A while back, we shared an insightful interview with Young, our Global Operations Manager. Back then, the chat our team had with Young was so dense and full of questions, that we broke it down into two parts.
Today, we are sharing Part 2 of the conversation focused on managing a remote team and finding room for rest and passion projects while working for a fast-paced startup.
As a team leader, do you have any tips for running a high-performance team?
The key element for making sure you have a high-performance team is communication. You need to be confident that your vision and goals align with the team. If that’s not possible, performance will drop because not everyone is looking in the same direction. Also, it’s about figuring out as quickly as possible what bottlenecks put people’s tasks on hold.
For many, trust and engagement are the key challenges in running a remote team. How do you overcome these issues at oVice?
Engagement challenges are addressed in oVice because you can do the same things you would do in a real-life office. The key point of the product is to help teams stay connected and united – in my view, we did a good job at that.
As for trust, I don’t oversee the team too much. I try to hire motivated people who are self-starters and don’t need to be micromanaged. I do have KPIs and I check if we are hitting the benchmarks – if we do, there’s no need to burden my team with additional rules and regulations.
In 2022, there was a talent shortage in tech and marketing jobs. Have you faced hiring challenges? How did you overcome them?
Since we are hiring from all around the world, there’s no talent shortage for us but it is difficult to filter out who the best candidate is because there are so many. Filtering is the biggest challenge.
To screen candidates efficiently, we created a filtering system. When we actually hire someone, we have a month to three months of a trial period. It’s not an internship – people work normally but their performance is regularly reviewed by their HR and managers.
You are using oVice to manage your team as well. Have you developed any practices for making the most of the platform?
I try to do everything I did in a real-life office. For example, if someone is muted at their desk, I’ll assume they are working so I’ll just go there and make small talk. If we schedule a private meeting, we’ll go to a meeting room.
There are signs we use to check if someone is busy. We use emojis – a green circle means ‘I’m available anytime”, a yellow one stands for “I’m quite busy”, and red means “Don’t disturb”.
I use oVice to run scrums. I focus on making it casual – rather than setting up a conference call that requires everyone to be on camera and drains the team before they even start working, I just walk up to teammates and we discuss project updates.
Sometimes, I just walk around the office and “manage by wandering”: listen to teammates chat, contribute when I can, or just “lurk in the shadows” to get more situational awareness.
What are the benefits of the platform you feel the most strongly as a manager?
As a manager of any team, communication will be the biggest issue you’ll face working remotely or in a hybrid environment. oVice has provided the opportunity to communicate with the team with no physical limitations or extra steps to take to talk to someone.
With that, engagement went up, the amount of communication between the team members increased, and the team culture is very positive. Overall, as a manager, I find it a great tool for team communication.
In a hybrid environment like oVice, how do you make sure there’s no disconnect between people you talk to in person and remote-only employees?
When I pick my team, I choose people who like participating in discussions. I try to run short scrums with team leaders in order for us to always communicate. There could be someone who talks less, in which case it’s my job to make sure they speak up if they have any problems.
Having daily scrums and making sure everyone gets a turn to speak and bring up creative ideas or arguments is how I make sure that no one is disconnected and everyone belongs together as a team.
What advice can you give to remote team managers or people who plan to start a remote-first project?
The biggest problem in starting a remote-first project is probably the feeling of isolation between leaders and teammates. As a remote team manager, I highly recommend connecting with the team daily. It doesn’t have to be long but you should be able to catch up with everyone. It doesn’t have to be talking about work specifically – it can be small talk that you would do at the office.
Sometimes, creative ideas pop up in small talk so, gradually, you’ll see the performance hit the same numbers as it did without everyone working in the office or even higher because people save a lot of time by no longer “going” to work physically.
If teammates grow isolated, eventually, the team is going to break – there will be no performance, efficiency, or products delivered. You need to prevent this as a manager.
Running an innovative startup goes hand-in-hand with trial-and-error which implies making mistakes. If you could turn back the clock, would there be anything you would do differently?
There are many things I would do differently. Back then, there was nothing we could call a process. If something happened, we solved the problem. We currently have a better process but we’ve lost valuable customers on the way.
