Patrick Ward of Rootstrap: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Take care of mental health with no pressure of social catchups

Focus on task completion rather than hours available

Make sure to have a healthy work-life balance

Be transparent with project management (Trello is your friend)

Don’t just rely on text communication — Loom videos & voice messages can create quick mutual understanding, especially when we have employees across several countries and time zones.

Inthis interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools, and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Ward, Director of Marketing for Rootstrap, a custom software development agency that helps companies like MasterClass, Google, and Quartz scale people, processes, and products. Patrick helped Rootstrap successfully navigate to a fully remote workspace with his team currently spanned across five different countries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

While I currently work from and call Los Angeles home, I am originally from Sydney, Australia. I graduated with abachelor of commerce degree in Marketing & Political Science before making the trip Stateside in 2016.

Before joining Rootstrap as the Director of Marketing, I spent close to a decade working for a combination of marketing agency and in-house roles. My time spent in these positions stood to me as I took my first steps into my first marketing management role.

Some of the notable clients I have worked with include Google, Fiji Airways, and MasterClass. I have provided expert analysis and opinions to several prestigious publications such as Business Insider, Forbes, Hacker Noon, Deloitte, and Ad Age.

I have also been fortunate enough to produce an Amazon bestseller “Marketing Transformation: Why Your Marketing Mindset is Holding Your Organization Back” — featured in Business Leaders Edition, Vol 3. of the Amazon Best-Selling Series “Money Matters.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I would have to say, hiring people I had never met in person for the first time because of the pandemic. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, and while challenging, I enjoyed changing my approach and adapting to the new temporary norm.

I learned that to be truly successful, you need to have a team dynamic hiring approach and not just checking irrelevant attribute boxes. We were fortunate enough to be one of the few within our industry that added to our team rather than letting people go this past year.

Instead of ticking the aforementioned boxes, I sought out candidates who didn’t exactly fit our industry conventions but instead brought exceptional creativity, enthusiasm, and innovation to their roles, unlike anyone I previously recruited. This shows that if you get the dynamic of your team right you can have a successful business. I’m certain of it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There’s one that has stayed with me — this too shall pass. I like it because it keeps you level-headed, particularly in the USA workplace, where every deadline and task at work has an unnecessarily large priority. At the end of the day, we need to remember that we have it good, especially after a challenging year like 2020. It’s important to remain grateful and mindful of what we have.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There absolutely is the CEO of the finance company that was my first American work experience after moving from Sydney. Being an entry-level employee in a department that was viewed as a cost center, it was easy to be ignored and often overlooked. But thanks to that wonderful CEO who spent many hours mentoring me and believing in my capabilities, I’ve been able to quickly rise in the ranks of corporate leadership and do the same for others.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides a great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

While there are many benefits to working remotely, especially with our global team spread out across multiple locations and countries, the biggest benefit of having a physical team office space is the incidental conversations that happen day-to-day.

Before the pandemic, our daily in-person brainstorming sessions were not only creatively inspiring, but also a lot of fun. Being able to simply stop by a co-worker’s desk and ask them how they are doing or how their weekend is a big plus. While we have done a good job of our digital daily social interactions, in-person comradery is hard to beat.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

While ensuring they have all the necessary resources to perform at their highest level and continue to grow professionally, a big challenge was also staying aware of their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

This requires setting aside daily space not just for brainstorming and meetings, but also for social catchups, talking about current events, and ensuring that meetings are not something team members dread, but instead are used to foster team morale and provide an opportunity for connection.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space?

(1) Take care of mental health with no pressure of social catchups

(2) Focus on task completion rather than hours available

(3) Make sure to have a healthy work-life balance

(4) Be transparent with project management (Trello is your friend)

(5) Don’t just rely on text communication — Loom videos & voice messages can create quick mutual understanding, especially when we have employees across several countries and time zones.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their cell phones, or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

All in all, our functional communication has been good. Working with a company that is headquartered in two separate countries, means that we’ve had to be adept at working remotely. The challenge has been from a social standpoint.

One of our most treasured activities is Rootstrap Week — a week where all 150+ global employees gather in one place to brainstorm, strategize, and just enjoy each other’s company and the time together.

With the pandemic keeping us apart, we have had to be more contentious about building our company culture at a time when technology bridges some of the gaps, but not all of them.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

Without being facetious, Zoom is great! Beyond that, Miro has virtually replaced our previously in-person whiteboard sessions — a hallmark of our organization’s creativity and innovation.

A good example of this was International Women’s Day where we gathered the Company together to identify stereotypes that can be associated with the word Woman. We discussed what we can continue to do internally and in the community to reduce gender equity gaps. Here is a sneak peek:

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

I don’t know if our competitors are watching, but if I built a system like that I’d be a billionaire. Watch this space.

My particular expertise and interest are in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

For us working in technology, it’s less about the tools available and more about being efficient in all forms of communication. During the pandemic, we took a laser-focused approach to discover how many tools we were using, and how many were duplicating efforts. In this way, we avoid double entry and ensure that a single message is the only inputted to a system once while being distributed to all relevant team members.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

While VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are exciting from a consumer standpoint, I’m more bullish on Machine Learning. Its capabilities to automate processes and crunch data at scale relieves team members of manual grunt work, which in turn allows them to spend more time strategizing and collaborating. For me, it’s less about the technical ability of remote teams to be together in the same place and more about freeing up the time to do so.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

While Machine learning will unlock a huge amount of time for humanity to pursue innovations, there is a short-term pain that needs to be addressed at a societal level. Technology has always unlocked new opportunities for wealth, but we need to ensure that that wealth is distributed equitably, rather than allowing existing power structures to further cement their control over the global population at large.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digitals such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

Being a technology company, we were fortunate that many of our clients only spoke to us via digital means. However, the pandemic has removed an effective tool from our arsenal of in-office meetings, where we can meet with prospects and build stronger relationships with our clients. As a result, we’ve made significant investments in account management to ensure our clients are well supported through an at-times chaotic process of software development.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

Pier feedback has been the driving force of our review mechanism with remote teams. Our tool of choice Lattice, enables 360degree feedback for employees, not only with their direct manager but also with employees who work with them from other departments. In this way, the manager and employee can review honest feedback holistically and identify areas of improvement, without that feedback being perceived as too harsh or a personal attack.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

As previously touched on, I think the main aim here should be to have the right balance between ‘talking shop’ and having a genuine interest in each other’s lives, and enjoying each other’s company, albeit virtually. We all want to work hard and do our very best, but we need to remember that not every day is as easy as the one before, and when one of us is not having the greatest day, it’s important to be aware of that and help pull each other through.

While we can’t have in-person interactions, we can still utilize virtual face-to-face interactions to help bridge this gap. These virtual interactions are very important, as for some they can be the main outlet for social interactions and an important communication tool. While we all want to accomplish tasks on time and effectively, we need to support our team’s mental and physical health and provide as much of a sense of normality as possible.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The saddening reality of our free-market capitalist system in America is that it is not even close to the free market ideals upon which it was constructed. Instead, we are left with a crony capitalist system that rewards incumbents with favorable legislation and regulation at the expense of true innovation that could make every American’s life better. It might seem a lofty goal, but if we removed lobbying and corporate interference from our economic system, we would once again be the most innovative country in the world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me personally on my LinkedIn and everyone can keep up to date with all of our developments and ongoing work on the Rootstrap website.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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