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

Interview With David Liu

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 Coe.

Paul Coe is the Senior Manager of Wellness Solutions at Peerfit, the leader in corporate fitness solutions. Paul’s background in Health Education and Behavior was a catalyst for his role at Peerfit, where he manages a sales team, looking to connect fitness providers with health insurance and employer dollars. He has a passion for leading teams and aiding in professional development as well as building and maintaining community as a core to the organization’s foundation. Paul graduated from the University of Florida with a BS and MS in Health Education and Behavior.

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 journey to Peerfit has been an interesting one. I was connected to a professor at UF who also knew the Peerfit founders. While living in Orlando I was looking for a part-time job and was introduced to our CEO, Ed Buckley. He and I met and discussed what I was looking for. Peerfit was still in its early stages so the team was very small and scrappy and they were looking to bring on extra help. I was offered a part-time job that was supposed to hold me over while I was looking for something more permanent. About a month in, I went full time and just celebrated my 5th year.

I have always been interested in the maintenance of behavior in the wellness industry specifically as it pertains to physical therapy. How to get people engaged with gyms and fitness after rehab and how to implement a change in lifestyle was a huge part of my education and this is what made Peerfit so attractive to me. I was passionate about getting people engaged with physical activity and how to make it easy to access, and maintain, and how to do that within a built-in community.

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

I’m not exactly sure how interesting it is, but I’ve missed multiple celebrity sightings since I started. My work has put me in the same buildings as Michelle Obama, Mike Pence, and Kristin Bell. All were for conferences and I’ve always failed to catch a glimpse of them because I was working. However, I did get to see Big Papi when we were in Boston for a Red Sox game! So I didn’t totally strike out.

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

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”- Neale Donald Walsch

Many people, myself included, find comfort in the repetition and routine. Peerfit has challenged me to dive into projects that I never thought I would be a part of. I have grown so much trying to constantly live on the edge of my comfort zone.

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?

If I had to pick one person, it would be a manager I had at UF. She taught me to make logical decisions, to not be afraid of failure, and to be open to feedback from teammates. Her confidence in me and her pushing me to be better has helped shape the person and leader I am today.

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?

So here is an even bigger challenge- I have always managed a fully remote, cross-country team. Peerfit was doing remote work way before the pandemic hit. So when we do have the opportunity to get together — usually it’s at a sales conference, or at one of our company All Hands events — we take advantage of the time we get with each other and the value having face to face interaction can bring. We continue to build our team rapport, and use the time to do things we don’t get to do on an everyday basis.

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?

Having been in this space for quite some time, it has taken us many iterations to perfect remote work. Some challenges we continue to face, especially when bringing on new people who aren’t familiar with remote work, is you may not get instant responses because of several factors — different schedules, different time zones, or people taking themselves offline without letting anyone know. Communication is key when working remotely and sometimes you have to overshare things you wouldn’t normally need to if you were in an office.

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 ?

  1. Keep communication concise.
  2. Be consistent with communication.
  3. Give your team multiple options for communication — email, Slack, video call — whichever way they work best.
  4. Don’t just talk about work in your check ins and meetings. Ask questions about their lives. Remote workers tend to be “on” for a better part of the day so it’s nice to check in on the other half of their life especially when it more than likely bleeds over. Have fun with communication!
  5. Define boundaries for yourself and respect boundaries put in place by your team. Some people might enjoy lunch away from their workstations, or want to lead schedules different from yours. Giving them the ability to step away from work when needed is important.

We do team meetings and at the beginning of our Monday call, and we do what we call ‘highs and lows’ of your weekends. In our end of week call, we ask questions from the week, do an ice breaker and always close out the week with shoutouts.

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?

Nothing specific for our team because we already had our communication channels set up. The biggest challenges were from our partner and clients since they had to shift to remote working so it was a challenge trying to catch them in their usual communication methods.

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?

For us, it’s been instant messaging software like Slack, for video/conference calls we use Google Meet, and we also use pinned video meetings to jump in if we need an urgent call if we feel we aren’t communicating effectively through text or slack.

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

If I had to build a system today, it would likely mirror some of the other communication systems out there. I like how programs like Discord give you a full list of people who are online so you can see in one glance who is available instead of having to look at each person’s account individually. I also like how easy Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Meet are to use and how integrated they are. We would have to have some video call capability and integrations in place to work with our day to day and there are many systems out there that do it well but they may not have nailed the necessities for a fully functioning remote team.

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?

We have so many different options when it comes to remote communications. However there isn’t one tool that has nailed all the features needed. Most teams have to have several tools in their tech stack. We need one of the leaders in the space to focus on the entire ecosystem and do it well. It feels similar to streaming services. You need several streaming options to get everything you’re looking for as opposed to just having to buy one.

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?

VR, AR, and Mixed Reality sound really great. I grew up playing games with friends and see how it has grown as an industry. I really love the immersion that VR and AR offer and the convenience it allows. I think about a scene in the first Avengers movie where the World Security Council all appear in a room virtually. That would be pretty cool to have virtual conferences together in one room sitting around the same table.

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

The flip side is that I’m not sure how excited I would be to have it as a feature in a remote work environment. One of the benefits of working remotely is being able to be in your personal space and the comfortability of that. If we move into a VR environment, we are further moving work into people’s personal lives and the lines between the two will further blur. Remote work already has a tendency to encroach into people’s personal lives due to the nature of simply working from home. By adding in something like this, we are asking people to give up an aspect of their lives that they may want to hold close.

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?

Conveniently, the pandemic hasn’t changed much in the method used to interact or engage our customers. We have always used calls, emails, video chats, and texts. The way the pandemic changed us was in our content. Unfortunately, a lot of gyms and studios closed and we really sympathize with the pain and struggle they’re going through. Sometimes it wasn’t just a call to a prospect, but a check-in to see how things were going as a people.

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 always try to give feedback over video, no question. We want to try to hold onto those nuances and facial expressions as much as possible and provide feedback in a way that is well-received and non-confrontational. I like to ask first if they are willing to receive some constructive feedback so they are prepared for the conversation and I make sure to provide follow up steps on how I can best support.

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

  1. Team meetings with specific questions and icebreakers to get to know each other better.
  2. Book clubs to not only aid in professional development but also allows our team to take the time away from work.
  3. Hold a separate, non-related work meeting like a pizza party or luncheon and everyone has a slide where we talk about something fun. Examples I’ve seen are showing us your workstation, introducing your family, talking about other hobbies or passions etc.

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. :-)

I am going to use this opportunity to make this my Miss America moment — Give everyone healthy food and clean, fresh water or start mass producing houses out of 3d printers to help with the housing shortage and make it affordable. Anything to help alleviate some of the day to day stresses we all face so we can continue to live fulfilling lives.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

@peerfit on all major social channels and connect with me on LinkedIn

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 is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication