Kevin Torf of T2 Tech Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Fotis Georgiadis
Sep 30 · 11 min read
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I have been working for clients all over the world and have needed to perform many of my duties remotely. One of the companies I founded 30 years ago, Torsys, employed people from all over the United Sates and at that time, I learned different ways to communicate with these employees. I have also been very fortunate with T2 Tech Group being able to provide custom technology, support and solutions over the last decade to help our customers build their infrastructure to support remote employees.

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

Kevin Torf, co-founder and managing partner of T2 Tech Group, has been a renowned innovator and thought leader in the technology industry for over 35 years, specializing in large-scale IT strategic planning, project design and implementation. Kevin also brings decades of experience in complex application deployment, IT architecture, electrical engineering and data center construction, infrastructure and consolidation and more, particularly within the healthcare space.

Predominantly self-taught, Kevin is an autodidact who discovered his love for technology at a young age, soaking up information from his father’s knowledge of electronics and programming. After starting his professional career in technology purchasing decisions, he merged his love for tech with his passion for entrepreneurship and founded a series of extremely successful companies — Torsys, a consulting company focused on managing large scale technical projects for companies including Microsoft, AT&T and Starwood ; Tornado Development, which became a multi-national leader in developing the first unified communication platform offered to the largest carriers around the world; Inuntius, where Torf developed one of the world’s first digital phone services over the internet VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol); and Intelliverse, where he led the optimization of a single technology platform consolidating voice, email and fax, now utilized by millions of companies worldwide.

After founding T2 Tech Group, Kevin conceptualized and designed the company’s unique project management approach never before seen in the tech industry: the hybrid-Agile methodology, blending management techniques used to optimize client planning. Through this approach, T2 Tech’s partners have experienced remarkable results — saving millions of dollars in vendor management, improving application performance by as much as 400 percent and achieving an unequivocal scalable IT environment optimized for success.

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 discovered my love for technology at a young age, soaking up information from my father’s knowledge of electronics and programming. I began my career in technology writing programs for extra pocket money at the age of 14 and eventually merged my love for tech with my passion for entrepreneurship and founded a series of companies. I co-founded T2 Tech Group in 2006 and designed our company’s unique project management approach: the hybrid-Agile methodology, blending management techniques used to optimize client planning. Now, I have over 35 years of experience in the industry, specializing in large-scale IT strategic planning, project design and implementation.

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

I have so many, but my proudest moments have been foreseeing a need that technology can solve. Most of the companies I founded all started with solving a problem I had in my personal or business life. Forty years ago, at the age of 18 I needed a way to remember the videos and movies I rented from a local video store, so I did not get the same video again. I developed a program to keep a record of what I had seen, as well as categorize what I liked, and compared that to what was available in the video store. From that idea I started my first company called Compu Video.

Twenty-five years ago, I was trying to find ways to better communicate with my staff that were all over the country and started developing tools to help facilitate that need. The tools I developed led to the formation of a new company called Tornado Development. Tornado Development was a pioneer in digital communications.

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?

Some of the funniest moments have been intertwined with all of the people I have met over the years and moments that have been captured in an instance of time. The greatest lesson I’ve learned was when I came to the United States and first had M&M’s chocolate candies, which I did not like. I had grown up eating Smarties, which is a similar candy from South Africa. Over the thirty years I have been in the United States, and still today, when family members visit me from South Africa, they bring me a box of Smarties. One afternoon, I was reading a magazine about an American that had migrated to South Africa and their only complaint with the country was that the Smarties were terrible, and he could not wait to have his family send him M&M’s. I learned that day that no country or person is better than the other, but just different based on what we as individuals have grown up to appreciate. I would say it was the greatest lesson I’ve learned and gave me a new perspective.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Technology is a grueling industry and requires countless hours to build and support the ever-changing landscape for companies’ use and needs in their day-to-day lives. Organizations cannot afford any disruptions or downtime for its employees due to changes. So, updates and improvements to the numerous types of technology systems are done in the evening and weekends making some of your work hours long and tiresome.

The secret is all about enjoying what you do. This is sometimes less about the person or company you work for — although they can play a major role — but more about yourself. I have always enjoyed being challenged and wanting to learn how technology worked. That passion never made my work feel like a chore. What CEOs and CIOs need to provide is an environment where individuals like myself can engage in these passions and feel like their efforts can make a difference, regardless how small they may be. This may not be the ideal work environment for everybody, but the people it does work for will very seldom get tired.

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?

