The pandemic transformed the world of work forever, pushing for the adoption of more hybrid setups. This requires remote management techniques to evolve alongside the rapid changes of the workplace. Penny Zenker sits down with Adrian Esquivel of TECKpert to discuss the necessary strategies to implement in today’s new – and still changing – work environment. He explains why managers should use project management tools to easily monitor their team despite not seeing them in person and keep their processes from getting chaotic. He also explains how hybrid setups transformed the way work is monitored and handled, especially with the introduction of different digital communication channels.
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Effective Remote Management Strategies For A Hybrid Setup With Adrian Esquivel
I’m excited to talk in this episode about a topic that’s important to everybody. We’re talking about remote work and team management in this scenario. I’m not even going to call it a new environment because it’s not new. At the same time, we haven’t quite gotten it yet. There are still a number of challenges. I’m super excited to have Adrian Esquivel with us.
He is the founder and CEO of TECKpert, a company that offers a contingent workforce that’s built for any digital transformation project. He started TECKpert in 2009 with a vision of providing cutting-edge technology solutions to businesses with a focus on customer service. He’s worked with hundreds of companies and organizations to deliver these tech digital solutions that have a lasting impact on their mission.
Since then, they’ve earned over 30 industry awards. He’s been working with technology for several years with the goal to help make a web-friendly place for businesses. He’s authored The Future of the Workforce is Now. It’s a book that deploys everything about remote work experience, team management, innovation disruptions, and future-proof organizations, which is what we all need to learn and talk about. Without further ado, Adrian, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Penny. I am glad to be here.
I’m excited to talk about this. For you, this isn’t new. You’ve been working with technology and digitalization. What changed for you having done this before the pandemic, coming into the pandemic, and now, after the pandemic? What were the changes that you saw in this hybrid and remote work environment?
Before the pandemic, our company was distributed. We had more footprint down here in Miami where we’re based. A lot of the work that we would do, the services that we provide, and the team members that were performing those services were spread out throughout the country. We don’t work with US-based talent. That makes up our project teams and those are the professionals that we staff for our clients. When the pandemic came and everybody was working from home, it was nothing new to us. We were already used to working that way. We’re set up pretty well to provide tech professionals to our clients who needed them. During that time, there was a demand for tech workers to be able to help speed up a lot of digital transformation projects with our clients. It was not a big change for us.
What changed? I’m trying to dig right into the meat for people. The way that you worked maybe didn’t change, but there was a change in some shape or form. Having been in the digital space and been remote before, what was the difference for you or what did you see in the marketplace that was different or changed that remote work from before to during the pandemic? What has since changed again, or did nothing change?
I’ve taken it from the perspective of our clients, where we saw them change. We saw them adopting more of a remote workforce. It was not just about sending their employees home and having them work remotely, but it was also about being able to operate in that environment. Being able to track progress and track work was something that changed.
These are things that we would always use before the pandemic when we would manage projects. For example, we would use tools that were online, and that would be able to easily manage progress, deliverables, and tasks for people. That was how we manage tech projects. We saw our customers using those same tools in a non-tech environment to manage their remote workforce that was coming online.
The tracking work is one big area. You saw the change. I’d like to dig a little bit deeper into that because that’s an important point. People were doing it in tech environments but not as much in other environments. What do you think was the disruption? People don’t like to be tracked. There are a lot of people who are like, “You’re micromanaging me, and this isn’t right.” How did you deal with that? How did you see your clients dealing with that, having that greater need to track some of this work and some of the pushback that they were getting from people who didn’t want to be tracked?
It wasn’t so much the tracking side of things. It was more of how you manage work and tasks, completion of those tasks, and do that through a digital environment. At the same time, you couldn’t walk over to someone’s desk in an office or be able to converse with them in person. It is being efficient in using online meetings or video meetings like Zoom, what we’re on, and making sure that you were efficient in the time that you took to run those meetings so that everybody understood exactly what they were doing and what was expected of them. It was very important in a team environment, where people are collaborating.
