The COVID-19 pandemic forced almost all of us to trade our offices for our homes, posing new challenges when it comes to communicating as we all work remotely. In this episode, Elizabeth Bachman talks to communication specialist Lizabeth Wesely-Casella about the things you need to know to manage your remote teams. As founder and CEO of L-12 Services LLC, Lizabeth has been helping leaders in areas like internal communications, training, online business management, and executive virtual assistance. She shares her expertise with us on improving our communication lines with our remote teams, talking about how conversations can impact work processes and then going deep into how leaders can regain the headspace to think creatively and become better at their jobs.
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What You Need To Know About Communicating With Remote Teams With Lizabeth Wesely-Casella
This is the show where we talk about how you could use presentation skills to move your listeners to take action. Whether you are speaking in a meeting, on a stage or just one-to-one with somebody influential, the tools of speaking can make an enormous difference about how effective you are. This is also about leadership, visibility and things that we need to know to be the person who’s asked to give their opinion. How do you get promoted? How do you cope? My guest is Lizabeth Wesely-Casella. She is a communications specialist. We’ve talked about team communication, especially remote teams and what you need to know to manage your remote teams. Before we go to the interview, I’d like to invite you to take our free assessment. It only takes four minutes. It’s at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong in your presentation skills and where you might need a little bit of support. Now, on to the interview.
Lizabeth, I’m happy to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’ve been excited. This is great.
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is the Founder and CEO of L-12 Services LLC, which is a firm specializing in internal communications, training, online business management, and executive virtual assistance. She’s a strategic advisor who helps leaders identify where they can increase efficiency and effectiveness, and overcome challenges related to scaling, process systems breakdown and workflow management. In 2014, she organized and led the process and communication change for First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature program, Let’s Move!. She uses her communication, collaboration and LEAN process design skills to identify where businesses can overcome bottlenecks and systems breakdown through clear internal communications practices. The bottom line is she helps clients regain the headspace they need to think creatively and become the leaders that their organizations deserve. I want to ask you about working for Michelle Obama. Maybe you could do that in context, but before that, I want to ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you were to share the stage with somebody from history, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be listening?
I am going to roll old-school with this. I would love to share the stage and ask questions to Benjamin Franklin. I find it to be fascinating. Not only was he a founding father, he was also a rascal. He had quite the sense of humor. Let’s just say in delicate company, he had quite a social circle and many friends. He is one of those American stories where he took charge of his life and built himself up from very meager beginnings. If I were to ask him any questions relating to it now, I would probably ask him what it was like to experience impostor syndrome back in that day and age. Maybe what it would be like for him to understand more about or to explain his viewpoint on diverse populations, and how diversity impacts decision making. He was quite the collaborator and coalition builder. That’s why I admire him.Diversity impacts decision making. Click To Tweet
As a fairly entitled man of the eighteenth century, he would have thought diversity means a white man from Virginia versus a white man from Pennsylvania.
I was thinking more on the international stage, with all of the work that he did in France and with people of various races. I believe that he was a frontrunner in understanding diversity, race, and nationality. That’s why I think that he speaks to the times that we’re in. It’s a world that’s wide open to all of us.
That’s a very cool interview. You have to send me the recording. You’ve told me about the what, where, when and how of good internal communications. I’m mostly talking about how people communicate from themselves to others, and how you move listeners to take action. You’re talking about much more than the conversations.
I’m talking about how conversations can impact work process and improve it, as well as work culture and the business ecosystem. We call the what, where, when and how, the four pillars. It boils down to what are you communicating? Where are you communicating it? When are you communicating it? How are you communicating it? Attending to each of those is important. It can help make or break whether or not your team functions well, or whether the processes that they work within are streamlined, effective and efficient.
If there’s a streamlined process, that makes everything go better. That’s for sure. We’ve all been in situations where there is no process. If you ever worry about the value of a process, remember sometime when you had no process and what a chaos that was. What are the what, where and when? Can you expound on that a little bit more?Even through Zoom, body language is lost to about 75%. Being able to read each other and to build relationships is much more difficult. Click To Tweet
What are you communicating? If you look at your business holistically, generally to the industry or the size of your organization, you’ll know whether or not what you’re communicating is reporting or idea generation, if what you’re doing is talking about status of projects. Getting a handle on what you are transferring as far as information from person to person or department to department is very important because the next piece that it builds on is where you’re communicating it. You need to do a platform assessment, which sounds like it would pertain to the larger organizations. Organizations as small as two people can have a platform assessment that helps them function better. It’s just policy surrounding where you communicate the type of communication that you’re exchanging. Are you using Slack or text as short bursts of information that are critical and timely? Are you using email for larger reports? Are you using the platforms that house your ideas for project management, such as Trello or Asana in either the proper way or a consistent way? You don’t always have to use these platforms in their proper ways, as long as you’re using them in a consistent manner so everybody knows what to expect.
