Lessons Learned: Newly Managing a Team Remotely at Beeswax

Published on April 8, 2020

Mike Munley is Beeswax’s VP of Client Services

We’re a few weeks into the mandatory work from home order that Beeswax is under due to COVID-19, and it’s time to take stock of what has and hasn’t worked with our newly fully remote Client Services operation, which includes everyone who helps our customers obtain success with the platform through onboarding, education, support, and custom projects. 

Since we rarely have an opportunity to be face-to-face with customers and because we have teammates in three global locations, we already were a Slack/email/GoogleDoc/Zoom first company, so the transition to fully remote has thankfully thus far been relatively painless. We are incredibly fortunate to work in an industry that can be entirely virtual, and frankly, fortunate to have the ability to work at all. The entire team has been coming to the table every morning with that attitude of gratefulness in this very uncertain time. And I’m incredibly grateful to my team for being the most selfless, helpful, and dedicated people I’ve ever worked with.

We employees who are based in the bustling home office, however, are now keenly aware of the feelings and challenges of isolation that our pre-existing remote employees already felt. For instance, we previously had the luxury of tapping a member of the Product or Engineering teams on the shoulder to hop into a conference room and to whiteboard something. 

Poof! That’s gone.

So one silver lining that our remote teams can certainly look forward to beyond the quarantine is the sense of understanding we in the home office now have for their struggles. In fact, those remote employees have been the most likely to say this “crazy” period is more or less “business as usual.” 

To address the new normal, though, the team put into place a bunch of changes, and here’s what we’ve learned so far:

 

Working: More flexibility.

While my team doesn’t currently have anyone who needs to play home-school teacher to their kids, many now need to fulfill the role that daycare or older relatives once played. Other people on the team or their relatives have gotten sick and have needed a day or two to recuperate or to help. Employees’ families’ businesses have been severely impacted. In each of these cases, addressing each situation individually and offering the flexibility the employee needs has been key toward engendering trust with Beeswax as their employer. It has led to that fierce dedication I was mentioning earlier.

Similarly, our customers have needed that same flexibility extended to them. Many have seen advertising budgets dramatically reduced or even pulled entirely. We have responded with empathy and a willingness to offer uniquely tailored solutions to help the customers get through this storm with us. When you are a company who needs to balance the challenges of scaling as you grow, you need to make hard choices about how far you bend on different customer requests. When your customers are broadly hurting, though, it’s time to bend further and make more exceptions. Once some semblance of normalcy is restored, we’ll reassess which of those exceptions should actually be the rule moving forward.

 

Working: Broadcasting what everyone’s working on

Every Monday I’ve been sending out the most important weekly tasks to the full team on Slack. It’s kept people more accountable (nobody wants to be that person with the same task on the board for three weeks), and it’s also given them a sense of pride when the task is moved to “Completed.” 

 

Not Working: Employee onboarding sessions that previously were whiteboarded off the tops of our heads

Ooh boy, trying to explain our platform’s architecture without a whiteboard has been a challenge. We have pre-built slides of architecture diagrams, but using those would be like attempting to teach someone calculus through using a fully solved multivariate problem with partial differentiation. The actual learning for the employee comes when the teacher constructs the diagram in front of them and explains each part in detail as they go. We’re revamping these slides to show a build to help with our talk track.

 

Working: The previously cancelled dreaded team meeting

I’ve always been a fan of team meetings. It’s an opportunity to see my entire team in one place at one time and discuss our challenges and wins. It generally gives me all the good feels, which in retrospect I’ve realized is probably a form of self-congratulation. But as we grew to a team of twenty, the value somewhat disappeared, and we cancelled it. I’m not in denial of the fact that people zone out in team meetings, especially those in a different location from the presenter. 

However, with everyone remote, we reinstituted it to foster the team bonding we had in office, and we’ve also had each sub-team meet an additional one or two times per week to focus on their specific issues and questions. Sometimes we have key topics to discuss for the business, but it’s also used for chatting about anything outside of work. And wouldn’t you know it: I’ve gotten way more participation out of the group in this virtual meeting than I ever have in person. Notably, though, the participation more often comes from those who keep their cameras on, so get ready for that mandate, team!

 

Not Working: Asking every week what new TV shows people are watching

People binge watch, but with full work days they don’t magically have more time to go through TV shows that fast (unless it’s Tiger King…holy cow!). I am in desperate need of a new schtick.

I’ve been talking to my elementary school teacher friends who are now living with the hastily imparted reality of virtual education, and they are coming up with new exercises to generate interactions every morning, so I have nothing to complain about. And oh yes, I’ll be stealing some of their ideas to apply to a group of twenty- and thirty-somethings.

 

Working: Showcasing your dogs! And babies!

Please keep showing us your cuties. It brings nothing but smiles.

 

Working: Getting the h*** outside 

I’m writing this from my back porch in sunny suburban New Jersey. After hopping on a few Zoom meetings with co-workers today, though, I quickly realized from their reactions to my rather modest backyard just how much people in New York and London apartments are missing the outdoors. Melancholy was not the emotion I was intending to generate, but it was an opportunity for me to encourage everyone to just take some time from their work day to go outside. Team members have reported generally feeling better after taking a walk around the neighborhood, and breaking up the monotony is the only way we’re going to stay sane.

In looking back through this list, the funny thing is that these aren’t lessons learned for how to work better from home–these are lessons learned for how to work better as a team in general. This crisis, as with most crises of the past, is pushing us in ways that will make us come out better on the other side. And in the meantime, let’s stay safe and stay connected.

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