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We Were Made For This – May 28th - Eletype

We Were Made For This – May 28th

We Were Made For This – May 28th

This week we were joined by one of Atlanta’s premier digital marketing leaders, Raj Choudhury, President of Brightwave. No one can say they were truly prepared for this pandemic, but Raj and his team at Brightwave were pretty darn close. This webinar had so many thoughtful and creative stories, it was one of my favorites!

Click the image below to watch the full webinar or read the transcript below!?


Michael: Tell us how you guys made the call to transition the office to remote work? I enjoyed our conversation last week and I think you guys had probably the best game plan of anybody I’ve talked to so far, but how’d you guys put it together?


Raj: Yeah. So we were ahead of the game in a lot of respects, which was fortunate you know Michael. I was telling you that at the time we were actually going through our SOC 2 Type 2 Auditing. We’re probably one of the few agencies that is a SOC 2 Type 2, and I’m not going to explain what that is, but if anyone knows, they know how complicated and how rigorous that is. We’ve been able to develop very strong processes around scenario planning and so forth. So we had a pretty robust business continuity plan or BCP plan. So we’d been watching really what was going on across the market anyway, really back from January and February.

I think the week of March 2nd, we actually did a dry run with our leadership team on our BCP plan. So we’re already kind of planning through kind of doing all that kind of stuff. We’d already preplanned to have dry runs of all teams fully remote the following week. We ended up really executing and accelerating that. So we went fully remote on March 12th, which was a Thursday. I remember it pretty well. Everything from the tools, the processes, the mechanism of communication, the triage mechanisms kind of all went into effect and were really very well planned out and rehearsed out by the team. It was amazing really how well the team did with everything.

As you can imagine, as things progressed very quickly into that following week all teams were…a lot of the frontline teams, we were the ones developing messaging for clients around closures and all those kind of aspects of things. So you know, we had to lean in heavily to help clients stop automations. So it put a massive burden actually on our talent in a time that’s already chaotic and, tough from a personal standpoint for people to figure out, you know, how to operate from home and everything else. But I think the preplanning did the week before with the leadership team meant we were sinked in. And then once we executed it with employees, we just moved into it like a machine.

Michael: Yeah. The irony of that you guys were putting together a business continuity plan that you actually had to put into effect literally like a week later, its interesting. Anybody that’s been a technology leader has probably gone through a business continuity plan before. I know I have. Usually when you put them together, you’re planning for worst case disaster scenarios around, you know, is there a hurricane, is there some type of disruption in business, maybe there’s a tornado or an earthquake or something like that. You know, sitting back there, there’s the idea of like, what if there’s a pandemic. But I’ve put those plans together. No one really takes them that seriously. You’re kind of checking a box from a compliance standpoint, not really thinking that you’re going to have to put that into action one day and then literally like a week or two later, you guys had to execute on it. So unfortunate that we had to put it into plan, but fortunate that you did have a plan that was fresh in your mind.

Raj: Yeah. Michael, the funny thing about it was our BCP plan was written around a zombie apocalypse. So it was kind of written well for a pandemic really.

Michael: Not too far off really. It’s pretty kind of close. Zombies aside that was pretty close. One of the things that’s come up in a lot of our discussions in previous webinars that I like to talk to folks about is when you do have a strong in office culture, where even though you have the capability to work from home or work remote, and certainly we’re all fortunate being in technology professions that we’ve always had remote working as an option. But when you do switch to working from home and by design, having the entire team transition to work from home, rather than one or two people, not only do you have some technical transitions, and that’s usually what we think of first. How are we going to maintain business? What’s our business continuity plan? What tools, what technology are we going to use to stay connected?

But almost as an afterthought, there’s a, what happens to the culture now that we’re all not together? What are you guys doing to either foster the existing culture? Or are you creating new culture? What’s keeping the team together as we’ve gone through the last few months?

Raj: Yeah. So I don’t think we can go into it trying to replicate what you had before. But you can take elements that were strong and though really the cultural DNA elements and kind of build on top of it. So I think if you go and try and replicate to what you had, you know, you’re not being mindful of really how you need to adapt. And folks do adapt and they have adapted pretty well. So I think it’s a case of being very precise in acknowledging what has been changed. You know, take into account how you have to almost over-communicate in a lot of ways. And find those moments where you can bring teams together. You can bring humor together, you can bring some level of socialization, but most importantly, how you kind of elevate a level of empathy in what’s going on.