I have been working for clients all over the world and have needed to perform many of my duties remotely. One of the companies I founded 30 years ago, Torsys, employed people from all over the United Sates and at that time, I learned different ways to communicate with these employees. I have also been very fortunate with T2 Tech Group being able to provide custom technology, support and solutions over the last decade to help our customers build their infrastructure to support remote employees.

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?

‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ the oldest saying in history is very true. As managers, we have been taught that management is about monitoring and policing a person’s behavior and productivity. Although this concept is evolving and organizations have started to manage employees based on outcomes, this has become more important as employees are now working remotely and management, in some cases, has lost visibility of how an employee behaves.

Challenges

How do you know a person is actually working and not watching TV? The question is: do you need to know? If the person is doing their job and their performance levels meets the organizations benchmark, should that not be acceptable? The challenge is most organizations do not know how to measure outcomes or what is acceptable. Use and build tools to help measure and monitor outcomes.

Isolation of employees. Most people like to be around other people and have the ability to socialize. Working remotely will isolate a person and they can feel that they do not have the support of their management or peers, or an outlet to communicate their problems or share their family and personal stories. Organizations need to change the way they encourage employees to reach out to one another to get support and interact with each other creating a greater level of collaboration.

Measuring performance. Measuring a person’s performance can start to feel like “Big Brother” and create a stressed relationship with the employee and management. Instead of measuring an individual, work on measuring a team’s performance where possible. Try creating a competitive environment around team performance. This will have the team work closer together and engage with each other, while creating a self-sufficient model reducing or even eliminating the need for a supervisor or manager.

The wrong Tools and Technology. Having the wrong computer or internet access can impact a person’s ability to be productive or have good quality calls. Establish a standard to perform the job function and provide aid and assistance to your employees that do not have these tools or internet. The cost to purchase a new computer, upgrade the internet or provide a work desk is small considering the savings of not having them come back to the office and reducing the real estate and utilities cost.

Separate work and home life. It’s hard when you have the family all working together in the same room and confined indoors to distinguish the difference between being relaxed at home versus what you were used to at the office. This is also not healthy as work and home become one in the same. I recommend dressing to go to work. The idea of dressing in work attire while at home might seem unnecessary but it creates a subconscious difference and the people around you will treat you a little differently. Then, when you change clothes at the end of the day, you are now at “home”.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

See response above.

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?

Don’t berate an employee and be selective on the words you use, employees that get offended will behave differently at home than they would in the office. In the office they might be more constrained and eventually their anger will subside. At home, that might not happen therefore escalating the problem more than is wanted or needed. Use video were ever possible so you can interact and see the person, this will have a different impact than just a phone call. Lastly, learn to use different words in how you express yourself.

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

Email can be very dangerous if used incorrectly. People tend to say things they do not realize until after the email is sent. Unless the manager is very skilled at writing, managers should be cautious of sending harsh emails without thinking through the words being used, the implications and what the objective is. I suggest always trying to call a person first and verbally discussing with them the problem and then following up with an email. This will put the email into perspective and will corroborate what you said.

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?

Continue to communicate. When we work together, or are in close proximity to each other, you tend to talk more, joke, make comments and interact sometimes for no reason other than to break up your day. Being remote takes that all away. Learning to use a messaging product and chatting with your team even for non-business reasons can help. There are some private social media portals where the team can share information with each other that is restricted only to the team, not the public. They have the ability to have real-time video that is on all the time running in the background. Although that can be a little distracting, these are creative and different ways to fill a gap that is hard to replace.

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?

Empower the team. Create a working environment where the team has no choice but to reach out to each other in order to get their job done. Not all jobs will provide that capability, but with a little restructuring this can be done more so than initially thought. By having the team work together and make decisions together, it will make them more accountable and that is what empowerment is all about.

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. :-)

Allow people the opportunity to be heard, lead people and don’t judge, mentor versus tell, and inspire people to think for themselves. I believe every person can grow and learn if given the right opportunity. Micromanaging and dictating what needs to be done might get the job done at that moment, but people do not learn to think for themselves, only follow direction. This method stifles innovation and creativity. I would try and inspire diversity in ideas and thoughts, regardless of education, age or position. Hearing different perspectives and working to bring people together as a team is a great power I strive to obtain. Ask lots of questions and listen!

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

If you’re dropped in the middle of the ocean, what direction would you swim if you are unable to tell where land is?

The answer is not important just as long as you swim. If you don’t swim you will eventually drown. Swimming (doing something) might get you where you need to go, or you might head in the wrong direction. Either way, you’ll never know unless you start swimming. As you’re swimming, try to learn and adjust course as needed, but don’t stop.

Thank you for these great insights!

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Authority Magazine
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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