As businesses make the shift to working remotely, it’s important to remember that not every strategy that works in a brick and mortar workplace will work in a virtual office. There are specific strategies that you need to implement to maintain balances now that every employee has to integrate their work life with their home life seamlessly. Joining Bob Roark is Danette Gossett, the owner of Gossett Marketing. Bob and Danette discuss some important strategies and solutions you can implement to manage your virtual office. You are not alone in this transition. Take the time to refine the way you operate to make the most of your time working remotely!
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Virtual Offices: The Growing Remote Working Culture With Danette Gossett
I’ve got Danette Gossett of Gossett Marketing. She’s a highly respected marketer out of Southern Florida. She and I have been friends for a long time so I thought we’d have it on. What we’re going to do is focus on the virtual business owner’s thoughts and/or processes because it looks like more and more businesses are going to rotate toward the virtual office format while we’re all in this pandemic condition. It may be that we find that we don’t need bricks and mortar down the road. If so, these are some of the thoughts and observations. Danette, welcome.
Thank you. It’s been interesting.
We thought we would structure this a little bit and talk about some of the observations. Danette had a case study as she was working with her people that are all working virtual on GovSpend training. Think of some of the things that are going forward and then thinking about whether it’s Zoom or Microsoft Teams or GoToMeeting. How do you take and manage the use of your time so you can maintain effectiveness and optimize the time that you’re working? Danette, what did you notice?
We’ve been at home for so much longer now. Even though things are starting to open up in some areas, Southern Florida is a hot spot, so we are not opening up anytime soon. They’re talking maybe June for us. We’ve got another month. For a lot of people, the room started closing in a little bit on them. The trials and tribulations of having their kids, their dogs, their spouse, their significant other all around them all the time. Not that they don’t love them desperately but being 24/7 is not what anyone signed up for, to be sequestered with an individual or a whole family or my dogs or the isolation. For me, I’m isolated. It’s me and my dogs.
For me, it’s “I want people” type of thing. Having more Zoom meetings has been a big part of it. Having my team wanting to spend more time with me on the phone or on the Zoom has ticked up. I found myself losing my day sometimes. I wasn’t managing them and my time as I normally do. We’re going to get back to that. A lot of companies are realizing now that this may go on for a long time where if you’ve got to have 60% less people in your office or more space between people, you may not have the space. People are going to have to be working remotely for months, if not a year or more.
Some companies are going to do that. I did have a conversation with a company. They don’t expect to have 100% people in their office for almost eighteen months. The landscape of the work team is changing completely. How do you make sure everyone feels a part of the team when they’re in 50 locations or even five locations? How do you make sure that everybody is on the same page, going through the same goals? How do you make sure that everyone is okay? Usually, when they come in the mornings, I can tell if someone’s been having some issues or something’s going on maybe at home. Sometimes you need to get that out in the open that they need something. When you’re working virtually, sometimes you can’t see that. I set up a meeting and we had to change it.One of the issues is preserving and promoting company culture even when people are working remotely. Click To Tweet
One of my team said, “I can’t make that time.” At first, I was like, “What do you mean? I set this meeting, what do you mean you can’t make it?” She goes, “That’s when my son gets up from his nap because now he’s at home. He’s 2.5 years old. He’s cranky then and it’d be very disruptive. He’s ready for his snack and he gets a little while. That’s when I take my break and I’m not in my office. I have my laptop and I’m working downstairs where we’re getting him all situation. It would be disruptive to the meeting.” I’m like, “I get that. That’s fine. We’ll record it. You and I can talk about it later.” A lot of people are not necessarily feeling as if they can have that conversation. They’re possibly worried that they have to be that professional, buttoned-up, 100% person in front of their boss all the time. Now is not the time to be that way.
We were talking about this before. What I’m starting to hear from business owners is some of their discussions and meetings with not only their customers but their teams, are more authentic. You’re going to meet the dog, meet the kids, take in and you’re invited into their home. You think about the connection. Some of the things that I found somewhat interesting and maybe too surprising is you feel a little more connected to some of these people because of the authenticity of what’s going on in the conversation.
You look at somebody and you can tell something’s off and you have a conversation with them later and they’re worried about a senior. “I missed my mom’s birthday. I’ve got an elderly parent that I can’t see or haven’t seen. I’m worried about them.” Those kinds of things or, “I married my spouse for better or worse, I just didn’t marry him for lunch or sequestering.” As business owners are adapting to this new virtual environment, remote work has been a feature of a couple of generations. It looks like we’ll all get to enjoy and figure it out. One of the issues is how do you preserve and promote the culture of your company?
