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Lenovo’s Eric Yu: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Be Accessible — While it is important to set healthy boundaries with your peers, it is also important for your team to know that they can count on you when they need you. I try to make myself as accessible as possible to my teams during my workday. When I’m online, I want to connect with them and learn the status of ongoing or upcoming projects so I can support and delegate as needed. It is important to understand the needs of your team and help out when they need it most.

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 Eric Yu.

Lenovo’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, Worldwide Small and Medium Business Segment of Intelligent Devices Group, Eric Yu, is responsible for the segment‘s global end-to-end business strategy and execution. He also oversees Lenovo’s global Monitors and Accessories Business Units. With 20 years working across different Lenovo business functions, Yu has a track record of understanding business needs and exceeding growth exponentially in various technology segments.

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’ve been with Lenovo for more than 20 years, supporting and leading everything from monitors to PCs to accessories and now oversee the company’s small and medium-size business (SMB) end-to-end business strategy and execution for customers globally.

Throughout my time at Lenovo, I’ve had the opportunity to work across many functions including product promotion, management and operations, and I also spent time in development. These various positions have helped me develop a broad set of competencies and learn different abilities, without which I believe I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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

I’ve been fortunate to have a very varied career so it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific story. I started teaching English, then moved into marketing communications before moving into various roles I just mentioned. To fulfil your potential, I believe it’s important to state your ambitions and not be afraid to change direction. As you take on more senior roles, there is always room to improve and learn more from peers and your team. Every day provides a new learning experience.

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?

Having a team physically together allows for more stimulating and spontaneous interactions. When team members are in the same physical space they can collaborate in real life and real-time — using tone, body language and eye contact in order to communicate ideas, strategies and updates quickly and effectively. There’s also more opportunity for spontaneous brainstorming and discussion when it’s face-to-face. In-person meetings also encourage impactful participation and can build trust, camaraderie and community among team members who are working together towards achieving a common goal. Thankfully there’s now a lot stronger network connectivity and smarter technology that can help address these challenges.

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?

The benefits listed above can be flipped on their head to highlight the main challenges that arise with a distributed workforce. When communication is primarily virtual, it can be difficult to establish an organizational culture. Meaning might be lost in translation, and interactions may even feel forced, especially if there isn’t already a personal connection between employees. Many employees will spend longer hours in front of devices leading to virtual meeting fatigue, eye strain and ergonomic issues. Business need to enable their remote employees just as much as office-based with a desk eco-system that encourages well-being. The right low blue light displays, monitors and ergonomic input devices can help mitigate the effect of longer working hours.

Communicating and working in separate spaces can also result in distractions that take away from collaboration or participation that may be less likely to take place when the full team is working together in person. Furthermore, newer or more junior team members could feel isolated vs being in the same physical space.

There are also a number of challenges brought on by the technology itself that is powering the transformation to hybrid working. Cybercrime is on the rise due to a more distributed workforce resulting in a greater need to secure multiple endpoints outside of the corporate firewall. It’s crucial to assess security solutions such as Lenovo ThinkShield. With security, it’s always better to prevent than react.

And spare a thought for the IT staff. How can they effectively support remote employees and deliver the same levels of satisfaction and issue resolution as office-based users? Lenovo Services has a suite of solutions focused on hybrid workforces, designed to reduce the burden on IT staff and keep employees productive. Remote deployment, device management, Premier Support and Lenovo Device Intelligence Plus which can anticipate device issues are services that can reduce potential bottlenecks.

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. Communicate clear boundaries

Transparent and open communication can help your colleagues (and loved ones) respect your schedule, whether you’re in the office or not. By establishing a routine that allows you to be productive during the workday, you’re able to bring the best parts of yourself to the workplace. With that being said, it is equally as important to shut down and take breaks so you’re not feeling overwhelmed and as a result, overworking your team. A recent survey found that 41% of workers have experienced burnout during the past few months, and the average American is spending up to 13 hours per day in front of digital devices. I’m a firm believer that the stigma of “if you’re working from home, you’re not working” is a thing of the past. We need to continue to encourage and enable our colleagues to work from home just as they would in the office. For example, if taking breaks to get in a quick workout or run other personal errands is what you do in an office, it shouldn’t be any different at home. Consistent and clear communication can help your colleagues maintain respect and establish trust in your work style.

