J Rachel West of JRW Consulting On How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
16 min readJun 12, 2024

Go over and above with gratitude and appreciation — One of the things that can get lost in emails and Slack messages is showing thanks and how much you really appreciate your team. Going virtual wasn’t an option for many — it was a must. An entire generation of workers have had to learn how to adapt to this change and also the general fear of a deadly virus going around. There is going to be some trauma within that. Showing your team how much you value them will not only make them feel good, but it will also be a healthy way that you as a leader can build the habit of praising your team.

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 which may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing J. Rachel West.

J. Rachel West is a seasoned marketing expert with a passion for marketing, business, and events. With over a decade of experience in the marketing and business industry and two degrees in the subjects, she has honed her expertise in crafting impactful marketing strategies. Now, as the Founder & CEO of JRW Consulting LLC, Rachel is dedicated to helping brands of all seasons with their business needs. Beyond her professional pursuits, Rachel actively advocates for women’s rights and supports various charitable initiatives. Committed to leveraging marketing as a force for positive change, she embodies the ethos of making a meaningful difference in the world.

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?

My backstory with communicating with teams virtually, started, as many of us, in 2020. Before that fateful year, I had just completed my Master’s Degree from the University of Westminster in London, England. During my time as an American studying in London, I worked as a Vice President of an international consulting agency. If you’ve been to London, you know how amazing and diverse it is. I had consultants from India, Romania, Honduras, Kenya, the Philippines, and more within the organization, so when the lockdown started, we were spread all over the world in different timezones.

Little did I know at the time that leading this diverse team around the world would be the catalyst for me starting my consulting business.

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

Easily the most interesting story is when I hosted a virtual event in 2020 following the success of the first in-person annual event the previous year. It was the 2nd Annual JE UK Summer Fest which was my baby because I brainstormed the idea and then made it a reality; bringing together various enterprises all across the UK to this one event for networking, drinks, and workshops. It was a massive hit the first year with 50+ people coming to London from all across the country.

I loved seeing that I could bring people together so that they could begin to foster a relationship with each other. These people were all business partners to some extent who had never met before, so being in the same space; and having the ability to cross-train and develop one another was spectacular.

But once 2020 happened, I was (lucky) back home in the US and (as we all remember) was locked down. It was then that I decided that Summer Fest needed to become a tradition no matter what. I got the heads of the various enterprises together and we all agreed to host the event solely online. We started bright and early at 9 am UK which was 4 am for me at the time.

Imagine, I was opening my first virtual conference, my event, my baby, at four in the morning. Following the opening ceremony, I gave an hour and a half presentation before facilitating networking sessions, and the closing ceremony. To say I was tired would be an understatement. But I’ll tell you what, there was nothing better in the world than feeling how I did that day. Accomplished, successful, amazed, grateful, all of these things were like a drug I craved. Again, because I was able to be part of an event that was so powerful and transformative.

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

My grandmother always says that you can never have too many seats at the table and never enough food to serve them. She’s as Southern of a grandma as you can get, so you know her lessons are tried and true, and I find this so important in today’s world because so many seem focused on just their table and how many seats it has.

Imagine going to a dinner party and only focusing on the appetizers and not seeing the delicious desserts in the corner. Or sitting with people you already know missing the opportunity to connect with someone new and make a new friend. I want to have a table big enough to fit all the plates of food I want to taste. I want to meet everyone at the party so I can tell them about my cats.

If we started to lead with a welcoming “Hi! Hello!” instead of “There isn’t enough space for you. We will run out of food if you come.” I think the world would be a much better place. If you don’t have enough table space — grab a nightstand, sit on the couch; make space. If you don’t have enough food — use smaller portions, DoorDash more sides; make it work.

There should never be a worry about how many seats are at the table. It’s not about seating arrangements but ensuring that everyone in the room shares the same delicious meal and fellowship.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely — my grandmother! There have been many moments along the way when I was battling imposter syndrome. I didn’t feel good enough. I wasn’t good enough. I think everyone can relate to this, feeling like you shouldn’t be in a room because you don’t know enough. And my grandmother always finds a way to remind me that I am here for a reason because I am good at what I do.