Because not only has the environment changed quite a bit, but there’s a lot of frightening things out there. People’s minds can go into very dark places, right? So you have to keep teams motivated, you have to keep teams positive. I think everything from humor to being mindful of starting a conversation asking how someone is doing, asking about their day to day, empathizing or even collaborating with them on like pain points of teaching kids at home. I know parents out there actually had a crash course into it and probably appreciate teachers even more and hate school technology even more. But I think just like being open and sharing those pain points humanizes aspects across the board, not only with employee to employee, but also the department heads and leadership, acknowledging it is hard, the personal side of things. But at the end of the day also acknowledging what our clients are going through, how difficult it must be for them and our role in helping them. I think that brings teams together. They want to fight together. They want to fight for their clients and my clients see it right off the bat.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. That term empathy comes up on so many of these conversations where, you know, everybody has their own personal situation to manage through the pandemic. But by talking to folks and learning more about what they’re going through at home. Now that they have to move their work situation into the home, some of us do great with it. You know, some of us have a home office, some of us have somebody to take care of kids or to teach kids. Some of us don’t, some of us live in different places. The transition has been different for everyone. And as business leaders, having empathy for what everybody’s going through really couldn’t be more important right now. Because again, we’re fortunate that we do work in technology, careers that even though they’ve been impacted, certainly other careers, other people, other family members have been impacted in a far greater extent. Certainly negatively than I know a lot of us that do have the advantage of being able to work from home, having a job that enables us to work remotely and just really understanding that.

But I know you guys did some fun stuff as well to kind of keep culture going. I love what you talked about by saying you can’t replicate it. I’ve heard people like, you know, how do we replicate what we had before, but understanding that it’s different than it was before. We need to have a culture. We need to figure out how to take advantage of what we’re doing in this new normal, which is probably going to be different. What are some of the things that you guys did? I know you guys, you sent me a pretty funny picture based on the conversations we had last week.

Raj: Yeah. I mean, there’s some surprising things that have come out of it that I think actually have frankly strengthened our culture. So we’ve taken the positive out of it. I mean the there’s some Slack channels that have come through they’re just hilarious. Throwback thursdays is a fantastic one where we share photos of ourselves when we were kids or teenagers and stuff like that every Thursday. Sometimes there’s a theme, whether it’s prom or something like that. So folks kind of share…and you kind of like you get to learn because you don’t have those you know watercolor moments. So we try to use things like that to create those kind of water cooler moments and so forth.

Some other things that have kind of been interesting, especially as we’re talking about Slack a little bit, sharing pets. Pets of Brightwave has been a big one for a lot of people, some interesting stuff there. And then for the parents out there, we also have parents of Brightwave. Where we all kind of commiserate together. There’s probably going to be one saying drinking of Brightwave, I don’t know. But you know, we’ve certainly had things like that, but we’ve also had events. We’ve done a lot of cool, you know, actually later on this afternoon we have you know an event coming up. I’m forgetting the name of it. Let me quickly…drinks on deck. It’s part of our, we used to have a happy hour on the last Thursday of the month. So our team has been doing a fantastic job of just kind of reshaping what that is. So Drinks on Deck later on today at 4:30. A couple of us are sharing different cocktail recipes and showing everyone how to make cocktails.

We’ve also been taking advantage of our clients. One of our clients, Airbnb for business has this fantastic program which is Airbnb Experiences that our company has been battering with them. So you know, a couple of weeks ago we had an entire creative team on a Zoom call with a drag queen show in Lisbon Portugal. Teaching our team how to make sangrias. It was absolutely hilarious, right. So nothing to do with work, but just getting that team together, kind of creating that fun vibe if you will. So there have been karaoke, there has been, you know, each team has also, outside of company-wide activities different teams have come together with different methods of stand-up, more social events and so forth. It’s been fantastic to see. I mean, I really can’t say enough about how proud I am of how the team has come up with these things outside of, you know, something being mandated to them.

Michael: Yeah. Isn’t it great where you kind of have the necessity or you kind of have the opportunity to reinvent culture that you wouldn’t have had before where now everybody feels more motivated to kind of contribute an idea or participate. Where you know, normally office culture offers participation it can become a little vanilla. I can become kind of standard. It can be kind of ho hum, that what you’re doing around the water cooler or the happy hour where it’s an office event. But because everything’s changed so dramatically that people are actually inspired to try to do something different and new, and in return you get access to kind of funny things like Raj’s picture from, is that 1996.

Raj: Yeah.

Michael: This is fantastic. Like this probably wouldn’t have come out if it wasn’t for the pandemic, but we all get to see this now and it’s absolutely hysterical. I want to know where was this picture taken and why?

