Podcast

Lauren Stiebing 01 June 2021

Setting Up Remote Teams with Megan Berry, VP Product at Octane AI

Megan Berry is currently the VP of Octane AI, an all-in-one platform for data collection, personalized Facebook Messenger and SMS automation targeted towards retail and eCommerce brands.

She is a guest blogger at Mashable and The Huffington Post and is an expert managing remote teams, especially global ones, having worked with remote teams for more than 9 years of her career.

Today she is joining us on the podcast to discuss how to set up a successful and engaging culture and the working environment when having a remote set up.

Topics Covered in this Podcast:

  1. Why choose to make a fully remote company? Which are the benefits?
  2. What are some of the main challenges you have encountered when leading a remote team?
  3. How can you ensure a similar same level of efficiency or engagement in these types of companies?
  4. How do you deal with conflict with your peers or team members whilst working remotely?
  5. Final tips/advice

PAULA:

– I’m very excited to have you here today, because I know that Megan you have worked with remote teams for over nine years, way before the COVID pandemic happened, way before any of us thought it was like a realistic, effective and efficient way to lead teams. So you’ve been doing it for a while. So I’m very excited to discuss with you today, how to set up and how to build a fully remote Team. I think it will be very
interesting to get your insight.

So I wanted to of course start with the basics. Why choose to make a fully remote company? Which would you say are the benefits of that?

MEGAN:
– Yeah, absolutely. I think there are huge benefits both for the employer and the employee. So for instance, for the employer, you get to like, one, you hire the best talent from everywhere not just one place. So that’s a huge benefit, the talent available to you is just incredible.

Two, you get to save on office space. When you think especially about like Silicon Valley startups and things like that. Renting office space in San Francisco or New York city or London, like those are incredibly expensive office spaces. And when a company is just starting out, it’s probably not the best use of your money to get some fancy office space. So that’s the second thing.

Third thing is I think it helps employers focus on productivity instead of face time. You can get stuck in the idea that employees who stay the longest are your best employees and that’s not necessarily the case. So it helps really bring that front and center. And then the fourth thing for employers, it’s easier to hire a more diverse group of employees. One, is you have just like geographical diversity but also Fast Company, like did a study where they found that women make up 42% of the leadership at remote companies, compared with only 14.2% in S&P 500. So definitely seems like remote companies allow for more diversity, which is huge. And then on the employee side, one, that’s probably the one that comes up the most is no commute time, right- – So that’s a big. Commuting sucks. No one likes it. So it’s great to not have to commute.

The second one, which I think is one of the biggest benefits is people can make the work fit into their life. If you have someone who has a family, maybe they can pick up their kids from school or they can easily drop them off at daycare at a convenient time or something like that. If you’re someone who maybe cares a lot about, you know fitting in their gym at lunchtime or maybe they like to go for a walk in a certain place, all of that is possible when they have flexibility over their actual location. I was also looking into this and there was a study from PGI report that 82% of remote report lower stress levels. Obviously that was a pre-pandemic.

Pre-pandemic. Obviously. (Megan laughs) (Paula laughs) – Very different, everything has changed post pandemic. So we’ve got it. – But yes, so in general when
you’re not in a pandemic, working from home can just be less stressful and you can live where you want instead of having to be in one specific location.

PAULA:
– Okay, great. ‘Cause obviously I guess that point alsowhat you were mentioning is why it explains kind of the easiness of bringing in diversity, because if you are more in control over your working schedule, over your location, over your commuting time, it also allows for a better kind of personal and professional balance in that sense.

I would also like to ask you, so not only the benefits, but in terms of the main challenges what would you say are some of the main challenges that you have encountered when leading a remote team? – Yeah, absolutely.

MEGAN:

So firstly, I think you need to be very thoughtful about communication in a remote environment. When you’re in person, you have so much more that you can rely on in terms of body language. For instance, when someone first starts at a company, even if you don’t have a very good onboarding process you can literally see them. So you can probably notice if they seem especially stressed. If they look stuck, if they’re just like, like you can probably, you know, as you like walk to go to the bathroom, you might be like, “Hey, how are things going?” And that might just come naturally in an in-person environment. So I think when you take that remote, you have to think about what you would do in person and kind of translate it.

