.

In London, our economic situation wasn’t the best. Sadly, there were few prospects in Thatcher’s London. She had declared that there was no such thing as society and no one understood that more than Council Estate residents. We were bearing the brunt of a broken country.

As a child, seeing my parents’ daily struggle as Ugandan refugees have contributed to my development and where I am today.

I was raised with a strong sense of values — respect, hard work, integrity, humility, and a duty to help those less fortunate than me.

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

The most interesting story since I started my career is how and why in 2013, I left my corporate career and started my own business Buckingham Futures, a specialist Consultancy supplying Environmental Health personnel across the Private and Public sectors on a nationwide basis.

It was undoubtedly the biggest career risk I ever took was to quit a very well-paid career to set up a self-funded Environmental Health Recruitment Business from scratch from my parent’s box room.

I started Buckingham Futures for personal and professional fulfillment. I love to accomplish goals and feel as if I am contributing to something important, an overarching vision for what I can create, and am motivated by change, challenge, and diverse problems to solve.

I was very motivated by the idea of creating something from the ground up.

Making the jump from being an employee to starting my own company was very exhilarating, rewarding, and fun, but was exhausting, relentless, and stressful in equal measures.

Ultimately, nothing beats the freedom of being your own boss and being able to spend quality time with your family.

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?

When I first set up Buckingham Futures, I felt that to succeed I needed to give the impression that Buckingham Futures was not a ‘one-man-band’ and that it was a bigger business than it was.

I look back on the early days and laugh now, but I used to play YouTube videos of a busy office environment in the background when calling clients.

I even invested in a virtual receptionist and virtual business address to help add credibility to Buckingham Futures as I felt would be easier to successfully attract clients by having a ‘brick and mortar’ location.

My business cards showed a prestigious central London location, all my mail was posted there and I would arrange to meet with clients in the reception area of my virtual office and conduct our meetings in nearby swanky cafes.

This set up was running well for about 8 months. Then one day I received a call from a client to say that she was in London for the afternoon and would love the opportunity to meet with me and my team in person to thank us for everything we had done for her and that she would be at my office in less than 10 minutes.

The problem was that it would take me over an hour to get to my virtual office from my parent’s house and there was no way I’d be there in 10 minutes. I was afraid that the receptionists would let the ‘cat out of the bag’ and tell her that Buckingham Futures did not have an office, let alone a team-based there! I felt that had no choice but to come clean about my business setup.

It was on this day that I learned that the most imperative quality clients look for is authenticity. To be authentic can be the difference between a company failing or succeeding. It is not easy, as being authentic is as much about revealing your flaws as playing to your strengths. It is often tempting to put up a front of total competence rather than risk looking vulnerable. However, authenticity is a key ingredient in running a successful business and leading a great team.

As the business has grown, I remember to always remain authentic and to never lose that openness and willingness to connect with people.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Behind every great working business, there is a support system of employees working hard to keep it going.

It is virtuous to keep your employees’ minds and experience updated to ensure that they are performing to the best of their abilities.

The best way to avoid employee burnout is to ensure the health and wellbeing of your people is always front and central to your business culture.

Take a comprehensive look at what you’re offering beyond salary and traditional benefits and talk to your employees about what they’d find most helpful in promoting wellness within your organisation.

Ultimately, Business Leaders must structure the work environment so that every employee feels happy and motivated and has the tools and support they need to succeed.

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 required the Buckingham Futures team to swiftly transition to working from home in March 2020. Before that, I had no experience in managing a remote team.

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?

Expectedly, when transitioning to working remotely, there was an adjustment period. Managing a remote team can be somewhat challenging, especially when you want to do ‘business as usual’ and have your employees work in a way that makes them feel like everyone is working toward the same goals.

The five main challenges when regarding managing a remote team are:

Onboarding: Every business has to master the art of effective hiring and onboarding to attract and retain top talent, but with the pandemic forcing us to use remote tools to perform these functions, we had to quickly modify our approach.