How do you make sure that the teams feel that they’re part of the team? There are a lot of ways that you need to do that. One is the communication aspect. Virtually communicating and writing communicating. Make sure they understand and our mission hasn’t changed. We’re here to help our clients in the best way that we can and in ethical way to promote their brands. We’re here to do that every day. That hasn’t changed. It’s how we do it in some ways has changed.
The needs of your clients haven’t disappeared.
Some of them aren’t going to be doing anything for a long time because we do work with the cruise lines and that business has shut down for a while, but it will come back and we’ll be here when it does. I’m not used to my team being in their space all day long. They’re usually out visiting clients. Usually, I have good blocks of time where I can get my work done. That’s one of the things that I saw impact me because I allowed them to invade my time. It was the right thing to do because they needed me, but next time it will be different. Also, I’ve been very transparent with them.
We did get a PPP loan and I was very transparent before we got it with those that are salaried employees that if we didn’t get it, there were going to be some possible consequences. When we did get it, they were as excited about it as I was. I was very transparent with them ahead of time that that was going to be an issue. I was talking to another company. I received an email from a company that I do business with that my account manager has now changed. It was a very vague email. I was not happy about the way the email was written. I reached out to my account manager separately via LinkedIn and said, “Are you okay?” She was let go. They weren’t truthful to her when they let her go. They replaced her with the junior employee.
We understand the economics of it. I understand completely. I’m a business owner. You have to make hard choices during these times. The way that the owner of the business communicated with me was very roundabout, “Now’s the time making a great change for you. This is going to be a great opportunity for you as a client of ours.” She should have said, “Business is tough right now. We’ve had to let some people go. Your account manager was one of them but you’re going to be taken care of. I’ll be more involved now.” She didn’t say that. She should have. “We’ve got this other person who I know is very junior.” I don’t feel as comfortable that I’m going to be as taken care of because I’ve been working with this other individual for five years.
I think about that as two things. One, if your employees as a business owner may be thinking they’re going to be the next person that might be let go and then if you’re the business owner that had to take and downsize, how to properly communicate that in a professional manner? You can say, “We made some choices and this is why we did it.” What you would like to receive as a business owner is the same thing you should adopt to take and communicate with your clients. For you with your employees, being transparent, “Yes, we did get the PPP. Yes, we’re going to work hard. Yes, we have some of the pressure taken off the company because of that, but it’s not a forever pressure relief.”
We’re diversifying. This situation, I thought we were very diversified in our clients. We are, but we still took a huge hit because we have industries that are shut down, that I didn’t think would be affected. We do a lot with the universities in this area. We have four universities that are clients and one of them has already told us they had a 75% budget cut. Their fiscal starts July 1st. At first, I was thinking, “It’s the remainder of the year. You’re upset. I understand that.” No, it’s for next year too.
That’s dealing with the uncertainty. We talked about this before, volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It’s taught in most of the military schools. One of the tenets is you’re going to have to think about what you think, where you step back and you go, “If things changed again and be aware that it’s going to be evolving, the situations that we’re going to be in.” You go, “What’s changed? What’s the same? What can we do? How do we adapt?” We were talking about the value of time. For me, I’m armed and dangerous from the time I arrive at the office until 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. It’s the time I get most done in my day.
Unless it’s on fire or the barbarians are at the gate, that’s a very structured period of time for me. I don’t have clients. I don’t have people come in. I don’t have any calls, all that stuff. For a business owner, if there’s an effective period of time that you don’t want to be on a Zoom call and you tell your staff, “This is my business planning time frame,” let them know and say, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’re doing, but save it until this time and we’ll schedule it.” You’ll manage your time better.
I time block. I have a color-coded time blocked calendar. They laugh at me sometimes. They look at my calendar and it’s all these rainbows of colors. I do that so that I can see when I’m spending too much time with administrative, when I’m not spending enough time on business development, when I’m not spending enough time with clients or whatever. That’s why I have it color-coded. I know what I’m spending my time on at a glance. If I’ve got too much administrative time in there, I’m like, “What am I not getting to my administrative person that I should be?” It’s a good tool for me. They know that usually, I’m in the office early. Like you, I’m an early person and I too don’t like anybody to bother me before 9:00.Business owners can manage their time better by being open about when they don't want to take calls. Click To Tweet
One of my people call me at 8:35 in the morning. It was Wednesday or Thursday. I answered the phone. I probably shouldn’t have but I was like, “Maybe it’s something important.” It wasn’t. I said, “I can’t deal with this right now. I’m in the middle of something else.” She was taken aback and I’m like, “This has to wait. I have to finish what I’m doing. I’m in the middle of it. I’ll call you. I have a 9:00 call. After that, I’ll call you.” She’s like, “Okay.” I said, “We have to schedule these things. You can’t just come at me for general questions about things.”