Thank you for saying that. That’s a challenge and it’s a challenge with my friends. That’s the what and where.
The next is the when and it used to be that this was the skinniest of the pillars. We used to talk a lot about making sure that direct reports and staff were in alignment with regard to time that you were dedicated to be in front of your computer. Now, what we’re talking about, and this is important because the next big wave of concern with regard to businesses is going to be burnout if it isn’t already. We’re talking to organizations about creating well-defined policies that are repeated and sent out regularly that talk about, “We’d like you in your job here, but we want you to attend to your life outside these hours. We want you to be doing your laundry, helping your kids with school, walking your dog. Whatever it is that helps you lead your best life, we are giving you permission to turn off your electronics at these hours and go and attend to yourself.”
By doing that, they’re helping people to get more involved in self-care, to be more involved in their family, and to avoid using work as an opportunity to hide from the news that is ubiquitous. When you have busy work and you have work that you can focus on, you can sometimes tune those things out, find out their coping skills, work shouldn’t be that place. How are you communicating? Is your communication supporting your business goals as well as your business culture? If you are communicating with emojis, does everybody understand that emojis are just for within the office and your team? Do you also show them to your external clients or all caps? Does everybody on the team understand that all caps means that you’re excited rather than they’re getting yelled at? You need to talk through these different pieces. Those are the four pillars to boil it down to an easy postscript.
With all these four pillars, what was it like working on a project with Michelle Obama?
I need to clarify that. I’ve never met Michelle Obama. That is still a future goal, but I am very proud of the work that the coalition that I built did in order to help further her messaging with regard to health programs. What we did at that point, I was very deeply involved in advocacy for weight stigma prevention and eating disorders. We realized that the Let’s Move! program hadn’t included either of those stakeholders in the conversation when they built out the program. There was language that was contributing to weight stigma and weight bias, and was not inclusive of potential eating disorders that children were having. It contributed in some cases to lowering the age where you would traditionally see eating disorders. We came around it and did a little bit of cleanup on that. We were lucky enough to catch the attention of the office and help them put together implementation guidelines for the state level and roll out some buffing and some polishing on the original program.
Why does remote team management need to be treated differently from in-house team management? Why is managing a remote team different from an in-house team?
Traditionally, when you have an in-house team, you have the benefit of eye contact and physical proximity. Remote teams lack that. Even through Zoom, body language is lost to about 75%. Being able to read each other and to build relationships is much more difficult. From the research that my organization has done over the last few months both for our internal clients and external clients, we’ve found that the largest number one complaint is that people are missing the brainpower. They’re experiencing brain drain because people don’t have those hallway conversations that they used to. You can’t replicate that in a meeting environment. Those are spontaneous, they’re chatty, they’re all about idea generation, a little bit of brainstorming, one thing connects to the other. In a remote environment, it’s important to replace physical proximity and to replace eye contact, that you have more frequent and more personal check-ins.
There is such a thing as Zoom fatigue and meeting overload. Finding the balance within an organization that’s very attentive to the culture of the organization itself means finding a balance between too much business, too much Zoom, and not enough contact and empathy. The four pillars are a way of figuring out what the landscape looks like, and then trying to amplify or increase opportunities for people to have meaningful engagement. It’s important to have clarification and clarity on what your processes are at the human level. That’s because of COVID where a lot of organizations are finding they need to nurture, rebuild and create a stronger foundation. That’s why you see a lot of activity in the DE&I space, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space.
It’s because the foundation and the culture of your organization, the mission and what it stands for is more important now, specifically because people are looking for a reason to be loyal. They’re looking for an answer to what their hard work is paying into. Without the cultural aspect, the work aspect becomes more of a drone and people aren’t looking for that. They’re looking for meaning in their life. They’re looking to define success and align themselves with what the mission of their organizations are.In a remote environment, it's important to replace physical proximity and eye contact with more frequent and personal check-ins. Click To Tweet
Do you have any suggestions for how to manage managers? Many of the people that I worked with are very high-level senior directors and C-level people. They are taking an extra 1/3 of the time to nurture their teams, which means that’s time that could not be spent on business processes. A lot of them have then superiors who are saying, “How come you’re not producing as much? Why are you just on the phone all that time?” Do you have an answer for that?
From my experience, priorities are changing to the degree that conversations about what is important and what can be pushed off to the next cycle are more readily had than they were prior to the COVID experience. Our good leaders now are very invested in their people and they understand that that is the resource to keep them going in the near and the long-term future. They’re looking to retain high talent and high caliber workers by making sure those people feel honored, successful and have clarity of purpose and goals in mind. I haven’t had any of our clients pushed back on the idea of readjusting some of their priorities and dedicating time to those leadership functions. We have had conversations where we package that near-term personal development piece with very precise and specific steps that we want to take next quarter or first quarter of next year.
