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Terri Lewis of One Call: “Managing Communication ”

Managing Communication — Sometimes, communication will be ad-hoc and that’s good, but you also need to layer on a governance process for communications to ensure timely alignment. At One Call, we have created a cadence for communication. We have a quarterly board meeting, followed by a meeting with leadership across the organization to walk them through anything […]

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Managing Communication — Sometimes, communication will be ad-hoc and that’s good, but you also need to layer on a governance process for communications to ensure timely alignment. At One Call, we have created a cadence for communication. We have a quarterly board meeting, followed by a meeting with leadership across the organization to walk them through anything that came out of the meeting, and then our senior leadership teams hosts an all-employee town hall and Q&A session to communicate company updates and other pertinent information across the organization and allow employees to ask questions. From there the same messages are reinforced in functional team meetings. We also encourage managers to check in with employees regularly to keep an open channel of communication.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Lewis.

Terri oversees human resources for One Call’s more than 2,000 employees. She is responsible for creating the company’s overarching vision for culture and engagement, diversity and inclusion, and top talent acquisition and retention.

Terri has more than 25 years of experience in human resources. Prior to One Call, she served as senior vice president of global human resources for Pontoon Solutions where she is credited with creating a people-centric organization, attracting and developing the best talent, and positioning the company as a leading ‘Great Place to Work.’

Terri received her Master of Human Resources Management from the University of South Carolina and her Bachelor of Science in Business Management/HR from Clemson University.


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”?

From a young age, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. When I went to college, I quickly realized that much of the work would require memorization, which was not necessarily one of my strong suits. I began to consider other career options that would still align with this passion but play more to my strengths. This led me to a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in human resources, and the coursework helped me determine what I liked to do. I worked for a year in between college and my graduate degree for a dental practice managing three offices, and this cemented my career path for me. I enjoyed much of the work that fell under Personnel, which is now known as Human Resources. I narrowed in on this as a focus for my graduate degree and built my career from there doing what I love.

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

One of the most poignant moments of my career happened within my first few years of working. I was working in manufacturing, and I, unfortunately, had to terminate an employee who worked on the production floor. When we told him, he was not surprised and was very understanding of our decision, but before he left, he said to me, “Ms. Terri, I am going to have to apologize in advance. My mama is going to come in, and she is not going to be happy with you. I am very sorry.” And sure enough, this little, 4-foot-tall woman came in yelling, and I was able to talk to her and calm her down. What I will always remember from that situation is that business decisions affect more than the person in front of you. There might only be one person sitting in front of you, but that person has other people who depend on them.

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?

I was interviewing to be a HR trainee in a rotational management program, and the company brought me in for a half-day of final interviews. I received the interview schedule in advance with the name and title of each interviewer, so I did my research and made sure I knew a little bit about each of them and the organization. As we were walking down the hallway, the person who was coordinating the interview day said, “Oh, Charlie is here. Let’s pop into the conference room and see if he has a few minutes to talk with you.” So, I sit, I talk with him, we shake hands, I go about the rest of the day. At the end of the day, he asked if I had any questions and I say, “Yes, who was Charlie? He was not on the interview list.” He was the CEO of the company. But in truth, had I known that going in, I would have been so focused on making an impression that the context of the actual conversation would have been lost. The situation reminded me that it is just a title — he, and everyone else within an organization, are real people, not titles.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I encourage my direct reports, and I try my best to set an example of doing this, to schedule time for yourself. If I let my calendar go uncontrolled, I could easily be in meetings all day which is neither productive nor conducive to preventing burnout. I reserve an hour or so each day to work independently, eat lunch, stretch — things that often get deprioritized when you are in back-to-back meetings. At One Call, we modified the default setting when scheduling a meeting in Outlook to automatically propose a 25-minute or 55-minute meeting. This gives our employees five minutes back to stand up or pour a fresh cup of coffee if they are in back-to-back meetings. We also introduced biweekly No Meeting Thursdays so our managers can work uninterrupted. It is our hope that these small, cultural changes help keep our employees from feeling overworked or stretched too thin and improve their well-being at work.

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 started with a global company in 2013, where many of my teams were not even in the same country. For almost eight years now, I have worked at companies where my team is not regularly accessible to me in-person.

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?

Ensuring Productivity Stays High — This depends on the type of work your team does, but the more easily you can monitor the productivity of your team, the better you can manage it. At One Call, we can track call volume, referrals handled and more, but for some companies, activity is not as quantifiable and easily understood. For those companies, I recommend checking in regularly with your employees. Consider their messenger status to be the equivalent of knocking on someone’s office door and asking them if they have a few minutes. This tells you if your employees are working or available when they should be. Conversely, if you see an employee is available or sending emails late into the evening, then this should indicate to you that your employee feels as though they must be available at all hours, which is only going to lead to burnout. As a manager, you need to communicate that is not the expectation and emphasize the importance of work-life integration.

