David Davies of Sovereign Beverage Company: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine
Published in
10 min readJul 17, 2022

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Healthy, empowered work culture is the fundamental driver for a strong, thriving business. Despite being physically distanced, the team still needs the tools and resources to work together — building a culture that supports this is critical, helping to grow and retain talent and supporting their wellbeing.

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

David Davies is the Founder of Sovereign Beverage Company Ltd www.sovbev.com.

Sovereign Beverage Company is the UK’s leading premium beverage export agency, specializing in streamlining the export operations of UK breweries and helping them to get their premium products on the global stage. They have been in operation for nearly 15 years, working with notable brands such as Marston’s Brewery and Batemans; they have expanded to a team of nine, and annual sales have topped over 10 million pints.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic. My Dad owned businesses and from the age of six I worked for him in the holidays, so I’ve known from a very young age that I wanted to run my own company as well.

I grew up in Lytham St Annes and went to university in Manchester, where I studied business and finance and then began working in the supply chain business within the beverage industry.

It was in 2006, while working as Account Manager, that I spotted a gap in the market in the supply chain for exporting UK beer — and the idea for Sovereign Beverage Company Ltd was born! In 2008 I officially launched the company, working with key suppliers including Marstons Brewery and Batemans, exporting their premium craft beers overseas.

Since then, the company has grown into a thriving business, increasing sales by 10,000% (in litres sold) and expanding to a team of nine. We are now the UK’s leading exporter of premium beverages, with over 10 million pints sold annually worldwide during 2021.

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

Since I began my career, my aim was to firstly gain experience in the industry and then apply it to a business idea when the right opportunity came along. As part of this, I was continuously researching business concepts and new ways of thinking.

I read Robert Craven’s ‘Kick-Start Your Business’ and this sparked my first ‘commandments of business idea’. Essentially, I wrote a list of 10 commandments for my business and decided that my company would need to fulfil most (if not all) of these commandments.

I truly believe this helped me to grow and shape my business, in a sustainable, successful way. It helped me to focus on my core vision for the company and underpinned all that we do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the first year of trading I mistook the capital of Norway for Copenhagen and landed there for a first meeting with a large importer.

I realized quite quickly I was in the wrong country. Luckily I managed to get a connection the same day and made the meeting.

The lesson was the preparation for meetings is as important as the meeting itself, so that you can focus solely on the objectives and relationship building

I also learnt Oslo is the capital of Norway and Copenhagen the capital of Denmark.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

One key way to help employees to thrive and avoid burnout is to ensure that the team have informal channels of communication. This helps to replace the ‘water cooler’ chat that is so integral to traditional office settings. Building in catch up time to regular, scheduled meetings can also help — for example, taking time at the beginning of a call to find out how the team’s weekends were.

We also plan virtual events including coffee breaks and after-work drinks — we supply the beverages in advance to team members and then use the time to catch up. It not only helps the team to bond, but also provides a way of letting off steam and fosters a sense of belonging. So far, we’ve enjoyed music quizzes, games nights and bingo over video conferencing and we have more plans in the pipeline.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were totally office-based, with employees commuting up to an hour. We travelled plenty for supplier meetings, but always had that core office. However, in 2020 we quickly adapted to a remote working model. We were lucky that we already had an established cloud-based system in place, which enabled the team to continue to work without interruption. Also, like many other organisations, we were able to use various virtual networking tools to continue to work together.

Although the pandemic presented Sovereign Beverages with significant challenges, we decided not to furlough staff, but instead to maintain the existing team, continuing with team building and development.

After a review, we noticed that the team’s productivity actually increased with the onset of working from home — as such, we’ve decided to implement working from home as a permanent option for staff.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each? Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

A major challenge is around working policies and ensuring that the team is fully aware of expectations and working guidelines. Ensuring clear guidelines will help to reduce confusion — running a virtual session with the team can help to share this knowledge.

Recruiting and onboarding new staff can also be a difficult process. Although video conferencing can be hugely helpful, time must also be carved out to hold in-person interviews and new start meetings, to help develop a relationship. One way we’ve overcome this is to adopt a buddy system, pairing a new starter with a more experienced team member for the induction period.

An important thing to remember is to be flexible about the team’s working environment. Although we expect our team to have a dedicated workspace, we all need to remember that they are working from home, where there may be unexpected noises or interruptions! I’m sure we all remember the BBC interview with two small children joining in!

Reviewing how technology is used is also important. Having several communication methods available is an important factor — for example, video conferencing and instant messaging. Look at how information is shared and consider if you need to amalgamate where documents are stored, for example.

