Being an entrepreneur and growing a business is rewarding work, and one that I wouldn’t trade lightly. I’ll be the first to admit that doing so during a pandemic has been both terrifying and exhilarating, especially when your business is all about marketing communications, so let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve learned.
Among a number of other businesses and projects, my primary business has been running a marketing agency called Schmooz Media, based in Toronto, Canada. COVID-19 struck right after we’d celebrated our brand-new, bigger, and more functional office space, which suddenly made that triumph feel a bit hollow. Making such an abrupt switch in where we worked not only presented a new set of big challenges, it also exposed previously hidden problems in how we worked.
My longest-term employee went on mat leave, so in addition to not being present physically, she was also not present remotely. This, along with the new anxieties our customers had, exposed some serious communication gaps in the company. It was painful for me to admit that things were not running as smoothly as I had once thought, and challenging to try and figure out how to fix things through Zoom calls, instead of being able to hash it all out in person. I found myself wanting to protect the team no matter what the cost to myself because I didn’t want to let anyone go without a job. This ultimately led to me holding on too tightly and not placing enough trust and accountability in others.
Not long after the stay-at-home orders were released, and I was afraid that I might have to let go of some staff members, a wage subsidy came in and so did a few large inquiries. I went from worrying about not having enough business to figuring out how to scale up my team to meet the demands of new business.
I was incredibly productive during this time, trying to fill up space with new clients and new projects. I co-authored and published a book, I started an organization backed by a charity to help frontline workers, I started crafting a podcast, made a new website, and did pro bono work.
On top of all of this, I had to figure out how to hire new people without meeting them in person, how to gauge if they would fit in at Schmooz, especially when there was no timeline for when they would be able to enjoy that brand-new office space of which I was so proud.
As you can probably guess, my attempt to do so much turned out to just that - too much.
When you don't understand your profit margins, you can make the wrong hiring decisions. The financial models I’d been relying on before the pandemic changed dramatically and it was difficult to get a handle on what wasn’t working and what needed to be fixed. .”
Here are 6 things I’ve learned about managing a team remotely:
1. When you aren’t honest about what you actually need for your business to be successful, it’s not kind to yourself or your team.
2. Clarity is essential. Figure out what your organizational structure really needs. Write proper job descriptions. If you can’t do this yourself, work with an experience or senior HR consultant. You must set clear objectives, boundaries, and roles and responsibilities. This isn’t micromanaging; this is necessary! It helps your team feel less confused and frustrated and also gives them a larger sense of belonging. How can you expect someone to give you their best when they don’t know what it is you expect of them?
3. When you don't understand your profit margins, you can make the wrong hiring decisions. The financial models I’d been relying on before the pandemic changed dramatically and it was difficult to get a handle on what wasn’t working and what needed to be fixed.
4. You must ask hard questions about what would be objectively useful for this hire to achieve. Be candid about it and approach it with clear eyes and an open heart.
5. If you're wrong about your hiring decisions, don't be afraid to say so. Ultimately, your employees likely want to be a good fit just as much as you want them to be a good fit. It doesn't have to be angry or unkind, but it does have to be honest.
6. Finally, You should always check references! And remember, your new hire isn’t going to only be working with you, but your entire team. Make sure that person has the chance to meet other people on your team before you hire them.
“If you're wrong about your hiring decisions, don't be afraid to say so. Ultimately, your employees likely want to be a good fit just as much as you want them to be a good fit. It doesn't have to be angry or unkind, but it does have to be honest.
Amidst all this learning, there were tough conversations, realizations that some team members were no longer the right fit for this new organization that had emerged, and I also finally realized I should have trusted my team enough to be open with them and ask for help. Of course, they already knew I was struggling, because they are just that amazing.
After a year full of highs and lows, Schmooz Media is in a better, stronger, and more successful place than we were before the pandemic. The experience has taught me so much, and I am grateful for being able to learn things about myself and the people around me.
I wish you all the best in your journey of growing and managing a team. Remember, we are all humans, and leading with honesty about needs, and having compassion for others and yourself can go a long way.