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Paul Baterina of Sleep Advisor: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Sharing your calendar helps a ton as well. I recently found out you can “hide” what you’re doing but at least your teammates will know that you’re “busy” during a certain time. This has been a game-changer for me. I was always felt weird sharing my personal calendar because I didn’t want my colleagues seeing my plans thinking, “Oh dang,

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 Paul Baterina.

Paul Baterina is passionate about SEO marketing. He is a hardcore gamer, car enthusiast, and a die-hard Lakers fan. He tries to look after his mind, body, and soul in equal parts. Mental and physical self-improvement is big for him, he believes happiness comes (mostly) from within, and that much of that is found through self-discovery. He loves anything related to bio-life hacking; He hopes to age with his wellness intact for as long as possible.

Fave quote — “tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

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?

Like many young college students, when I graduated from CSULB with a BA in communication studies in 2011, I didn’t have much direction. I was the first in my family to receive a university degree and felt like I mainly got the degree for my dad. When I’d finally fulfilled my goal I felt like, “now what?” The economy had tanked was only then beginning to recover, and I had no clue what I wanted to do, so it wasn’t a great time.

Some time passed and I still wasn’t doing much for myself and honestly felt like a complete loser. My peers got on my case which kind of kick-started a fire under my ass, which is when I started self-teaching myself SEO to make some money.

I started my career in a big fashion e-commerce company where I eventually became the head of SEO, and in 2019 joined Sleep Advisor as SEO Director.

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

I saved someone that was a victim of human trafficking, built a clean water filtration at a school in the Philippines, and bought over 200 cheeseburgers for students.

Human trafficking is an issue I’m incredibly passionate about. The victim I saved was a family member, and knowing that could happen to someone I’m close to honestly scared the shit out of me. Seeing something like that happen really puts things into perspective and makes me grateful to live the life that I do.

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

“Tough times don’t last tough people do. “

I went through a ton of hardship growing up. My father was an alcoholic so my mom had to work her ass off and I’m the only child, so I was basically raised by Nickelodeon and video games.

In 2008, my dad fell on the floor, cracked his head open, almost died, and was forced to retire. That incident led to my mom and I having to figure out how to make ends meet. She was remarkably resilient in the face of it all and I think by following her lead, and with the support of close friends, I was able to stay positive and kept pushing on. I think that as a result of the people around me I’ve always been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and by some miracle didn’t let my life go during the hard times.

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 always felt that my family and many friends counted me out because I always wanted to do pursue a non-traditional path. Filipino communities often encourage their kids to go into the historically “safe” fields like accounting or medicine. A lot of Filipinos are nurses, doctors, pharmacists, you get the picture. And those are great jobs but medicine just wasn’t what I was interested in.

Long story short, my best friend Luke is an incredible guy. He’s a guitar player who’s played with big-time musicians and I’ve been very fortunate to watch his journey from the very beginning to where he is now. A lot of people only see the end result, and for me to witness his path from the start has taught me a lot about perseverance.

He’s always encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy and has been in my corner through thick and thin, to which I’m eternally grateful.

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 a 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?

Team camaraderie can grow so much through physical presence. I think being around people and having those social interactions, through meetings, lunches, whatever, it adds up. Even the micro-social stuff like buying coffee, saying hello to the other guy in your building who you don’t even work with; your peripheral community has an effect on you.

Physically proximity reminds you that your team is there to support you, it brings a ton of benefits, even if you’re not even actively conversing all day. Introvert, extravert — doesn’t matter. It literally decreases loneliness. However, it may increase stress, I don’t know for sure. But I do believe that physically working with teammates builds better communication and strengthens bonds, the results of which can be very effective professionally.

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?

Getting responses in a timely manner can be tough if your company is based out of various time zones, which Sleep Advisor is. Communication, anticipating needs, absolute clarity, trust; these are all essential. I think being in an office setting allows that tone/environment that everyone is in “work mode.”

We never know what’s actually going on in someone’s daily life when we’re all working from home, but it does allow for an enormous amount of freedom which has huge appeal. I think our staff is happier as a direct result. They’re able to work whenever they want, pick their kids up from school, work out, run errands, have side gigs, we don’t care as long as they’re clearly committed and contribute in a meaningful way.

Our content marketing manager had a baby with her husband in September. She still works full time, he’s in law school full time, and they make it work without any help, and they’re able to do this because of the flexibility. This allows them to spend more time with their child and save a ton on childcare.

