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Nicole Anderson of MEND: “Prepare an agenda and materials ahead of time for meetings”

Prepare an agenda and materials ahead of time for meetings — in person meetings or collaborations generally have a format or topics that everyone is going to talk about. Do not change this structure just because it is virtual. Your employees are familiar with it and in times of change it is important to keep some normalcy. […]

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Prepare an agenda and materials ahead of time for meetings — in person meetings or collaborations generally have a format or topics that everyone is going to talk about. Do not change this structure just because it is virtual. Your employees are familiar with it and in times of change it is important to keep some normalcy. Send out the agendas ahead of time, let everyone make their changes, and then send out a final draft prior to the meeting. For screen sharing meetings, have your materials ready to present.

I attended a meeting with a popular networking group. The hosts were completely unorganized, and it was like this was the first time they hosted a meeting. The hosts had to search for their materials and forgot that they were on screen share. We saw things that we were probably not supposed to. All they had to do was keep the same format as their in-person meetings, but they were trying to reinvent the wheel.


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 Nicole Anderson.

Nicole Anderson is the owner and CEO of MEND, a human resources solutions firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. MEND has an impressive client list that includes a Fortune 500 company and a wildlife sanctuary, as well as companies in the manufacturing, distribution, geriatrics, medical, and technology industries. Before founding MEND in 2017, Nicole held corporate leadership positions in the legal, retail, and manufacturing industries. Nicole received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources Management from American InterContinental University in Weston, Florida.


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?

I grew up in a very small town that lacked a lot of diversity, so when I got out of high school I moved to Orlando and had the biggest culture shock of my life, but I loved it. I learned what makes everyone unique and how we all play a dynamic role in life. While I finished my degree, I had my daughter and had to move back to the small town for a while. I got a job at a local prison in HR and realized that the diversity I came to love was not anywhere to be found within the walls of the business. I knew then I was going to spend my entire career fighting for businesses and employees to have a happy healthy relationship. I spent the next 11 years building my HR experience and 4 years ago I knew it was time to make a difference, so I started MEND, an HR solutions firm. My goal is to help companies build better companies and help employees become better employees.

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

I received an anonymous letter under my door at the law firm I worked at. The letter read that a fellow co-worker had been bragging in the lunchroom about poisoning her own food because someone kept stealing it. At first, I was like this cannot be true. I pulled the employee into my office and she confirmed that she was indeed poisoning her food to get back at whoever was taking it. I asked her, “How long has someone been taking your food and why haven’t you reported it?” Her response to me was, “Well, they took it 6 months ago and I let the prior HR know.” Then I said, “Why are you poisoning your own food now?” Her response was a shoulder shrug.

This incident reminded me that you just never know someone’s mental state and what is going on in their personal lives. So, this taught me to always handle people with care and no matter what, treat them the best that I know how.

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

“Opportunity should not determine your drive. Your drive should determine your opportunity.” I always knew that opportunity was not just going to come to me, that I could not just sit and wait for the next thing to happen. I decided to make my opportunity, but I had to put in the work. I worked hard and was driven. With that, opportunity came, and it open more doors than I could have ever imagined.

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?

I am 100-percent grateful to my daughter. She has given me the drive and determination to get where I am today. I had her at 21 and was just a kid in college. I had to grow up. I knew I had someone watching me. She has sacrificed so much while I built my career and am now building two companies, but every step she has said, “Go for it.” So much so, that she wants to start her own cosmetics line. It makes me so happy to know that she is growing up to be whatever she chooses!

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?

  • In person, you can feel personality. You know when things are off and can address those issues easier. You can better understand intentions.
  • Communication and collaboration are much easier. You can get out an easel and giant pad, shout out answers, brainstorm, and build a team.
  • Focus. I do not know about you but, when I work from home there are a thousand other things I could be doing. When I am in the office, I have fewer distractions and can focus more on my work.
  • Adding to that — it is easier to balance work and personal life. You can separate the two.
  • Quiet time. I know traffic is a pain, but you have time to unwind on your way home or way into work. Listen to your favorite podcast and leave the bad day at the office, at the office or leave your angry spouse at the house.

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?

  • No collaboration or teamwork. People tend to keep to themselves more and do have to communicate about projects.
  • No one faces disagreements. It is easy to turn off a screen and never revisit or have conclusion to an issue. It gets pushed aside.
  • Distractions. Employees may not focus completely on their work. There is not much accountability, so you may see performance decrease.

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.)

1) Learn the technology you are using for virtual meetings — if you are spending money and time on a virtual meeting solution, make sure it is the right one for your organization. It is very important that, as the leader, you know every bit of capability of the solution. Can you have breakout sessions? Can you develop whiteboard meetings, share screens, and have team building activities? If you do not know how to use the solution, your employees will check out right away.