That was something that we saw. It is efficiency and time management in meetings so that you can make sure that everyone knew what they had to do and they were able to deliver on those tasks. We do time tracking. It’s something that we do as part of our service, not part of our business. We were always doing that. I didn’t necessarily see that change much in some of our clients in their workforce. It was more of just making efficient use of how they managed work and making sure that they had proper expectations on when things were to be completed and how that was communicated.
My philosophy on meetings is, “They sucked before the pandemic. They sucked during the pandemic, and they still suck.” Meaning, the statistics show that people weren’t running meetings effectively, and we didn’t change our meeting culture to improve things a whole lot. What’s your thought on that? What could people do that you’ve seen that works to help make those meetings more efficient?
There are a couple of things. Preparation is number one, being prepared before you go into a meeting. Whoever’s running the meeting has a clear agenda and has been able to communicate what the purpose of the meeting is before if it’s something that has called on demand or if it’s something that’s regularly scheduled. That’s important.
One thing that we do is we have very short meetings called standup meetings, where it’s going over the day’s tasks, what was done the day before, and what’s going on that day. We prepare in advance. We have clear agenda. It is using our tools to make sure that everyone’s going to be working on has already been defined. Those meetings are very short, efficient, and it’s more of saying, “Here’s what we’re doing. Any questions? Any input?” We have a brief discussion and then we go off and do the work.
It’s about alignment around the priorities that you know they’re working on the tasks that are most important.
That’s right. Sometimes, meetings can go a little longer in our experience when it’s creative or collaborative and you’re trying to figure something out. Those may not be the quickest and shortest most purposeful meetings. You’re trying to work towards something, but it’s not clearly defined how to get there. I agree with you. I’m not a big meeting person either.
I’m just reflecting on what the statistics show when more than 60% of people feel that meetings are a waste of their time. There’s something wrong with the way that we’re running meetings. Like you said, if it’s a brainstorming meeting, then use it for brainstorming. Let’s not shove everything like status reporting or brainstorming. We try to make a meeting a one-size-fits-all meeting for everything, and different people need to be at different meetings.
We need, in my opinion, a meeting reboot in most companies just to rethink who should be at these meetings. In some status meetings, you could use those tools that you were talking about to identify what your priorities are for now as opposed to everybody getting together and meeting and listening to everybody say that.
I like meetings to be supportive of getting the job done, not necessarily just being there to create a bunch more work without that being the intention of the meeting. That’s never good, in my opinion.
I like what you’ve said. The meeting should be in support of getting the work done. If it’s just a status meeting, where you’re saying what you’re doing, you could probably do that online. If you want to make sure that people have a way to ask, you go around quickly, “Does anybody have any challenges?” I guess you use the scrum format. That’s a way to support them in getting their work done. Otherwise, you can leave out the pieces that don’t add that. That’s a poignant point there.
That’s where my background is. We’re in the tech space. Running that scrum format is something that we feel comfortable with in running that style in our non-tech software development project meetings.
What else do you feel is critical for managing people in a hybrid work environment or even fully offsite, either hybrid or fully digital?
It’s one of those things where you want to make sure that you are properly executing on work, you’re making sure that you set clear deliverables and time to complete them, the tasks that are needed to complete it, and that you are communicating throughout the whole process. Someone’s got to be in charge of that and be able to be able to do that.
Let me ask you this to get clarity on what you’re saying. Do you think that managers should function more like project managers so that the multiple projects that are going on underneath their umbrella that they should almost manage it like a project management office, where they’re managing multiple projects?
Yes, 100%. I agree with that. You are managing projects. That’s a manager. That’s what you’re doing. You’re just not sitting at a desk somewhere holding a title. You do have projects and you have people responsible under you that you’re responsible for. Ultimately, you’re responsible for their work and making sure that they’re doing it. Everyone has their own responsibilities. Ultimately, there are projects that you are working on in addition to the daily responsibilities.