Raj: Yeah. So gosh, this was a long time ago. I was probably about 18 maybe. I was in the territorial army of the British army. So I was a young, young soldier back then, which not a lot of people know. I was in the equivalency of your kind of reserve army or ROTC I guess is another way of describing it. But yeah. So yeah, I’m not a military guy otherwise.

Michael: You look good in uniform Raj. You’re a handsome man.

Raj: Thank you.

Michael: So a lot of those that we’ve talked to you know, folks about, and we feel this really strongly at Eletype too is that, you know, not to make light of a pandemic or a bad situation, but I think looking on the bright side of things actually implies that there’s a dark side and it accepts the fact that there is a dark side to what we’re dealing with. But being able to look on the bright side of things is to say, you know, is there one, you know, what can other companies learn from what you guys are seeing as maybe things that you’ve learned that made you better as a team, better as a company? You shared some examples about kind of Airbnb for Business, where, you know, on one hand you think it might be awful, but what they’re actually doing is they’re reinventing themselves in other ways, just creating a fantastic upside or fantastic bright side for either your clients or your team.

Raj: Yeah. So, I mean, I think that there’s a lot of you know, bright sides you can find, right. So one, it’s pretty amazing how companies have actually been able to pivot in a lot of ways. Like businesses that were extremely reliant on you know, physical calmness, if you will you know, have been able to quickly pivot their businesses. Everything from restaurants to retail and so forth. It’s also highlighted quite a bit for a lot of businesses, how behind they are in overall digital transformation, the overall use of technology and communication methods. It’s highlighted that and helped actually accelerate things. So, you know, it’s an advantage for Brightwave, obviously, you know, we’re kind of at the forefront of a lot of things. Folks have realized how, you know, when they had to communicate to their customer base, you know, the best and most effective method has been email. And so we’ve been fortunate to be in that service sector.

But what’s also been interesting is basically you know, our approach in helping clients see beyond it. It’s, one thing to basically say, okay, everything’s happening, I’m moving into triage mode. It’s another thing to say strategically, how can we fight through it? And what is the next mechanism of how we operate this business, how we operate our marketing arenas and so forth, right? So you kind of have to rip everything apart, but then go heavy into strategy instead of just being reactional.

So the companies that we’ve seen do just fantastic jobs are the ones who are you know, who not only had to go through the reactional element of it, but have moved quickly past it and to the planning and striking through for the opportunities, regardless of how hard the business has been hit. So that’s extremely encouraging to see how teams, leadership teams, companies can really pivot. I think it’s actually accelerated a lot of aspects of our entire industries. It’s also showing where we’re extremely vulnerable and where we perhaps have been complacent as businesses. So that’s pretty good. I think it’s also brought out the best out of people. I think as long as leaders, teams and so forth are being mindful of that, communicating that, and being honest about what’s really tough and what’s really an opportunity and not really brushing things underneath the you know, the shed or anything like that, then I think you can have some honesty in actually going past this.

Michael: Yeah. I love that idea of talking about how things have really accelerated things forward. There’s certainly tons of crises that have been out there where people have regressed back to something that’s maybe less efficient. But I mean, almost the interesting piece about this pandemic is that it’s accelerated a trend towards more remote working, towards more connectivity through remote teams teleworking where this stuff had been going on for a while anyway. Like I said before, I mean being in technology, we’ve all kind of seen this coming, but it’s been coming incrementally and it’s been getting, you know, more robust and mature as it’s been going on, but it’s essentially, this has fast forwarded everything for industries and companies that for whatever reason, you know, probably like you were saying out of just a comfort they didn’t have to, have now accelerated that trend.

I think people are seeing a lot of bright sides out of it that a lot of companies have been preaching for years about the benefits of allowing a flexible workforce about you know, does this give my employees another benefit to be able to work from home because it gives them more flexibility. Does it give them relief from maybe a commute. We’re here in Atlanta, a lot of us have really, really awful commutes. So does this provide some relief there? Does it provide some help or assistance to a spouse that’s also working that needs to be at home, that’s watching kids or now homeschooling kids. So everybody kind of fast forwarding into that. Everybody’s kind of realizing, well, you know, A – we can handle this, you know, B – we can actually thrive and do better. C – we’re actually learning things about our employees that we didn’t know in the past.