And I think it’s important to sometimes be cocky. YES, I am good at what I do. That is why I was able to get two degrees in marketing. That’s why I was able to work my way up the corporate ladder. That’s why I’ve been able to help so many of my clients because I can stand firm in who I am and what I bring to the table. My Mimi has been a huge driving force for me to love and accept myself — all the gooey, messy parts of the pie and all.

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?

Well, I think we can all agree that sharing a space with a team is a more intimate experience where ideas can flow and communication is easier. I am well known for lying on the floor during brainstorming sessions because I am most creative when I am falling asleep so I try to recreate that sensation… yes even in an office space. It works! You should try it sometime!

Anyways, there is a level of productivity that can be achieved that is harder to do across a computer screen. Not to mention that you’re able to walk out the office doors together. It adds a different dimension to the relationship because you aren’t simply seeing this person online but also on their way home. Personally, I find something comforting about seeing this other side of a coworker. It almost humanizes the person and separates them from work and their personal life. You don’t always get that connection when you work remotely, and it can honestly be so isolating.

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?

From my experience, the biggest challenges teams face are a lack of communication, a feeling of isolation, and for leaders, the challenge of managing a team that now has the ability to do what they want when they want it. It’s a very difficult task to create deadlines and workflows with people all over the world. You have one person waking up while one is going to bed and the only way they can meet is by having a 7 am or 7 pm meeting.

You learn very quickly that boundaries are a must. Since we’ve switched online there seems to be an added pressure that you have to be on 24/7. You need to work more, show up more often, and answer emails right away. I am a firm believer that this shift has caused us to practice self-care and build stronger relationships with our teams as well. Have you ever planned a team-building exercise on Zoom? It’s so difficult to actually make it fun and not cheesy.

You want people to feel appreciated, but company picnics are out. Businesses have realized how cheaper it is to have people work from home, with less overhead, no need to have an office space, etc. So, we are also battling this notion that we don’t need to have physical interactions to be a team. This goes against so many concepts we learned as a child, that coming to terms with it is almost impossible.

There are many more challenges that remote teams face but I do see brands and companies trying their best to combat these challenges.

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?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this because every single team and every single person on the team are vastly different. But here are 5 suggestions I think any virtual team can implement to be most effective.

  1. Go over and above with gratitude and appreciation — One of the things that can get lost in emails and Slack messages is showing thanks and how much you really appreciate your team. Going virtual wasn’t an option for many — it was a must. An entire generation of workers have had to learn how to adapt to this change and also the general fear of a deadly virus going around. There is going to be some trauma within that. Showing your team how much you value them will not only make them feel good, but it will also be a healthy way that you as a leader can build the habit of praising your team.
  2. Support your team with technology — Now that we are remote you need to have technology that will support your team. There are so many brands now that have switched to an online focus team system that there is bound to be something for everyone. There are so many ways that you can support your team through technology. For example, getting everyone good webcams and mics and using software that supports their needs. I’m also a huge advocate for standing desks! This might be a higher onboarding cost, but is it more expensive than having an actual office building? I don’t think so.
  3. See this opportunity as an epic way to become accessible — Accessibility is one of the best things to have come out of remote working. Team members who may have different abilities don’t need to worry about whether or not they will have a difficult time in the office environment because they will be in a comfortable and familiar space. There has also been an increase in brands becoming more accessible like Zoom having live closed captions. What an epic way to help those who have hearing difficulties. There are so many positives with accessibility and working from home and now it means we can access more diverse people across the globe!
  4. Give grace and become flexible — One thing I love about being on a remote team is that there isn’t a level of micromanagement. It has become an understanding that my team will get their work done on time and to the best of their ability, and I don’t care when it gets done. If you want to work at 1 am on Tuesdays, I don’t care because by Friday the report you send needs to be completed. Of course, when it comes to meetings and other scheduled times I am not as flexible, but I feel like my team is no longer having to look busy at their desk when they finished 3 hours ago. It’s freeing being able to give my team time throughout the day to do what they need to do. But to be fair, I’ve also set my expectations for each of my team members so they know the boundaries.
  5. Make sure you get up and walk away at the end of the day — I struggle with this more than anyone I think, but I can go from 8 am to 8 pm sitting at my desk. I’m thinking, if I just get this done I will have more time tomorrow to do this. Ok, one more thing, one more task. Let me just do this real quick. And then I am stuck in the loop and the evening is gone. My family has eaten dinner without me, I’ve missed the gym class I was booked in, and I am exhausted. If you work a 9–5… get up and walk away at 5. It’s not silent quitting but rather looking out for your best interest and well-being.