So it’s like, yeah, you wouldn’t have someone start and then have go two whole days before talking to them. You would have regular check-ins. And so you need to do that remotely and make it work that way. And just in general, you need to be much more thoughtful about your communication ’cause it won’t just happen, you have to do. And then, Oh, sorry, go ahead.

PAULA:
– No, I was just gonna ask you, like, in terms as well of kind of adapting a more face-to-face environment to fully remote in terms of efficiency and engagement as well. I’m sure that that has an impact too. If you’re able to see your colleagues every day you can notice if somebody is less engaged with work, if they have their mind in other things, if they’re not really kind of right there and then as they were
maybe in the past, right. So how can you really ensure that you get the similar or similar yet the same levels of engagement with these types of companies fully remote?

MEGAN:
– Well, I think part of it is acknowledging that even when you’re in person, just because someone’s there doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working. Like we’ve all heard stories or been that person at one time or another where it’s like, you’re very careful about what’s on your screen when your boss is there but then when they go to lunch maybe you’re on Facebook, right?

So it’s like, I think it’s important to acknowledge that employees can be engaged or not engaged in any company. And I think that working remotely forces companies to look at engagement from the perspective of what’s the real goal.

Again, it’s not about how many hours you can sit in a chair. There’s very few jobs for which that is what the real goal is. It’s about your productivity. And maybe some people actually can be productive with fewer hours. And if so, who cares? Right?

PAULA:

– Yeah.

MEGAN:
– But in order to like help that happen like what we’ve seen is like, so at Octane AI we focus like firstly, when we’re hiring. We hire employees who want a remote company. And for us it’s important obviously in the pandemic maybe everyone just needs to be remote but we wanna hire people who want to stay remote after that. And there are some people who just prefer working in an office and that’s fine. People are allowed to have preferences in so many things in life. And certainly remote versus in office, I think is one of those things that people will develop preferences over but our employees just love working remotely.  And so they are very excited about making it work and that really helps. So I think getting employees who really want a remote work environment helps a ton.

And then secondly we found just making sure everyone is aligned on why you are doing something is so critical. I think it’s critical for in-person companies too. But again, since you’re not all in one room sometimes people forget to communicate. So taking the time to say, “Hey, we’re on this mission. This is what we’re trying to do. And this is why.” Is so, so important. Not just telling them what to do, but why we’re doing it.

And then we have a great tool set. Right now we’re so lucky there’s so many amazing tools you can use for remote companies. Zoom like we’re on right now. Slack is great. You need a project management tool of which there are so many wonderful ones to choose from. We also use tools to like help make things more visual, take screenshots with arrows, pointing at the things you want to talk about, things like that. And there’s just a huge breadth of tools out there. It’s not like there’s only one or two that work but you wanna make sure that you’re using them and incorporating them.

PAULA:
Absolutely.

MEGAN:
And I would say to add to that, doing video calls from time to time is important as well to build that sort of  face-to-face feeling, not every call needs to be a video call, but it’s nice for instance like a one-to-one with a manager to do a video call. So you can get that sense of seeing how the person’s doing.

PAULA:

– Okay. Makes a lot of sense. And coming back to kind of your point on communication on the fact that it just doesn’t naturally happen maybe as easily as face-to-face and that you need to be a little bit more
proactive about it. In terms of conflict, I imagine that plays into it. How have you, or what’s your advice on dealing with conflict in terms of either your boss or some team members or peers that you may have an issue with?

MEGAN:
– So firstly, I think it’s really important in all environments especially remote environments to be respectful and give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of the time you are communicating in text and as we all know you can definitely have the wrong tone from text-

PAULA:

– We’ve all been there. (Megan laughs)

MEGAN:
– Exactly. In personal and professional environment.  And so when that happens, we try to like, one, just give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t mean it like it sounded.

And then secondly, you know, escalate the medium not the message is what we say. And it’s something that I’ve heard at other companies as well. The idea is if something is upsetting to you instead of like just saying like, “Okay now I’m gonna write back in all caps.” And like we’re really getting into it.