What Brooke was saying in one of our calls on one of our webinars a couple of weeks ago, which I just love. I tell the story all the time because she had this kind of epiphany that believe it or not, some employees are more effective at times that are not necessarily nine to five. When you can give them the ability to do that, guess what productivity actually goes up. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but really you need something like a pandemic to force everybody into a scenario where they can figure out how to be the most efficient, how to be most effective. Then hopefully they have employers like Brightwave to be able to sit back and say, hey, we’re going to learn from this. We want to do what’s best for our employees to make them more efficient and more productive. At the end of the day, the whole business seems to be improving, at least as relatively speaking during this pandemic.

Raj: Yeah. I think you have to be very deliberate about it. You know, as I said, like, don’t try and just replicate it kind of move with the flow. But it’s also very important to, you know, me and you talked about this last week a little bit, you know, it’s important to recognize that working from home is a different beast. Some people will easily adapt into it and others will find it challenging or may not feel comfortable saying that I’m having a hard time with this. Because hey, what’s bad about working from home. Right. But it’s important to us to recognize that, you know the way people work, the way we’ve been trained the large majority of us are used to operating in those kinds of environments, in an office environment in that kind of routine separating out, you know, the office side of things with the home life and so forth.

So sometimes meshing, it is very, very challenging. So, you know, we should never go into the assumption that everyone is doing great out of it. There’s going to be some folks who’ll do fantastic out of it throughout or do fantastic the first three, four weeks. Then after that, you know, start losing those abilities. So as managers and so forth, we have to be very, very, focused in identifying when someone is, cause they’re not gonna raise a hand that often. And everyone’s different, to your point, you know. Do they have good Wi-Fi? Do they have an environment where they can actually focus and think and so forth?

Michael: No, I was gonna say that’s one of the more fascinating things I think we talked about on our call last week was that when we talk about kind of work-life balance and people are always talking about can we have a work life balance? And it’s turned to this work life integration. Now we’re in this work life kind of blur. For folks who like coming to the office, and I liked coming to the office, we were always like an in office first type company. All the companies I’ve worked too, I’ve always felt like, hey, my routine is to get up, get ready. You put on you work mode, you come in, you do your work and then you come home. Now that we’re in this transition, whereas a lot of people are going, hey, this is great. Thanks. You know, I can stay at home, give thanks for the flexibility. There are people that we need to listen to as well. Like you were saying, you’re not going to know unless you ask. That some people are going, you know, actually I’m having a harder time being productive right now. That’s totally understandable because this is a weird thing where most people at home, you might not have the office, the chair, the Wi-Fi, the privacy that you need in order to get work done. Frankly, you just may need a place to go where you can focus. I know I have that problem here.

Raj: Yeah. We talked about even, you know, a client Airbnb actually, ironically they’re seeing uptick on the business rental side of things, it’s renting an apartment just to get away and focus. So it’s interesting really.

Michael: We were talking about Airbnb and I was thinking, gosh, they must be doing awful. Actually, no, there’s this weird side effect where people have places, they have apartments and houses to rent where there’s offices in them. A lot of people are renting other people’s places to get out of their place to go and work. It’s like who would have thought, but it seems so obvious again in hindsight that that’s obviously what people need to do right now if your home is not set up to work. And most people’s homes aren’t. That’s definitely, if you have a home office, you have good Wi-Fi, you have privacy. That’s certainly a luxury that most people don’t have.

Raj: Yeah, absolutely. We have to really be aware of that. You know, again, our industry, very, very fortunate, a lot of other industries, not so fortunate.

Michael: We’re gonna talk about Slack in a little bit, obviously that’s kind of our main tool that we use. But beyond Slack, what have you guys used for collaboration or communication with helping out? You know, are you using a new tool or using existing tools maybe differently that’s helping in any way? Or is there any kind of tips or advice you’d like to share?

Raj: Yeah. So we’re using the existing set of tools? I think maybe one added repertoire has been using probably Zoom a lot more for larger meetings, has been much more effective than Google Meets. So obviously, you know, we have pretty much every tool under the sun. What’s been interesting though is actually helping our employees define which ones they should be using for what scenario. So early on we created a lot of, kind of one pages of which tools to use for what scenario.

So if you’re doing one to ones, you know, you may want to actually use the video feature in Slack. It’s pretty good, all that good stuff. If you’re doing a quick team meeting, presenting, that kind of stuff, maybe use Google Meets. If you’re doing anything large scale use Zoom. We found that Google Meets just cannot handle a large….we do a company-wide stand up every Tuesday. So we have 85 plus people and Google Meets kills everyone’s computer. So we’ve had to kind of adapt and change. But we’ve used our intranet and kind of retrofitted our intranet really fast. Our Ops teams just did a fantastic job. Just kind of creating…kind of changing the intranet to become much more about how you should be doing things, creating different triage checklists and things like that to kind of react fast requests, things like that. Helpful tips on just, you know, how to work from home. All kinds of stuff.