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?

Luckily for my team, we had strong lines of communication before the pandemic with software like Slack, Teams, and WhatsApp. So, we all needed to adapt and ensure we had those downloaded where they needed to be, but there weren’t mandates on what you use.

However, I have heard that some companies have major issues with it because, on the office computer, they downloaded software that was only good for that computer. It was a bit awkward for some graphic designers at the start because they had the software on the computer at work but not at home. So there was a needed shift and coming together to see how to rectify that. But now, most online apps that I’ve seen have a way for you to log in remotely.

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?

I’ve already mentioned a few but my personal favorites are Google Meet and Zoom. Simply because in my world they were the brands that quickly adapted to the pandemic and became a solution for so many with challenging needs. They are places that many are comfortable using because they were the early adopters in the market at the start.

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

I am not qualified to build a travel machine, but that’s what I would have. It would be like on Star Trek where you can beam anywhere you want in the world. This would be so epic for my business because I work with so many international clients and team members.

Believe it or not, but I have worked with someone for over 4 years and we have never met in person. I know so much about her and her life story, but I’ve never seen her in person. This is true for most of my team and clients. I’ve never met them in person, but have a strong relationship with them. It’s an interesting feeling to have.

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?

Unfortunately for me, I get incredibly motion sick so I am, personally, not a fan of any of the software that requires a headset. I’ve seen Meta has come out with their headset and you can meet up with people at a virtual coffee shop, and I think that looks so cool. But I also know that I wouldn’t be able to even order my latte before I started spinning.

For those that are lucky and don’t get motion sick, I think it would be so amazing. I’ve actually been saying that they are going to bring AR into the sports world forever. You can “be” in the stands watching the game without having to spend money, get in traffic, or deal with drunk fans. That sounds like a win-win for me.

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

No. We can’t be fearful of the future. We can’t stop progress because it scares us. Think if NASA did that. It’s not an option. We have to move forward.

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?

So much has changed with how I communicate with clients! I am using more and more social media AI chat tools and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Slack. It has become extremely difficult because again, I am faced with the added pressure of always having to be on and answer immediately to any and all communication.

But it’s just not possible, and shouldn’t even be a thought I have, yet here we are.

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?

I am from Tennessee and Americans are fragile when it comes to feedback (and I’m saying this after having lived in London for 2 years). My personal favorite way to give feedback is via the sandwich method. You simply build your sandwich of feedback.

(Positive) Bun -> Hey John, I really liked the way you designed this booklet

(Feedback) Meat & Cheese -> But I don’t care for the design on page 4. Also, some grammar mistakes need to be addressed throughout.

(Positive) Bun -> But overall, very nicely done!

Let me be clear — this format doesn’t work for everyone. The Brits in my life get angry when I do this to them and they just say, “Bl**dy H*ll, Rachel! Just tell me!” But my little American voice can’t seem to shake this.

And if you aren’t sure how to give someone feedback… ASK THEM. It’s really easy.

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

Create an employee-incentivized program. Since you can’t necessarily throw a pizza party — get your team a pizza gift card. Yes, there will be a cost there, but again… you don’t have to rent a building space so you’re saving money in the long run. And people will notice how you treat them especially because it is online.

Build a workplace that is supportive, engaging, diverse, and inclusive so that everyone feels safe to show up fully.

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. :-)

One day, I am going to own an accessible arcade and hotel. I want to give those who’ve never been able to go to an arcade the space and care they deserve to have a memorable time. Each room will have different moods. For example, one would have no loud noises or flashing lights. The main arcade area would have wheelchair-accessible games. There would be plenty of private calming rooms and accessible bathrooms. This is my dream, to help others have an incredible time doing something that might not have been possible for them before.

Accessibility is everyone’s birthright, and I want to see society start planning architecture around making the world a more user-friendly world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’d love to connect with folks on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube at @jrwconsultingllc. You can also check out my website www.jrwconsulting.org to see how I help businesses of all seasons with their marketing, business, and event needs.

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

Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed working with you on this series!