I have a client who was not familiar with online meeting tools and decided to host a team building event via Zoom during COVID quarantines. He signed up for Zoom, sent out the meeting invite, and held the meeting. He was learning to use Zoom at the same time as having the team building meeting. The managers and supervisors were really annoyed and checked out halfway into the meeting. When he decided to flip to break out sessions, the entire meeting dropped.

2) Prepare an agenda and materials ahead of time for meetings — in person meetings or collaborations generally have a format or topics that everyone is going to talk about. Do not change this structure just because it is virtual. Your employees are familiar with it and in times of change it is important to keep some normalcy. Send out the agendas ahead of time, let everyone make their changes, and then send out a final draft prior to the meeting. For screen sharing meetings, have your materials ready to present.

I attended a meeting with a popular networking group. The hosts were completely unorganized, and it was like this was the first time they hosted a meeting. The hosts had to search for their materials and forgot that they were on screen share. We saw things that we were probably not supposed to. All they had to do was keep the same format as their in-person meetings, but they were trying to reinvent the wheel.

3) One on One time — if you are a leader be sure that you spend time with each of your employees once a week. They need to know that they have the same access to you that they did while you were in the office.

Office Hours are a great example. Let your staff know that you will be on your meeting platform from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. and they can jump on the link if they need to. You are still able to work while you wait, but is important that they know you are available.

4) Internal Social Boards — Some payroll providers provide “Community Boards” (Paylocity’s Version) to keep everyone in the loop of what is going on in the organization. Invest in this type of product where everyone can be involved and communicate across the company.

We introduced a large client to the value of utilizing their current technology to keep everyone engaged. They began posting on the internal social board. It quickly became popular. The employees love hearing about the new sales from the sales department and marketing could get everyone in the organization’s opinion on items now. It was an underutilized system they already had to promote communication.

5) Utilize online team building events and contests — engagement is the hardest thing when everyone is separated, and the communication is limited. Allowing employees to have some fun online with each other while building the team is a win-win for everyone. Team building sites have a popped up rapidly and in person team building companies went remote with their activities. They are able to tie in all your departments or just one or two people.

The same company above invested in a team building suite and they actually host them on their social board. Company bingo which is related to the products they are rolling out or dress up like your boss contests.

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?

We use both the company issued phone and their own cell phones.Our main challenge was internet at different houses. The internet service was so weak because so many people were on the servers.

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?

  • Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been a lifesaver. Each tool has been constantly evolving over the last year and have been far more effective.
  • Goremote.live is fabulous. It has team building games. You can host games shows and integrate with other systems.

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

It would be awesome if there was one system that provided all of the above-mentioned services.

  • Online meetings with breakout rooms (features like Zoom has)
  • Social board
  • Team building activities/games
  • HRIS and payroll

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?

Yes! You do not realize how many systems you and your teams actually use until you are faced with everyone of them. You also notice how ineffective everything is separately. This system does not work with that system and that system limits us to this capability.

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?

I am sure you are familiar with co-working spaces that have popped up over the last 5 years or so. Well, that trend has now started virtually. You are able to rent space virtually at those locations. This is great for address use and being able to work with other individuals.

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

Anything can happen with the virtual rooms. Zoom experienced this early on in the pandemic where people who were not involved in the meetings would sign in and do inappropriate things. It is important that we put safeguards on the virtual tools and have policies around employees who violate.

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?

We have had a huge shift in how we handle clients. Before COVID, I personally was traveling 20–25 times a year to clients. Almost all of our clients are now fully remote and we do virtual meetings, phone calls, chats, and text messaging.

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?

  • Use the steps from the question #7. You can even do an icebreaker instead of a team building activity.
  • Just because you are virtual doesn’t mean you should be scared of giving feedback.
  • It is important that they is alone and give them the opportunity to have a conversation openly. Make sure automatic record options are turned off.
  • Allow the employee time to prepare a response. Similar to the second bullet point in Question 7. Give them the agenda ahead of time.

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

I think a lot of leaders need to just relax. Create the same type of meetings you had in person and give employees the opportunity to have some normalcy. Leaders can also assign teamwork where the teams can collaborate on certain projects.

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. 🙂

Women Empowerment! Not feminist related, but just so that we can love each other. I was 34 before a woman helped me with my career. The other years I was just competition and they kept me under their feet. I read on social media all the time what women say to each other. It is sad. We do not value other’s decisions or choices if they do not align with our own thinking. We could change so much together if we listened more and talked less.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mendingbusiness

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleandersonhr/

Website: mendhr.com

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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