Michael Maher of Cartology: “Get on the phone, or a video call, and give feedback “in person.””

Get on the phone, or a video call, and give feedback “in person.” Doing that helps your team to know how you sound when giving feedback. If you are angry and spiteful in speech, they’re going to get that in text. If you’re kind, honest, and helpful, they’ll know that’s where you’re coming from in text. […]

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Get on the phone, or a video call, and give feedback “in person.” Doing that helps your team to know how you sound when giving feedback. If you are angry and spiteful in speech, they’re going to get that in text. If you’re kind, honest, and helpful, they’ll know that’s where you’re coming from in text.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Maher.

Michael started in eCommerce back in 2010. He initially launched an eCommerce business, while working a job he hated, and soon moved into entrepreneurship full time, running that business successfully for 6 years. After the market drastically changed in 2016, Michael decided to pivot and become a service provider for brands needing help on Amazon. He now owns and runs Cartology, an Amazon Service Agency, that helps brands to grow their business on Amazon. Cartology translates your brand story onto the marketplace and artfully utilizes Amazon’s Advertising Platform to insert your brand into the conversations consumers are having with them. If you want to grow on Amazon, Michael is your dude.

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”?

Well, I’m a musician that became a business owner without any previous business experience. Sounds kind of crazy and well, it was. But I made it a point to learn as much as I could and then surround myself with people that knew more than me. I’m a kinesthetic learner so doing is where I shine. I want to get in there and just figure things out. When I was stuck in a job that sucked, I decided to forge my own path in eCommerce. I had some experience selling music gear on eBay and thought, “I can do this, right?”

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

As an eCommerce business owner, I was constantly searching for new products. I was looking at selling a brand of socks and naturally did some research on the category. In my search, I found a used pair of socks that sold on eBay for 50dollars. I thought I found a goldmine. As I dug deeper, I saw that the socks were advertised as “worn” by someone and the model was in some provocative positions. It turns out, people will pay a lot of money for worn socks. I guess if you love feet, that might be a good investment.

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?

Funny mistakes are interesting because they just aren’t as memorable as the lessons learned the hard way. I’d say the funniest mishap would have to be when I’ve waited for someone to join my conference line, wondering why they hadn’t signed on after 15 minutes of waiting. When I jumped from the call, I was about to reach out to them saying, “hey, I guess today didn’t work. Let’s reschedule” and then I realized the meeting wasn’t scheduled on my conference line but theirs. Ouch. They were super cool about it, thankfully. I felt pretty silly but I got over it quickly.

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

Engage them and get to know them. People are so much more excited about work when they know people at their job care about them. Part of engaging them is making sure they know what they’re doing well and where they need to improve. Don’t do the feedback sandwich thing. Just be straight with them. Encouragement is important. If people show up to work every day and feel like they’re sucking at everything, they probably won’t stick around.

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 run my agency for 4 years and it was remote from the start, intentionally. I don’t want to be chained to an office so why would I expect others to do the same. Plus, I wanted to be able to source people from all over the world.

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?

Communication, organization, responsibility, engagement, and communication. Those are the biggest challenges. Yes, I said communication twice because it constantly needs to be managed. Since a lot of communication can be done quickly via text, in email or a slack/Skype chat, things get easily misunderstood, especially tone of voice. I can’t tell you the number of times someone is confused about something in slack and we just say, “let’s hop on a call.” That 5 minutes on a call could fix something that would take 30 minutes to explain otherwise. Getting on a call also helps you better understand their perspective and how they communicate.

Organization is important because there is no physical office to scope out. You can’t say, “look behind the filing cabinet.” You have to get someone to access something on a different computer, browser, and with a potentially different understanding of how to navigate that computer. Responsibility is key to successful project completion. If your team doesn’t know their responsibilities, something could sit for days before it gets worked on or completed. When clients are relying upon you to help them run and manage their businesses, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Engagement is huge because everyone is in their own world. If you don’t engage them and show them you appreciate their work, you become just another job for them. It’s another job they could leave for a new one, at any time. Engagement with your team keeps you from having constant turnover.

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

Create processes and systems for tasks then establish modes for communication. Do you discuss things in one software and manage projects in another? Make sure everyone is clear on what you’re using and its function. Systems help you stay organized and help people to know their responsibilities in the process and in their role in the organization.

Don’t let words on a screen prevent you from getting your point across. Pick up the phone or video chat. Video chat is my preference because you get to see the person, demeanor, and tone of voice.

Engagement is fixed by getting to know your people. Spend some time in the small talk area but ask better questions. Ask them about their family, significant other, what they had for dinner last night. It doesn’t matter just get in conversation with them, ask questions, and listen.

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?

First, think through what is the most important feedback to give. Sometimes you have multiple pieces of feedback but if you start with one piece that is the most important, you get a win without bombarding people. You can work on the rest over time.

Get on the phone, or a video call, and give feedback “in person.” Doing that helps your team to know how you sound when giving feedback. If you are angry and spiteful in speech, they’re going to get that in text. If you’re kind, honest, and helpful, they’ll know that’s where you’re coming from in text.

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

Write without emotion. If you’re pissed, pause for 20–30 minutes and come back to it. Keep it simple and don’t overdo it with words. Say exactly what you need to get your point across in as few words as possible. Don’t overwhelm people.

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?

Keep your normal routines and do as much as possible to get visuals on people, i.e. getting on a video call. Set standards for communication, i.e. you must get back to someone within 24 hours, tag people if you want a response, give some kind of queue that you’ve read a message with an emoji or a response, etc. All those work.

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?

Build into your team by giving them real honest feedback and recognize what they’re doing well. That goes a really long way.

Do a virtual happy hour or spend some time not talking about work. Remember, you’re all still humans.

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. 🙂

End modern slavery. 40 million people are still enslaved across the world, with 99% of them being outside the United States. Give, pray, advocate, and purchase products that support this cause. Look at organizations like International Justice Mission, Freeset, Exodus Cry, and other anti-trafficking organizations to see how you can get involved. Every little bit counts.

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

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank

All you have is this actual moment. Do everything you can in that moment to positively impact the world. It doesn’t need to be big. It just needs to be something. A step is all it takes. A word is all it takes. Those changes begin to snowball and create a ripple effect, one whose impact you won’t fully know because you’re still at the source of the ripple.

Thank you for these great insights!

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