I joined Fuze in 2009 as a member of the inside sales team before moving over to lead our account management team. After finishing my MBA at Harvard Business School, I was fortunate enough to return in 2013 to start the Product Management organization. As my career growth has been linked in many ways with Fuze’s, it is fair to say that Fuze has played a central role in shaping my approach to career growth, strategy, and what we’re here to discuss today: leadership.
Fuze software allows employees to be productive wherever they are, and as such, we as a company have a “work from anywhere” policy. But how do you lead a team in this environment? When one day you’re in the office, the next an airport, and the next on a beach? And how do you get the most from your people without sitting with them every day? This sounds like it might be easy. Use a mobile app while on the road, your desktop software when working from home, take meetings from a hotel on your laptop, etc. But often times it’s not, particularly when you’re managing a globally distributed team. If you don’t manage remote work arrangements properly, communication breaks down, your employees will be demotivated and productivity will fall. What is a leader to do?
Being a leader at Fuze has allowed to me hone strategies to get the most from the “work from anywhere” policy. For me “work from anywhere” means finding the right balance of in-office, at-home, and on-the-road time that maximizes my productivity. So, what’s the secret to success (or at least one guy’s opinion of how not to screw it up) when leading in a flexible work setting?
You are a manager first and foremost
I have assembled a brilliant group of product managers in the US and Canada, and my team includes engineers in five offices spread across US, Canada, and Portugal. The team is capable of incredible things. Above all else, I focus on enabling the individuals on my team to do more than they thought possible. Everyone reading this has undoubtedly heard a manager say that their job is to ‘remove roadblocks.’ This is a good adage, but it’s incomplete. I see myself as a/an:
Advocate - Ensuring that my team is well respected, well paid, and has ample career opportunities here at Fuze, or somewhere else.
Enabler – Can my time be spent amplifying a project or initiative that my team is working on? Said another way, if my job is to manage my team and push the strategy and initiatives that I feel will achieve maximum enterprise value, and my team is working on these projects, why wouldn’t I want to contribute? Note: this is NOT micromanagement. My belief is that if you hire capable people they should be able to operate independently.
Coach – I spend a lot of time with each of my team members. I do this to educate myself so I am able to choose how to allocate my team members to the problems that we need to address. I ask myself, what is the right mind/talent for this particular problem? It’s frequently not the easy choice or one that maintains the status quo.
Steamroller – Ok, maybe the steamroller metaphor is too strong, but my 3-year daughter loves trucks and we read about them last night. My job is to manage up, down, and horizontally to clear paths (often thought of as politicking) for my team and their projects.
Oftentimes, managers get too caught up in being an individual contributor that they forget that their job is to manage people, expectations, and drive toward a higher-level strategy.
Make 1:1 time sacred
Four of my PMs sit with me here in Boston and two work out of our office in Ottawa. For those unfamiliar, product development requires a lot of communication (figuring out how to solve problems that affect customers or future users). Oftentimes, this communication happens spontaneously and this can sometimes be challenging when you are remote. In this environment, it’s important that managers make meeting time with their employees, especially one-on-one time, sacred. I have regularly scheduled 1:1s with each team member every week and we don’t miss these. Furthermore, these 1:1s are about them, not current projects, but instead about growth, problems, feelings (yes, I used this word on purpose), etc. Making sure that these 1:1s stay sacred is important to me and to my team development.
In a way, I am lucky. The Fuze platform enables video-based communication and it’s been so well integrated into my team, and our broader culture, that I am always perplexed when a Fuze employee joins audio-only. I always assume they haven’t showered or something worse! Technology in hand, we have our 1:1s in person or with video enabled. The persistence of having these 1:1s builds camaraderie and trust. Seeing someone’s face is very important when discussing complex or reflective situations.
In addition to 1:1s, I am constantly engaging with my remote team. On most days I talk to them more than my team in Boston. Whether it’s looping them in for a last-minute white-boarding session or messaging them quickly with a new idea, interaction is key for team building in our dispersed and “work from anywhere” world.
Resist the temptation to multi-task
This one is simple; when you’re in a meeting with remote parties, do not multi-task. Keep your meeting in the foreground and actively participate. You wouldn’t tolerate someone texting through your in-person meeting, so don’t do the equivalent with your critical remote meetings.
Strike a balance
Too much of anything usually isn’t good (although as a loyal fan of the Buffalo Bills I could go for ‘too many championships’ and be OK with it). This is as true at home as it is in the office. Given the ease by which we can do our jobs in the office or elsewhere, a balance is needed. Is there an important meeting in the office? If yes, be there in person for it. Do you need to pitch your boss on a new idea? If possible do it in person, or certainly with video. Are you taking a vacation? Great, take the vacation and DON’T worry about what’s going on back at the office. I need fresh and undistracted employees to do what we do. Is your kid sick? Or is there too much snow on the road to make the commute worth it? Work from home. Do you need to research and write a proposal, and the office distracts you? If so, working from home is a good option. I could go on and on, but you get the point. There are hundreds of circumstances and events in our personal and work lives and as long as you remember to balance your time in/out of the office and with your colleagues, all will be well.
Remember, constant communication with your manager and your employees is the only way for this to work. Be transparent about your own working style if you want your employees to behave as you do, or if they have flexibility. If flexibility is allowed or encouraged, then help it to flourish, but don’t forget to establish ground-rules and strong goals for the projects being worked on.