We say, “Once we’ve established a good strong loyalty and bond, we have the people and the team in place, there’s not going to be attrition due to confusion. Here’s where we’re going to focus next.” We then talk about where the system may be breaking down and where the bottlenecks are. We can plan in advance on our end within my team to help make a transition that’s almost seamless. It’s more a matter of training than focus groups and surveys, and having to do that digging in part when we get to that following quarter. It’s like you do your work, we’ll do our work, and then we’ll come together and make a beautiful cake.
Do you do the setting that up and the communication strategy like that?
I’m very hands-on with that. I’m involved in every level of that process from doing review of existing documents, policy and procedure, as well as surveys and focus groups. I don’t want to say coaching and leadership. We’re definitely having conversations with leadership, providing them resources that are current, and some trends that we may be seeing about where their priorities should lie, what some best practices are, and listening. Listening is the biggest part of my job.Good leaders are invested in their people. They understand that that is the resource to keep them going in the near and long-term future. Click To Tweet
When we had our preliminary call, you mentioned something about policy and making sure that there’s a policy for communication. I mentioned that to a friend and he said, “Policies are for big company-wide initiatives. Why do you have to have a policy just for sending an email?” How do you respond to that one?
I wrote a blog post about this about why creating policy early on matters even when you’re small, and helps to magnify your opportunities in the future. They may not be standard operating procedures. They may be sloppy operating procedures to start with, and that’s okay. When you start documenting how you use technology, what steps it takes to make it from A to Z within a process, let’s say you do get sick with COVID. You have the ability to take those responsibilities that are normally yours and give them to somebody else. It reduces the amount of time that it takes for them to get used to what that process is or to onboard. Beyond that, it also gives everybody a place to start from and to understand the organization.
Let’s say you’re bringing on new team members. For me, I brought on fourteen members within six months. It was a matter of rinse and repeat, and get everybody up to speed as fast as possible. Being able to give people a set of guidelines that say, “This is how we work. We would love your input if you find that this doesn’t work for you or you think of a better way.” These documents are always growing. They’re organic. They grow with us. It helps you save enormous amounts of time, answering questions, giving directions, having to rewrite whether on Slack or email the same messages over and over about how something is done.
Do you have any thoughts about where should one start as a manager besides hiring you? If you’re feeling like there are many things to organize, if we could start with one thing, what would be the one thing to start with?
I always go back to my LEAN process skills. I believe that the first thing to do is bring the team together. Talk about what works and what doesn’t work, and then make a plan. If an entire department doesn’t work, maybe you bring in an external moderator to hold a focus group so that they can talk within their little cell about what the process should look like, which may be a circle, and what it actually does look like, which may be a plate of spaghetti. Everybody then can help unwind those threads and noodles together so that you do get something streamlined and quite possibly improved upon the original idea of what that process should look like. If it’s not department specific, if it’s organization specific, then I say appoint people from every level of the organization, and that’s important. It’s not just leadership, not just worker bees, everybody. Have them come together in their own type of working group. Start to talk about how each of the levels or departments has interdependent workings. Maybe that’s where the process breaks down. That’s where those brainstorming solution sessions can come in. From that, you’ll be able to then start to document as things move forward and progress, then document, test, rewrite.
That’s helpful. How does that support morale?
When people understand what success looks like, they are far more comfortable reaching for it. It’s been scientifically proven that that’s where innovation happens. When people understand what success looks like out here and there’s a gap between the two, comfortable loyal staff member will get creative. If they know that it’s not about just doing the job, do the specs that you have in order to get to that goal line. If it’s, “We want to see the best product we can at the goal line,” they will go to their managers or their teammates, and they will start to model innovative behavior. They’ll talk about ideas and creativity. They’ll bring discussions to the table and they’ll be the nexus. They became the knowledge holder. With that knowledge holder comes power and influence. Not power in the icky way, but power in the way that says, “I now have statistics and experience that informs the decision that I made. I can talk to decision makers, leadership management and say, ‘Here’s our idea. This is why the idea will work.’” That saves so much time and it helps a person feel very invested in their job.
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella, this has been cool and interesting. Do you have a final thought to leave us with now that we’re all living in this virtual world these days?
Lead with empathy, and empathy is different than sympathy. Lead with the knowledge that we are all going through challenging times, and we are all being innovative, trying to solve our own problems. Our problems may be work-related. They may be home-related. They may be related to society as a whole, but keep your mind and your heart open. Definitely keep looking at the details, but do what you can to be supportive by being engaged and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Someone you may discount or not give the benefit of the doubt to right now, they may be one of your biggest champions and one of your star team players down the road.
Thank you so much for being with us. I certainly hope to learn more about this.
It’s been delightful.
- Lizabeth Wesely-Casella
- L-12 Services LLC
About Lizabeth Wesely-Casella