Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Piotr Sędzik of Applover: 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 Piotr Sędzik.

Piotr Sędzik is the CEO and Co-founder of Applover, a full-stack digital agency, honored in 2019 by Deloitte as the “Rising Star” in the CEE region and ranked on 24th spot in the Fast 50 category in 2020. Finalist of Forbes 25 under 25 in 2018. CEO of Smart Citizen, a company that studies urban agglomerations to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

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?

From an early age, I had the belief in the back of my head that I would like to build something of my own in the future, something for which I will be responsible and on which I will have an influence. It gave me the conviction that it would depend on my decisions which way my target project would develop. Besides, maybe immodestly, but I always had an inner knack for doing business somewhere. The first opportunity came quite an extortion because at the age of 7 I went on a school trip and on the very first day I spent all the money my parents gave me on candy, comics, and games. There were a few days left until the end of the trip, so I had to deal with it — I decided to sell hair gel to my classmates before each school disco. There were disco parties every day, the class was quite numerous, so I finally returned home with a large sum of money for a 7-year-old. In later years, when I was a teenager, I started a company that organized events for peers, then there were several unsuccessful startup projects, and finally, based on my experience in building products, my 3 friends and I decided that we would start a Full-Stack Digital Agency — and that’s how Applover was born. Today we operate for over 5 years, we hire over 85 people and can be proud of over 200 developed projects — that is really something and it makes me highly satisfied with our team’s work.

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

It is tough to choose one story, as for over 4 years of operating there were many. But probably one of the funniest ones was when we went to a fairly large industry conference. And at that time at conferences, we did not avoid alcohol — we were just over 20 years old… On the day before the main event, we let the steam go off and went to the party. The next day I had a panel speech at 8:30 am with the presidents of several large cities and the president of the largest hotel chain in the CEE. It was a prominent expert panel. As you can probably guess, I did not look my best, I also spoke and communicated my thoughts not too brightly. The moderator of the meeting, on the other hand, confused the questions. Instead of asking me about technologies and startups, he wanted me to answer the questions that were supposed to be responded to by the absent Polish minister of tourism. Completely hungover, I was asked about the road infrastructure in Poland and the legal conditions of the investment. You can probably imagine that I was not hailed as the best expert at the conference. We quickly ran down the panel so as not to meet anyone’s eyes. Fortunately, at 8:30, it didn’t have much attendance in the room. The lesson was learned, today, we are much more conscious about our speeches.

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

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

― Winston S. Churchill

I truly believe that you should learn from your mistakes and failures, and go on with your work. Only thanks to it, you can develop and finally succeed. Our first business failed, but we have learned a lot and now we can say that Applover is on its way to being a successful company.

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 have to admit that I am really grateful to my parents. I always could count on them, in every situation. It gave me a lot in the context of starting my own company because I had no fear that if I failed, what would happen next. I mean, there was fear, but it was smaller. Thanks to my parents, because I knew that even if I did not succeed and lose all my savings, they would help me and somehow I would get back on track. You can make more risky decisions thanks to this and you can be just more courageous when it comes to starting your own business.

Moreover, I would not start this business if it not been for my friends — people I trust the most and can rely on them in every aspect of my life. With other Co-Founders, we make a great team, compensate our skills and in my opinion, this allows us to thrive.

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?

The main benefits are, above all, greater integration of the team than when they only see each other on calls or write on Slack. When people are together, they get to know each other better, make friends, and thus work better. Additionally, when they are on-site, some problems are solved faster than remotely — direct communication is easier then.

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 IT market is very competitive, so the factor of the team and work integration in a place where there are people you like, feel good with them is very important and can make your company different. Without it, it is much more difficult to integrate a team, you can do it remotely, but you have to have an idea for it and be very active and aware of how to do it. If you don’t, the employee — the company bond becomes looser and if the employee gets a better financial offer, which is really not so rare nowadays, they can leave. If the employee has friends there and they feel great, they will think about it 5 times.

