Establish a watercooler space — Having a safe space to share thoughts with your team that may not be directly related to anything they are working on is important for building teamwork, creativity, and a collaborative company culture. You can easily establish this by creating a message board or channel within your internal messaging and communication system dedicated for people to go and share findings that could help others in their work stream or even asking how everyone’s weekend was. I would recommend not to overlook this watercooler space so the team can bond, have fun and not be all so serious the entire time.
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 interviewingTu-Hien Le of BeauGen.
In 2016 inspired by her personal struggle with breastfeeding and pumping after giving birth, Tu-Hien Le created a unique breast pump cushion that now helps tens of thousands of women through their breastfeeding journey. Over the years, Tu-Hien built a team of part-time and working from home parents who are both ambitious with their careers and the primary caretaker of their family. Since then, the idea which started as a conversation with her husband at the dining room table has now grown to become her company BeauGen, a 7-figure e-commerce business.
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?
Thank you so much! I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2015 after my daughter was born. I identified a problem many new moms, including myself, faced when breastfeeding their baby. With many products in the space designed by men, the user experience was lacking. So after speaking to hundreds of breastfeeding women who expressed the same sentiment of having problems pumping comfortably for their baby, I committed to finding the solution. With the help of my husband, we developed a product designed to specifically solve the issue of comfort while pumping. From there, our flagship product BeauGen breast pump cushion was born.
Since then, I have built a team of remote working parents who are ambitious in their careers yet are the primary caretakers of their family. At BeauGen, our team does not need to choose between advancing their careers or their family. We embrace both. Together BeauGen has scaled to a 7-figure e-commerce business and continues to grow.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Throughout my corporate career I always felt like I could and should be doing more. I never felt the roles I was in really utilized or leveraged my capabilities. I felt challenged but not in my zone of genius.
A few years after starting my company BeauGen, I was losing confidence and didn’t think the company was going to gain any real traction. So I went back to my “roots” and found a corporate 9–5 job in finance which was what I went to business school for. I thought it was the “right” thing to do, have a stable job, consistent paycheck, and do what everybody else was doing.
After a few months, I quickly found the skills that were required to perform the best at the job did not align with my skills or interest. That didn’t mean I didn’t really work hard or try to learn to keep up, but the culture and fit was not right. One day, my boss and the partner of the firm walked into my office. I knew something was up. They sat down next to me and told me that this was not working out and that I was fired. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel it coming but still shocked. I sat there quietly trying to process the information and then respectfully shook their hands and left.
Interestingly enough around the same time, BeauGen started to pick up in sales and gaining traction. I had already hired my first team member and had her taking over customer queries during the day while I was at work. Once I left that office, I never looked back. I doubled down on my opportunity, hired 5 more team members to meet the demands of the business, sought out the guidance of mentors and coaches and increased my revenue by 11X in a little over a year. In the end, what you think is a door closing could lead to a better opportunity where another door opens.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” by Lao Tzu.
I love this saying because this speaks to being prepared and seeing the bigger vision.
When I structure my daily schedule, I always schedule my decision making and meetings in the beginning of my day. I know these events require a lot of thought and energy to address, so I want to make sure I am fully alert and ready to tackle any issues or decisions presented to me. As the day goes on, my energy will fade and I know I cannot make decisions as effectively. If I wait until the afternoon to take meetings and make important decisions, I know I will not be as effective or efficient. Thus, I plan to do the difficult things in the day while they are easy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband Chris has been the most influential person in my life from the beginning when I started building my business BeauGen to today as we scale to a 7-figure e-commerce business. His unwavering support and belief in my abilities helped me find the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself to become the leader I needed to become for the business. Not only that, he has been my rock and emotional support throughout entrepreneurship and parenthood and I am forever grateful for him.
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 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?
The biggest benefit of working with your team physically together is the ability to build the trust and bond amongst the team members. When people are bought into one another, they are more likely willing to help each other out when needed. Additionally, the small talk by the watercooler and coffee breaks gives you insight into people’s personalities and even their dreams. When you understand what motivates people, you are more aware of how to align their motivations that could help move the needle in the business as well. You can also identify what everyone’s zone of genius is and help them leverage their strengths to help the entire team and company get better.
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?
Similarly, the biggest hurdle is building a cohesive team and communication. It may take extra time to establish a productive working and communication cadence especially if the team is spread across multiple timezones. People also need to make an extra effort to communicate and get to know each other to build a productive working relationship. This may require going beyond just attending a meeting to finish a deliverable but genuinely wanting to get to know your fellow team members and how they prefer to interact and work together.
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.)
- Ask how people prefer to communicate– Create a working styles doc or one central place where people share how they like to communicate and for others to reference. For example, some may prefer a direct phone call whereas the other would prefer a chat message. Also understanding how your teammates like to work and communicate can help both of you be more effective when you communicate with one another.
- Plan office hours– By establishing company wide office hours, everyone is on the same page as to when the normal working hours are and when it is acceptable to send communications. Also this helps remote employees know when most of the team is working so meetings and one-off communications can be sent.
- Set expectations on response times– When teams are remote it’s not entirely uncommon for people to work early in the morning or late at night and send messages regarding a task. Set the expectations upfront that if you receive a message outside of office hours, that it is not expected of you to respond and can wait until the following business day.