The other thing that’s, you know, I think I was mentioning this to you, is that, you know, we were already transitioning into remote employees in early 2000. Ironically and we’ve been growing so fast Brightwave is such a fast growing unit, you know, we’ve been growing 35% year on year. So adding talent was already becoming a constraint in Atlanta. So we’d already started approaching, adding remote talent. So we started doing that in early 2000, but we also recognized as an organization, we weren’t that great at having all those tools and mechanisms and communication methods that are inclusive of road employees.

So Q1 for us was actually a very big learning aspect. We actually, you know, we made some fantastic highs on the West coast, throughout on the East coast. We actually used the knowledge of those folks. I remember Bonnie, Marley, and Lyle, on the East Coast. We used them, they’re experienced operators in work from home. We’re like, show us all how to operate like that. This was even way before coding. The irony of it is that, that’s just a goldmine, right? They know how to schedule some time for yourself, how to make sure you’re drinking water and moving around and all those little nuances, like you had never really thought about. So we kind of exposed all that on our intranet, health and wellness tips, things like that, that has been extremely valuable in not only helping the team organize, but also effectively communicate.

Michael: Isn’t that interesting where normally, if you have a few remote employees, they’re the exception and you’re trying to train them on how they can better work with the company and what can you do for them? And here you’re flipping that, you’re saying now we’re the exception. We don’t really understand how to do this. What have you guys learned being remote, what works and what doesn’t? And now you can actually learn and actually include them in such a different way that I don’t think anybody would have thought of before this, where they’re actually leaders now. They’re new employees that were coming in, they’re remote and everybody internally can learn a lot because now the new normal, it looks a lot like what they were doing.

Raj: Yeah, and it’s also a level of you know, it’s not that know, I’m sure there’s, there’s individuals throughout the company that know how to do that. But collectively, how do you share that knowledge? So that’s been the interesting thing and just highlighting specific folks and not just, you know, a leader or two, but folks on the ground who really operate like that because it’s very, you know, every role operates differently. So hearing it from that perspective really helps. I think also recognizing that, you know, your natural DNA and culture isn’t set up a hundred percent to embrace a remote employee. We knew that going into 2020 planning in 2019. So we recognized that as a leadership team, we recognized that as a company and we knew we had to start addressing those things.

Michael: Absolutely. Segwaying into the last part of the webinar here. When we talk about Slack in general, I know you guys are on it all the time. We’re on it obviously what we’ve noticed with tools like Slack and Microsoft teams as well these messaging platforms have really become these mission critical platforms. When previously everybody worked from home when they needed to, they knew how to telework or remote when they needed a day to be at home or whatever, everybody understood that. But when the entire organization shifts to we need to actually run the business permanently from this or permanently, at least for the foreseeable future. You know, that transition happened really, really fast. It took a lot of folks off guard. You guys obviously were fortunate enough to, number one, have a business continuity plan together that you could act on. And then number two, have these remote employees that you could actually learn from.

But what we’ve noticed talking to a lot of organizations is that when you implement these tools properly, they can really be game changing in how you operate as a business. But kind of the flip side of that is if you under utilize the tools or they’re implemented improperly, it can kind of have a negative effect where we’re trying to introduce new tools to get everybody to work more efficiently, but if they’re not introduced properly they can actually have the opposite effect.

Certainly one of the things that we’ve seen talking to customers is that Slack has this interesting way of growing through an organization very organically. Unlike a lot of enterprise software where somebody at a corporate level buys that piece of software, they make a big investment and it becomes the company policy to then adopt whatever that technology is going to be. And everybody gets trained and the policies and procedures kind of flow down to the larger organization. Whereas with Slack, it kind of gets introduced very organically where one team is using it for some things and other teams are using it. Then you get little bits and pieces of it, but no one has an all encompassing approach to it. That creates things that are often underutilized. So are there any tips that you have on how you guys are getting more effective or more efficient inside of Slack that you could share with the group?

Raj: Yeah, absolutely. So I do think you have to approach Slack just from a structured organization standpoint, and basically have, you know, whichever role in the company, for us it’s our operations team that kind of manages it and monitors it. So everything from creating structured Slack channels. So everything from team base, to department channels, to social channels, to client centric channels. So we define those. We have a central admin that’s basically an administrator; adds folks to those as part of our onboarding series, onboarding employees, telling them which channels to use and which ones to not. But still also allowing that freedom for groups to kind of create their own channels. Or install their apps with obviously some permissions on the back end.