2. Be Accessible

While it is important to set healthy boundaries with your peers, it is also important for your team to know that they can count on you when they need you. I try to make myself as accessible as possible to my teams during my workday. When I’m online, I want to connect with them and learn the status of ongoing or upcoming projects so I can support and delegate as needed. It is important to understand the needs of your team and help out when they need it most.

When you set clear boundaries and maintain a consistent routine, you develop a sense of accountability and trust among your team members allowing for more fluid conversations and thoughtful executions.

3. Recognize family challenges and cultural differences

As senior leaders, it’s our job to make sure our teams feel connected and content. Part of this involves creating a work environment where various cultures and inspiring schools of thought can thrive. There are many cultures represented in the workplace so while a company may maintain a specific business culture, it is pertinent to be mindful of the individuals that make up your collective organizational culture. For example, working mothers make up a significant part of the labor force, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all employed women. Various cultural backgrounds also create different needs and priorities for employees. By honoring these lifestyle and cultural differences, employees will feel supported and empowered to help their company succeed.

4. Acknowledge and support the needs of various generations in the workplace

One size does not fit all and this remains true for a multigenerational company. There are roughly four active generations in the workforce in 2021, each with unique characteristics and worldviews. Recent data from global communications agency, Zeno Group, identifies a new generation titled “Generation Disrupted.” According to the study, 76 percent of people ages 14 to 28 say their personal beliefs, values and character have been fundamentally altered by social and political events across the globe in 2020. The values rising among this generation include: protecting family (72 percent), compassion (71 percent) and equality (70 percent), while status, power and wealth are falling (16, 15 and 11 percent, respectively), indicating this generation’s commitment to society rather than individual accomplishment and personal gain. When cultivating an organizational structure, it’s important for large and small business owners alike to align their culture and company objectives with the general worldviews and attitudes of their employees to ignite a motivated and harmonious workplace.

5. Leverage affordable and adaptable technology for collaboration

By prioritizing collaboration and equipping teams with portable and reliable technology, businesses small and large can empower their employees to bring their best ideas to the table. According to a global study from Lenovo, nearly half of SMB employees believe smarter technology eases collaboration, provides more efficient data processing, as well as greater access to information and supplemental resources. Smarter technology that empowers a modern flexible workforce extends beyond the PC device and should include a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and services to maximize productivity while ensuring individual comfort and wellbeing, and enhancing security. For example, we recently launched a new brand of accessories called Lenovo Go, specifically designed with the remote workforce in mind.

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?

Video is a key element to this remote environment. It’s an engaging style that enables employees to feel connected and avoid that feeling of isolation typically reported when working from home. It’s important for companies to make sure their employees are armed with the ability to use the best video-conferencing technology. Remote meeting attendees should not suffer because they are unable to attend events in person, and by providing technology that offers high-quality video and audio connectivity, all participants can stay engaged and be involved in discussions and decisions. It’s equally important however to accept that not everyone wishes to turn on video every time. Additionally, we’ve seen a prioritization in IT solutions for businesses of all sizes and today’s small to medium businesses demand dynamic and efficient IT infrastructure. For SMBs specifically, device-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions can transform IT delivery, resulting in greater IT optimization.

As we move forward, SMB customers can also expect new form factors such as dual-screen configurations, on-screen keyboard inputs and voice-to-text tools that are less reliant on a physical keyboard. For example, Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i features an innovative e-Ink cover display that helps users be more productive when multitasking by improving focus, collaboration and creativity. Additionally, advanced audio tools are important in our current world of remote work. Having a laptop that includes built-in earbuds that are charged inside the laptop and automatically configured and optimized make it so much easier to collaborate. Just pop the tray open and the earbuds are ready to use. We created this in our new ThinkBook 15-inch laptop as a result of direct customer insights.

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?

As a global business leader, it’s always been important to have the right tools to improve productivity and collaboration, however, as teams become more dispersed, it is critical to have the right technology and unified communication tools to keep team members connected, engaged and productive. One way organizations can harness technology to help bridge remote and in-person work environments is by implementing multi-functional solutions and ensuring technology is available to spark some of the same spontaneous interactions that an employee would have in an office setting. It’s important for the end-user that these digital transformation transitions that enable a hybrid workforce are seamless and secure.

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?

