Nowadays, most of Bill Bounds’ clients are either remote or in the process of creating more remote opportunities for their workforce. In truly remote fashion, we chatted while he was driving his kids to a last-minute appointment. His no-nonsense take on remote work was refreshing and super practical. A remote company (or your remote workers) can excel if leadership is upfront with expectations and knows how to communicate with those who can’t take clues from the office environment.
Background. As Director of Customer Support at MailChimp, Bill grew the support operations from one team of five to a division of over 140 people. He experimented, iterated and readjusted process to be able to scale while maintaining the high quality of support that customers expected. He then spent a year as COO of a startup (Policy Genius). For the past four years, he has been coaching and consulting full time. Our chat mostly revolved around the structures and processes needed to keep a remote (or mixed) workforce engaged.
Managing remote teams is a skill, not a talent
Managing remote teams can be learned. This is true for both people that are already experienced leaders in a co-located office as well as remote workers who want to move into a leadership position. Actually, managing remote teams needs to be learned. It requires more direct interactions, more communication, more conscient involvement than a co-located team. In a remote environment, team members can’t take social cues from others. They can’t overhear any explanations given to a colleague across the desk. This is neither good nor bad – it’s simply a difference that you need to take into account when managing a team.
Bill says, “the people that report to you are the biggest resource that you have”. To leverage this resource you need to be aware of their needs and capabilities.This is not something you define once and are done with. Checking in with each team member on a weekly (or bi-weekly) basis is the backbone of a strong work relationship.
Career management for support teams
Becoming a lead is one option to grow in support. However, if this is the only option your company will lose high-performers who are not interested in people management. Scoping out alternative career paths for support agents is in everybody’s interest. Bill gave some examples that he developed during his time with Mailchimp and has refined since to help companies open up career options for their employees:
- Agent and Senior agent
- Technical path
- Safety and abuse path
- Training path
- Management / Leadership path
- Internal Development path
Scoping out these paths with clear role descriptions and required knowledge/capabilities can help employees to choose their own adventure. The clearer you can lay out expectations and requirements as well as results (including salary ranges), the easier it is to get buy-in from employees. You want everyone on the same page, especially when working out-of-office.
Team member requirements: drive OR communication
Your team members can adapt to your workflows and processes. They can learn everything about your product. They can migrate to the tools you already used. Previous knowledge of these aspects can help, but should not be decisive for your hiring process. Instead, Bill recommends to hire for drive (self-starters) and transparency (communication). `Drive` means that the new hire can use their entrepreneurial spirit to figure things out and get them done. `Transparency` means the new hire clearly communicates roadblocks and successes. Not every team member needs to embody both – but every team needs to have both.
Focussing on these two traits, you’ll ensure a more diverse workforce with both introverts and extroverts. Leveraging the advantage of both will make your team stronger as a unit.
To find more about Bill Bounds, visit his profile on Linkedin.
You can find out more about his consultancy here: http://www.billbounds.com/
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