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Deniero Bartolini of The Remote CEO: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Get your team members to work on group projects. That’s key if you want your business to thrive even when you are not there. The last thing you want is your team members relying on you for day-to-day communication. When you have a big project to tackle, tell the team lead or pick a team member to organize and run a meeting with a couple of other people. Now watch the magic happen. While you’re away, your staff is collaborating just as if they were in an office.

We are 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 Deniero Bartolini.

Deniero Bartolini is an e-commerce expert, agency owner and business coach that helps entrepreneurs scale by building remote teams and business systems. He’s the host of the Remote CEO Show where he interviews 6, 7, 8 and 9 figure entrepreneurs to crack the code of how to build a remote empire and have fun while doing it.

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?

I started my online business journey almost a decade ago by selling physical products on Amazon. When I started getting good at it, I decided to open a digital marketing agency to help other e-commerce businesses get the same results.

When I was scaling my digital marketing agency, I hired over 15 remote team members to run all the moving parts of the business.

That’s when my clients started asking me to help them build their remote teams.

I knew I had something big in my hands at that point. So, now my focus is The Remote CEO Academy, where I help countless entrepreneurs scale their businesses by leveraging remote teams and business systems.

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

A few years ago, I tested a very efficient way to build a 24/7 tech support and sales team by hiring three people in three completely different time zones. One team member was in Mexico, one in Bulgaria, and the other in the Philippines. Each team member had an 8-hour shift in their time zone (we had a couple of part-time staff members covering weekends.)

That allowed us to run sales funnel ads with real-time sales calls. The conversion rate on the sales calls was significantly higher because of how fast our response time was. After we perfected the system, we rolled it out to our clients, and now, many entrepreneurs are using this inexpensive system to take their business to the next level.

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

One of my favorite life quotes is ‘Shortcuts make long delays.’

When I first built my remote team, I interviewed over 20 people, and instead of hiring the ones that I thought were the best candidates, I ended up hiring the ones that told me that they didn’t need too much training. ‘Less work for me!’ I thought…

Needless to say, instead of saving time, that shortcut costed me almost one full year of delays.

Everyone was on a different page; the team was not cohesive, everyone was communicating with me on different platforms. Team-wide communication was inexistent.

After about eight months of madness, I had to let go of 75% of the team and start from scratch by building my own systems and hiring accordingly. That was a big lesson.

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?

I believe that several people contributed to my success. I am a podcast host, so I interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and authors on various topics.

Some of these interviews stuck with me because they gave me practical advice I could implement immediately in my life and business.

The late entrepreneur, Sam Bakhtiar, once told me, ‘Deniero, if you want to be motivated every single day, record your most exciting goals on your phone and re-listen to them as soon as you wake up. The simple act of listening to your voice giving you a pep talk will make you do the work every day.’

Sam grew his business from a one-location gym to 110+ locations in just a few years. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us, but his mentoring still sticks with me to this day.

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?

The obvious benefit of having a team working together in the same location is communication. If you need to ask a question, you just ask it. If you want to call a last-minute meeting, you just say, ‘Hey, let’s get together.’

Another critical benefit is culture. When you get three or more people in the same office, you can see a new culture form in front of your eyes within the first hours.

The more outgoing people emerge as leaders, then the sarcastic ones crack a couple of jokes and set the stage for the introverts to follow along.

At the first lunch break, you can already see people hang out and talk about their past experiences.

When your team is in the same office, culture develops automatically. Of course, you still need to manage it, but you don’t have to manufacture it.

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?

When you work with a remote team, you’re dealing with people working in different time zones and (most times) cultural differences. Communication is not something that happens automatically, but it’s something that you need to plan and implement carefully. For example, If you don’t organize team huddles and after-work activities, your remote team members may never have the opportunity to get to know each other. Remote teams need a lot more support and organization to thrive.

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.)

  1. Use a dedicated messaging system for your team. When I built my first team, I used to talk to my team members on Messenger, on iMessage, on WhatsApp, etc. The problem is that those were tools that both myself and my team used for personal communication. Since my team was (literally) all over the world, any time I’d send a group message, I’d interfere with someone’s personal messaging app outside of their work hours. That created a very poor experience for everyone. The solution is simple. Get your staff to download a messaging app just for work, and let them know that they don’t need to be logged on outside of their work hours. Since we implemented this rule, the team is much more responsive and dialled in when they are at work.
  2. Run daily huddles, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Running a remote team is already challenging. So don’t over complicated by disappearing for days on end. When you have a daily meeting, you can ask questions like, What did you do yesterday? Do you need any support or clarifications? What are you going to do today? Those three questions alone will allow you to have a clear understanding of how your team is doing. For example, a client told me that his lead generation reps were not as focused anymore. So I told him to run a quick 10-minute meeting with the format I wrote above for at least two weeks. When we talked again, he said that his team booked almost double the calls, and the leads’ quality was much better too. He’s still doing daily huddles to keep his team motivated and on track.
  3. Get your team members to work on group projects. That’s key if you want your business to thrive even when you are not there. The last thing you want is your team members relying on you for day-to-day communication. When you have a big project to tackle, tell the team lead or pick a team member to organize and run a meeting with a couple of other people. Now watch the magic happen. While you’re away, your staff is collaborating just as if they were in an office. I stumbled on this practice when I was onboarding three new apprentices in my business. After the orientation call, I asked who would volunteer to organize and run a meeting to improve my social media presence. The day after, I was astounded! The three of them talked to each other as if they had been colleagues for a very long time.
  4. Have monthly town hall meetings to address all the successes and challenges the business experienced. Host a Q&A session during this meeting. It’s a great way to get everyone involved and motivated. Always initiate a conversation about culture and communication and invite people to share their thoughts and feelings about working remotely. Before becoming an entrepreneur, I worked for many businesses, from startups and remote jobs to big corporations and even agencies in the public sector. Without fail, the most successful companies were also the most transparent. And if you are running a remote business, you have one more reason to be proactive about transparency.
  5. Create a Google Sheet called ‘Team building and Culture,’ set it to ‘Allow anyone with a link to edit your document,’ and you have an ongoing brainstorming tool where your team can add ideas anonymously. This is great because most people tend to hold back their ideas and thoughts, especially if they are new and/or working remotely! A couple of years ago, one of my clients hired five remote web developers at once and had no idea how to make them feel part of the team. He tried asking for feedback during their meetings, but no one was taking the initiative. So I reminded my client that they weren’t contributing any ideas because they didn’t want their ideas to get rejected. I told him to send them a link to a spreadsheet and let them fill it out anonymously. By the end of the week, they had over 20 ideas, from lunch-and-learns to yearly in-person meetings.

