Pay attention to digital solutions that facilitate remote working. Nowadays remote working is so much more flexible and easy thanks to all the fantastic digital tools and opportunities by machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and so on. It’s senseless not to use them in your favor. Unfortunately, in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown, many businesses went bankrupt and one of the biggest reasons was the un-readiness for remote working, inability to manage teams, and come up with alternatives. In contrast, those who overcame these challenges discovered even new ways of doing business.
Weare living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this 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 Srbuhi Avetisyan.
Srbuhi Avetisyan is a Business Development Specialist at CodeRiders software development company. She is a digital marketing specialist experienced in working with international clients, holding effective and smooth communication, creating business partnerships both remotely and during well-known international conferences as well as working on customer maintenance and support. Before entering the IT world, she worked in several other industries such as Tourism, Education, Journalism, Arts and Crafts. She took part in world-famous remarkable exhibitions such as WTM London, ITEHK Hong Kong, and Arabian Travel Market, where she successfully built strong business partnerships and started remote co-operations. She writes articles for international media (Clutch, The Entrepreneur) about the IT industry and shares tips for successful planning and management of software outsourcing companies. She also actively writes and publishes articles on CodeRiders’ blog about the same topics as well as on her personal Linkedin account.
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?
Thank you for the invitation. I grew up in a small town in Armenia, and as far as I remember myself, I wanted to discover the world by myself. My family supported me very much. So, I was highly concentrated on my education and career since my high school years. I left my hometown at an age of 15 for getting a better education, first to the neighboring country, then to the USA. I returned to Armenia at 17 and moved to the capital Yerevan where I studied English philology, Journalism, and Cross-cultural communication. I have been working since the early years of my studies. At the beginning of my career, I worked as an English and French teacher, journalist, gallery guide at a local modern gallery, an incoming tour specialist, and then eventually moved to the IT industry.
Currently, I work as a business development specialist at CodeRiders software outsourcing company. To be honest, like many other “non-technical” professionals, I was a little scared to enter the IT industry. I thought it would be very challenging for me to work with technical people and I would be embarrassed around them. So, this decision wasn’t the easiest one for me, especially when I was doing great in the tourism industry and marked significant successes. However, my desire to discover the “digital world” was stronger. Now, I’m proud of making such a decision and I think I’m approaching my goals day by day. What I like about the IT industry is that you never get bored and there is less chance of stagnation.
At CodeRiders we value team spirit and a friendly atmosphere. This approach brings better results, increases ROI, and has a positive impact on employees’ productivity, motivation, and devotion to their job. We believe that time is precious and digitalization should save it. So, seeing the roots and fruits of my success only makes me more motivated and pushes me to learn more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I was first starting my business partnership with the Eastern countries, I was a little confused. I was actively doing lead generation and meeting my colleagues during international conferences and exhibitions. I was used to the Western approach to business communication, which is finding appropriate partners, discussing if there are possibilities for partnerships, sharing case studies, organizing discussions, and finally deciding if we should co-operate or not. In most European, American, Australian countries it’s unethical to ask personal questions. Unlike the West, Eastern countries appreciate personal communication as well. They want to make sure that their future partner is both a professional and nice person to communicate with.
This may seem challenging for people who’re used to cold business communication; in fact, it is not. All you need to do is to learn about their business culture and be prepared for discussions in a way that is convenient for them because after all, you’re the service provider.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research at that time, and when we met, the CEOs and business leaders would make jokes, talk about their hobbies, what they expect from their business plans but in a very casual tone, and I didn’t know how to react in order not to seem too serious or tactless. Eventually, I started to get to know their culture and I understood that it’s totally fine to share your opinion about non-business matters, talk about hobbies with the Middle Eastern countries.
We, Armenians, don’t have any strict mentality, so we’re very flexible in such matters. Thus, I quickly built profitable partnerships. Ever since I never appoint a meeting with a client before researching about his/her country’s business ethics. It doesn’t matter if, for example, our possible client is from Denmark and Denmark is in Europe, I’ll go ahead and research “business ethics in Denmark”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There remains nothing worth words. If the hail rattles, let the flowers be crushed — the stately oak of the forest will lift its head to the sky and the storm, towering and unscathed”. — “Oceola, Leader of the Seminoles” by Main Reed.
