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Marnie Consky of Thigh Society: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

Helping your team thrive means paying attention to the intersection of the work that people love to do and what they’ve been hired to do. In my past life I was an MBA Career Coach and focused on helping my students identify the type of work they enjoyed doing most, not just what they were […]

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Helping your team thrive means paying attention to the intersection of the work that people love to do and what they’ve been hired to do. In my past life I was an MBA Career Coach and focused on helping my students identify the type of work they enjoyed doing most, not just what they were good at doing. The more someone is able to focus on doing work they enjoy AND are good at, the less it feels like “work”. I’d also add that it’s important to let each team member know how they personally are contributing to the company’s mission and goals to ensure that everyone feels part of and shares in the team’s success.

Asa part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marnie Consky. Marnie is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Anti-Chafing Champion of Thigh Society, a niche undergarment brand offering moisture-wicking, breathable, and discreet boxer brief underwear for women. Thigh Society prevents inner thigh chafing while providing modesty coverage and is on a body-positive mission to normalize the common skin rash while helping women love their thighs at any size. Marnie launched Thigh Society in July 2009 entirely self-funded, and developed an innovative anti-chafing slip short as a new product category — without any formal apparel, marketing, or ecommerce experience. Now, Thigh Society undergarments are globally recognized for their high-quality fabric and construction, signature fit, and inclusive sizing. Thigh Society promotes body positivity so that women everywhere can be free to wear whatever they want and love their thighs at any size.

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”?

Growing up, I always had the itch to be an entrepreneur because I loved the idea of financial freedom and thought it would be super cool to invent something that other people would find valuable. I got a Bachelor’s degree in business, and I spent the next 10 years working for large organizations in project-based, human resource-oriented roles. I sought out opportunities where the job was undefined, where I had a lot of autonomy and where I could make a significant and direct impact on people. In retrospect — I was what we’d now call an “intra-preneur”. I used to PVR every episode of Dragon’s Den (Canada’s Shark Tank) and watched all of the entrepreneurs pitch with a mix of admiration and longing since I wanted to come up with a business idea of my own that was scalable. But each time I had an idea, it had either already been invented by someone else or I had mapped out its lifecycle in my head and it was dead in the water before it started. That was until the summer of 2008 when I had the idea for a non-shapewear, long leg boxer brief for women. My main motivator was putting a stop to thigh chafing and helping women love their thighs at any size without the stigma that comes with chafing. If men could have comfy boxer briefs of varying leg lengths, why couldn’t women?

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?

Never be scared to let people know what you don’t know. When I first started Thigh Society, I would always ask manufacturers or other experts in the field to explain it to me as if I were a 10-year-old. I will become an expert, but first I have to begin with the basics. There is no such thing as a dumb question. Gain enough knowledge to know when you’re being lied to.

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

Helping your team thrive means paying attention to the intersection of the work that people love to do and what they’ve been hired to do. In my past life I was an MBA Career Coach and focused on helping my students identify the type of work they enjoyed doing most, not just what they were good at doing. The more someone is able to focus on doing work they enjoy AND are good at, the less it feels like “work”. I’d also add that it’s important to let each team member know how they personally are contributing to the company’s mission and goals to ensure that everyone feels part of and shares in the team’s success.

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?

Since pre-historic times, haha. I’ve been working remotely on and off for 20+ years and steadily with Thigh Society for the last 10.

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?

  1. Onboarding: Welcoming new team members and training them remotely
  2. Communication channels: Deciding which ones to use and when (e.g. email vs phone vs chat etc.).
  3. Project Management: Having a centralized location where the team can share their docs/deliverables and get a holistic view of the various initiatives underway by all teams
  4. Getting to know your teammates: Many informal non-work chats come up by the proverbial watercooler, so without that I feel it’s important to get to know your team as whole people, and not just their work selves.
  5. Setting expectations on deadlines and deliverables — I’ve never been a fan of office face time for face time’s sake, since I’m more about getting sh*t done. Focus on outcomes and not necessarily on hours worked.

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

  1. Onboarding: Schedule meeting time in shorter increments (1–1.5 hours max) to review documents together over the phone or video chat. Create video-based training (there are free tools like Loom) which can be more engaging than long, tiring documents. Break processes up into little chunks that are easily digestible.
  2. Communication channels: Establish guidelines for the team about which comms channels are preferred and when. Chat channels can be great for quick questions but email may be better suited for items that need to be searched on later in your inbox or shared drive. If an email is more than 300 words long, you may want to consider having a 15-minute phone call first and then summarizing the key points in email.
  3. Project Management: There are lots of ways to manage projects and share team documentation, the simplest of which is having Google docs folders organized by teams. Or you can use AirTable, Asana, Trello, etc.
  4. Getting to know your teammates: Take a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting for small talk — I loathe that word but it means asking how a person’s weekend was, what did they do? What plans do they have coming up?

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?

Honestly — I’d give feedback verbally whenever possible. It’s hard to read someone’s tone in email and your intention, while good, may be taken the wrong way. If you must give feedback over email, I’d limit it to specific examples of work produced and not make it overarching to someone’s performance — and I’d still offer to follow it up with a verbal discussion. Other ways to offer constructive criticism is to first describe the context or lens that you’re looking at the work, ask questions, and allow your team member to come to the same conclusion on their own. For example, “I’m putting myself in the shoes of our customer and trying to imagine how she might interpret X. Do you think we’re framing this in the best possible way for her? What might we be able to do differently here?”.

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

Teams that work with me know right from the get-go that I’m direct and to the point. I set expectations whenever I onboard a new team that I do give feedback in real-time and that it’s always intended in the spirit of professional development (and I reiterate that on the regular). Also, I prefer to share specific examples so that I can provide tangible — not abstract — suggestions in an email.

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?

One major obstacle would be to avoid relying on email too much — oftentimes, picking up the phone is much more effective (or message someone in a chat first to ask if/when they have a few minutes to talk). There’s a tendency for people to get caught up in writing novels in an email when a short conversation would have saved time and probably could have been more effective.

Be considerate and ask if team members have preferred days or times of day to have meetings. With so many people at home sharing their workspace with spouses, partners, roommates, taking care of kids, pets, etc. — what worked in the office may not work in a remote setting.

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?

  • Weekly check-ins (at least) with each team and maybe a once per month all hands on deck check-in.
  • Sharing team wins as everyone’s wins, celebrating milestones, bringing everyone towards shared goals.
  • Ensure that each member of the team understands how the work they’re doing contributes to the success of the whole.

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. 🙂

I want to continue supporting the body positivity movement. It’s something I have been passionate about, and proud that Thigh Society has been advocating for long before it became mainstream to talk about and celebrate. I feel that if women were free from all of the negative body-image focus, imagine how much more we could accomplish? And to quote one of my favourite LGBTQ+ activists, Laverne Cox, “by doing the work to love ourselves more, I believe we will love each other better.”

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

Stephen Covey’s fifth habit in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

This piece of feedback was given to me early on in my career by a mentor and it has stayed with me. There’s so much value in really listening (to your team, customers, vendors) before trying to communicate your points. Everyone wants to feel seen and heard, and you’ll earn the respect of colleagues if you can really listen.

Thank you for these great insights!

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