I’m really excited about the unlimited prospects of virtual and augmented reality workforce onboarding and training solutions in the enterprise and SMB space. According to Deloitte, AR can provide the ability to “turn novices into experts more smoothly, swiftly, and effectively than ever before,” and a recent survey shows 1 in 3 small- or medium-sized businesses in the U.S. plan to pilot a VR training program. Some companies are even using VR to take diversity and inclusion training to the next level to increase cultural empathy in the workplace. Virtual and augmented reality gives businesses a way to offer in-depth training in a safe and cost-effective environment, which is why it’s so exciting. Our ThinkReality solutions expand into new worlds of opportunity today and also show a very exciting view of the near future. The potential of AR, VR and XR are virtually endless, pun intended! From personal workspaces to remote assistance, design collaboration and guided workflows in education and healthcare suggest a wealth of possibilities. The potential is only limited by our imaginations.

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

Greater accessibility of emerging and innovative technology like virtual and augmented reality is an opportunity. A top pain point for SMBs is securing funding to invest in the technology needed to scale their business. The high cost for some of these new, innovative technologies is a concern for smaller businesses that earn lower profits, making it challenging for them to adapt with a budget that doesn’t support high-risk investments. With considering the risk compared to the reward of technological investment, the solution must be well proven and cost-effective, otherwise small business owners tend to steer clear of adopting the latest technology. The best practice is to work with vendors and their partners who provide simple, transparent pricing, flexible as-a-service solutions without hidden fees and customizable services so you only pay for exactly what your team is using.

Like many new products though, emerging technologies become more accessible as they mature and the economies of scale come into play.

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?

I haven’t travelled internationally in over 20 months. This has certainly put pressure on how we engage with our customers, but has also helped us and them to accelerate digital transformation. While we all miss the face-to-face interaction with customers, the benefit of not losing time travelling is that I am able to communicate with more customers more frequently mostly through video calls.

In turn, we are also helping our customers stay in close contact with theirs. Based on what we’ve learned from the past year, we know expectations have changed and an SMB’s success is directly connected to how tech helps enable employees to effectively communicate with customers. Because of this, we’ve prioritized equipping our customers with the right devices to communicate with their teams efficiently. At Lenovo, we’ve always put the needs of the customer first and by listening and understanding our customers’ needs, we’ve created a services portfolio offers solutions that keep your operations leaner, costs lower, and your employees more collaborative. We’ve embraced both online and offline engagement with customers from even before the pandemic. In addition to AI chatbots that can address customer inquiries quickly, 24/7 in real-time during the pandemic, we also piloted a mobile ‘IT service’ in select markets that sent fully equipped repair vans to meet customers where they are to get any devices fixed. Instead of customers having to physically travel to a repair center or sending in their device, we went to them instead. 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?

As a leader, I understand that constructive feedback is beneficial to my team, my organization and even my own overall growth. While it is important to make others aware of areas in which they can improve, it is equally important to create a team of people that are enthusiastic and motivated to work with you. For every point of constructive criticism I share, I also try to spotlight exceptional areas of performance. In the past, it was easy to schedule lunch or an in-office meeting for a regular or check-in feedback conversation, where you could make eye contact and evaluate body language. Now, these conversations are primarily executed via digital solutions.

In my experience, I’ve seen the most success in these sometimes uncomfortable dialogues when they are conducted over video. Being able to see the person you are talking to and them being able to see you, makes the interaction a lot more engaging and humanized, minimizing the possibility of tone being misconstrued or non-verbals landing incorrectly. Instead of seeing it as a chore, see feedback as the fastest route to better business conversations with people working remotely.

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

Our research team found that of the employees working from home, 71% feel they have access to the technology they need. With teams scattered in various workplaces, people need to use technology more often to force those random office collisions. If you have even 15 minutes of downtime, think about whom you haven’t seen for a while and use that as an opportunity to reach out and force that “water cooler chat”, even if you’re not face to face. Some companies are even using virtual social apps, making it possible to ping a colleague and grab a virtual lunch or happy hour together.

If working remotely makes you fearful of losing your visibility among colleagues or worry you’ll feel isolated, take advantage of video-conferencing tools. Taking five minutes to chat with someone who you haven’t connected with in a while can shift your entire mood or workflow for the better. Never underestimate the importance of a chatroom or direct message. Chances are, they’ll also be glad that you’ve reached out.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Eric Yu LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eric-yuhai-64b0b011/

Lenovo StoryHub: https://news.lenovo.com/

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

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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