This book is an outstanding example of struggle, perseverance, the importance of fighting for your rights but keeping your morals high. The importance of accepting “not so good” reality and working on shaping it according to your wishes. I randomly noticed that this quote comes to my mind in critical situations.
This quote from the film, Suffragette “I’m worth no more, no less than you. We will win” is also very empowering for me. Suffragette is one of my favorite movies. I even wrote an article about this movie. This film is often associated with feminism. I’m not a feminist and I think that this movie is much more than a story of a laundry worker woman who fights for women’s voting rights. It’s about the courage to stand up for your rights and make sure people are treated equally and fairly — be it a race, gender, health and financial condition, family background, or any other discrimination.
None of us are able to 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?
Of course. I try to surround myself with people who encourage me, spread positive energy, and with whom I can constantly evolve. So, it’s a little hard to point out a specific person. I thank my parents who gave me a chance to chase my aims and my family members who always support me. I appreciate myself for having the courage to move forward, and all the people around me who helped me unconditionally and believed in me. I’m also grateful to all those “not so good” people who taught me the “dos and don’ts” in life. They were also a motivation for me to become a better human being and professional.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. 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 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?
If there are two solutions to one problem, of course, there will be pros and cons of each solution. Our job is the ability to put both sides on equal pans and weigh our benefits and losses to make the right decision. I’m sharing the following advantages but for honesty, I’ll note that these advantages have alternatives in the digital world too. So, In-house working:
- Accelerates and facilitates the process of adapting to your colleagues’ working styles. When we’re at the office, we spend most of our day with our colleagues. We can’t sit in front of the computer the whole time and do business, can we? We need time for refreshment, coffee breaks, lunch, and short talks to distract ourselves from exhausting tasks and revitalize our minds. We may not notice, but these daily activities help us understand our colleagues and their values better and eventually become more comfortable around each other.
- Is more flexible concerning brainstorming. A simple team gathering can turn into the birth of a unique idea. For example, at CodeRiders, we love organizing mini-parties after work. We can sit and have endless discussions about various topics. Everyone would share his/her random idea which may form something awesome.
- Facilitates the process of controlling and tracking your employees’ productivity and working hours. Although we have a slightly different approach to managing our staff and have less trouble with this, many companies certainly struggle with the productivity of their employees. It’s much easier for team leads to enter the room and check if all the team members are present than to use constant tracking systems for online presence.
- Minimizes risks of misunderstandings. If you work at an office and have a disturbing question, it’s easier to tap the door of the appropriate professional and discuss your concern. This process takes less time, and the chances of misunderstandings are at a minimum level. This point is a little controversial though. Some professionals have different approaches to this question and I don’t mind. They insist that digital discussions save the written answers, recorded video calls, and help employees to recap past discussions in case they missed out on something.
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?
- Luck of real-time face-to-face interactions especially if there is a friendly atmosphere at the office.
- Risk of misunderstandings in the work. This may occur due to poor communication and the inability of face-to-face discussions.
- Psychological breakdowns and the feeling of loneliness. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we need real-time interactions, we need to hang out, get out of our houses. The shortage of such type of communication can bring out negative thoughts, problems that don’t exist, and a feeling of loneliness.
- Lack of self–discipline and distractions at home. If employees have big families sometimes it becomes challenging to concentrate on work while home. So, you should adopt certain tactics, and make your environment convenient and predisposing for work. Of course, this problem is less highlighted for people living alone or in small families.
