…Syncing time-zone differences the right way: If you’re rarely in the same physical space as a team, one way is to sync your time zones. This would involve knowing each employee’s time zone — making sure that nobody is contacted at an ‘inappropriate’ time. One way we ensure this at RemoteTeam.com is to let each worker know where their partner is. And in our slack channels, each employee has their local time displayed beside the chat window.
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 Sahin Boydas, a serial entrepreneur living in Silicon Valley. Sahin has built and managed 100% remote teams for over a decade now. In the past, he co-founded 3 Startups, he is alumni of 5 accelerators such as Stanford StartX, 500 Startups, FI, Betaworks Vision, Quake Accelerator. He sold his first company to Gfycat in silicon valley. Sahin is currently working on RemoteTeam.com to bring his vision to the future of work. With his 10 years of experience managing remote teams successfully, he is now on the media about the future of work-life and Silicon Valley, sharing his experiences on building a company culture and a successful team.
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?
My journey as a serial entrepreneur started in Turkey. After juggling with a few ideas and startups in Istanbul, I moved to San Francisco in 2012 and founded my first company in Silicon Valley called MovieLala. Movie Lala had 33 investors and was later named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 6 Innovative Startups that are reshaping Hollywood. MovieLala was later acquired by Gfycat. After the success of MovieLala, I founded Mojilala and Leo AR. I recently moved to Austin in the wake of the pandemic, where I’m running my current startup, RemoteTeam.com.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have encountered numerous interesting stories growing up and building my career as a serial entrepreneur — but I’ll share the most recent story. When I was hunting for a domain name for my current company, RemoteTeam.com, I stumbled on the owner by coincidence online. We didn’t know each other. But I needed the domain name badly. So I told him my story and how I need his domain name. I also made him aware that the only money I have on me is my rent and a few bucks to survive. We agreed on the price and I wired my last penny in my account to this ‘stranger’. I was promised that they will transfer the domain name to me in two weeks — and luckily, I got it as promised. I find it interesting because the decision I took could turn into a scam. It could be a big blow to me and my family. While taking risks is something we do every day as entrepreneurs, I sometimes think that I went too far — but that’s exactly what gave me the domain name I’ve been searching for.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Invent yourself and then reinvent yourself, don’t swim in the same slough. invent yourself and then reinvent yourself and stay out of the clutches of mediocrity” Charles Bukowski.
Throughout my entrepreneurial and personal life, I’ve loved this quote and taken great lessons from it. It reminds me not to remain where I am. It reminds me to dream bigger, aspires to go higher, and not to be a statistic — whether it’s about building a new startup, coming up with a new idea, or reinventing the wheel entirely about my business life.
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 a 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?
Physical presence in the workplace comes with a lot of benefits. The first one has to do with collaboration. Working together with other team members is easier when we’re all in the same physical space (but this could also depend on the person involved — some work better together online). Working together physically also creates an avenue for the team to have relationship-building activities such as playing Ping-Pong, going out to eat or have fun activities together, and more. This helps build a sense of belonging and strengthens the company’s culture. One thing we should remember at the end of this is that we are dealing with humans, so there are usually no ‘absolutes’ as to how beneficial the physical office is. Some enjoy being together physical, others like online collaboration.
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?
Working from different locations definitely brings its own challenges.
Collaboration becomes very difficult for most team members. This may lead to a slowdown in productivity, usually in the short term. Communication becomes difficult as well. While there are many tools out there that help teams working from different locations to communicate, there’s still something about face-to-face communication that a virtual system cannot beat.
There’s also the challenge of building relationships that lead to solid company culture. The lack of physical presence makes it difficult for companies to organize physical relationship-building activities.
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.)
Working from different locations comes with its own challenges as outlined above, especially when it comes to communication. Here’s what I think will help these teams communicate better.
Building the enabling environment for communication: Communication in remote teams doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whether it’s communication about work, about employee’s personal lives, or about workplace relationships, organizations need to set the needed environment for everything to happen. This includes but not limited to investing in the right communication tools and setting communication examples as managers — so that employees can follow.