That’s framing. For the employees and the people as well, being aware of everybody’s time. The fact that we’re all available pretty much all the time now with a virtual office, you’re at home and in Zoom, you can manage your time. Frame it properly with the employees and say, “It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, but the more effective I am, the more secure your job is.” You look at it as it flows down from there. One of the things we talked about is if you get the same question that you think it’s something that the team needs to hear, then you say, “Ask me the question again. I’ll put it on record.” You can share the Zoom video out to people and say this is something you can view at your convenience but I think it’s important.
I was listening to The Virtual Advisor Series from Elite Advisor Blueprint. They were interviewing a company that has been running virtual now for over a decade and they’ve got 1,000 employees. They were talking about how they took and promoted their culture. They have a call every Monday. On the call, the rules of the call are no one can be muted and no one can turn off the video. If somebody muted it off, they say in the meeting, “We’re waiting for good old Bob over there. Bob is still muted and doesn’t have his video on, so we won’t start the meeting until they do that.” Pretty soon they catch on and said what they found is in pushing the culture, reminding of what’s important, maybe a good story from the week where it illustrates the culture and how you’ve helped your clients, which reinforces that. They said, “If everybody’s on all the time, then it doesn’t stifle a response if somebody has an idea.”
During this time, especially in a call like that, celebrating the successes that people are having. There’s so much gloom and doom right now. We were talking about this and the first week was like, “What is this?” The second week was like, “We’re all going to die.” It was like, “I’m over this.” This is a long-term situation. If we’re not celebrating the successes we have, even if they’re small success. I’m in a mastermind group and we talk now every week. We used to talk every other week, but during this time we thought, “We need to talk every week.” We still start with our wins for the week.
“Who has a win this week? What was it?” That way, we can all say, “That’s fantastic,” and recognize that I can have one of those wins. If they got a win, I can have a win. What happened this week? What did you do differently than you did last week to help you get that way? If you have a group of people or peers, we’ve talked about this before, maybe that’s something that you do. One of my group, she indicated something and I’m like, “That’s an interesting idea. Can you send me what you did?” She’s like, “Yes. I’ll send it out to everybody.” I’m going to take a look at it and go, “Maybe this is something I can implement so that I can have a win.” We challenge each other.
Get the community of people together and you do those kinds of things. As you look at your week, there was a study that came out on you feel more fatigued after a series of Zoom calls. There’s a whole psychological study as to why that is and going, “It’s not something that’s odd.” It’s more stressful because you’re on and they’re in your house. You look at yourself and you go, “I look that way and I have this motion and whatnot.” If we’re wrong and let’s say this is a short-term problem, it’s not long-term, then good for all of us, but I wouldn’t want to bet my business that it’s going to be exactly the same.
Being adaptable and thinking about, can I operate virtually and how do my employees feel about that? Can I communicate to the people that are on the team that we care about them, that we’re worried about their health and we’re worried about their families? We’re doing this to take care of them as well as our clients. We’re worried about our clients so we take care of them as well by doing this virtually until we get their immunity going. Worst-case scenario, this goes on for a long time and we learn to adapt. Best-case scenario, it doesn’t go on for a long time and we still learned a new tool and adapt it.
People have been laid off. They’ve been furloughed or they’ve been laid off. How would we get back to work and they get to come back or they don’t come back? What’s the landscape going to look like? If I’m a larger company, maybe I’ve got 50% of my people in the office and 50% of my people working remotely, or maybe 30% of my staff is back in the office, and 40% are working remotely and we’ve lost 30% of our staff. How does everybody in the office and working virtually feel like they’re with a company they want to support and be loyal to? How do we make that? Does everybody get a t-shirt that says, “Team One,” or something like that? Our next Zoom call, everybody’s in their t-shirt or they’re taking videos or images of themselves and posting it on the company’s virtual board so that we all are doing something in their t-shirt?