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 ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Keep the balance between work and rest. We went remote in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we only work with international companies and are used to remote communication with our clients, I dealt with some personal challenges during the lockdown. Remote working with your clients and your colleagues are two slightly different things. For example, software outsourcing is a crystal-clear process. Developers receive their tasks from the clients, outline the deadlines, create the code, test it, and if everything works perfectly, they continue with the next task. In our small business development team, we set some clear-cut goals, follow certain working styles, define long-term and short-term business strategies. We can have endless discussions and constantly come up with new ideas. I sometimes caught myself exhausted or messed up on a “king-size” to-do list. This certainly affected negatively on other team members’ work as well. You mix deadlines, leave some tasks incomplete. Fortunately, throughout the time, I kept this balance between my work life and personal life.
- Be prepared for weird feelings of isolation and loneliness. I’ve heard that many people felt extremely lonely and sad during the lockdown. I’ll not exaggerate my experience. Yes, I felt lonely and isolated but not too often and I found ways to overcome these negative feelings. I think this depends on a certain person’s character, nature of work, and profession. For example, people who constantly are in face-to-face negotiations will certainly have more challenges than content writers or employees in software outsourcing companies; and this is ok. As a solution to this problem, I started to write my negative feelings on a piece of paper and to seek solutions. The human brain is very subtle. We can instruct our brains on positivity and push away negative thoughts. Your psychological condition has a direct impact on the quality of your work and effective communication with your colleagues. So, we should make sure we’re in a healthy place.
- Pay attention to digital solutions that facilitate remote working. Nowadays remote working is so much more flexible and easy thanks to all the fantastic digital tools and opportunities by machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and so on. It’s senseless not to use them in your favor. Unfortunately, in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown, many businesses went bankrupt and one of the biggest reasons was the un-readiness for remote working, inability to manage teams, and come up with alternatives. In contrast, those who overcame these challenges discovered even new ways of doing business. For example, tour agencies started organizing virtual tours, educational institutions implemented learning management systems, virtual classrooms, e-examination systems, authoring systems, event organizers worked on virtual conferences and exhibitions, fitness and wellness industry experts offered virtual classes and consultations, various industry workers created their inventories, work management systems, and so on. I aggregated certain industries and spoke about their digital solutions during the lockdown on CodeRiders’ blog. So, if you’re interested in this topic, I recommend checking our blog.
- Working remotely doesn’t mean the end of team-building activities. You can still have a 15-minute coffee break with your colleagues via Zoom or Google Hangouts. We followed these principles. We had 2 mandatory calls before and after the end of the working day. After that we “met” on Google Hangouts anytime we needed communication, coffee breaks, or work-related discussions. We were also always available on Slack for quick catch-ups and on Asana and Trello for task and work management. We also tried to organize face-to-face meetings after work or during weekends like watching movies, strolls in downtown Yerevan, and so on.
- Leave some space for self-development. Remote working saves time. Morning preparations for work, traffic, and other similar things stint our time and vitality and limit our capacity of working on ourselves and our evolvement. Escaping these daily activities frees up time for new courses, personal growth, hobbies, spending time with family. For example, before the pandemic, I “sacrificed” some time from my weekend on new courses. I promised myself to finish at least one course every week and if I skipped one, I felt like I betrayed myself (I know this sounds weird 😊). During the pandemic, I reached my goals within the working days.
- (Extra point) You spend more time with your family and loved ones. You also save money on gas, train tickets, lunch. The employers also save money on office rent, monthly utility fees.
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 own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
Fortunately, we haven’t faced any serious problems during the pandemic. At CodeRiders, our philosophy is much oriented on employee’s well-being and satisfaction. We’re all friends, some people have family ties, others are childhood friends, school/university friends, and so on. We don’t force our employees to follow certain rules but vice versa, we make our employees work on tasks with satisfaction, devotion, and motivation. We’re a small company, and I understand that this input and approach to business pays off for us but this may be challenging for others. So, each company should be flexible and work on its custom approach.
We had concerns about poor communication and a drop in motivation but fortunately, we figured this out as well.
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?
The answer to this question is very subjective. There are millions of open-source tools and each company chooses one that suits its working style the best. Usually, there are two standard approaches to this question.