If I could go back in time, I would create simple structured processes for the team to follow. Then I would tweak and improve them. That’s what I think on the sales and CS sides.
As for marketing, we’ve done so many tests and we see what works and what doesn’t. I believe that the focus of our marketing strategy, short-term and long-term goals would be different from what we had back then.
Recruitment-wise, I would love to invest more in hiring because I believe, that, to scale, we need a strong team. I’ll always go for marketing first because, at the moment, my marketing team needs more resources. Right now, they are multitasking – I want to prevent that and make sure they work within their skill sets. They are good at everything but it’s time-consuming. At the end of the day, a person is a person – we need to rest.
I want to make sure that the marketing team is built first to break into specific markets. After that, I’ll grow my CS team in that region.
At the time of the interview, you are in Japan. Before that, you lived in Tunisia. You are from Australia and lived in Korea for a while. That’s a lot of travel! How do you have the time to travel while leading a team efficiently?
It depends on the destination and the purpose of travel. Tunisia was more of a workation, I went there to collaborate with my teammates who lived in Tunisia and figure out what challenges they face working there (the biggest issues we discovered were external – unstable Internet and low-end devices).
There are such business trips and then there are recreational trips. For example, I go to Korea, to Jeju to relax. In these cases, I’ll have a fixed 9-5 schedule and, after that, I will be slacking off a bit – enjoying coffee and so on.
For longer periods, six months or so, I do business trips. Then, for a short period of time – a week or two – I go somewhere nice and get my energy back to run again. Japan, to me, is a country where I can focus on working – my performance goes up. It’s because all the managers and C-levels are here so I can get information and approval as soon as I ask. Decisions are made way faster compared to Tunisia.
Do you have any tips for people who want to adopt a similar lifestyle?
Workation can be tricky because working and being on a vacation are such different things. You need to figure out a balance between work and vacation for yourself. For me, I create a strict schedule of when I work and when I don’t.
If I don’t do that, I tend to work whenever I have the opportunity which doesn’t make the vacation feel one.
If you are traveling for a vacation, it’s okay to dedicate some time to work while the rest will be eating good food, traveling, going out, and things like that.
Work-life balance is not easy to achieve when working for a startup. Do you have any tips for unplugging after a busy day?
I think the best way to unplug is to talk to someone – family, your co-worker, a manager, a friend. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, you’ll burn out. For me, since I work for a fully remote startup, if I have a phone and it’s connected to the Internet, I can work forever. That’s why having dinner and talking to someone prevents me from working at night.
Also, it’s important to have healthy habits like working out at a scheduled time. I also like having shisha – not every day but on Saturdays and Sundays.
What are your hobbies? Which hobbies would you like to pick up in the future?
I like sports in general. I used to play soccer but now I play tennis. I have a home gym so I like working out. I like cooking and listening to music. I have a lot of hobbies but I have to keep them under control to not overdo them.
Generally speaking, I believe, if you are working remotely, exercising is the best habit you can pick up. Keeping your body healthy makes you work better from a business point of view.
Cooking is also an amazing skill to have because if you live in a city, you are working all day, you will keep takeout which is not always good for your health.
If you didn’t join oVice or start a career in tech, what other job can you imagine for yourself?
Probably a secondary school PE teacher. I can picture myself doing various things because I have experience in diverse areas.
What motivates you? Are there people you admire and consider role models? Tell us more about them.
A vision motivates me. If there’s a vision I agree with, I get self-motivated. There are few people I admire and consider role models. I joined the company because I admire the leadership of the CEO and he motivates me a lot. I know that, when working closely with him, my performance skyrockets.
Because he has diverse experience in every stage of the business life cycle, he is a great role model for me.
What are your plans for the future (where would you like to live, what kind of work would you like to do, etc.)
I would like to go back to Australia, it’s such a beautiful country. I don’t have preferences in working, I enjoy any work that requires communication. If I’m a barista, I can talk to my customers. If I’m a PE teacher, I’ll be able to educate and talk to students and so on. I’ll do anything that relies on communication.