My experience as a manager has taught me that constructive feedback, whether in-person, video conference or in email form, is best presented by expressing appreciation for what the employee does well and I find the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism is in a bullet format. It’s clear, concise and organized and I have found that it is better received by the recipient in that format. I have to fight the urge. and encourage others to do the same, to avoid rambling and flowery language so that there is no confusion as to the core message.Moe Vela
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moe Vela.
Moe is the Chief Transparency Officer at TransparentBusiness. He is an experienced executive manager and leader with proven success at the epicenter of where business, law, finance and politics meet. He has proven management, budget/finance, marketing, communications, public affairs, strategic planning, project management, start-up and many other skills. Moe is a charismatic motivational speaker with a global network. He is a visionary and creative thought leader, and a Diversity and Inclusion expert.
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”?
I was proudly born and raised to a pioneer family in south Texas along the Mexico border. I am so blessed to be the son of the late former County Judge, the nephew of the late U.S. Federal Judge and the cousin of the current U.S. Congressman from my home area. We were raised in an idyllic Latino upbringing that celebrated our heritage and cultural traditions while understanding that education was the foundation upon which to build and enjoy a productive, contributory and fulfilling life. I am the product of public schools through my undergraduate degree from the University of Texas and I attended St. Mary’s University School of Law as legacy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In 1993, over coffee and in passing, I mentioned to a friend that I would love to move to Washington DC to serve in the newly-elected Clinton Administration. I had only visited DC once in my youth. Much to much surprise, she took me seriously and I was appointed at a political appointee at the Department of Agriculture in March of 1993. After serving there for two years, this time over cocktails, one of my dear friends mentioned that her Aunt worked at the White House and that Vice President Gore’s office was searching for a “lawyer-type” to come work in the CFO’s office for 6 months. I had just enough cocktails in me to blurt out “I’m a lawyer-type and I would love to work in the White House.” Two weeks later, I embarked on a journey that would alter the course of my career and my life. I was selected to work in Vice President Gore’s office for six months. At the end of my tenure, I was summoned to the West Wing of the White House and Vice President Gore asked me to become his CFO and Senior Advisor on LGBTQ and Latino Affairs. The next 5 years were incredible as I traveled the country on Air Force Two and developed skills and met people I never dreamed I would ever meet.
My career took many fascinating twists and turns in my post-White House journey.
Fast forward to 2008 when I was confident that I had been completely cured of the “political bug” and I had become a successful real estate executive in Denver, CO. It turned out that when I received a call from then Vice President-elect Joe Biden, it was impossible for me to turn down the opportunity to serve my nation a second time as his Director of Management and his Senior Advisor.
I made a small bit of American history and broke down a few barriers and doors for Latinos and my LGBT community as I became the first Hispanic-American and the first LGBTQ-American to serve twice in the White House in a senior executive role.
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?
The funniest mistake I made occurred in my first White House tenure with Vice President Gore. I was asked to accompany him on a trip to my home area in south Texas on Air Force Two. In route on the subway train that very early morning, I felt a breeze when we were underground that did not feel “normal.” I quickly realized a couple of stops later that my suit pants were torn from the zipper all the way up my backside to the beltline. Tears came to my eyes, but it would be a cold day in hell before I would cancel my first trip on Air Force Two and get the chance to see my family waiting on the tarmac as I arrived with the Vice President of the United States.
It was one of the greatest lessons of my life. I learned that when the going gets tough, the tough get going! I ran to my office in the White House, locked the door, and I proceeded to staple my pants with over 100 staples. I must admit, there is nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in the White House in your underwear. I learned that I was resilient. I learned that I am a survivor. I learned that humility is a powerful characteristic. As I boarded the staff van to Andrews Air Force Base, I shared my story with all my colleagues so I learned that shared vulnerability is the most powerful tool in connecting with our fellow human beings.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would advice other business leaders to consistently make your employees know they are “seen” and they are “heard.” You can do this by being innovative and creative in the type of training, activities, policies and programs you offer and provide them.
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 involved with the concept of remote management since my first tenure in the White House. As we prepared for the turn of the century in 2000, and in the normal course of business in the White House in the form of emergency preparedness and the continuity of government, I was part of the working group that enacted the policies that would be in place if an emergency of any type occurred. I was exposed to remote workforce management at that point in my career after doing substantial research in preparation and have been studying it and managing remote workers since then in my various entrepreneurial and employment endeavors.
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?
From my research and as a result of my working with hundreds of businesses around the world as the Chief Transparency Officer and Board Member of TransparentBusiness, I have discovered that the five main challenges regarding managing a remote team are as follows:
This pandemic has caused millions of employers, managers and workers around the globe to move to a remote workforce model. Traditional workforce settings are no longer safe or struggle to be in compliance with recommended health guidelines.
Employers/Owners know that productivity is key to the success of their business. They greatly fear that productivity will suffer immensely in a remote workforce model. It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality they fear. Simply put, employers and managers recognize that if they can’t see their employees as they walk by their office or run into them in a breakroom or gather with them at meetings in a conference room, they have lost the ability to ensure their productivity and accountability. The tendency as a result of this fear, regrettably, is for managers and employers to become “micromanagers.” The irony is that micromanaging is a surefire way to decrease productivity.
Employers and Managers fear an adverse impact on their operational efficiencies as a result of a remote workforce model. With a disbursed workforce, the inclination is to expect that intra-workforce communication, workforce collaboration, time management and budget management will all suffer and result in higher costs and inferior customer service and satisfaction.
Most employers and managers fear that a remote workforce model will ultimately be the demise of their business or company. The perceived loss of “control” gives most managers and employers heartburn at the thought of a remote workforce setting. The notion that there is some superpower and preventative nature to an in-person model versus remote work has kept many companies from even attempting to implement remote workforce options until the pandemic took away the voluntary aspect of the decision.
Many employers and managers have strongly held and pre-conceived beliefs that a remote workforce setting is inherently too disruptive and filled with too many distractions for it to be contributory to the success of their business. Whether it be childcare, social media, hobbies or the comforts of home, the pre-pandemic notion was that a remote worker could not focus at the requisite levels to contribute to the company’s on-going success.
A tremendous concern of many managers and employers as it relates to remote workforce management was that the corporate culture and workforce cohesion they worked so hard to establish in their traditional office setting would be completely demolished and destroyed in a remote workforce model. Collaboration would suffer, creativity would be impeded and communication would be lax. All resulting, in their minds, in fractured, unstable and unpredictable workforce with long-term damage to work product, transparency and accountability.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
The following fundamental steps and efforts can go a long way to addressing, mitigating and eliminating all of the challenges mentioned above:
Technology is our best friend when moving, voluntarily or involuntarily, to a remote workforce model. It is almost as if technology was preparing for this crisis moment. Employers and managers should use the technological tools and solutions that exist and are readily available in the marketplace. For example, there are many videoconferencing platforms to choose from in the market, i.e. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, WhatsApp and so many more. File sharing software and workforce collaboration software such as Slack and others will address many concerns as well. And remote workforce management and coordination software like TransparentBusiness, Time Doctor and several others will ensure transparency and accountability without invading an employee’s privacy or autonomy.
Communication is key and essential in a remote workforce model. Today’s Gen Z and Millennials are inclined to text as their primary form of remote or virtual communication, but employers and managers must emphasize the power of video conferencing and reintroduce the importance of actual phone conversations over texts that are subject to misinterpretation and miscommunication. Video conferencing is key to success in a remote workforce model because the ability to see one another provides the opportunity to feel that necessary connectivity with one another. The ability to see one another’s eyes and hear our voices are the foundation upon which to build trust. Through the power of video conferencing, the workforce can read body language no differently than when in a traditional office setting or meeting.
Mitigation of the challenges and risks mentioned above is key to alleviating the concerns and fears. One of the most powerful mitigating efforts should come in the form of training. Employers and managers should themselves engage in training on how to better manage remote workforces, but it is essential to offer training for your workforce on how to adjust to working from home, how to transition to this “new normal,” how to create a remote work environment that fosters communication and collaboration and any other innovative training modules that will empower all parties.
Do NOT micromanage or overmanage. You must demonstrate to your workforce that you trust them through your actions, policies and communications. This will foster loyalty in return.
This is the chance to be creative and innovative by hosting company-wide virtual lunches, happy hours, game nights, birthday celebrations, workforce milestones and achievements. This will send a clear signal to your workforce that the lack of physical proximity does not in any way impact that you “see them”, “appreciate them” and “hear them.”
Consistently and clearly make it clear to your workforce that you understand their challenges in this “new normal.” One of many ways to demonstrate to your workforce that you care is to add counseling services to their benefit package in the form of ways to avoid burnout, coping with the anxiety, loneliness and isolationism that can result in a remote workforce setting and tips on how to enjoy this new enhanced work/life balance.
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 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 employee?
Video conferencing can be equally as effective in delivering honest feedback and avoiding misinterpretation and miscommunication. Facial expressions and body language can be just as apparent, visible and effective in a video conference as they are in-person. Emotion can be expressed and felt just as effectively in a video conference as in-person. It’s important that employers and managers dispel the myths and pre-conceived notions about remote workforce models — if they focus on the positive and the benefits of this “new normal” then their workforce will view it as a positive experience as well. This will create an environment where the employer will benefit by saving on the average of 11,000 dollars per part-time employee per year, productivity has been proven to go up and efficiencies remain strong. All while employees get to experience a dramatically enhanced work/life balance by getting 2–3 hours of their day back for not having to commute to and from work. The environment wins due to about 17% less carbon emissions that results from the reduction in commuter traffic, the economy wins and a remote workforce model opens up the doors of opportunity to marginalized workers such as single Moms, people with disabilities and those socio-economically disadvantaged.
Whether in-person or through a video conference, the key to delivering constructive criticism is most effective when balanced with what attributes and contributions you appreciate and affirm of the employee. This will serve to offset any harshness or adverse impact the constructive criticism may have.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
My experience as a manager has taught me that constructive feedback, whether in-person, video conference or in email form, is best presented by expressing appreciation for what the employee does well and I find the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism is in a bullet format. It’s clear, concise and organized and I have found that it is better received by the recipient in that format. I have to fight the urge. and encourage others to do the same, to avoid rambling and flowery language so that there is no confusion as to the core message.
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 potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
Working remotely is our “new normal” and it will be a part of our workforce model for decades to come. Many major corporations and global tech companies have already announced that they will remain, either partially or fully, in a remote workforce model for many months to come and even post-pandemic. Both employers and employees are experiencing the myriad of benefits from this model and are quickly recognize that their fears and reticence were unfounded and erroneous. Productivity is up, efficiencies are stable or improved, workforce happiness is at all-time highs, absenteeism is at all-time lows in addition to all the benefits to all parties and stakeholders as I mentioned above. Remote workforce is here to stay. I predict that employers will have to offer the option to work remotely as a part of an employee benefit package in order to attract the greatest talent.
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?
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 the global human family should build on our commonalities and celebrate our differences, rather than allow our differences to divide us. I would love to create a virtual exchange on the internet where people from all faiths, cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic strata can openly share the positive and good things occurring in their lives. This would create a spirit of goodness, kindness and celebrate our shared humanity. I am a firm believer that we connect with one another as human beings when we are authentic and vulnerable so I would want to use that platform for peoples from around the globe can share their plight, challenges, as well as, their aspirations and dreams — -a “best practices” for life platform, if you will. For we all dream, aspire, fear, hope, grieve and love — -let’s share our stories so that we can be inspired, evolve and grow together as a human family.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
True freedom and peace comes to one’s soul only when we authentically live our truth — —