Do we have something that’s adding everybody’s desks when they get back? How do we make people feel as if they’re still loved as part of the team? That’s going to be important. Right now, everybody’s in the panic mode and working long. Eventually, they’re going to get them to the reality that Bob that used to sit next to me is not coming back. Who’s doing Bob’s job? I am, and I’m not getting paid more for it, but I have to be grateful because I got to keep my job. After a while, that’s tough. It’s like, “I’m doing my job and Bob’s job. Maybe I’m doing Susie’s job too, and I’m still getting paid the same. I’m stressed out and I have to come into the office every day, but Mary over there gets to stay working at home and maybe she’s also doing a couple of people’s jobs, but I’m not as connected.”
You just be aware and you look and go, “This isn’t going to last forever. We’ll right-size the business for what we’ve got going on.” My advice to my children is make yourself invaluable. This is because if you’re invaluable, you’d be the last person that leaves. If you haven’t started making yourself invaluable, the best time to start is now.
A friend of mine called me and she sent me an email. I was like, “Where are you?” She’d been working at home. She goes, “I’m back in the office. I started on Wednesday.” Initially, she was very concerned. She has asthma. She was very concerned about being in the office and they had cut it down. She’s like, “Out of sight, out of mind. Even though I was doing a lot of Zoom meetings and training,” she’s in charge of training. She goes, “I all of a sudden felt very concerned that I was out of sight. Even though I’m in my office and everybody’s in their office with the doors closed, we had a meeting with the boss and my office was my background because I was in my office. I told my boss I was coming in.” She goes, “Our cases are going down. I personally felt more comfortable coming in.” It’s not that they were forcing her to come into the office, but she was worried that things are shifting. I don’t want to be part of that’s shipped out the door.
It’s a simple thing too. Let’s say you don’t have that option and you do have a health problem and you can’t come in. Talk to the person you report to and say, “I’m concerned about this. How do I communicate with you about the accomplishment of tasks?” Get a format, make the format for everybody and say, “Once a week, once a period of time, whatever it is, I want to communicate success on target on whether I’m getting the job done.” Have them send that in a proactive manner and you could even attach a quick video, “This week, I did the following things. Here’s the challenge, the delay, the problem I’d have. I’d like to schedule time with you.” You as the business owner can say, “The problem you’re talking about is a similar problem everybody else is having. We’ll bring it up on the monthly call on Monday or Friday or whatever it is and we’ll talk about it then. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.” You’re not tooting your horn. You’re keeping everybody in the loop. We went a bit of a case study because you started rolling out GovSpend.com.
One of the things in this time, I’m not stopping looking for new business and there were a lot of different resources. I’ve looked at several different databases, but we signed a contract with GovSpend.com. It’s a great tool. It has all the spending. I get nothing for this. I found it very fascinating. They reached out to me years ago and I always said no. It has everything. Anything that’s public that spends government money is on there. You can drill down so that you can find buyers for different products, whatever they’re buying.If you're going to teach somebody to shoot, you can't do the shooting for them. Click To Tweet
I felt I needed to look at some different ways for us to increase our sales, not only with our existing customers but find new ones. We have the MyFlorida, Enterprise.com or whatever. We have a bunch of different government entities where you can go in for bids and things like that. Sometimes you lose and you don’t know why. This will give us some tools to understand why. We’ll be able to see who won the bid and how much they bid for. Did I lose it because we were too high or whoever bid was way too low? Sometimes you don’t want every piece of business.
I was talking to one of my people and she’s like, “They’re doing that at a 20% margin.” I said, “We’d lose money on that product that you were talking about. That is way too low of a margin. We can’t compete on that. We don’t want that business.” GovSpend, we had training on it. The company offers individual training and group training. She got on it and was having problems. She called me and she’s like, “Can you walk me through it again?” I said, “No. You can do the training again. Do it individually so that you get the answers that you want. It’s very simple. Here’s the link. You tell them what day you want to do your training. It will give you the times that are available. Pick one and off you go. The person comes on with you and goes through them. You can’t see them, but they’ll go through. You can ask questions and all that.”
She did it reluctantly. She even included me in her invite because she wanted me on that call and I refused to get on the call because she could do it. She did it and she’s like, “This is great. I’ve gotten so much out of it.” I’m like, “That’s great. That’s why you needed to do it on your own. You didn’t need me there holding your hand or asking questions.” We’re using this time to not only work with our existing clients but we have a number of industries within our portfolio that I don’t expect back for at least a year. We’ve got to come up with people that will spend money with us over the next year and hopefully beyond so that when our other clients do come back, we’re bigger and stronger than ever. If people think about this time in that framework instead of some of the “woe is me” that I’ve been hearing from people, they’ll come out on the other side a lot stronger.