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. First of all, the team and the organization must understand that remote communication is not easy and requires additional commitment from them so that the messages are clear, legible and do not cause problems. This needs to be clearly discussed with the team, explained and agreed on specific solutions.
  2. The second, effective communication requires the introduction of appropriate tools that facilitate these communications — Slack, Hangouts, Murals, etc. You should make sure that everyone knows how to use them.
  3. Thirdly, we must not forget that people want to continue to be part of the team and they also lack contact with people, so it is important to undertake initiatives that will help them in integration. Online events, meetings, some common online games, etc. It may sound silly, but it can help a lot. Our online pub quizzes became famous in the local market.
  4. Fourthly, a clear chain of providing information in the sense that if you have a problem, you know who to go to with it. It is easier to deal with problems on the spot than online. But if you make it clear who is responsible for what, it will save you a lot of time and nerves.
  5. Fifthly, provide feedback and check on your team often. It is better to know how everybody is doing, ask them how they feel than starting every call with to-do lists. We should always remain human beings, in everything we do.

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?

Before the pandemic, we were rather office-minded, but we were well prepared to go online and I have to say it works just as well. Now, when the restrictions are loosened, we still allow the remote work model, of course, we encourage you to come to the office, etc., but the 100% remote work is also fine with us. Moreover, it allows you to open to recruitment from all over Poland. There were no problems, we prepared our team to work remotely pretty well.

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, Slack and Google Hangouts work best for day-to-day communication. When it comes to creative workshops we use Mural and Figma and I can highly recommend these tools. The Mural is highly intuitive even for non-technical people. Komunikacja — slack, hangoutsy. To integrate the team, we introduced Discord, where you can talk with each other as you are sitting next to other team members.

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

Slack combined with hangouts in one device. We don’t need anything else for now, but the video calls on Slack always break and don’t work well.

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 don’t think that the pandemic changed anything in this matter for us. But our IT bubble can be different from other industries. For sure, communication technology changed a bit, it became more intuitive and allowed people to work from home more easily, even if they are not technical-savvy experts or do not have the best conditions to work from their homes. The function of blurring and changing backgrounds definitely eased a lot for many people.

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?

We are certainly open to introducing any novelties that will improve these communications. I am not a fan of introducing a tool for introducing a tool, it has to be effective and improve certain areas. I have not heard of anything exciting so far and from my experience, even if there is an idea, the execution of it still is a clue.

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

I just don’t want us to get to the point where live human interaction is unnecessary and begin to be considered unnecessary. I don’t think it is good and in my opinion, nothing will replace f2f meetings, at least to a limited extent.

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?

Due to the fact that we mainly sell to foreign markets, we mainly sold remote, of course, we also flew to clients when the contract was closer or larger or it was necessary to conduct workshops. Now what has changed is that we do workshops remotely and sign contracts remotely. Definitely, we have more video calls than ever before, but in other aspects than communication, nothing has changed.

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 did not notice it, it is a matter of how the feedback is dealt with. Every 5–6 months we have job evaluations in the whole company, where we meet with each employee and provide feedback, which is collected and processed within specific categories that are described in our Personal Development Paths. Whether remotely or on the spot, it is important that the feedback is content and gives something to that person. Even when it is negative in places, I did not notice that it is less well communicated. Of course, it is good to make sure that nothing distracts you, you are focused and have your camera on during the video call. Even if it limited, body language is important.

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

We must be aware that it is very important and that it is something that will reduce employee turnover. At Applover, we have introduced remote integration, playing games together, Discord, Donut. Donut is an app that you can introduce into your Slack workspace and it will connect people with the least interactions with to chat with each other and to get to know each other better. Something they would do more naturally over coffee or lunch at the office. We give a feeling of unity and that we are still a team despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other live for a long time. We make gift packages — e.g. shared breakfasts held online and offline at the same time, and remote employees got a waffle home, additions to it, and instructions on how to make it. These little things make a difference.

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 believe that if you are given something, try to share it with others. Do good and give back — I really trust that this works well for everyone. If you are lucky enough to not struggle during the global pandemic, right now, try to help others. At Applover, we are always operating with this idea in mind. That was why we decided to join Tech to the Rescue initiative and support NGOs that help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to it, we helped a great organization that allows you to easily donate to charity while shopping — Altruisto.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn. I try to share some updates from Applover’s life there. To be updated on what is happening at Applover, you can also follow us on social media and visit our blog.

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

Thank you!

--

--

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
David Liu

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