I would inspire a movement to never count employees out, period. Whether it’s age, gender, experience or in our case location. Technology has advanced far too much for this to be excusable any longer. Whether it’s to be more productive or cut out the commute to have more time with their family, people have different motivations to work remotely but that doesn’t mean they should be treated differently than their in-office counterparts. All individuals deserve an equal chance at promotion and recognition despite their location.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Weishaupt, the CEO of Boston-based Owl Labs. Owl Labs created the first-of-its-kind 360° smart video conferencing camera, the Meeting Owl, to help distributed teams communicate more effectively.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path has been a long and winding road. It actually began with an engineering degree but has since led me across many business disciplines, from technical operations to sales.
I was fortunate to start my career in the early days of digital. I began working at AOL in the late 90s, just two years out of college, and I was tasked with contacting CMOs at the top U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Remember, this is AOL in the 90s. It was this buzzing company, and no CMO could pass on a meeting.
Having a seat at the table with some of the most influential business leaders in the world at such a young age inspired me to focus on working toward a position of senior leadership, influence, and impact.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I won’t share any names, but I will share that when I started at Owl Labs, I had the CEO of a major company that I truly respect and admire, yet have never met, reach out to me on LinkedIn to congratulate me on my new role. To add to the delight, they also shared how much they love the Meeting Owl. Obviously, I was already passionate about our product and its potential to change the future of the workplace, that’s why I wanted the job. But having this business leader reach out and share how it had already made an impact on their team and how they connect with each other made me that much more excited to get to work!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As remote work opportunities continue to grow, and the workforce becomes widely distributed, location will become increasingly irrelevant in the battle for talent. At Owl Labs we’re advocating for this workplace shift by working to improve collaboration across these distributed teams.
I’ve managed global teams for the majority of my career, and I’ve witnessed technology gaps and hiccups that make it exceptionally difficult for remote workers to effectively communicate with their teams. If businesses truly want to make location completely irrelevant, video collaboration needs to be easy to use and remote employees need to be able to contribute as if they were in the room with their colleagues. So, we’re working hard on a lot of exciting projects that will make this possible and ensure remote participants are better seen, heard and most importantly, understood.
Ok, let's jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It’s disappointing how high that number is given the amount of time we spend at work. From my experience, when employees are unhappy it’s because something is misaligned. Either the company is not headed in the right direction or the employees are not being recognized for their contributions to the company’s successes. Trust me, I have experienced both of those examples and neither is fun.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
It’s quite simple. Companies should always remember: When leadership loses the employees, nobody wins.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Over-communicate all the time. If employees aren’t surprised, they’ll never be frustrated.
- Trust your employees. You hired them to do a job. Help your employees grow, don’t scrutinize their every move or fail to have faith in their ability.
- Give credit where credit is due. Never forget to recognize employees for their hard and good work.
- Be human. Work is just one part of life. Don’t forget people are going through things in other parts of their lives that may not be related to work. Feeling empathy from their managers and leaders will go a long way.
- Take risks. I’m a big believer that data-driven culture is important, but you can’t forego good instincts. Life is art and science.
My personal story is related to all of these. There have been multiple points in my career where consultants were brought in to “improve culture,” which usually ends with a set of words that “define” what the culture should be. I’ve learned that executives can’t put culture into words and paste them on a poster on the bathroom wall. Company culture is genuine, never forced, and always starts with the employees.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think it starts with recalling something I mentioned earlier: be human. We spend so much of our time at work and leaders need to realize that people have lives that they’re trying to enjoy outside of their daily list of work tasks. It starts with never counting an employee’s emotions out — we’re humans, not robots.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I’m focused on transparency, having fun and allowing people the opportunity to be owners — not workers.
At Owl Labs, our employees are owners because they’re all shareholders, and rightfully know how the company is doing and how their performance influences the outcome. I also firmly believe in creating a culture where we can push each other to perform at our absolute best without drama or politics. We don’t let anything fall through the cracks. We tackle issues and challenges head-on and openly as they come. Disagreements are inevitable, but the attitude you carry when engaging in tough conversations makes all the difference.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great people in my career. One of my bosses, in particular, was just incredibly supportive at a very difficult time.
I was scheduled to take part in an investor day in front of some of the most influential analysts in the world. It was an honor to be one of the speakers. We did a dress rehearsal 24 hours prior to the event in front of the CEO and the board of directors and I blew it. When I say I blew it, I may as well have gone up in front of them and played the piano. Mind you, I do NOT know how to play the piano, it was that bad. I froze, I forgot the content and I sounded like I had marbles in my mouth. I thought I would be removed from the lineup, but instead, she supported me and built me up.
My motivation all of a sudden changed. I went from wanting to show how smart I was to not wanting to let her down. It went incredibly well and she was the first one to congratulate me on a job well done.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to give back in the area of education, so my wife and I have started to fund various scholarships. Education is one of the most important aspects of life and has no limits. It gives people the power to grow, both professionally and personally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Warren Buffet.
“Surround yourself with people that push you to do better. No drama or negativity. Just higher goals and higher motivations. Good times and positive energy. No jealousy or hate. Simply bringing out the absolute best in each other.”
This sums up the reason I wanted to become a CEO. I love to have fun and I love to win. Why can’t that translate to business? I don’t have time for politics, drama or selfishness. My goal is to create a culture and a team that reflects this quote.
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 would inspire a movement to never count employees out, period. Whether it’s age, gender, experience or in our case location. Technology has advanced far too much for this to be excusable any longer.
Whether it’s to be more productive or cut out the commute to have more time with their family, people have different motivations to work remotely but that doesn’t mean they should be treated differently than their in-office counterparts. All individuals deserve an equal chance at promotion and recognition despite their location.