Damien Lavis of Epro: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Fotis Georgiadis
Oct 27 · 9 min read
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Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

When it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Damien Lavis.

Damien has worked across technology, media, military, and health tech companies, bringing to each his expertise in Quality Assurance and testing, his excellent team management ability, and his dry sardonic sense of humour. He is the Quality Assurance and Test Manager at Epro, a healthtech company helping the NHS in the UK to focus on patients, not paperwork.

After studying Computer Science at the University of Swansea, I have worked for a number of tech companies, both big and small. From managing the digital rights of video games to military security, the companies I have worked for have given me a varied career to date and now I’m the Head of Test and Quality Assurance at Epro.

Years ago when I was a child, my mother was a Greenham Common protestor. She used to take me in a pram to rallies, decked out with stickers and badges with slogans such as, “I want to grow up not blow up!”

Fast forward a few decades, and I was working for Babcock International, and I had to cross the picket line of some of the original protestors. For all I knew, I had met them before but as a child.

It made me reevaluate my job and choose to move into something that had a more tangible positive outcome for the people around. It’s why I have moved into healthcare, and giving back to the NHS through my work here at Epro.

I was always warned never to run ‘rm -rf’, or remove recursive force, on a Linux machine. While it’s a useful tool when used correctly, it can result in unrecoverable system damage — and of course, one day, I managed it.

I was reconfiguring a vital system server. I ran the command thinking I was wiping a directory from the disk, but due to a typo I was wiping all files from the disk. I thought “no problem, I’ll restore the backup”. Turns out there were no backups. The irony here was that I was working on a data backup product at the time.

I then had to spend a stressful weekend rebuilding it from scratch. Although it was not something I would ever wish upon someone, it has certainly taught me to always check your backups! I’ve learnt a valuable lesson!

Listen to them when they come to you with problems. You hired people you felt were smart enough to do the job. That means if they feel whatever issue is important enough to bring to you, then you should probably listen to what they have to say. It doesn’t matter whether it be a technical concern or something more structural like the feasibility of hitting deadlines.

Your people are your best asset, and you ignore them at your peril.

I spent three years as the scrum master of three teams split across America, United Kingdom and India — and that means three different time zones, which was a real challenge. It was impossible to have a meeting that everyone could attend, and that meant a lot of non-synchronous work. I ended up acting as a go between where I could, encourage constant digital communication even if we couldn’t all get on a call.

This allowed us to follow the sun, where the Indian part of the team would update the British team with their updates at the end of their day, then the Brit’s would update the Americans, and finally the Americans would update the Indian team.

Since then, I have spent the last half a year managing a new remote team due to COVID-19 restrictions here in the UK. That’s been a different kind of challenge as we have had to adapt our ‘office’ practices to what makes the most sense now we’re in different locations.

  • — absolutely vital for trust, remote teams can suffer from information inequality because you miss informal conversations. The challenge is that you can’t pop to someone’s desk or overhear a conversation that you can input into, and so you miss those types of conversations.
  • — understanding task priority and progress can be difficult in remote teams, even in agile ones, as you are depending on your team to be visible with their workloads.
  • — how can you direct training and personal growth without being in the office? Training new hires becomes very difficult, as there’s only so much that screen share can do.
  • — although not a uniquely COVID experience, we’ve certainly prioritized team cohesion, introducing regular check-ins and making time to talk rather than just formal meetings.
  • — communication across time zones is a real challenge, especially as you are not able to see over someone’s shoulder. Getting times in the calendar when everyone is available is a difficult one, especially for handovers during absences.

During COVID especially, but for all long-term remote teams, you have to build this stuff in. You can’t just assume it will happen organically.

For communication, I recommend tools like slack or mattermost, as well as regular one-to-ones. Make sure you are including all people in calls and email chains, so no one feels left out. Of course, you need to ensure your employees are doing the same and communicating with one another!

That’s why documentation is so critical: all procedures and required knowledge should be written down in one location in a consistent way, so anyone can pick it up.

For tracking progress, take a look at tools like rally or jira. But it’s so much more than a digital solution; you need to ensure everyone in your team is keeping a sensible work life balance. Overwork is bad, not just for them, but for the company too.

Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

Lastly, when it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.

If you can’t meet face to face, then video is best. It is important to have put in the groundwork of having a good relationship with the employee in advance, because no one likes to feel victimized.

The framing of the call is important. Try to avoid stark lighting or darkness, and your background and attire should be warm or neutral. If video isn’t possible, then make sure it is clear with no distractions, so that it’s clear you are giving your focus to the employee.

Ensure the tone of language is positive: this is a chance for us to improve. Try to schedule the talk in advance so they are aware of what is to be discussed, so that they can be prepared. Ensure you make your point clearly and make sure that any negative outcomes are explained, and also recognize any positives in the situation.

People value honesty. Give honest advice and actively listen to their feedback. They may have suggestions for improvements that you had not considered. Be clear in expectations and summarize them at the end of the call.

And of course, make time for small talk! It can help set the mood and show your interest in the employee and learn more about their motivations, which in turn allows you to tailor their objects to align to both your and their desired outcomes.

This is very easy to get wrong. You want to ensure the message is clear and to the point. Do not attempt to joke or add anything which could be misconstrued — make your tone and language positive and give concrete examples of the problem. That will help you to guide the individual on how they could do better.

This is a chance for them to grow, and by framing it that way, the individual is much more likely to take on board what you’re saying. If needed, follow up with a video call later to discuss further.

You can use instant messaging (IM), but don’t rely on it. A call can be much quicker at getting to the point, especially if you’re using screen sharing wherever possible. Ensure you still talk to your co-worker via IM or calls, both about work, and the other things you would do at the office. Don’t assume everyone has heard about something, communicate it widely.

Meeting in person is a great thing to do, even if it’s only occasionally, but that isn’t so easy with COVID restrictions — especially if they vary in different regions. Prioritize your internal regular communication, and live out the values you’re setting for your team so they can see you are holding yourself to the same standard.

I would always encourage leaders to be open and transparent with both issues and opportunities. When you trust people to do their best, and give them the tools to do so, you usually get great results.

Education is vital. it should be free for those that need it, and allow all applicants to have the same chances. I think all countries should follow Norway’s example of no private schools, which has raised the standard of all schools in the country, and remove university fees.

At the same time, I want to remove any stigma that might prevent people from getting opportunities. I think we should anonymize an applicant’s cultural and educational backgrounds, and instead focus on their achievements and potential — and not their wealth or privilege.

“Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.”

Success is built on going from failure to failure without losing your motivation. You learn how to do things through trial and error, and once you work out how to do it, you can be successful.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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