Be kind and direct. This one is really hard for me. Not the kind part! But I am not very direct. You may have even gathered that through this interview. I tend to be a passive communicator and favor balance and harmony in my relationships and so I can be pretty deferential. As you might imagine, being passive and a CEO, boss, and culture-creator of a company is not a good combination. I’ve had to really work on being more direct in my communication, especially written, because nonverbal cues are hard to come by in a remote working environment. Plus, it saves on some typing. 😉
Weare 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 Kara Hoholik.
Kara Hoholik helps social impact business leaders create compelling content to build community around their work. As the founder of Social for Good, a content marketing agency that supports entrepreneurs, small businesses, and nonprofits, she works to amplify positive messaging, connect others online, and spark belief in a vision for a better future through content writing, design, marketing, and social media.
From stay-at-home mom to CEO, Kara works on issues of a global scale while chasing her kids around the yard. Her work has been published in Harness, she was recently featured in Authority and on The List TV and Ticker News, and she has contributed to The New York Times.
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?
Sure! I started Social for Good in August 2020 because I had a hunch that social impact businesses needed something beyond traditional marketing strategies. At the time, I was homeschooling my 3 children because of the pandemic and was struggling to make sense of my role — personally and professionally. I have a background in Sociology and higher education, which doesn’t sound much like a marketing CEO trajectory but when I connect the dots backward, it all starts to make sense.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Honestly, the most interesting thing is that it works. I was right. Social impact businesses do need different marketing. It’s something I am uniquely prepared to provide because of my unique background, not in spite of. I can amplify their positive message, build authentic community online, and spark belief in the vision for a better future, all while my children are at home. I am able to provide jobs to a team of women, mostly mothers, who I have the privilege of working with daily. I am living an interesting story every day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If not me, then who?” Since I can remember, there’s been a voice that wants me to stay safe and play small. A voice that told me my big ideas were too scary and difficult and that I wasn’t capable. As I got older, I realized that most of us have big ideas but are too scared to act and that is why the world is in a state of turmoil. If I do not take the leap of faith, and act on my ideas, then who will? Probably no one. And that’s unacceptable.
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?
A few years ago, I had an amazing coworker at another company and we often joked that if I started a company she would be my first hire. We approach projects from different angles but both have a love for the important things: editing, open communication, collaboration, inclusivity, and integrity. A few years went by, but when I started my company, I called her. Today Aubrey is the Chief Operating Officer of Social for Good and truly there is no way we would be as successful as we are without her leadership.
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?
Collaboration is a lot easier when teams are working together in person. New ideas flow more freely when everyone is in the same space. Work also can get done more efficiently when teams are working together in real time, without the distractions of home.
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?
Communication can be more difficult when the team is not in the same space. There’s a lot of nuance and nonverbal cues that can be missed when communicating online, which can cause issues with project tasks and deadlines. Remote teams are often working in different time zones or on different schedules which delays progress on communal tasks.
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.)
- Set clear guidelines. I think it’s safe to say we all know that clear guidelines are important when completing tasks. However, clear guidelines on communication and how people will work together on tasks are often overlooked but essential components to managing a remote team. For example, we have a pretty strict communication policy between team members because not only are we remote, but we also do not work the same schedules. Most of our team members are also primary caretakers of children, meaning things come up! Disruptions and chaos are normal. We have lots and lots of grace and understanding for that, but we set clear guidelines for communication around those disruptions. Kid home sick from school? No worries, let us know what you need ASAP and we can jump in to support you. (And maybe send you some extra coffee!) Need your camera and mic off during a meeting because the baby’s crying? Totally fine, someone else can run the meeting because we’re all in the know about the project. Nursing babies? Check. Math flash cards? Check. Making dinner while brainstorming? Check. With guidelines in place, we can support our families and other responsibilities and complete our work with integrity and excellence as our clients expect.
- Create systems. We knew from the beginning that we would need robust systems to keep up with the amount of work, the caliber of work, and the type of work we were doing. We are busy. We support many clients that do important and impactful work. Although we are not perfect of course, we take pride in the quality of our work and strive for excellence always. We often ask, “Is this the best we can do? How can we make this better?” The systems we’ve set up very intentionally support us in managing all the moving parts that comprise our work. Systems like ClickUp, Honeybook, Later, Marco Polo, and Grammarly to name a few.
- Over-communicate. In an office, you might walk by someone’s desk and remember you needed to chat with them about a task. In overhearing a conversation, you might be inspired to take on a new project. Forming deeper and more personal relationships in person, you might be more committed to the team and vision. It’s obvious how much more difficult all of that is online — you don’t walk by anyone’s desk or overhear anything. And drinks after work? Meh. Cocktail hour zoom meetings are so over. Over communicating is essential for remote working teams to recreate these scenarios, but just in a different way. But don’t confuse over-communicating with micromanagement and being overbearing. Instead, we create a culture where over-communication is the norm because it’s the most helpful for teamwork, creativity, and efficiency. When Lauren lets the team know she’s almost done writing a blog post but is stuck in a particular spot, Regina can take over from there without missing a beat. When Maddie needs review and editing for her graphics and she lets the team know prior to the deadline, Marissa and Tia can step in and help while rearranging their tasks that follow. While some of this is easier in person because we’d just know what was going on, over-communicating remotely is essential to recreate this environment where everyone feels in the loop. There’s no silos and no secrets. We are here to support each other to get the work done, and communication is the key.