Communication: When teams work remotely, it isn’t always easy to foster open communication. Fostering open lines of communication is critical to preventing employees from feeling isolated.

Company culture: I felt that we had an exceptional company culture that had taken time to cultivate and involved hiring the right employees, fostering healthy communication, and instilling that culture across the board. I presumed that by us not being together that the team cohesiveness and company culture could suffer.

Productivity: I found comfort in showing up to a physical office and seeing my team hard at work in the same place. Having everyone working remotely requires a different level of trust and an alternative way to measure productivity.

Isolation: Employees feeling isolated while working from home need a tactical approach. While there’s no magic elixir here, the solution revolves around addressing company culture, open lines of communication, and finding new creative opportunities to engage employees in a fun and meaningful ways.

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

Employers should be thoughtful and premeditated about creating an inclusive and engaging experience for each new employee, even before they officially join your company.

It’s important to continue regular communication between team members, especially when working remotely. In addition to open communication, giving positive recognition to team members while working from home shows that you see the work that they are putting in daily.

Business Owners should put more importance on remote team socialisation such as regular virtual meetings, company-sponsored team lunches from home, and socially distanced gatherings (when possible).

I have found that remote work gives employees more autonomy in choosing how they spend their time, and in my experience, people surpass what is expected of them when they are given trust and the freedom of accountability.

When Business Owners meet the basics needs of engagement, even casual, friendly conversations turn into innovative discussions that help the team thrive.

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?

As a leader, I know that feedback is necessary and beneficial to my team and my business. I always begin the conversation with positive reinforcement that reminds the employee of their value.

Since I can’t see my team members in person and don’t have close working conditions, eye contact or informal conversations, I have phone contact with them on a more frequent basis to build and maintain personal rapport.

In virtual one-on-one meetings, I ask team members what they’re focusing on, review their understanding of their goals, and help them work through possible conflicting priorities.

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

I wouldn’t recommend giving any feedback over email unless you are recapping feedback that you have already delivered previously.

If, however, you really must give constructive feedback via email make sure you take time to craft a balanced email. Once you write it, let it sit in your ‘drafts’ for 24 hours and re-read from the viewpoint of the recipient before you send it.

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?

In the office, there was a structure in place, from set office hours to set break and lunchtimes. However, when working remotely, these can prove difficult to adhere to.

For my businesses, working from home was unchartered territory. I’ve quickly learned that managing remote employees is a balancing act between being sympathetic to their needs based on their work environment and ensuring they are equipped with the right solutions to execute their responsibilities. Distance does not necessarily equal detachment.

Ultimately, successfully working remotely is about figuring out a way to mitigate these obstacles. Implementing tools and services that contribute to this can help teams overcome any obstacles that arise.

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?

From a leadership perspective, it’s crucial to be emotionally aware that worldwide events are happening in our employees’ lives and on a global scale that affects us all.

It is therefore critical to ensure a sense of belonging. If employees start to feel disconnected, the isolation will crush their morale and productivity.

In our morning meetings, I always include something that is not directly related to work. These little moments of sharing help build connections and make the team feel like they are a part of something special.

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. 🙂

Am I really?

I would love to see more people get involved in mentoring. It is more than the transfer of advice, knowledge, and insights.

As well as the personal satisfaction of sharing skills and experience, being involved in mentoring also provides exposure to fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches and an opportunity to reflect on my own goals and practices

Mentoring helps young people develop their character, raise aspirations, and improve their academic attainment, and helps them achieve their potential.

From undertaking mentorship, I have developed a passion for working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those at risk of offending.

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

“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” ~ Rumi

I see a tree as stable, strong, and robust. Its roots grow deeply into the ground, allowing it to stand firmly in its place.

Being like a tree means creating a deeper connection with Mother Earth, being present in the now, and continuously growing even when it’s not visible for others to see beneath the surface.

Letting the dead leaves drop to me epitomises being open to change and allowing myself to renew.

Thank you for these great insights!

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