So that’s been pretty effective for us in predefining naming conventions and predefining structural conventions early on, like when we first implemented it. So now there’s a standard if we create a Slack channel for every client. So teams that are operating for that client subscribe into that channel, and then when they’re rotating off, they can come off and jump into another client. That’s reduced clutter instead of everyone being on every single channel. That’s what creates a lot of noise. The irony of it is that you know, Slack is one tool in your overall arsenal. You have to also police it in a way that if it’s being used in a way to [inaudible 31:36] or bypass all the true mechanism we use a project management system called Workfront. So oftentimes we started to see that a lot of the communication and revisions and stuff like that were ending up in Slack and not inside of Workfront where the tasks and so forth were.

So you also have to be able to police it and say, that’s great. That’s all fantastic, but make sure that information is inside of Workfront because that’s where we’re defining it as the master record of what’s, happening with [inaudible 32:12] and so forth. So you have to be able to police it. You have to be able to organize it and so forth. I learned from you in one of these early sessions about Sections, that’s a fantastic tool I’ve been using Sections like crazy. I just actually showed Laura Milton, my head of Ops Section, she was like, it was fantastic. We’re going to create a video and put it on our intranet and teach everyone how to use this kind of thing. So you know, that’s been good, apps integrations. We’re playing a lot with different [inaudible 32:42] you know, even how we incorporate the Eletype product into Slack channels or shared channels, things like that.

Michael: Like you’re saying, it has to be policed, you know, it has to be organized. There does need to be some structure to it because Slack can kind of take on a life of its own if you don’t introduce some controls, some standards on who can create channels, how channels are created, what information should go into channels and then how do you actually manage the notifications that are around those channels. It can get a little unwieldy. It can get noisy if you don’t put some structure on top of it.

Raj: Yeah. One thing that’s been interesting, we’ve also kind of married up Slack channel naming conventions with email aliases, which has been interesting, which has been good. So it’s one of the various…so like as an example, we have our leadership council, LC we call it. That you can basically, you know, put something in the LC Slack and it’s going to go to that leadership team. But you can also email lc@brightwave.com and it’s going to go to that leadership team. Same thing with the creative department, same thing with, you know, a specific team. So you have the option of communicating, via the same naming mechanisms with Slack as you do with email aliases and groups.

In addition to that kind of defining what’s a public Slack channel, what’s a private Slack channel has also been kind of critical. That way, you know, you’re not just adding folks, people just can’t find a channel just for the hell of it. Cause you know, sometimes groups do want to talk about, hey, I want to talk about strategy. We’re too early on to expose and tie company around all the different things we’re talking about. So defining what private means and what a public channel is and how they search for different things and name and conventions. Even the nomenclatures, the words used, the lingo. We’ve kind of created definitions of the Brightwave lingo things like that. That’s that helps create structure for everyone.

Michael: That’s what’s great about that learning experience is that the playbook isn’t really written on how to manage this type of stuff. Cause when Slack or other tools like it get introduced there’s not a playbook on how to handle what goes into a channel? How to create naming conventions for a channel? What discussions should we be having in Slack? Which ones should go on a public channel, which one should go to private channel? When should we use email? When should we create a shared channel to incorporate communication with a client or a partner? Like no one knows how to do that. Everybody is learning this on the fly and some things work and some things don’t. And it takes people experimenting and kind of adapting to learning how to work with this new environment.

I remember a workshop I did with a company around Slack and messaging platforms. We were talking about Slack and Microsoft teams actually. Somebody in the audience asked the question, they said, you know, hey, can you tell me when should I be using Slack? And my answer was the question isn’t when should you be using Slack? The question is when shouldn’t we be using email? And the answer is probably we should use email a little bit less and maybe use Slack a little bit more, but there are specific use cases for these and we’re learning which ones work and which ones don’t. One of the things I think you noticed with both email and in Slack is that sometimes the best way to communicate is just to pick up the phone. And you can text, you can chat and you just reach out to somebody.