- Find face-to-face time. I’m not sure why I didn’t say this one first because it’s my favorite! When Social for Good was just Aubrey and I, we spent a lot of time dreaming together using the video messaging app, Marco Polo. Aubrey had been using it to talk to her family and she recommended it to me instead of long zoom meetings. And it just stuck. As remote working moms in different time zones, we often do not have dedicated meeting times that we are all together. Marco Polo allows us to explain things out loud and something. Plus, we get to see each other face to face. And everything that comes along with that — crying babies, messy houses, bed head, and late night brainstorm sessions in some serious mood lighting. It’s a little disjointing sometimes when a few hours goes by in between conversations but its been a really great alternative to meetings and a way to build culture remotely.
- Be kind and direct. This one is really hard for me. Not the kind part! But I am not very direct. You may have even gathered that through this interview. I tend to be a passive communicator and favor balance and harmony in my relationships and so I can be pretty deferential. As you might imagine, being passive and a CEO, boss, and culture-creator of a company is not a good combination. I’ve had to really work on being more direct in my communication, especially written, because nonverbal cues are hard to come by in a remote working environment. Plus, it saves on some typing. 😉
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?
Our company started in August 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. Our team has never known what working in person was like, so in some ways, it was easier for us than teams who had to adjust. However, without the in person rapport we had to create a strong team culture of communication and collaboration all without ever meeting in person. Since everyone is currently a private contractor, we did not have concerns about adjusting from company to personal equipment.
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?
Hands down using Marco Polo along with ClickUp has been instrumental in our success. Marco Polo is definitely not a traditional tool companies use for communication but its what has worked for us. We can record messages in real time, in the middle of our real lives, and watch it on our own time. It makes us feel connected even when we might be watching a few hours later. It’s helped us feel connected not only in the work we do but also to each other and our families, and that is priceless by itself. Clickup is our task management and all-around-everything tool. We still don’t feel like we are using all this app has to offer but I’m a pretty big proponent of “begin as you mean to go on”. We are familiarizing ourselves with Clickup now so when we need more features later on it’ll be easy to transition to those.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
Honestly, we are pretty much using it! Clickup has everything all in one system so we don’t need to toggle back and forth or create zaps between too many programs. Clickup integrates with so many platforms we use like Zoom, Google Calendar, email, and Honeybook and more. However, as long as we’re dreaming, if I could combine Clickup with Slack and Marco Polo then we’d be golden.
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?
As a super small and young company, we do not really have UC requirements as of yet — at least not fully. I take client calls on my personal cell (or Zoom) and all of our internal communications (texting, Marco Polo, email, Zoom) take place on separate platforms using personal devices. Most of our communication occurs on SaaS programs like Clickup, Zoom, Google Workspace, and the like. They all integrate fairly simply so we really don’t run into too many snags. Communication can always be improved upon and streamlined, but for the size of our team I’m pretty happy with how things are operating so far.
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 am typically an early tech adopter. I find new tools really interesting and like to dream about how they can be integrated to make our lives easier or more interesting. For example, I’ve seen some really cool VR conference set ups that I think will be cool to test out.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
No. There are pros and cons to everything and unforeseen consequences. As long as we are using new technology with integrity and considering people first, we will be just fine.
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?
Since our work has always been done remotely, we haven’t had to change how we communicate with our clients. However, I have seen a shift in what is now an almost universal acceptance of virtual meetings because of the pandemic. It has made my life as a working mom infinitely easier, that’s for certain. I no longer have to constantly apologize or rearrange my schedule because my kids are home or interrupting for a snack. Most of our clients and team members are dealing with the same! My role as a parent is no longer invisible, completely removing the facade between work and home. Don’t get me wrong — there are major challenges there, but overall I have seen a lot more compassion and recognition of my situation.
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 completely agree that it can be tricky! That’s why one of my top recommendations for remote communications was to be kind and direct. It’s true that nonverbal communication isn’t picked up as easily over video chat or especially written. Besides that, giving feedback early and often is also important. Every time a team member does a great job, be sure to gush about it. Celebrate wins often. Go above and beyond congratulating the team individually and as a group for their hard work. This builds trust and allows any constructive feedback to land a little more softly. Leading with care is also important. I regularly tell my team how and why I care about them as a person. And I demonstrate it with actions. When they’re confident in this fact, they can accept feedback from a loving caring place.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Leave time during meetings for “water cooler” chat. Structure it if you have to so it doesn’t get out of hand but do it. It’s not a waste of time. We have a Water Cooler Chat in Marco Polo and it’s fun to catch up with the team in there. If you have the means to travel safely, set up a retreat or in person workshop so everyone can meet in person at least once to build a stronger bond. We’ve done this once with almost our whole team and am so looking forward to when we can do it again with everyone this time. We also put a focus on personality quizzes and using those to not only communicate better but also to provide support that people on our team actually need.
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 have been obsessed with secondhand fashion for the last few years. I shop almost exclusively secondhand for myself and my children. Not only does it save money but it also saves our planet’s precious resources. The fast fashion industry continues to surprise me with its ruthless commitment to wastefulness and inhumane treatment of people and our environment.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.