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?

I believe that we are better off now. The pandemic changed the way our sales team deals with calls. Before COVID, our team used VoIP and virtual phone numbers because only a small percentage of our prospects used Zoom or similar online meeting platforms. It was not cheap (about $400 a month per line), but we had no other choice.

As of mid-2020, we fully transitioned to Zoom and Microsoft Teams since those tools are the new industry standard.

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?

We rely on many tools to replicate the benefits of working in the same office. Trello is the primary tool that we use for project management. That allows me to have a bird’s eye view of all the projects that we’re working on and the ones that are coming up.

Then we use Voxer (an app that works like a walkie-talkie) when working with tight deadlines. That really makes us feel like we’re in the same room.

We also have daily huddles on Zoom, and we try always to have our cameras on to add that in-person feel.

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

I think that remote offices in the near future will come equipped with ‘smart walls’ for life-size meetings and teamwork. Right now, most remote workers face two problems: a lack of company culture and sporadic supervision. Using a system like the one I mentioned above, even just for a couple of hours a day, could drastically increase employee productivity and engagement.

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?

I do believe that unified communications are helpful in a corporate setting or any other in-person office. However, as some businesses transition to being fully remote and some startups skip the office phase altogether, they need to test new tools quickly and choose the ones that work best for them.

Now there are hundreds of new apps and platforms that improve communication and teamwork. And most of them are quite inexpensive which is perfect for startups and small businesses that are bootstrapping.

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?

As an amateur VR and AR user myself, I’m looking forward to seeing this technology go mainstream. Like I mentioned before, the office of the future will leverage these tools to enhance communication, brainstorming, design, data analysis, and much more.

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

At this point, I’m not concerned about the advance in technology as much as the psychological impact working from home has on certain individuals. For example, some people only thrive in organized environments like offices or in-person teams. When working from home, not only are these people unproductive, but they also feel disconnected from the world. In fact, we’re facing another type of epidemic, too; I’m talking about loneliness. But that’s why I’m excited about these new technologies. They’re not only making our jobs more manageable, but they’re also helping people feel less isolated.

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?

We use all of the above, from chatbots on our social media accounts and websites to messaging apps for meeting reminders and a more direct way to market our services (to those who allow us to).

We use video calling for our sales calls, podcast recordings, meetings with partners, and much more.

We’ve always been a remote business, so we started adopting these tools before the pandemic. But COVID has drastically sped up the complete adoption of them for our customer-facing activities.

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?

It all boils down the setting the right expectations. If you avoid giving honest feedback over video calls for too long, you can’t expect your team members to take it the right way when you start all of a sudden.

First, have a meeting to address those limitations. Say something like, ‘Giving feedback over video calls can be hard because you can’t pick up on facial expressions and body language easily. But as a business, we value learning, teamwork, and growth. We all have blind spots, and we all need honest feedback to help us grow.’

Now, every time you give feedback you can frame it by reminding them why you are doing it.

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

Team projects and a good manager are the two factors that will make all the difference.

Getting a few people working together without you (or other managers) interfacing the relationships will work wonders. Encourage your staff members to self-organize. Let them pick their meeting time and work the details out on their own (within reason).

There’s a fine line between micromanaging and letting people do what they want, and you want to ‘walk on that line’ as much as possible.

A good manager will also hire with the team in mind. Understanding the synergies between team members is critical. As a remote CEO, my goal is to hire people who feel comfortable opening up over video calls and online meetings.

Before hiring someone, I run about three video interviews. The first and the second are to ensure that the candidate has the right experience and skills for the job. But the third meeting is all about culture. If they don’t open up and get talking on the third call, I can already tell they will struggle with our remote culture, and that’s a red flag.

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 absolutely love this question because I have already started this movement, and it’s snowballing. It’s called The Remote CEO. We have a podcast with over 520 episodes, a coaching program, and much more… When I first became a digital nomad, I was in love with the idea of working remotely. Still, I didn’t know how to scale a business and achieve financial freedom.

Then with the help of mentors, coaches, and my podcast guests, I was able to create the lifestyle of my dreams. But, unfortunately, too many people think they need to choose between creating a successful career or business and being full-time parents or travel the world. That may have been true in the past, but now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We have all the tools and the knowledge to create a business that truly fits your dream lifestyle. I have been able to build a company with a team of 20 from the comfort of my own home, and I’m proud to say that I can spend as much time as I want with my wife and daughter. Don’t settle for a business or job that pays well if it interferes with the lifestyle you are chasing. Keep on evolving, and soon you’ll have the best of both worlds.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on Instagram: @denierob , at my website www.denierob.com and you can check out our podcast and academy at www.theremoteceo.com

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

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication