Tim Mobley of Connext Global Solutions: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team
Building trust-based relationships: It takes a conscious effort for managers to develop their trust with remote team members they’ve never met and don’t see daily. It’s interesting, but the successful outcomes of the other four challenges in this question will directly impact how effectively you can build trust within your team. If there are objective measurements of performance, strong communication, streamlined processes, and solid quality assurance, trust will naturally develop.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Mobley.
Tim Mobley’s passion for helping businesses grow by solving their staffing, management, and governance challenges served him well as President of Connext Global Solutions, a leading business process outsourcing firm. Founded in 2014, Connext helps clients build, train, and manage remote teams and implement technology solutions to solve staffing challenges.
Tim began his career as an officer in the US Army, first as a medical platoon leader in a light infantry battalion before transitioning to healthcare administration. He used these invaluable experiences as a springboard towards 25 years of successful experience in general management which includes serving as the President of Hawaii’s largest dental group and as VP of Operations at an integrated clinic and hospital. Branching out from the healthcare industry, Tim spent several years in marketing for Silicon Valley technology firms.
Currently, Tim serves as a board member for The Emergency Group, an emergency medicine physician group treating more than 130,000 patients per year, and Genesis Unicorn Acquisition Corp, a special purpose acquisition company.
Tim graduated with the distinguished cadent honor from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. with degrees in economics and mechanical engineering. He also earned a master’s in business administration from the Harvard Business School. Tim is also a proud graduate of the Army’s Ranger School.
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”?
As it relates to remote staffing and outsourcing, there’s a great story. In 2008, when I was President of the dental group, our chairman handed me Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. All he said to me was, “read this and do something.” After devouring its content, I shifted my perspective and gained a better understanding of the challenges our clients faced in terms of figuring out not only what to do, but the how to get staff buy-in and make their efforts effective. This resulted in one of the most unique things about Connext — everything about our company and processes is built from the clients’ perspective.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the more interesting and unfortunate events involved a major defalcation or theft by a controller at a previous employer. I was forced to manage the forensic accounting process, restatement of tax returns, impacts to third parties, and recovery of assets, as well as manage the legal and employment ramifications. It was challenging both professionally and personally. However, it was also a major learning experience. One of the most enduring lessons learned from this situation was the importance of security and financial controls.
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?
My list of mistakes merits a book! One that stands out happened when I was a brand-new second lieutenant. I told a colonel (my superior) that he was incorrect about something mundane — it was just a minute detail. Needless to say, you are not supposed to question a superior rank and I was the one who was in the wrong. First lesson: before confronting someone, check and recheck the accuracy of your information. Second lesson: don’t correct a colonel about something of low significance. There was zero upside in me telling him that he was wrong. The moral of this story is to first confirm the reward is worth taking any unnecessary risk.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Give each employee a clear set of goals, a vision, and a purpose for their respective role. One of the things we consistently do at Connext before a large meeting is give an update on the recent accomplishments and achievements we’ve made, the direction we are headed, and the importance that each employee has on the overall operations and success of the company. I think employees tend to feel burnout when they are bored or feel like they have no impact on the organization. Finding meaningful ways to give people purpose and direction is incredibly important.
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 managing remote teams for more than 12 years now, starting with my role as the president of a large healthcare organization. That experience was so successful and transformative to the company that I immediately knew there was a need to help other companies accelerate their growth with remote teams.
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?
- Measurement: We must find a way to measure performance. If we are all in the office together, there is an illusion that if managers can physically see someone and can assess productivity. In a remote setting, we must use metrics to measure productivity.
- Building trust-based relationships: Anytime people are in different locations, there is a higher risk of mistrust. To build a trust-based team that is working remotely takes proactive and deliberate steps to make solid progress in this critical area.
- Communication: Clear communication is always important. When remote teams communicate over the phone, video, or email, the increased capacity for miscommunication becomes inevitable. It becomes even more important to practice and exercise strong communication skills, whether verbal or written, to ensure that teams are functioning on the same page and misunderstandings are kept to a minimum.
- Process: In a remote work environment, processes must be well-defined to maintain a nice rhythm in everyone’s workflow. When people are side by side, it’s easier to get away with unstructured processes. However, this often leads to an inefficient use of work time, which is undesirable for any team — whether remote or in-person.
- Quality Assurance (QA): In the office, it’s easy to walk over and check someone else’s work to make sure they are on task. It’s also much easier and more natural to ask questions of one another which is essential to maintaining quality. Managing QA remotely requires more coordination, defined processes, and metrics.
All these components are important regardless of setting. The common theme amongst them is that having a remote workforce exacerbates the challenges.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or readdress each of those challenges?
- Measurement: Create key performance indicators for important parts of each function. If you are looking to optimize customer experience, your remote customer service representatives should be measured on customer experience, and not necessarily on average handle time.
- Building trust-based relationships: It takes a conscious effort for managers to develop their trust with remote team members they’ve never met and don’t see daily. It’s interesting, but the successful outcomes of the other four challenges in this question will directly impact how effectively you can build trust within your team. If there are objective measurements of performance, strong communication, streamlined processes, and solid quality assurance, trust will naturally develop.
- Communication: Take pride in your messaging. Whether you are communicating through email, Zoom or phone, really think about what you are trying to achieve with your message. Keeping your points succinct, precise, and professional will encourage your remote team members to communicate in a similar fashion.
- Process: Take the time to define and solidify your remote team’s processes. Identifying and establishing each necessary process will save valuable time that would otherwise be spent aimlessly navigating undefined next steps. Create a manual that can be easily referenced to document specific processes and make this readily available for updates in real time.
- Quality Assurance (QA): The first step in QA requires good metrics and good data. The next step is giving clear and constructive feedback early and often. As greater competency is demonstrated by your remote team members, you will see QA rates reduced.
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 too harshly. If someone is in front of you, much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But, this isn’t the case when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
The easiest way to give good constructive criticism is to use objective evidence and metrics. Comparing work to a standard takes the emotion out of a conversation. We make it a priority to establish clear performance metrics and standards for each employee so that when it comes time for feedback, we can base it on the metrics, instead of critiquing the employee. Then the conversation turns into “What can we do to help you meet the standard?” or “What went wrong here and what can we learn from it?”
Additionally, provide feedback regularly — as much and as often as is practical. If I make a wrong turn driving, it doesn’t make sense for the passenger to wait an entire hour and hope that I will notice my mistake. Consistent, timely feedback reduces the emotional buildup that often precedes a manager’s frustrated attempt to set things straight.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Emails are very often misconstrued. If I have any concern over whether an email is harsh or not, I opt to make a phone or Zoom call to relay the message instead. If that isn’t practical, I will ask a trusted colleague to review my email, so I have another set of eyes on it. More generally though, the same principles as in the previous question apply — provide frequent feedback against objective standards. This can be the most difficult step, so make a special effort to create a shared and detailed understanding of your remote team’s standards. The more often you do this, the less of a surprise it is when it’s brought up in your conversations. If you don’t understand what the standards are, what the issues are, what their effects are, and how to fix them, then the critique may not be as productive. I spend an adequate amount of time crafting these types of messages so that they are easily understood and include clear action items as well.
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 any potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
If you have a team that is just starting remote work, it is important to make sure that there are well defined and documented processes, clear performance metrics, and open and frequent communication. A team working in the office can be successful without one of the items listed above, but a remote team requires all three working in tangent. With clear processes, metrics, and communication, any team should be able to work remotely. We moved all our in-office teams to remote within 48 hours and with zero service disruption. The transition felt seamless because we already had solid processes, metrics, and communication methods in place.
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?
Get creative with your employee engagement events, communication platforms, and accessibility. Our team works exceptionally hard on virtual employee engagement. Newsletters, game nights, monthly competitions, a monthly leadership meeting, etc., have all helped tremendously in building team culture. Constant communication and giving employees hope and purpose is also extremely important. People want to feel like they are working toward something special, so communicating how well the company is doing and highlighting their efforts is key to empowering employees. I also like to check in from time to time to show them that we care about each team member individually and their unique contributions to the team.
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. :-)
Without a doubt, I would like to see universal access to quality education for all children. As a parent, I see vast differences in my kids’ schools, which are all located within a high-income area of a developed country. This unequal access to quality education does not improve in rural and urban areas or even in developing countries. As an employer, we depend on people with basic skills in reading and arithmetic. For example, how can someone calculate compensation as a percentage of revenue for a healthcare provider if they don’t understand simple fractions?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from an AC/DC song: “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.” The point is that people don’t just magically become rock stars, Olympic athletes, or successful in business. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and learning from setbacks to survive the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Mixing AC/DC lyrics and Shakespeare quotes may be a first, but we like to innovate!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.