- Minimize email- Email is quickly becoming a form of communication that people dread, having an inbox with hundreds of unread messages. Communicate with the team that the goal is to keep inbox at 0 and to minimize email communication. The back and forth threads can be confusing but sometimes necessary with outside vendors, so you can implement a system to speak with your team internally via a chat system like Slack. The good thing with Slack is there are channels set to specific topics where people can discuss or ask their questions regarding that topic. Slack can keep internal conversations much more organized than an inbox full of emails from everybody. Keep everyone focused on what they are trying to accomplish by establishing channels to discuss specific topics that do not involve email.
- Establish a watercooler space — Having a safe space to share thoughts with your team that may not be directly related to anything they are working on is important for building teamwork, creativity, and a collaborative company culture. You can easily establish this by creating a message board or channel within your internal messaging and communication system dedicated for people to go and share findings that could help others in their work stream or even asking how everyone’s weekend was. I would recommend not to overlook this watercooler space so the team can bond, have fun and not be all so serious the entire time.
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?
Since BeauGen started as 100% remote, the team’s communication channels were established and clear from the beginning. However, this did not mean that lapses in communication did not occur. When working remotely on a project, sometimes things are assumed and not clearly stated. When this happens misunderstandings occur and sometimes deadlines are missed.
For example, we launched a new digital sales initiative where it was a collaboration between the marketing and partnerships departments. Tasks and deadlines were established and they executed to plan. However, nobody knew who was in charge of following up with sales inquiries or establishing the onboarding process. This led to confusion and crossing over paths that ended up confusing the potential clients. The process was never communicated and each assumed the other would take care of it. This can have a much bigger impact in larger teams where tasks are critical to the workflow of other departments downstream. My advice would be to brainstorm and layout all the tasks necessary to go from start to finish. Then work with the departments involved to see how to divide and conquer to make it happen.
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?
The 3 main tools my team uses on a daily basis to stay on the same page are:
- Slack for sending messages
- Zoom for video conference meetings
- Google Drive to share working documents
Most importantly, each of these tools keep those who need to know in the loop of progress and allows ease of communication.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
Honestly, I do not think a new communication system needs to be developed for my business to run smoothly or my team to stay in-touch with each other. By including in an extra layer of social media, texting, and phone calls that already exist, there are plenty of ways for everyone to get a hold of one another.
My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?
Having a unified communications system could bring that “watercooler chat” and in-office banter back into the mix. A program similar to Discord offers live streaming chat in addition to messaging in one application. Having one place that hosts all forms of communication can make communication more seamless and less likely for a message to slip through the cracks. For example, If I were to send a message via Slack to my team it could be possible they missed it. To avoid this I would also send an email and possibly a text message. Leveraging unified communication could cut down the number of steps I need to get a message to my team.
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?
I would love to conduct all hands team meetings with the entire team using Augmented Reality to show their presence as if everyone is at the same place. This can help make the meeting more personable and interactive. Sometimes working over a computer screen can be limiting as you are not able to observe body language and expressions as well. With the enhancement of AR, being in a room with what looks like your entire team physically could take collaboration and productivity to the next level.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Being constantly inundated with messages and notifications can easily distract and disrupt your productivity. My concern is being too available that I am not able to think freely, innovate, or get work done. I would still want the ability to set clear boundaries to uninterrupted and blocked time for me to think, create, and innovate.
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 digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
From the beginning, BeauGen was built on a digital platform where all of our communication was done via website, email, social media, chatbots, and video streaming. The way we communicate with our customers did not change as our ideal customers were already digitally savvy and on those platforms. However during the pandemic, what changed was how we showed our support to our community. We offered more digital meetups and educational material to support the new mom through an already lonely and challenging period in her life.
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?
I believe providing constructive feedback to a team member in person or digitally is both challenging. I like to present what they are doing well and express my gratitude for the contribution they are making to the team and company. I then would highlight the areas of improvement and ask how they plan on addressing these areas. I would seek to understand why they might be struggling and identify if there is a resource or support they are missing in order to be successful at the task. I would focus on working as a team to resolve the issue rather than point blame and make the person feel like it is up to them to figure out the solution on their own. In fact, it is the leader’s responsibility to identify what is in their way of being successful and helping them through the process. Finally, I would end by asking if they agree to the next steps and again express gratitude for working with me as a team to find a solution. In my experience, when you bring your team into finding the solution, they take more ownership and feel more accountable for delivering on their task. I believe this continues to build a strong team culture.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Sometimes doing something casual and fun as a team bonding helps loosen people up and get to know one another on a more personal level. Having weekly huddles and doing a small ice breaker or doing a monthly special event highlighting a team member’s special talent is fun and not necessarily work related. When people get a break from thinking about their work, they can become more engaged and creative which could later be tapped into as well.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. 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 would inspire the movement of kindness and empathy. Today it seems people are divided and excluding people based on what they believe or their background. When you think about why we are all here to begin with, it’s to build a society together. Together means we must be open-minded, inclusive, understanding, and kind to one another. I believe if we act in kindness, people will not be as defensive and eventually could lead to a positive trickle down effect with their friends, family, and the rest of society.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.