Company Culture — The analogy I like to use for company culture is tending a garden. You plant the seeds and hope good things grow — it has to be organic. It is also incumbent upon leadership to fertilize, prune, remove any weeds and provide the right kinds of sun and water for the garden to flourish. One of the ways One Call is fostering our remote company culture is through Thank You Thursdays, a monthly meeting that mimics chatting at the water cooler or grabbing a drink at the end of the day. We encourage all of our employees to turn on their cameras and engage in dialogue so we can be present with each other, and our leaders model this behavior by leaving their cameras on and asking questions to start the conversation. We also use our intranet to direct employees to the same location for information and ensure timely communication.

Managing Communication — Sometimes, communication will be ad-hoc and that’s good, but you also need to layer on a governance process for communications to ensure timely alignment. At One Call, we have created a cadence for communication. We have a quarterly board meeting, followed by a meeting with leadership across the organization to walk them through anything that came out of the meeting, and then our senior leadership teams hosts an all-employee town hall and Q&A session to communicate company updates and other pertinent information across the organization and allow employees to ask questions. From there the same messages are reinforced in functional team meetings. We also encourage managers to check in with employees regularly to keep an open channel of communication.

Hiring and Onboarding — In this environment, hiring and training a new employee is entirely different. I recommend those conducting interviews or training new hires to lean into video-enabled technology. It isn’t perfect but is as close as we can get to recreating the in-person experience. You should also include others from your organization in the process for a better evaluation of the interviewee. Using consistent criteria and scoring will also help ensure the interview process is balanced. Finally, I often use an assessment when hiring employees to understand their fit within the organization.

Burnout — We are all working from our homes right now, so more than ever, we need an effective work-life integration. As managers, it is critical that we model the behavior we want from our employees. This includes encouraging employees to use their paid time off even if they are staying at home and to set boundaries about when you are available outside of working hours. If you are sending emails in the middle of the night, the employee on the receiving end will think they need to respond in the middle of the night. I know for many working parents, sending an email late at night when their children have gone to sleep might be the most productive time in their day. If you prefer to draft emails late at night, you can set a rule in Outlook that prevents emails from being delivered between certain hours so the email is delayed and arrives first thing in the morning instead. You are modeling the behavior your team members will likely mimic.

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?

While it is not perfect, you can almost be in the room with a person via video. make eye contact and read non-verbal cues. Tone is also important. Avoid giving immediate, constructive feedback and take time to process what happened so you can ensure you are conveying it in the right tone. When you know an employee does not take constructive feedback well, consider drafting talking points to anchor yourself when having those tough conversation and weaving in affirmations to soften the dialogue as well.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

When you are delivering constructive feedback over email, you have time before you hit send. People make mistakes, you get frustrated and you convince yourself it is the end of the world. First, it isn’t. Second, you should never hit send on an email when you are upset. Consider writing out your email in a draft and then move to another task or take a walk to decompress. Once you come back, reread what you wrote out loud. Would you say those words if the person was sitting in front of you? Then, decide whether you should send the email or rewrite first.

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?

The most critical thing to do is determine the working style of your team. Teams that are incredibly collaborative and feed off of each other’s interactions with their team find the transition to remote work the hardest. There are many applications that enable teams to work collaboratively in a shared space like Microsoft Teams or Google Docs. It takes time to implement and adapt to using these platforms, but it is a good time investment if your team will be remote for the foreseeable future. From there, add in the necessary support structures, like video conference calls, to complement this process.

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?

At One Call, we prefer to refer to goals as commitments because a commitment is a stronger term and more often between people. When you fall short on a commitment, it carries more weight than missing a goal. Communicating expectations around commitments is essential in empowering your employees to honor their commitment. Allow your employees to weigh in on expectations around timing, how they prioritize their work, quality metrics and so on, and then align on what is mutually conducive to the success of the individual and organization. Giving employees the accountability and responsibility helps you get the most out of your team because they were able to contribute to establishing the commitment.

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. 🙂

Simply put, if I could inspire one thing, it would be for all people in this world to be kind to one another. There is a distinct difference between being kind and being nice. Being nice is superficial — you can put it on. Your mom and your grandma used to swat you on the head and tell you to be nice. Kindness is meaningful. It comes from a place of truly caring and understanding. Being kind in an exchange with someone else means that you are listening to them to understand not to form your reply.

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

“Assume positive intent.” This is relevant to most any situation. Most people do not wake up in the morning planning to perform poorly at work or make life miserable for the cashier at the grocery store. Something happened throughout the day that brought them to a place where they are not at their best. Assume positive intent and show kindness to that individual.

Thank you for these great insights!

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