- Find and download open-source software that works the best for your company
- Hire software developers to build your custom-made software
There is no right and false selection here. We adopted both approaches. For us Slack, Google Hangouts, Asana, Trello, Skype, TeamViewer, AnyDesk and Jira open-source tools were enough. However, because we had a tiny problem with passwords management our developers created a digital platform for us to save and share our accounts, passwords, and other related materials.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I value mutual understanding and having fun at work. So, a tool that can facilitate the recognition of hard work, and make the most complex task a piece of cake with the help of interactive features would be an awesome solution and exciting experience.
Slack plus AnyDesk combined with some gamification features, some features from Google Drive and Hangouts would be fantastic. It will be a combination of all these extremely useful tools into one platform or an app. Maybe in the future, when we increase the number of developers in our team and have free developers, we’ll think about creating such a customized tool for our team.
My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?
The pandemic had no impact on our requirements for unified communication technologies. However, it’s undeniable that remote working gained more popularity after the pandemic. This is both because of some changes in Unified Communications technologies and business leaders’ approaches to them. Unified Communications surely became more user-friendly and more people felt comfortable using these technologies despite their field of operation.
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?
During the pandemic, we virtually took part in a Polish tech conference. We were to be there physically but the pandemic changed our plans. Instead, they used a VR tool called Virbela. It is fun to use and close to reality as much as possible. It was a very entertaining and productive approach. I welcome such novelties and I think we all should be open to using likewise opportunities by tech experts. I haven’t heard about similar new open-source tools however I always embrace innovations and won’t miss the chance to try one. If it’s good, perfect, I’ll use it. If not so much, well, maybe for the next time.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
I don’t have any concerns for the future regarding digitalization. Moreover, I think all of us were insured to survive despite circumstances. Let’s look back and appreciate all the opportunities, alternatives provided by the IT industry that saved so many businesses and even countries’ economies during the pandemic. Digitalization and the usage of higher technologies only facilitates our life, gives us a chance to spend more time with our loved ones and take care of ourselves and our relatives. It’s not a coincidence that at CodeRiders we follow this motto, “Time is precious and automation should save it”.
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 digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
As I’ve already mentioned we’re a software outsourcing company. The pandemic switched our inner team’s communication but nothing changed with our clients. We continue to build software solutions for them using business management platforms, appointing daily/monthly calls, providing reports, and so far, everything goes flawlessly.
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?
Well, giving constructive criticism to a remote team member sounds scary if you’re not adapted to remote communication. As soon as you get the technics and tactics of effective remote communication all these complications disappear. We should only be more open-minded. For example, you can look into your colleagues’ eyes during a video call and talk about your concerns just like you would do if you were in front of them. You can try to get to know your colleague before talking about delicate topics, Have constant chats and calls with your colleagues, pay attention to what they write, how they express their feelings, and construct your speech accordingly.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
I will share what worked for us.
- Have mandatory “hello” and “goodbye” video calls to make sure everyone is engaged at least 2 times a day.
- Organize virtual events like playing online games together, drinking coffee, brainstorming, and so on.
- Stimulate group discussions if someone is having trouble working on a specific task.
- Try to organize physical meetings maybe once in 2 weeks or at least once a month.
- Meet in a café or co-working space and work from there from time to time.
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. 🙂
I believe that peace and generosity should rule our world. In 2020, while everyone was dealing with the terrible pandemic, we were struggling for simultaneously 2 things; the pandemic and peace at our borders in Armenia. We had an atrocious war, which changed many people’s lives irreversibly. Our company tried to send humanitarian aid to the extent of our capacity. Two of our employees were at the frontline. I want to ask everyone who is currently reading this interview to be curious about what happens outside his/her borders. I know it’s hard to think about someone else when you are in a trouble, but together we’re power and we should make sure our world is a safe and peaceful place. Even one voice matters.
Regarding our lives, we’re the only person responsible for the quality of our lives. We should bear that in mind and don’t attach our well-being or happiness to others. If you’re not in peace with yourself, no one will. Being successful is a choice. One should only be patient and never doubt his/her dreams.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.