Raj: Yeah. You know, the funny thing is we’re actually monitoring our usage of Slack when we went fully remote. We definitely saw peaks and so forth. So our team were like, cause we were trying to assess, you know, really the level and volume of communication. As you know, like if you don’t manage Slack effectively, the level of notification is almost unmanageable. It’s too much noise. So you have to be really effective in that. So we were seeing just massive throughput of messages going through our system. So we have to be distinct with the team and say, hey, listen, pick up the phone, jump on a video. Cause you’re just going to explain that so much easier, just face to face. Just do it. So there’s no substitute for physically talking to folks. So you have to encourage that regardless of the tools that are available to you.

Michael: Yeah. We’re on one side of the spectrum, email creates a lot of formality. You know, everybody thinks about I’m going to take time and I’m going to compose an email and then you have to, you know, reply all. It creates very long, overly formal email threads. On the other side of the spectrum you have Slack, which can be a little bit more freewheeling. It can be a lot of conversations, a lot of messages, it can be a little bit noisy. That’s why I love how Slack puts the phone call button, like right there, where you can just say this, isn’t getting it done. Just click the phone, call button, everybody either hop on a video call or do a screen share where you can say, hey, it’s easy if I just show this to you. I mean, that happens so frequently that we just, hey, let’s hop on a call real quick. And at least Slack gives you the ability to do that kind of right from within the platform.

As we kind of get to the end of the webinar here, Worth, are there any questions from the audience for Raj? Yeah.

Worth: Yes. We’ve got a couple questions here Raj, this one we’ve been asking each week. What are you guys doing at Brightwave to help your employees sort of turn off at the end of the day or make sure that they’re not necessarily working 24/7 they’re able to turn off. Anything you guys are doing in particular.

Raj: Well, I think first and foremost have the conversation about it. Kind of acknowledge that it’s something that can and will happen if you don’t pay attention to it. So have the conversation really at the company level, at the department level, and the individual level. So we encourage our managers really on a one to one basis to remind folks about that. To encourage people to take a day off or two. Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, because we associate vacations with going somewhere. So encouraging people to block off their calendars. That’s been effective for a lot of folks. There’s no, you know, it’s funny a lot of folks have that routine of nine to five nine to six, whatever it is. But at the same time, this environment has meant that we have to be very flexible about that. So, you know, if someone’s got, you know, they’re taking care of their kids. It’s near impossible for them to do any work.

So making sure that you communicate to the team, hey, listen, I can’t work between 11 and 3. I need to focus on this stuff, but I’ll be back online. So teams can shift up schedules. Everyone should be accommodating like that. So that’s definitely kind of helped out, quite a bit but I think you have to talk about it first and foremost. If you kind of assume then people do, you know, it’s hard to turn it off. So certainly blocking off a calendar is a mechanism that’s worked really well for a lot of us.

It’s ironic, you know, as much as I love video conferences and everything else. If I’m on a day where I have a lot of different video conferences, the last thing I want to do is basically sit on another one. So sometimes I’ll just let that person, hey, listen, can we just do this over old school cell phone? Just give me a call. I’ll go take a walk.

Michael: The Zoom fatigue is real.

Raj: It’s tough. I mean, it’s also effective because it allows you, you know, you have to concentrate on that conversation, but I think you also have to break it up. You know, sometimes it’s just too much.

Michael: It is absolutely. Taking breaks. A couple of things that I heard that I really love is blocking off time on the calendar, just so that people can’t book time. You can just wall it off for the times that you need to devote to kids or going for a run or for exercise or whatever. Then you don’t always need to do a video call, go out and do a walking meeting, you know, get outside more, especially here in Atlanta where the weather is nice. You have to, you just have to do that. Cause zoom fatigue. I was talking to somebody a couple of weeks ago and said they had eight hours, almost eight hours per day of Zoom meetings. I was like, shoot me now. I’d rather get back in the car and deal with my commute every day than dealing with that. Worth is there any other questions for Raj?

Worth: Yeah in the same vein of not getting worn down on too many video conferences. Are you guys doing a lot of external meetings via Zoom or other video conferencing or is it kind of the old school over the phone or maybe just strictly via email?

Raj: No, no. Certainly with our clients we’re using Google Meets quite a bit. Oftentimes it’s also based on our client and what technology they have available to them. So we just have to be cognizant that at Brightwave our tools are very easy and we have a lot of good access and everything else, but a lot of large organizations have a lot of restrictions on what they can run on a lot of times. Very old school laptops and things like that. So we try to be as accommodating and change up, whatever’s going to suit our clients.