I think about the training. This is a different environment. There will be times. Will there be a new technology or a new tool that we have to do? My favorite analogy is if you’re going to teach somebody to shoot, you can’t shoot for them. At some point you give them the principles, then they have to shoot, reflect and adjust to learn shoot. In the business environment like for you, you could have owned the training that you had whether it’s recorded from the stuff you were saying or there was a link from the provider and the people that are on the team learning this stuff. It’s a good case study on we did it once. You needed to do it again. Do it on your own this time because you didn’t get what you needed when it was done in the group. Go at your own pace. Answer your questions and then confidence comes from execution. Now she gets it. “If I can learn that, I can learn something else I’ve got to do.”
She sent me a spreadsheet that she put together from the data. She’s like, “I copied this and did this.” Now I’ve got tabs down the bottom so we can add. I can drill down. All of a sudden, she was the queen of getting this done. I was very proud and happy because she felt confident now about, “This is going to be a great tool for me. Since I’m spending money on it, I did it because I felt it would be a great tool.” This is validation for the amount of money she’s spending and validation that she’ll get a lot out of it, and she already has.
Going forward, I would start looking at my week and go, “This is the new normal.” I would take and go, “How do I take and manage my time?” It may have gone from a sprint to a marathon. You’re going, “How do I maintain the machine,” which has me in the mirror in the morning. “How do I frame my day so I still have control of my calendar?” Taking care of the customers and understanding your employees. If they look like they’re a little bit off, something’s up, you know something’s wrong. Set up a separate time during the week, reach out to them and go, “Tell me about what’s going on. Is your family okay? Are you okay? What about your parents?” There’s something up. It’s funny. Character is demonstrated in tough times. Everybody can have character in a good time, but you reach out and people will never forget how they were treated by the people, their peers, and their employers and their clients and so on in this time.
We’re not showing to our people and anybody that’s in our circle right now that we care, that we’re here, and that we are empathetic to all their needs. We were talking about you see my dogs and I had someone that said, “My dogs only bark when I’m on a Zoom call,” or “My kid loves to come in and get in my lap when I’m on a Zoom call, even though I have the door closed and they know if the door’s closed.” Sometimes you have no control over it and people have to be more sympathetic to that. I had one person where a group of us were on a Zoom call and one of our employees was like, “I couldn’t believe it. The guy had his kid on his lap.” I’m like, “What’s wrong with that?”
It’s authentic stuff. Being understanding and going, “I get it.” Recognizing that they do have life outside of work and where they’re working is where they live. Having some level of understanding and teamwork. We’ll get together and empathize with them and go, “Let’s move on. That’s okay and cool.” You’ll know the name of their dog and you’ll know the name of their children. As we go towards the new normal. If your culture has been interrupted, re-establish your culture, set the boundaries, set the discipline. Tell people what you want them to do, not how to do it and see how that works. If you don’t know, if they’re accomplishing, and setting framework so they can reply back to you and say, “This is what I’ve accomplished and these are the problems I have.”
Setting up an FAQ if you need to, where if they keep asking the same questions all the time, video the answer so they can get them there. There was something that I have not done yet that you can live stream a Zoom call to your Facebook Groups. I’m thinking if you were talking to somebody and you have a series of clients that might be beneficial to, you could take and live stream a call to your group and repurpose the effort. That might be a way to take and continue to magnify the effort that you’ve got going on. Danette, we talked about some stuff. What did I miss that we wanted to talk about?
I don’t think we missed anything. We wanted to talk about the virtual business environment and teamwork, how you keep your team motivated, happy, and feeling part of a team in a remote workforce. We hit on a good number of things that will help companies do that and help employees feel that they are indeed loved by their employers. They might want to give them the loyalty back. If not, as the environment shifts at some point, maybe they need to talk to their boss about, “I do want to be one of the people back in the office.” It’s that transparency of this thing. We have gone some points that people will be able to grasp onto and go, “I hadn’t thought about that.” At least I hope we have.
For the people that aren’t aware of the tools, there’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting, FreeConferencecall.com, Symphony, Slack, the Microsoft Teams where you can do that work. There are auto schedulers like Calendly where you can do scheduling. If people want to take in, you can carve out time to have those conversations. I didn’t want to belabor the tools too much because we’ve talked about some of those before. If you’re new to this, those are the things I’d look at. With that being said, Danette, getting good things done.
That’s what we’re here for.
I wish everyone success with their new virtual business office and ownership. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks, Danette.
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