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. Firstly, I need to know the level of importance of a particular topic. We communicate via Slack and I always start off a post with the level of importance up top. For instance, we’ll tag a post at the top with something in bold like “Important/Timely — Please respond by Wednesday” or if something can wait, we can tag it with “Not Urgent/Respond by end of week”.
  2. We use Slack to talk, but to make Slack effective we create various channels so we can keep our projects and communication organized. For instance, we have sub-departments from the marketing team, so I have a channel for the SEO department and another channel for the content marketing department to discuss issues with the appropriate people.
  3. Availability. At the start of every week we discuss in our meetings if or when we are going to be gone and which days and times. For example — I told my teammates that I’ll be gone on a Thursday and Friday, so let’s communicate everything that needs to be done throughout the week ahead of time.
  4. Sharing your calendar helps a ton as well. I recently found out you can “hide” what you’re doing but at least your teammates will know that you’re “busy” during a certain time. This has been a game-changer for me. I was always felt weird sharing my personal calendar because I didn’t want my colleagues seeing my plans thinking, “Oh dang, Paul is meeting friends at a bar at 2 PM on a Tuesday.” I’m half kidding. But, really, that’s okay in our company, we want you to enjoy your life, as long as you manage your time effectively. So knowing that I can share my personal calendar without sharing the details has been hugely helpful.
  5. Weekly Team meetings. To ensure that we’re all on the same boat, we have a structured meeting, we call them L10 calls (or “Level 10) which is from EOS, a comprehensive business system with specific concepts to help businesses grow and become efficient. For instance, every Monday my fellow leaders have call with me, and we start off with good news — both work and personal — just to get some positive energy flowing, and it makes a noticeable difference. From there, we bring up and discuss every issue regarding our goals, and create a plan for how to solve them as a team.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experience, which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

Zoom has been great, it’s important to see people’s faces I think, human expression is so huge, and you don’t realize it until it’s gone. But it’s not just seeing someone’s face; it’s also just the efficiency of being on zoom together, live, at the same time, where we can discuss anything. Imagine taking an hour plus to type something out, going back and forth to reach a resolution; versus hopping on a video call and having a quick discussion where you’re done in like 5 or ten minutes. It’s way more efficient.

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

VR capabilities with video calls. Assuming a company is 100% remote, I think going on virtual walks at a park or wherever really with your co-worker can be cool. Of course, it won’t be the same as the real deal but it is a simulation where I believe people can really connect.

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’d say the pandemic has definitely appealed for unified communications. I think leaders and staff alike are starting to realize that people are able to be responsible, productive, trustworthy, and flexible when working remotely, as long as they have the necessary tools and communication.

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’d say both VR and AR excite me for sure. There are so many useful applications for both that range widely from PTSD and trauma therapy to simple professional meetings, all of which could greatly benefit.

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

Glad this question came about. Although I’m excited for VR and AR, it also scares me. I’m scared that individuals will grow too comfortable staying home rather than actually going out and experiencing the real world, it’s certainly safer, so I worry about this regarding parents and kids. It kind of reminds me of the movie Wall-E, where everyone was completely out of shape and were “content” being in their own little Matrix if you will.

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?

It’s crazy — all of my interactions whether they’re been with clients, customers, or teammates have been 100% virtual. Since vaccines have been rolling out, I’ve met up with a client or team member occasionally for lunch (while still staying cautious) here and there. It’s really nice to get some fresh air and physical face time with the people I work so closely with.

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?

One of the best ways to approach this I’ve found is finding out the absolute truth. Since we’re all working remotely, it’s important that everything is documented in some way.

For example, let’s say a team member were to fall behind, or their quality of work could be better. Through documentation, I’m able to go back and highlight certain areas that I want to talk about. Once I highlight the issue, I take a screenshot of it, and leave the responsible person a message with my findings, and just say, “Hey Pat, you mentioned on May 40th that you would finish this: (screenshot). However, it looks like this isn’t done, what’s going on?” And then we take it from there.

Holding each other accountable is critical, and even more so now that we’re all 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?

Communicating with the entire team and having anonymous surveys on how to build camaraderie is an excellent start. We actually do this and the insight has been amazing. Not only does this provide leadership with actual feedback, it provides our staff a chance to feel heard. From there, I work with HR to find a suitable resolution to whatever we’re looking to improve.

However, as far as quick wins, I feel like weekly virtual hangouts are great, as well as company virtual events such as scavenger hunts. These are things I hope I can get going on my own team soon.

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. :-)

Honesty, I’d love to develop some sort of life coach or student mentor program. I would love to talk to students in high school or college about all the opportunities they have and how achievable they are. When you’re in school, “adulting” just seems totally unattainable, overwhelming even. But here I am. I want to share my energy and inspire kids to listen to that little voice inside of them and pursue their passions. I endured hardship but I’ve made it through and I think sharing your story can be incredibly powerful for a lot of people if they’re open to it. I want to get kids pumped up and excited for life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check us out at sleepadvisor.org

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