Across digital transformation efforts, recognition is growing that communication and collaboration are increasingly important — even as some processes become automated. More and more, developers are looking for ways tech can boost teams in a hybrid age.
With that in mind, I spoke with Alykhan Jetha (AJ), the president and CEO at Marketcircle, to get his views on the leadership qualities the future of work will need.
A little Daylite on the future workplace
Marketcircle’s Daylite is a CRM solution for Apple products. It’s built for collaboration, both externally and within internal teams. The software itself integrates customer relationship management, scheduling, contact, sales, and project management into a single Ma-c, iPhone-, or iPad-native application.
Over the years, the company has enhanced Daylite to maximize the value of customer connections, including the capacity to hold useful data on historical interactions. Most recently, the company updated the sync system Daylight uses so it keeps more users and larger quantities of data synchromized.
At its most basic, some see Daylite as an Apple-only alternative to Salesforce. It’s because the company already creates tools for hybrid teams that Jetha’s insights into the future of work will be valuable to other enterprise professionals. This Q&A offers up some of the insights he had to share.
What are the three most important qualities for leadership when managing remote teams? “Having the right people in the right place is essential, but how do you get there?
- Know and understand your core values. This is important when hiring people because it makes the other steps (below) easier.
- Take time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people you have. You may gather this information through one- to-one meetings or by spending specific time with them.
- Know and understand where the company is going (or at least where the team is going), so that you can attempt to place the right people in the right jobs.
- Recognize that people are sometimes not a good fit for certain position/situations. Try to find a better fit for them. Listen so you can (hopefully) recognize these situations. If the problem persists across multiple projects, then the person may not be a good fit for the company.
- Ensuring constant alignment around goals. In a remote environment, that constant alignment is even more important. [At Marketcircle] we do this in the following ways:
- We have a quarterly ‘all hands’ meeting during which we remind people what our long-term goals are.
- We have a monthly ‘all hands’ meeting in which we remind people of our quarterly goals and where we are with those goals. We must address the inevitable challenges and delays.
- Each team has a weekly ‘huddle’ during which monthly or quarterly goals are re-iterated.
“[You need to] eliminate or minimize information silos. One of the patterns that we see a lot is what we would call silos of information or duplicate information. In a remote environment, it can be even more challenging to have your teams on the same page. One way to make a business more efficient is to bring all that information — including notes and conversations you’re having or the deals and projects that you’re working on — together. This way everyone can speak to customers in a unified way. That saves time. (It’s also something Daylite enables.)
“Provide a safe environment so that questions/problems/solutions can be discussed in public (Slack/Teams) channels. (Though obviously people or personal problems should not be discussed in public channels.) Some people refer to this as ‘asynchronous communication.’
“Manage interruptions and constant work. There are two other common patterns we see, one is constant questions/answers on Slack/Teams, so much so that it crosses work hours (notably due to timezone differences). You need to set some boundaries otherwise it will lead to burnout for some people and the inability to produce actual work for others.”
Emotional connection is essential to teams — how can technology help management establish strong connections with employees they may never have met? “Prior to us being remote, we were a small bunch. We would eat lunch together, play games and enjoy all kinds of activities. By doing that, without us even realizing it, we were sharing our values and learning to trust each other.
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“When we went remote, we suddenly didn’t have the opportunity to bond over these activities, so now we had to be much more deliberate about these connections and much more repetitive.
“What worked for us was finding ways of incorporating technology we use for work, such as Slack, Zoom, and Confluence into our team-building strategies. In Slack, for example, we have channels that are specifically designated for us to share common interests that are not necessarily work-related, such as cooking, photography, music, etc. We also encourage our teams to use Zoom to socially meet. Even Daylite plays a big role in our team building. Anytime we need to schedule a team lunch, one-on-one or any gathering, we can easily look up our team’s schedule and find a time that works.”
Many business leaders complain that remote working lacks the opportunity for casual communication. Is that a management problem, or a technology problem? “I think that the last two years have accelerated the opportunity to communicate differently and optimize remote work solutions. A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t think of having so many customer meetings remotely. But the pandemic forced us to do it and then we learned that we can be more productive if we do some parts of our work remotely.
“There are still some communications that you can’t replace, such as face-to-face meetings — because you can’t replace that relationship-building part remotely. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult. Going to dinner with a customer or having some of that social time is not something you can replace with a video meeting. But the frequency of business travel and in-person customer meetings will drop. To me, it means businesses will have more flexibility to have their employees work from home more frequently.
“One of the toughest things that we saw people go through during the pandemic was the fact that they were so used to sharing information verbally, whereas now, they must have systems in place to share the same information effectively and securely.
How can tech recreate informal spaces in which people can share and grow? “This is a difficult one to answer. We haven’t quite cracked this nut yet. We feel that some of the things we are doing can help, such as:
- Providing safe spaces so people can comfortably ask questions and provide answers. This can have the organic benefit of others learning by observation even though it may not be in their current job scope.
- Creating hobby spaces in which people interested in similar things can share and exchange ideas and knowledge freely. Some of this can translate into personal growth for others, such as discussing methods of balancing work/life).
- The ‘alignment drumbeat’ can also help in terms of setting the expectation of goal setting and follow through.
“We need to keep working on this one.” [Author’s note: cf. Apple hybrid work challenges.]
When it comes to management, will tomorrow’s management skills look the same as today’s? “The pandemic took us from spending 100% of our work time in the office to 100% remote work. What I’m seeing now is a trend towards 60-70% at home, and 30-40% in-person or in the office. I think that trend will continue. I think it will be important that a whole team is working in one of the modes – i.e., the whole team is in office, the whole team is hybrid on the same days or the whole team is fully remote. Mixes and matches within a team will not work.)
“Of course, with such hybrid models, you need to be disciplined about where your data/information is. That unification of the information in one place allows you to have conversations with your customers without having to chase everybody right before a meeting to find out if they spoke to that customer and get an update of what’s been discussed.
“Tomorrow’s management skills will rely a lot more on having all your tasks in one system, in order that you know what each person is doing and when they’re doing it without having to constantly ask for updates. That saves time and it’s one of the things that Daylite allows.”
How can remote workforces best access success? “By giving them autonomy, which is easier to do when core values match, and the technology they need to be successful. We give them space in which they can do their best work, ensuring they know what we’re trying to accomplish and providing the tools they need to excel. Luckily for us, one of these tools is our very own product, Daylite, which is designed to help small and medium-sized teams collaborate and maintain productivity. Everyone in our team has access to our database and we ensure that all the information they need is always available to them. That’s how we provide an environment in which people can thrive.
“Knowing what kind of support each individual needs so they can maintain performance and growth is also critical to managing remote teams.”