You said, “Be a better manager.” What would somebody do differently if they approach their management work as though they were managing a bunch of projects versus managing a bunch of people?
I’ve seen a bunch of disorganized managers so I know what that looks like. It is by being organized.
What’s the way to get organized?
It’s different for everybody. There are a bunch of different methods and processes for people. Everyone adopts their own way of what works for them to be organized.
What works for you? I want to give people something concrete. Otherwise, we’re just saying, “Be a better manager and get organized.” We want to give them some. What tools do you use? How do you turn chaos into organization?
From a high level, we use project management tools and methodologies. Processes can get very complex. There are Gantt charts and all this stuff that you can do with that. To simplify it, what I do is I have a very simple checklist. I use OneNote for example. Those are checklists that are organized by priority and time when they have to be done. It’s very simple. Every day I have a checklist, so I can organize my task for the day. Even then, I still know that my task list is ever-growing and infinite. For me, I have to be able to prioritize and manage when I do things. I have to give priority to them because I can’t do everything at once either. Simplifying it into a simple checklist and organizing it by priority and time when to complete it works very well for me.
There are those things that you have to do. That’s your checklist, but then there’s the checklist for each project and the milestones that you’re managing. You wear lots of different hats. Those people are remote. How do you best stay on top of other people’s task lists and the milestones that need to be done?
That’s where the software tools come in. We have two different systems that we use that are web-based. Everyone has access to them. They’re assigned to different projects. In there, they have their task list and their due dates and milestones. It’s organized there by project and even by categories. That’s how we distribute that. We use those web-based software tools to do that. Sometimes I look at that. Maybe one of the things on my checklist is for me to personally check up on something that already exists in those systems, but I have my own checklist to keep me in check. That’s more collaborative than the process.
I don’t know which one you use, but do you use Basecamp?
There’s Monday. A lot of people use Monday and Asana. We use Basecamp. We’ve used it forever. We use that overall for our projects. We have another tool that we use. It’s an Atlassian product called Jira. That’s for our software projects. A lot of our talent that’s on projects, they’ll use that. It’s somewhat used by a lot of tech teams and development teams.
Don’t those tools also give you an overview? As people complete things, you see whether something is yellow or green. They’re very visual. You can get a quick overview of all of your projects that you’re working on or all the projects that someone on your team is working on, and a place for them to put in whatever challenges or updates. It’s an easy way for everybody to have a quick view of what’s going on in the projects.
There’s the individual level where you see what’s associated with you or assigned to you. You have managers that can see the project as a whole and everybody that’s working on that project. You can have administrators or depending on your structure that can see everything. One point I’ll make about that is we try to declutter the inbox as much as possible. We have our own internal communication tool called Slack, which I’m sure you’re aware of, and most of your readers are as well. We integrate hooks into that. We make use of channels and messaging so that we’re making sure that notifications are being passed when tasks are completed, assigned, or revised. We try to leverage that more than sending a bunch of emails. We try to limit emails as much as possible but they are avoidable.
Let’s make this the last topic that we talk about, emails versus messaging. During the pandemic, a lot of people are freaking out. They brought all these new platforms in. They brought Slack, used WhatsApp, used Skype, and used Teams. Now, there are multiple platforms for messaging and communication. People still text each other. They have emails. Moving it from email to messaging, in some ways, makes it even more complicated that I’ve got to follow ten channels versus one inbox. How do you handle that? I feel, and I’ve heard from a number of people, that that in itself has created a great deal of stress in the hybrid environment.
When it comes to internal communications within the company, we rely on Slack. When you’re in client services, for example, and you’re interfacing with clients, they’re not going to be on your internal Slack channel, even though you could give them access to that. It’s not something process-wise that we do. That communication stays within an email. My team checks your emails throughout the day, but you’re not glued to the email. You’re not working out of your inbox. Depending on the profession you’re in, it’s unavoidable. You’re going to be working out of your inbox.