So what’s been an interesting aspect is basically pitching, pitching remotely. We’re used to conveying credibility, presentations and so forth via video conference and everything else. But there’s an art to pitching oftentimes in person that’s been a big learning curve and you know, our team has done a great job in kind of retrofitting that aspect. Especially presenting ideas and presenting creative is very, very tough to do when you can’t read the room, you can’t convey something from just a personal standpoint. So those, those have, you know, we’ve tried to make sure that we’re doing things via video. We’ve also kind of helped acknowledge when we’re doing client video calls and things like that. I think our clients also have been very empathetic and us too, you know, cause it’s not only us who are working from home it’s them as well. So, you know, a kid barging in, a dog jumping on someone’s computer or whatever happens and just kind of making humor of it and acknowledging it I think has been very good for both our clients and us. So we really function as a team and also with our employees outbound.

Michael: Yeah. That’s something that hasn’t come up in any of these calls yet, these webinars yet, which I think is interesting is when we usually talk about remote working first and foremost, we’re talking about remote working as an organization. How are we communicating and operating as an entity? And then maybe right after that, we talk about, well, how are you talking to customers? How are you dealing with customers and how are you integrating them and know various collaboration tools or support wherever that is. But even further out from that, which is what you mentioned Raj which I hadn’t thought about really is the idea of how do you get new customers.

When you already have a customer, there’s one way you talk to them. There’s understanding there’s empathy already created because you’ve already had a relationship, but when you’re trying to create a new relationship and you’re trying to pitch somebody on your value, the idea of reading a room, you can’t read it. I’ve never heard anybody say, I can read the Zoom call or have a good feel of how the Zoom meeting’s going. That’s a skill that doesn’t exist yet. If somebody can develop it from a sales capacity, you can give me a call. I’d love to talk to you.

But the idea of reading a room, you’re reading a screen and you don’t really know what’s going on outside here, you know, and that side of the room, you don’t know if you have folks’ attention. You don’t know how the message is resonating. It’s very, very difficult. I think that’s a brand new skill that people are going to have to get good at quickly. It sounds like you guys have made a lot of progress on that.

Raj: Yeah, I was going to say just to add to that. I mean, the other aspect of things is that when we’re doing those things we’re often doing it as a team, right. So oftentimes you have cues from each other. So outside of the technology constraint of ensuring that the video is working, your Internet’s working, the presentations actually in full screen view and the audio is decent there’s also the element of you can’t see when you’re doing a handoff between one person and the other, or riffing off of each other.

Yeah. I’d say the other aspect of things is, you know, we’ve been actually hiring people through this. So onboarding people has been interesting and challenging, but also not only a good testament to the team itself but also just extremely brave of those folks to be changing careers during this, and jumping into an organization where, I mean, we’ve literally interviewed folks remotely and hired them where we’ve never done that before. And those folks are onboarding and have never seen the Brightwave office I’ve never physically met folks. You know, we just hired a senior level VP. That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that, where you know, literally onboarding a VP and he’s doing fantastic. But it’s different following the organization. I think you just have to recognize it again and run with it.

Michael: Yeah. That idea about handoffs and riffing with somebody in a sales page or a client presentation. I mean, I’ve been on the road a lot in my career, and I know that some of the guys that I’d be on the road with like, you have it down, you know, you have a cadence, you have a this is how we do it. We walk into the room, you’re going to do this. You’re going to ask this question. When this happens in the audience you’re going to step in and say this, and you have a flow. That flow is very hard to replicate over Zoom, just cause you can’t pick up on the personal cues that you’re giving to your coworkers. You have, when to step in, how to answer that, how to respond, what to defer to the client when you need them to step in. Yeah, really, really hard. Everybody’s learning a lot. Worth, is there anything else from the audience?

Worth: I think that’s it. We’re about to hit the 3’oclock threshold.

Michael: We’re gonna wrap it up. Raj, this has been a pleasure. This has been a fantastic conversation. Is there anything else you want to say in closing?

Raj: No. I mean, I think everyone out there is doing a fantastic job. Stay focused with your teams, keep them motivated and I think a lot of organizations will come out stronger outta this as long as you pay attention to those aspects.

Michael: I agree. Lots of great advice. A lot of great lessons learned/contained in this webinar. We’ll have the transcript and the video posted here in the next couple of days. Until next week, Raj, thank you for participating. Everybody have a great day and a great weekend.

Raj: Great. Thank you. Take care.

Getting the Most Out Of Slack

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April 9th – Managing Notifications  (click here for recording)

April 16th – Slack Apps and Slash Commands (click here for recording)

April 23rd – Administration and Security (click here for recording)

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Michael Sengbusch

Michael Sengbusch

CEO of Eletype - Entrepreneur, Founder, Engineer