Finally, although we’ve embraced home-working to the fullest, we still recognise the importance of in-person meetings and events. For example, we plan monthly team meetings to bring everyone together as well as some social events to maintain employee connection and morale. For instance, our team reviews are all conducted in person, and we’ll go our for dinner afterwards.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing 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 employee?

This can be really challenging! From research, we know that humans tend to focus on the negative aspects of feedback, rather than the positives which can have a significant impact on professional progress and wellbeing.

However, providing constructive criticism is an integral part of growing a business and developing the team, helping to increase professional skills. For me, it’s critical that we give constructive criticism over a video call. Although not as effective as in-person, it does allow the other person to pick up some body language and facial expressions, helping to soften the feedback.

I’d also suggest that time is regularly scheduled for feedback. It becomes part of the organisation’s culture and is less disruptive, while also allowing the team member to prepare for the meeting. Underpinning all of this, however, is establishing a culture of trust. Ensuring that good relationships are built with team members will minimise the impact of any feedback that is perceived negatively and will only help both the staff and the company to thrive.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Giving constructive feedback over email can be very difficult and I would always advise giving feedback either in-person or via a video call, wherever possible.

However, if there is no other option, my first suggestion is to build in time before the email is sent. Write a first draft, and then leave it — if appropriate, ask someone else to read the email before it is sent. My team are the lifeblood of my company — I want to ensure I deliver feedback respectfully.

I’d always start and finish my email with the positives, to make a ‘feedback sandwich’ — begin with a note of appreciation, then progress onto anything negative and finish with a note of thanks. When talking about a negative element, it’s important to be specific and ensure that there is a clear action that can be taken. This allows the team member to acknowledge the feedback and find a way to improve, in a positive manner.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

When we began working remotely, we did face challenges, like many other organisations. From interruptions during meetings, to a reduction in sharing work-related knowledge and skills, the pandemic certainly presented some unexpected obstacles.

In particular, we found training new staff was an obstacle. So much knowledge is absorbed when a team member is in an office environment and it’s difficult to anticipate what might be lost. Ensuring regular calls, establishing a buddy system and regular, in-person, calls is essential is building a rapport and ensuring the new member of staff begins to feel part of the team.

Another obstacle we faced was around loneliness experienced by some team members. Although some of the team were in busy, family homes, we were acutely aware that others lived alone. During lockdown, this meant that human interaction was reduced and, inevitably, this led to feelings of isolation. This is why we actively encourage informal methods of communication, helping to establish regular interaction, continuity and chats. We firmly believe that a moment of humour is equally important as a work-related matter.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Healthy, empowered work culture is the fundamental driver for a strong, thriving business. Despite being physically distanced, the team still needs the tools and resources to work together — building a culture that supports this is critical, helping to grow and retain talent and supporting their wellbeing.

In an office, organisational culture usually happens organically in many ways, but when working remotely, every part of building a team needs to be considered and planned. Therefore, my main suggestion is to go back to the drawing board and rethink processes, including recruitment, training, and collaborative tools. Getting this foundation right will help to establish your culture and underpin your business.

I’d also suggest you involve your team with the process, rather than making all the decisions yourself. Getting staff buy in is imperative and a great way of helping the team to grow and develop. Together, identify what staff wellbeing looks like and look creatively at how this can be developed.

Ongoing training and development is also so important. Not only does it develop individuals and professional skills, it also helps the company to grow and for team members to feel valued and empowered.

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’m a firm believer in the art of disruptive thinking! I think that applying disruptive techniques can drive innovation and creativity, solving problems and tackling issues effectively. I would therefore like my movement to be around encouraging creativity, actively looking for new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Working remotely and fostering a culture of innovation can be challenging. Sometimes an in-person environment is optimum for sparking new ideas and maintaining that level of creativity. However, it can be done. It needs to be embedded into our culture, setting aside regular time and processes to share ideas and challenge accepted ways of doing things. Some people can find it tough to share their ideas initially, but having a welcoming environment and process to review innovation can help with this.

Although lockdown and COVID-19 was tough, it did create new opportunities and innovation. For example, the global shut down had a significant impact on our business, with lower sales over the period. This was exacerbated by the Suez Canal obstruction, which impacted on freight. Through the dedication and innovative thinking of our team however, we were able to ‘unlock’ the South America market, a previously relatively untapped, but lucrative market. We also developed new ways to support our existing customers, resulting in 2021 becoming our best year to date.

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

Always do the right thing — as important as being successful, is how you are successful

I apply this in the business, we have zero skeletons in our success and it’s something you can apply to everyday life just as simply and easily

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine

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