…Lack of communication loops. This one is a common challenge, and is one of the most painful ones. Communication is key to making remote work successful, since it’s harder to simply grab someone for a meeting or look over their shoulder at what they’re working on. Often, when clients come to me talking about how they feel like they’re not connecting with their assistants well enough, it’s usually because they haven’t communicated often enough to know what the other is doing.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Le-an Lai Lacaba.
Le-an Lai Lacaba is the CEO and Co-Founder of 2xYou, a Remote Executive Assistant Service company that specializes in hiring, managing, and growing full time remote executive assistants for solopreneurs and small business owners.
She has been working remotely since she was 15 as a freelance writer, published her own book at 18, became CEO of someone else’s company at 20, and partnered up with her former boss to start-up 2xYou Executive Services at 23.
She also has a coaching brand, the Virtual Ate (big sister in Tagalog), where she trains people on how to work remotely. She is also an international speaker, and a content creation monster who has a blog, a Youtube channel, and an upcoming podcast.
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”?
I’ve basically been in the outsourcing industry since my very first job. I started as a freelance writer for a couple of blogs, after my own blog started taking off when I was 15 years old. The years after, I became a graphic designer, video editor, and social media marketer. Basically, anything where I created content, I was in it.
When I was 20, I became the CEO of a US Publishing company, BLVNP Inc., where I first experienced being on the other side of remote hiring: being the employer.
A few years later, I packaged up what I knew about remote hiring into a course along with my mentor who has been remote hiring for 10 years. And when one of our attendees asked “Can you just do this for me?”, that started 2xYou Executive Services.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was honestly surprised when I found that I could turn a course I’ve been working on over a year into a service agency. We were in Singapore teaching it to different students when one simply wanted to hire us to do it for him. It was one of those moments where I realized I was sitting on a mountain of value with the experience I’ve gotten over the years.
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?
We were speaking at a conference and I had the slides clicker in my hand as we were going through the slides. We were in Malaysia, on this big stage with 300+ people, and I started walking around and interacting with the attendees, when all of the sudden my business partner got my attention because the slides had moved forward 10 slides, almost to the end of the presentation.
Definitely learned to be more mindful when walking away from the stage or simply to hand the clicker back to my assistant which is what I should have done anyway.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Give them space to grow. This could mean allowing them to take leaves when they need it, letting them take a day off, or simply giving them the time to be able to study self development books.
A lot of the time, as the business owner, we try to control everything to make sure it’s done right. But what ends up happening is that you become the bottleneck, and nothing gets done or worse, you do everything yourself.
Let your employees make mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them. That way they take ownership, and you have a critical thinker on the team who can help others grow.
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?
I’ve been managing remote teams for 6 years. It started in 2015 when I became a manager for a Publishing Company in the US, and I was managing everything from home.
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?
The five main challenges I’ve found are these:
- Lack of communication loops — This one is a common challenge, and is one of the most painful ones. Communication is key to making remote work successful, since it’s harder to simply grab someone for a meeting or look over their shoulder at what they’re working on. Often, when clients come to me talking about how they feel like they’re not connecting with their assistants well enough, it’s usually because they haven’t communicated often enough to know what the other is doing.
- Not creating documentation — We always say that if a task or project it’s not documented, you’re chained yourself to that task or project. When doing remote work, delegating tasks or being able to have someone else join a project can be confusing and brutal. There was once a time when before we started fully documenting our processes, we found ourselves teaching the same task over and over again every time we had a new hire. Once we started documenting and recording ourselves doing the tasks, it was easier to hand it over to someone else.
- Lack of “filters” — When hiring online, it can be so easy to fall into the trap of hiring someone based on their resume, not even knowing if they would fit the company. I made this mistake myself when I was hiring for the first time and simply had someone join the company based on their credentials.
- Not connecting the team with one another — Working from home can feel lonely, and if your team doesn’t feel like they have people who have their back, it can make one feel alone.
- Lack of access to the right tools — People are often as powerful as the tools they use. When it comes to working remotely, this is more evident as they’ll need to have their output be available online for the access of others.
When running a remote team, one needs to make sure that whatever tools that their employees are using are reviewed and used, instead of signing them up for tools they won’t even sign in to after getting access.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
For the lack of communication loops, I always encourage our clients to communicate with their assistants more often, such as doing 5-minute check-ins daily to simply ask “How are you doing? Do you need anything?”
When it comes to creating documentation, the easiest fix was using tools like Vidyard or Loom to be able to record ourselves when doing a task, and making sure that recording was then logged and organized for future reference.
When hiring online, I learned fast to put in “filters” or different personality filters to see if someone is a fit. I would basically ask “Does this person’s goals align with ours? What are their values?”
To get the team to communicate with each other, we’ve created a space where people can talk to each other, even if they’re not on the same team. This way they can connect virtually, be able to ask for help, and grow each other in different ways as they need to.
And finally, we regularly check the tools we’re paying for that the team has access to, to make sure that they’re being utilized in the best way. We’re also up to date on the new tools that are coming out to ensure that it’s helping the team get work done faster.
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?
Always separate the person from the task, focus on what you do want instead of what you don’t want them to keep doing and do it fast. A lot of time, managers fail at giving timely feedback, and end up criticizing the person, not the action.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Subject line should be straight to the point. “Feedback for…” would show them what to expect ahead. In the email itself, focus on the following things: what was the supposed outcome of the project or task, how they did on it, and how they hope they handle this in the future.
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?
Set the working time at the beginning. One of the obstacles when switching to remote is the loss of the habit of getting up to work and stopping at the end of the day. This way there is still that feeling of “going to work” and shifting into a “work-mode” mindset.
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?
Praise them for what they do, especially when someone goes above and beyond. Have them vote for who to highlight at the end of the week, and give them time off as needed. The easy thing to do when switching to remote work is to try to control everything, but people do their best work when supported and encouraged to do their best work.
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. 🙂
Be kind to yourself. This is something I constantly remind our team, especially for moms who have to balance taking care of their kids and getting work done. We have a flexible work schedule, and I always give them the time to be able to rest. I believe that you can’t really give what you don’t have. If one is burnt out, they can’t perform the best that they can.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Passion can take you anywhere. This is a mantra I keep repeating to myself whenever I feel lost, unsure, or simply burnt out to keep going. I remind myself that I’m following what I love, and that if I can get through it, I can get to where I want to be in life.
Thank you for these great insights!