Internal communications, we like to keep it in there as much as possible. There’s no reason to text if we have that. It’s on your app. You’re in front of the workstation. That’s where you’re communicating. Phone calls, when you need to speak with someone and you can’t get across what you need to in an internal messaging tool like Slack, then that’s when you would use that internally. We keep as much productivity communication in Slack and limit it and almost eliminate it when it comes to emails.
Do you have any experience where people feel overwhelmed by too many channels and too much chat and don’t get to their work because they’re constantly being chatted up?
A lot of people feel that way.
We have some internal channels. We have a channel for family chat, sports, and personal interests that we have set up there. We don’t find that people are spending time in there, just chatting. Our people are pretty busy. They’re very purposeful in their duties.
That’s one of the biggest challenges, I would say. People can balance that while they’re working from home or wherever they are, that they can stay focused and stay purposeful or even in the office when there are so many different communication channels and so many different things vying for their attention, how do they block out the noise and give specific times that they’re going in to go engage in a chat or things like that.
Working from home presents another set of challenges when it comes to focusing and making sure that you’re separating home and work. Probably in a whole other episode, we can talk about that thing. Once they’re focused on work, the communication is driven around getting that work done.
Anything that I didn’t ask that you feel that you want to share with the audience?
Our approach comes from being a tech company and being born into these things. Our team, even people that didn’t come from the tech world that joined our company, quickly adapted to how we operate, which came from managing software projects and being remote and being distributed and all pre-pandemic. Our way is not unique because there are other companies that operate similarly, but it came from that.
From someone that’s not coming from that area, there are a lot of examples of how tech is used at a company to help add efficiency and to help with productivity. People should embrace that because it will add efficiency to your own process in whatever business you’re running, like if you’re running a bake shop or a retail store, just utilizing these tools and this way of operating and being productive and efficient. Utilizing tech tools will help any business owner and any business, big or small.Whatever kind or size of business you are running, keep it productive and efficient by utilizing tech tools. Click To Tweet
Thank you. Here is one last question before we sign off. I ask everybody this question. What’s your definition of productivity and why?
My definition of productivity is having free time. That’s how I measure it. The more free time I have, the more productive I’ve been.
I like that. Thank you so much for being here. What’s a great place for people to reach you at?
Our website is TECKPert.com. As you mentioned in the beginning, we provide tech consulting services. We do assessments. We also do implementation services, which include staff augmentation and project delivery in the IT space. Anyone interested to learn about that, they can go to our website. We also have a book that I published, The Future of the Workforce is Now. We also have good content on there. We publish a lot of content on the workforce on digital transformation. Anybody interested in those topics, they could find us there on our website.
Thanks for being here.
Thank you, Penny.
Thank you all for being here. The key for you to think about what I took away from this episode is how you work together as a team does change when you’re at home versus when you’re in the office. A big part of what Adrian talked about is communication. Those tracking tools are important. It’s important for you to get an overview. There are less of those kinds of conversations. By having the right tracking tools, you can reduce the number of meetings and the wasted time that happens in those meetings.
Embrace those tools that are available for you that help groups to collaborate digitally. Meetings are still a major issue. Step back and reset your meeting culture in this hybrid work environment. As a manager, it’s your job to make sure that everything runs smoothly. That’s what Adrian was saying too. We have to be better managers and we have to be even better when people are remote. Thank you all for being here. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. See you then.
About Adrian Esquivel
Adrian is the Founder and CEO of TECKpert, a company that offers a contingent workforce built for any size digital transformation project. He started TECKpert in 2009 with the vision of providing cutting-edge technology solutions to businesses with a focus on customer service, and has worked with hundreds of companies and organizations to deliver digital solutions that have a lasting impact on their mission. Since then, TECKpert has earned over 30 industry awards. Esquivel has been working with technology for over 17 years and his goal is to help make the web a friendly place for business. He authored The Future of the Workforce Is Now, a book that deploys everything about the remote work experience, team management, and innovative disruptions that future-proofs organizations. The more information medium companies, large organizations, and startups looking to propel have about rapidly changing norms, the more competitive they’ll be in the market.
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