…From a leadership perspective, it’s crucial to be emotionally aware and understand that there are other events happening in our employees’ lives and on a global scale that affect us all. We must recognize these conversations and how they affect us, and foster a healthy dialogue to talk through what’s going on around us. This allows companies to support a positive culture. With that in mind, it’s also important to deploy and allow a flexible work schedule so employees can ensure a healthy work-life balance.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Faisal Pandit, President of Panasonic System Solutions of North America.
Faisal Pandit has held a number of roles in different business units at Panasonic for the past 25 years, from president of Panasonic’s Factory Solutions Company to senior vice president of security solutions. He is motivated by the customer and the philosophy that for a business to be sustainable, leaders need to understand the underlying fundamentals, strive for flawless execution, and commit to ownership. Currently, as president of Panasonic Systems Solutions of North America, Faisal is focused on the platforms and services that build ecosystems of B2B technology solutions for diverse business sectors from public safety, manufacturing and supply chain to food retail and immersive entertainment. He is a believer that customer-centricity is transforming the way we do business by driving innovation in products/services and encouraging teams to become trusted advisors, helping customers solve complex problems in an ever-changing business climate.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Faisal! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
As a global tech executive with a passion for creating technology ecosystems to enhance value for clients and drive societal contribution, a key element of my leadership philosophy revolves around striving for higher levels of employee engagement through transparency, empathy and communication. On a personal note, I’m a long-time Chicago Bulls fan, history enthusiast and avid consumer of self-improvement and leadership content.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
About ten years into my career, I felt a strong need to pursue an MBA in order to diversify my skills. A very short time after starting my MBA, my wife had to move out of town to pursue her three-year medical residency program. A competitive business school program, a young family with two kids living 200 miles away that required weekend visits and a full-time management job that required international travel stretched me (us) on many fronts. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. Having to strike a balance between competing priorities helped shape me in many ways including gaining a strong sense of the value of empathy.
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?
As I was getting ready to present at an important out-of-town client meeting, I learned that I had mistakenly swapped my carry-on bag with someone else’s, ending up with the wrong laptop. After a few minutes of panic, I made contact with the other party and was able to get my laptop back. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule the meeting and things worked out. I learned many lessons — including that mistakes don’t kill you but make you stronger, and creativity matters because great plans can fail.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Creating a positive culture is important for helping employees thrive. This includes building strong communication, ensuring leadership alignment, driving equity, diversity and inclusion across the organization and providing opportunities for professional development. These practices help to keep employees aligned to the purpose of the organization and fulfilled in their professional lives, in addition to driving greater agility across the organization. Agility is key when it comes to leading employees, especially remotely. When leading teams in a fast-paced environment and having to make and implement business decisions quickly, my advice is to consider how technology and digital transformation can help meet employee needs. Implementing technology and new practices with our organization’s needs in mind has helped us stay on top of the changing landscape and switch to remote work as seamlessly as possible. This starts with having a strong digital infrastructure, but also incorporates the cultural aspects I mentioned especially with regards to strong communication. You need a foundation that will support employees and help them be productive, whether they are remote or not. Agility allows us to give our employees the right tools and processes to serve customers’ needs. In turn, employees can see how their work has a true impact on the business, which helps teams stay motivated and productive.
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 had the opportunity to work with and manage Panasonic employees globally over the past two decades. Being based in Chicago with our North America headquarters in New Jersey and Corporate headquarters in Japan and having such a large team has given me experience in working with other offices using “remote” practices such as video calling. It’s always been important for us to have digital processes in place so our employees can always be connected no matter their location.
In addition, many of those in our core customer base are remote workers, which means that we’ve always had a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities that come with remote work. In the enterprise mobility space, our customers are working in the field and need products and services that support them anywhere and with ease. In the education and entertainment industries, customers have always sought out new ways to engage audiences. Panasonic has served customers across industries, helping them change the way they work to drive success. We have been able to translate these practices internally to ensure our teams have the support to get work done anywhere, now that we are all remote.
With today’s “next normal” which is how we refer to it, the pressures around remote work are at an all-time high. Our experience prepared us with skills to be successful, but this is unchartered territory for many businesses, so there were still many adjustments to be made and challenges to overcome in being completely virtual.
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?
Remote work can mean a lot of different things depending on the line of work. While some are just getting used to the concept of working from home, many of our customers have worked “remote” for years, out in the field and on job sites. Looking more holistically, remote really means making sure that our customers are capable of getting their work done and serving their end users, wherever the job takes them. Part of this includes ensuring they have the right tools and technology. Though, in today’s complex world, the utility value of devices has plateaued; they instead need the right software, services and data layered on top to achieve efficiencies, optimizing and automating the experience for end users. That’s where digital transformation comes into play — to bridge the gap between the actual tools and how it can address a certain scenario. Here are five challenges I’ve recently heard from customers around remote work:
- Staying connected, wherever and whenever — connectivity is always a top concern given that many jobs today rely on some sort of IoT or connected device to get work done. This is especially true in fringe areas where there are fewer towers and poorer cell service. Information must also be readily available where the worker needs it, whether that’s a delivery app driver linked up with a QSR or a public safety professional who needs information fast before arriving at a call, without getting distracted by reading or searching on their computer while driving.
- Ensuring security and privacy settings — working outside the four walls of an office where the server lives is a common concern regarding security. Think about federal workers, for instance, that are accessing highly-confidential data every day. They need an added layer of security features and privacy settings to protect any materials saved on their work devices.
- Having the right safety guidelines in place — keeping workers safe and healthy has obviously become an even greater priority for leaders over the last months. Businesses in many industries, such as manufacturing, are trying to figure out how to equip workers with technology that will limit interaction with other workers, and also reduce the amount of items that need to be physically handled during a shift.
