Keeping the culture alive — Company culture can be a struggle for remote teams. From my experience, one of the ways a remote team can keep the culture alive is to incorporate some of those culture moments into your virtual office, too. Maybe it is a Slack channel to celebrate birthdays and other milestones — or taking 10 minutes in an all-hands meeting to get everyone to reconnect over a team member’s win. There are little ways to virtually connect — though it does take a bit of extra effort.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Riel.
Stephanie Riel is the founder, owner and “RielDeal” behind RielDeal Marketing, a US-based boutique multi-channel marketing and branding firm. She has more than a decade of digital marketing and brand strategy experience and has worked with brands across a variety of industries including technology, ecommerce, health and wellness, real estate, retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG). In her personal time she enjoys spending time with her loved ones, spoiling her two dogs, and traveling the world.
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 a brand strategist and digital marketer who got my start in the industry in 2008, while still in college. I found marketing via courses for by Business degree and immediately fell in love. Problem was, I was nearing the end of my college time and knew I didn’t want to change my major to learn the book version of marketing, so I started my consulting firm to get as much real life marketing experience as possible before graduating. I leveraged that freelance work to get my first full-time job — and every job after. I’ve worked in corporate environments and in startups — with franchise systems, Fortune 6 companies and with family-owned small businesses…and that was by design to get as much diverse experience as possible. I lived the “side hustle” life for over 9 years, navigating the demands of a full-time job — working for someone else by day and working on my business and servicing client needs on nights and weekends. In 2019, I left my corporate job to focus on my business full-time and I’ve not looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When you hear my background, you assume I am self-taught on marketing…and I am. But what was interesting is in a faculty role for my Collegiate alma mater last year — I was able to help students in an agency-style learning environment apply their school-taught skills in a real life setting. Real clients, real projects and campaigns….real results. It was so interesting to me to be part of that educational inception. And, so interesting to see how students today are (luckily!) able to learn digital marketing skills in action; that is something that did not existing when I was in college!
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 mistakes are not usually funny in the moment — I do have a rather unique take on them. To me mistakes or “failures” are the greatest way to learn. I’m sure I made many mistakes early in my career and I’m sure I would laugh about many of them now. No matter the mistake, what I’ve learned is we can let our mistakes define us, or we can rise above. For me, rising above, figuring out how to fix it or learn from it and move forward is the most valuable lesson of all.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout? My advice to other founders would be to remember that first and foremost communication is the most powerful too we have. A sincere thank you goes a long way. We’re all human and there is power in appreciation and being appreciated. My other piece of advice is that as the founder — you are leading the company but your team is also watching you take the lead. How you handle vacation time, breaks during the day, or paying attention when your employees voice needs all is seen.
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 have nearly 6 years experience managing remote teams.
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?
Technology Overload: That ongoing internal dialogue of….Do I Slack them? Or is this an email? Can I call them…oh they aren’t online right now… should we Zoom…etc.? With remote work we often have so many communications tools to choose from that we end up not communicating.
Communication: There never seems to be enough of it. When I’ve managed remote teams I’ve stressed the importance of overcommunicating. Being direct and setting the expectation that you aren’t “bothering me”, setting the communication expectations for team communication can make a major impact.
Keeping the culture alive: Company culture can be a struggle for remote teams. From my experience, one of the ways a remote team can keep the culture alive is to incorporate some of those culture moments into your virtual office, too. Maybe it is a Slack channel to celebrate birthdays and other milestones — or taking 10 minutes in an all-hands meeting to get everyone to reconnect over a team member’s win. There are little ways to virtually connect — though it does take a bit of extra effort.
Tuning in to your team’s needs. When a manager and their team is taken from an in-person environment to a remote working environment tuning into the needs of your team can be difficult. The truth is, not everyone thrives working remotely. I have found that some of my team members over the years really benefit from the routine of being in-office. Taking an extra moment during check-in meetings to ask how your team is doing can make a big difference during the adjustment period.
Onboarding new team members. The onboarding process is especially challenging if there aren’t measures in place that account for the remote working environment. From my experience, clear processes and operations procedures can help all team members get up to speed quickly.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
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? Video is a great way to have a feedback session that is clear and constructive.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email?
How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh? It can be challenging to interpret email communication. Many times tone and meanings are inferred when they aren’t intended. Extra communication can help in these situations. Offering to jump on a call or Zoom to discuss and clarify can make a big difference to the feedback review process. It often expedites the process that gets complicated via email, too.
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 would recommend avoiding trying to treat the work day like it is the exact same as on location work. Because it isn’t. Team meetings will operate a bit differently. There are added distractions from home and other factors at play. As a manager paying attention to the shifts and being understanding and responsive to your team’s needs and feedback is a way to ease into the transition.
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?
From my experience, I recommend incorporating some elements of work culture to the remote office environment. Using tools like Slack to celebrate wins, acknowledge a team member’s above and beyond accomplishments or even special celebrations like birthdays are ways to keep the culture alive.
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. 🙂
I have seen the power of positivity and kindness to others in my life. If I could inspire a movement it would be to spread positivity and kindness so that it shines brighter than the anger, hate and negativity we see.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote that has always been special to me is the Winston Churchill quote “Never, never, never give up”. For many years my father battled cancer. A friend of his gave him a drawing of a bird eating a toad and that was the saying on the drawing. It was a source of inspiration to my dad throughout his cancer battle, and it is a source of strength and determination for me to excel in my career path — even more since my father’s passing.
Thank you for these great insights!