Maintain visibility but avoid micromanagement. As a manager, it’s impossible to know each task that every employee is working on at all times — especially when you’re remote. But, it’s important to set objectives and check in on them on a scheduled basis to set your employees up for success.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shai Terem, President & COO, Markforged.
Shai joined industrial 3D printing company Markforged about a year ago as president and chief operating officer. He oversees day-to-day operations, as well as the go-to-market and company strategy, including sales, marketing, customer success, finance, people and operations. Prior to that, he served as president of the Americas region at Kornit Digital and held multiple roles at Stratasys.
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”?
I’m originally from Israel, where I served in the Israeli Navy for more than nine years and studied at Tel Aviv University to earn my B.A. in economics. Recognizing my passion for business, I went on to pursue my MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. It wasn’t until a few years later that I entered the 3D printing world with different roles at Stratasys and established my knack for overcoming obstacles and exceeding customer needs. I also served as President of the Americas region at Kornit Digital, a worldwide market leader in 2D digital printing for textiles, where I led the company through restructuring challenges including relocating its headquarters, optimizing its go-to-market strategy and growing customer satisfaction rates.
It wasn’t until joining Markforged, however, that I truly fell in love with the power of industrial 3D printing. I’m extremely inspired by Markforged’s vision for revolutionizing manufacturing. I truly believe and see in real time how we enable supply chain optimization especially during this worldwide pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I always felt that my entire experience as VP of Finance and Operations at Stratasys was very interesting and helped shape the COO that I am today. There, I was responsible for all financial and operational activities, including accounting, financial planning and analysis, accounts receivables, order management, logistics, purchasing and operational excellence. Wearing these various hats gave me an incredibly vast set of skills and insight into successful business operations and, more importantly, how to achieve true customer success and strategic channel partnerships.
Also during that time, I earned an amazing opportunity to lead our West Coast sales efforts. Beating our targets took a lot of hard work building strong relationships with our channel leaders who I’ve come to know very well. In fact, I’m very fortunate to have many of them as friends and business partners today.
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?
While I began my career many years ago, the funniest mistake I’ve made actually happened recently at Markforged. If you know me, you know I’m fond of steaks, and very proud of how I grill them. In December of 2019, I was still onboarding during a Markforged retreat and wanted to impress my new team. So, I promised them I’d grill up some steaks to show off my hidden talent. However, the stove had an open gas flame, and when I went to light it, the stove burst into flames right in my face, burning off my eyebrows. Yes, I’m OK, but yes, it was scary. And, it was wildly embarrassing at the time. However, staying true to my Markforged values, I remained resilient and returned to the real grill the next day, and we all enjoyed some great steaks.
What advice would you give to other executives to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Don’t fear burnout. I often find employees actually fearing the result of burnout before enduring it. It’s up to employers to motivate employees and help maintain their workload.
At Markforged, we strive to reduce burnout by encouraging social interactions between meetings, even the remote ones. Now that we don’t have the ability to tap each other on the shoulder to congratulate solid work, we try to make more direct calls, schedule lunches and happy hours, and simply make personal gestures wherever possible. Overcommunication during these days has proven very important.
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?
In my experience working in sales, myself and my teams often spent days on the road to be as close to customers as possible. While it may be new to many Markforged employees — especially our engineers, finance and marketing teams — I began managing remote teams well before COVID-19.
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? Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
- Maintain visibility but avoid micromanagement. As a manager, it’s impossible to know each task that every employee is working on at all times — especially when you’re remote. But, it’s important to set objectives and check in on them on a scheduled basis to set your employees up for success.
- Provide high-level reinforcement. Employees want feedback, even when they’re not in the office. Scheduling one-on-one meetings and providing structural feedback can help them maintain growth and stamina.
- Encourage social interaction and engagement. It’s critical to find a way to get personal and stay connected, even (or, especially) to those in different time zones. Provide people with an opportunity to communicate their realities, successes and struggles.
- Continue hosting professional development sessions. Hosting professional development workshops is still important during remote work. At Markforged, we were able to host a socially distant, in-person workshop for a small group, and had others join virtually, through a high-quality platform that enabled clear sound and video. But, these sessions can be entirely virtual, too.
- Have fun together. Happy hours and other, non-work activities can boost morale and encourage human interaction.
Additionally, our customers — namely, manufacturers that traditionally worked in factories and on shop floors — have been forced to work remotely. At Markforged, we’re reimagining the manufacturing process to enable flexibility for our customers. I’m proud to say that, over the course of the pandemic, they’ve actually been able to take Markforged printers home and maintain productivity.
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?
Successful, constructive criticism starts with the person on the receiving end. They must be open and willing to accept feedback in order for the conversation to be effective. Gauging that level of openness can be difficult without body language, but video calls can help with this. First listen and understand the other person’s state of mind, choose the right moment and the right tone to convey your message.
It’s also important to set and measure goals. That way, when providing constructive criticism, managers can have clear data for their employees to connect to regarding their performance.
And, of course, always begin the conversation with positive reinforcement that reminds the employee of their value.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Providing constructive criticism over email is very tough, so I’d try to avoid this and suggest a phone call or video chat, instead. It’s important to gauge reactions to feedback. However, if it must be done, it’s important to remember to be sensitive, consider their state of mind and avoid being one-sided.
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?
I’d suggest overcommunicating to maintain a normal cadence of connection, and make sure every touchpoint is on the calendar. In the office, people can take walks, have side conversations and pop by each other’s desks in between meetings. Remote employees have become too comfortable with back-to-back meetings, with no break in between. As a manager, it’s important to help employees avoid burnout and Zoom fatigue. One way to combat this growing challenge is by putting time on the calendar for breaks or social meetings, like one-to-ones, virtual standup meetings, deskside chats or happy hours. That way, there’s a time block on calendars, and others will avoid booking over it with work-related items.
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?
Leaders should set clear expectations and empower their workforce with the tools and encouragement to meet them remotely. And they need to consistently check in with their workforce, across multiple channels, from surveys to direct phone calls. It’s critical to listen closely to what employees feel is working and what isn’t to create a healthy culture, in person and remotely.
And, to reiterate, I’m a firm believer in scheduling time to be social — whether that’s just a time block for employees to have a quick beer, or official entertainment. At Markforged, we actually hired a virtual mentalist, which was very unique and enjoyable.
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. 🙂
The movement I’d like to inspire is simple: spreading compassion. To spread compassion, people need to become better listeners in order to truly understand each other. Assume good intention by all. Assume your team or colleagues really tried to make the situation better. Then, if there are still disagreements manage them positively and with respect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote comes from the great band Journey: “Don’t stop believin’.” This quote inspires positive energy and encouragement, for myself and for my team. I’m always spreading this message — on calls, before pitches, during staff meetings. At Markforged, we’re reinventing manufacturing, which won’t happen overnight. But, if we all continue to believe in ourselves and the innovative developments we’re creating for 3D printing, day after day and part after part, it will happen.
Thank you for these great insights!