Setting clear-cut rules and expectations: Communication in remote teams doesn’t happen itself. Remote teams need to have clear-cut rules about communication in the organization. They also need to have expectations when communicating. This helps set boundaries about what an employee can talk about at work and what they cannot, as well as which conversations can happen over work-related slack channels and which cannot.
Syncing time-zone differences the right way: If you’re rarely in the same physical space as a team, one way is to sync your time zones. This would involve knowing each employee’s time zone — making sure that nobody is contacted at an ‘inappropriate’ time. One way we ensure this at RemoteTeam.com is to let each worker know where their partner is. And in our slack channels, each employee has their local time displayed beside the chat window.
Getting a communication regulator: While communication can flow smoothly in a remote team if the right tools are used, there still needs to be somebody making sure that this process runs smoothly. This, of course, might not be about employee-to-employee chats, but when it comes to company-wide communication such as zoom meetings and presentations, getting someone to regulate is a great way to get everyone on board.
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?
There have been many challenges in managing my remote team, especially for my current startup, RemoteTeam.com. I’ve managed remote employees for a decade, so I’m aware of how this can be challenging and was already prepared for anything. However, the pandemic made things go wayward — lockdowns were happening at different places at the same time. This made communication and collaboration difficult in the first few months with many employees. However, as someone who has run about 3 startups entirely remote, we got back on track pretty shortly and everything is going on smoothly now.
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?
When it comes to the tools that help replicate the benefits of being together in the same space, we can find a myriad. However, a few of them stand out, the number one being RemoteTeam.com. It has helped teams manage employee payroll, time off, hire from different locations, pay overseas employees easily, and streamlined the entire management process. But that’s just one part of the story as remote teams need to use a lot of tools to get things done. Others that have helped us include Zoom for video calls, slack for company-wide communication, ClickUp for collaboration and task management, Loom for video recording, Krisp for noise cancellation, and others such as Airtable and Notion.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
The first would be to build the tools that we need to sync every communication of my business — from automatically calculating time zones to prevent messages at inappropriate times, to using artificial intelligence in onboarding new hires and automatically adding them to the right channels on slack. But tools are just a small part of the communication system. I would also build the enabling environment that ensures that leaders serve as examples to building communication and starting conversations.
My particular expertise and interest are in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?
The need or appeal for unified communications technology has skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic. Initially, teams that worked from different locations had much use for these communication technologies. When the pandemic shift, almost any company that could work remotely or from home had to do so, and unified communication technology became a necessity overnight. I think this will continue in the future and more of these technologies would be built as more teams do not intend to go back to the physical office space.
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?
For the future of work to progress further and become the new norm, new technologies would be part. I’m particularly excited about VR, AR, 5G, and the advent of smart homes. Not only would this allow people to have highly-equipped offices at home and champion the remote work revolution, but it would also help advance collaboration to the highest level and enable many forms of remote work to suit each company’s and employee’s unique needs.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
This entire future of work concerns me in different ways. First, I’m a strong believer in these new technologies and have built startups around them. One of my startups, LEO AR, which I’ve built from the ground up to be one of the most successful AR-based tools on the App Store. On the other hand, I am also spearheading affairs at RemoteTeam.com, where I plan to help build the operating system for the future of work and remote teams. This means I’m at both ends of the future of the work spectrum and it’s exciting.
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 digitals such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
I have built and run a lot of startups entirely remote for the past 10 years. During this time, almost all of my communication with customers or clients have been through these: video calls, emails, phone calls, or messaging apps. And this isn’t going to change anytime soon as someone building tools for remote teams to work together.
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?
How you give constructive feedback at work depends on the employee. As a team, management needs to learn more about employees and through their day-to-day communication, be able to give them feedback that will help employees do better at work. Leaders also have to make employee feedback personal and not share it with any other employee or the team as a whole.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Not working from the same physical location makes things difficult when it comes to creating a sense of camaraderie, but there’s always a way out. One way we’ve done it at RemoteTeam.com is to have a break-up room after every weekly zoom meeting. During these break-up sessions, we randomly group team members and encourage them to share ideas, talk about themselves, where they live, and more. This helps build relationships that are not necessarily based on work, creates a sense of belongingness, and helps reduce the loneliness faced by remote employees.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success!