- Creating the same level of experience, virtually — for traditional in-person experiences that thrive on interaction, virtual or remote environments can be challenging when trying to recreate the same level of engagement. One specific example right now is online learning and how schools can effectively help teachers and students remain engaged in a virtual environment.
- Promoting work-life balance — for those working within their homes, it can be even more challenging than usual to power down — physically and mentally — but it’s imperative to avoiding burnout. One way to encourage employees to do so is to lead by example, being open about how you’re incorporating flexibility into your own schedule and taking time away from work. This requires strong, continuous conversation across teams to put it into practice.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
Identifying the challenge in order to find a solution is step number one — so I’m glad we already covered that. I tell our employees all the time that in order to figure out a customer’s pain point you have to listen to what they are trying to actually accomplish and have a real conversation. Stop getting caught up in the technology jargon. This means that when we’re working remotely, connecting virtually through video is important in order to emulate those conversations that we would normally have face to face. All scenarios are different, but updating internal operations to drive value on the front end — typically a cohesive solution versus just a device — is typically a lead driver in addressing the challenge and changing the narrative through digital transformation.
For the above cases, we’ve talked to customers about what voice-enabled and contactless integrations can look like for safer work environments, the use of projection and professional video technology to teach online and create other engaging experiences as we continue to socially distance, and what connectivity options to consider to ensure workers can always communicate seamlessly with teams. We’ve also discussed security software for Windows and Android devices, and how to gather data and share with workers in an effective manner.
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?
Being open and having honest conversations with teammates is really important in building relationships and growing together to provide the best output for customers. Transparency is at the heart of it all — after sharing feedback in a direct and honest way, explain why you are sharing the feedback, then close with goals moving forward. When it comes to goal setting, you want to look at both the near and long term. Offer teammates the opportunity to grow by setting achievable short-term goals that feed into the long-term results. This opens the door for employees to see small wins on an ongoing basis and it makes longer-term goals feel more attainable. Whether they hit all their goals or experience failures along the way, keep the lines of communication open so you can help guide them through the process. We’ve used video conference services — like Microsoft Teams — for all our meetings so that we can talk “face-to-face.” This has been especially important right now during the pandemic as we work closely together, in real-time to figure out what we need to change, tweak or keep the same in our strategy as our world around us evolves at warp speed. Another part of this is providing space for change, acknowledging that there will be failures along the way, and instilling resilience and motivation to keep trying new things. It’s been really interesting to see where and how technology is being adopted and transforming routines amidst our new norm.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Delivering feedback is one of the most important things a leader can do. Now more than ever, we live in a digital world, which begs the question, why email this type of feedback? Teams should be meeting face-to-face through their preferred video platforms to discuss constructive feedback. This makes feedback received feel more honest, genuine and easily digestible. Productive and well-performing employees not only need, but crave to know how they are executing their deliverables and where they can improve their skills. The purpose of constructive feedback is to reinforce positive behaviors that boost employees’ performance and engagement.
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?
Today, organizations are being forced to adopt a remote work culture, and for many teams, this is the very first time they are working from home. Shifting to a distributed work environment can be seen as a temporary move or a permanent one; though, regardless of the situation, teams need access to the right technology, services and data to ensure employee productivity and engagement is not hindered. Managing remote employees is a balancing act between understanding their needs based on their work environment and ensuring they are equipped with the right solutions to execute their responsibilities. Just as it would be in person, engagement is critical. Distance does not necessarily equal disengagement, in fact, in many ways, the nature of video calls has put an increased emphasis on engagement. What’s key is providing the right level and cadence of communication to ensure all members of the team are involved and engaged. 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?
Since our team started working remotely full time due to the pandemic, we’ve been sending them regular updates on key impacts to the business and our progress on each of our annual goals. This helps provide transparency from all levels of the business. We have also used these updates to share successes from the team, recognizing them for their hard work, creativity, perseverance and ability to try new things in our new norm.
From a leadership perspective, it’s crucial to be emotionally aware and understand that there are other events happening in our employees’ lives and on a global scale that affect us all. We must recognize these conversations and how they affect us, and foster a healthy dialogue to talk through what’s going on around us. This allows companies to support a positive culture. With that in mind, it’s also important to deploy and allow a flexible work schedule so employees can ensure a healthy work-life balance.
From a technology perspective, providing the right solutions for workers’ remote needs is also critical. This could mean ensuring they have reliable connectivity, easy access to the VPN, video conference services, physical devices like laptops and handhelds or contactless options to ensure safety and sanitation. But equally important are the soft skills necessary to navigate this new environment.
It all depends on who you are as an organization and how you can provide the best support to your workers. Though, at the end of the day, we’re all human and we’re trying to do our best as we adjust to these new lifestyles. We must show compassion and accept where we are to move forward.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest number of people, it would be educating organizational leaders to give their teams space to operate in new environments. What that really translates to is giving them permission to take risks with right due diligence. This gives employees the desire and motivation to try new things and the ability to break boundaries, while also learning from the risks that don’t work out. When you’re going from something that’s working to something intangible that’s not well-defined yet, like digital transformation, you need to make sure your organizational culture is equipped with innovative thinking and supports risk taking — there has to be enough backup and support for when a person tries something and it doesn’t work the first time. What that will do is create incentive and desire and, ultimately, take the fear out of the uncertainty of trying new things and making discoveries.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“No matter how deep a study you make. What you really have to rely on is your own intuition and when it comes down to it, you really don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it.” — Kōnosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic.
You cannot push creativity unless you are willing to accept failure as a teachable moment; I have always empowered my team to take risks and push the boundaries.
Thank you for these great insights!