Maybe wait a moment and get on a call because then once you get on a call, you can hear their tone and you can get to a place where hopefully it’s better. And sometimes also wait a little bit, you know if you’re feeling really upset I think this is one of the benefits of a remote company. You’re not in person. You don’t have to immediately talk. Maybe take a walk. Talk in an hour. Talk the next day depending on how you’re feeling. It allows people to take control of their emotions and get to a place where they feel ready to chat.

PAULA:
– Which I guess, that it’s again, one of the benefits, I mean you could see it as a con but I think that this fact that you need to be a bit more proactive on your communication style that you need to be a bit more
reflective on how you feel, how you express what you feel as well. I think that’s definitely a benefit of working in a remote company ’cause I’m sure it builds much more of a healthy culture and a healthy communication style.

MEGAN:
– Yeah a 100%. I agree with you. I think that’s a really great point. I, for one have no poker face at all, so when someone comes to me with an idea and you can see my face, you immediately see what my first impression of that idea is. But our first impressions aren’t always the best. Right?

So what I like in a remote environment is I can like think about it and maybe my first reaction is that doesn’t make sense but then well, like why do I feel that way? And I think about it, I might I actually come back and say something very positive to them ’cause I realized their idea’s amazing. And it’s great that they can get my reaction after some thought instead of just the first thing that comes to my head.

PAULA:
– Yeah. Okay. Great. Would you have any other kind of final advice, final tips that maybe you haven’t touched upon that you think is important as well to keep in mind?

MEGAN:
– Yeah, I’d say one, one really important thing is if you have a global team to be really respectful of people’s working hours and time zones. Especially in the U.S. and maybe this is just true everywhere but I’ve noticed it’s really easy to become like U.S. centric with how you think about time zones. And people will set up a meeting and not realize, “Hey, that actually doesn’t work very well for our European team members.” And we need to make sure that we’re choosing times that aren’t making it hard for them to live their life and be able to go out to dinner with their friends or be with their children or whatever it is that is part of their life that matters to them outside of work, because we all have those things.

PAULA:
– Of course.

MEGAN:
– And so considering time zones is just so important. So that’s like a huge tip to constantly remind yourself of those time zones. At one point I had like literal like clocks for different time zones. I don’t have that anymore but something that just like really gets it in your face of like, “Oh my gosh, it is 8:00 PM for this person.” Maybe I’m gonna make sure when I messaged them to say, “Hey like please don’t read this until tomorrow.”

PAULA:

– Yeah. Okay.Very interesting. And I think that Megan. Thank you so much for all of these tips. I think that obviously now that with COVID, a lot of companies have moved if not into a full remote kind of working structure, they will definitely move into a hybrid one of mixing face-to-face plus home office. So I think that in that sense there’s a lot of what you’ve said that I think that all companies can take onboard and start implementing. So thank you so much for that.

MEGAN:
I have one more thing if you’re open to that.

PAULA:
– Sure. Go ahead.

MEGAN:
– Okay. So just one more tip is to that building a great culture and being a great manager is hard in person or remotely. So I think what’s important in a remote environment is like any environment, think thoughtfully about what you want your culture to be and how you want to help your employees succeed and move forward in their career and be happy at the company. And I think what remote companies have going for them is it’s pretty clear that just because you occasionally have a work happy hour that’s not a culture, right. And in-person companies use that as a crutch. Like everyone comes to our Friday happy hour. Everyone wants to be happy. Well, that’s not necessarily the case anyway. So to think thoughtfully about how you’re building that culture, things that we do at Octane AI is we have fun Slack channels. So we have channels where people can talk about what they’re binging on Netflix. The latest music they like. We have, for instance, a parenting group where parents to talk about stuff happening with their kids. Just places for people to talk about non-work things. And then we also do virtual retreats when we get together. We even had one where we Remotely visited a goat farm.

PAULA:

– Oh nice.
– It was really fun.

MEGAN:
We’ve had one where we played games. We do all sorts of things. And once it’s safe we do intend to have like a once a year in person retreat. But obviously that’s pending, you know safety for everyone involved.

PAULA:
– Yeah, no for sure. Maybe I’ll propose my company to do something similar. I like that idea. (Megan laughs) Great. Thank you so much, Megan, for your insights. It’s been a pleasure having you on the podcast.

MEGAN:
– Yeah.
Thank you so much for having me.