Tricia Sciortino of BELAY: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

We have our KPIs, metrics, and goals for our team members. These are relatively standard. But being virtual, we make sure our expectations are clear and explicit as they are paramount to our success.

They include very specific parameters around availability, productivity and meetings. Video conferencing is mandatory, for example, and emails require a reply within 24-hours — the ‘virtual nod’ to let a teammate know you’re ‘on it.’

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 Tricia Sciortino, CEO at BELAY.

As BELAY’s first employee and virtual assistant — and then onto serve as Director, Vice President, President, COO, and now CEO — Tricia has spent the last nearly 10 years ‘walking the walk’ of what BELAY calls the Third Option: the ability to cultivate a balanced life with a successful career while making family and personal relationships a priority.

Tricia who joined the start-up during the 2009 recession, has since led the premium virtual staffing company to bring in more than $100M. Without an office, BELAY has graced the Inc 5000 list five times, was awarded the #1 Entrepreneur Magazine’s Best Company Culture. BELAY has 1000+ team members who work from home, and has brought in 35M last year in spite of the pandemic

As a leader, Tricia is passionate about everyone owning and forging their own paths, careers, and professional development, putting each of the company’s valued employees and contractors in the driver’s seat to cultivate the balance of work and life that best suits them. She’s so committed to helping people realize this that in 2020 she launched a podcast, One Next Step, to show leaders that they can not only grow their business but also help them create more margin so that they can enjoy their life. Together with guests and her co-host, Lisa Zeeveld (BELAY COO), Tricia share real-world business knowledge that will help real-life leaders.

Tricia lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two daughters and stepson and is very grateful — seriously grateful — for the opportunity to live out her third option every day as a hands-on mom while supporting those she leads in living out theirs.

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?

Fifteen years ago, I was the #1 District Manager at PacSun with a 1-year-old daughter. I was traveling and working 80 hour weeks, including weekends and holidays for 10 years. I was done — so I gave notice, much to their surprise and my husband’s.

I had no idea what was next for me — but that wasn’t it. So we moved from NY to NC, knowing no one and with no idea what I’d do.

But I knew it had to be something because I knew I wasn’t meant to stay home. And I knew it had to be meaningful work that also allowed me to be a present parent.

Serendipitously, a temp agency found me a part-time job filling in during someone’s maternity leave for Bryan Miles, co-founder and co-chair of BELAY!

We worked together for five years when Bryan said he was starting his own business — and asked me along for the ride.

The economy had tanked, I was going through a divorce — all signs pointed to ‘don’t do it’ — but my gut said yes.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

A position for district manager became available — and I knew it was my job to lose. And lose it I did when a firecracker of a girl from New Jersey walked in and got ‘my’ job.

I was gutted.⁠

⁠⁠But fate had other plans. That firecracker became my friend and I got promoted six months later and soon became the №1 District Manager.

That rejection pushed me to try harder. I learned that our greatest blessings often come in the form of rejection.

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

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

In the face of adversity throughout my life, I was inspired, compelled even, to stay to course — even if the road was hard because I knew that on the other side was a win and the hardship was all a lesson. So I keep on keeping on. I won’t let ‘no’ stop me.

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?

My first leader was the VP of PacSun, Larry. He gave me my first chance at leading a large team at the young age of 25 — and I had a lot to learn.

I thought leadership was about being a ‘boss.’

Man, was I wrong.

He taught me that leadership is won through people and getting the team to buy into me was №1.

He also taught me that we won’t always win or get our way.

He would say, “It is what it is’’ — reminding me to let it go, focus on where I could make an impact and have confidence the rest would be alright. Invaluable wisdom to a 25-year-old.

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?

While we are incredibly adept at getting things done remotely while maintaining our award-winning culture and close-knit relationships with one another, we never miss an opportunity to get together as a company once a quarter.

It’s inarguable that being in the same space at the same time as your favorite colleagues unleashes an extraordinary kind of magic.

We build on our foundation of trust, we strengthen our bonds, and we get to know one another on deeper, more intimate levels.

This then makes heading home and working remotely so much easier and more fulfilling because we know every person on the other side of our screen personally.

There’s also something about getting together with your team after spending a few months apart to get creative juices and energy flowing to tactically plan for long-term needs and initiatives.

You’d be amazed at what comes out of our marketing team’s quarterly face-to-face meetings.

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?

While these aren’t necessarily issues that we face, I think for organizations whose culture is yet-undefined or with a relatively new remote workforce, communication gaps, limited trust and a lack of intentional clarity can lead to confusion, reduced morale and diminished productivity.

Thankfully, these are challenges that, in time, can be overcome.

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.)

1 . We want our team to be engaged and think it’s important to give ourselves a few minutes in every meeting to laugh and bond.

So, as an example, we’ve occasionally planned quick scavenger hunts on our company-wide weekly meetings to get the blood pumping, the adrenaline rushing, and provide serious entertainment for those of us who get to watch our friends scramble to win — all on a video call.

2. One of the most tactical things we do is to memorize the mission, vision and values.

But it’s not just a short-term memory recitation. We weave our mission, vision and values into every corporate event and every team meeting, this way they become common language for our team and provide the foundation and framework for everything we do. We want to be able to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, embodying and reinforcing each value so that in everything we do, we are our culture.

3. We are an ever-growing remote team working — and silos are easy to form. Many areas and roles sit far from the day to day important happenings in BELAY.

So we implemented weekly staff meetings with all 90+ corporate team members as an in-the-know knowledge set for us all, as well as team cohesion.

We are all in this together, and the meeting facilitates and supports us remaining close to our ‘why’ and our missions and vision for BELAY.

4. We live in a world that is powered by technology, applications and programs are constantly evolving and being updated with new functions, so it’s important that as an organization, we stay current and up-to-date on the latest and greatest tools, options, and features.

However, we also recognize that while it’s critical to stay in-the-know, it’s equally important to only leverage those tools that prove helpful and necessary.

It’s about choosing the right tools for the job — and not all the tools. Choosing all the tools causes chaos and disconnection which proves counterintuitive.

5. We have our KPIs, metrics, and goals for our team members. These are relatively standard. But being virtual, we make sure our expectations are clear and explicit as they are paramount to our success.

They include very specific parameters around availability, productivity and meetings. Video conferencing is mandatory, for example, and emails require a reply within 24-hours — the ‘virtual nod’ to let a teammate know you’re ‘on it.’

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?

We have worked remotely since creation so this is our normal. We give each employee a phone and internet allowance so they have access to both for their work. We also supply equipment (laptops) for our team with security installed.

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?

At BELAY, we’re all about video meetings. Because when you have video meetings with your clients and colleagues, you add another layer of trust to your relationship and make ‘virtual’ feel more personal.

So video conferencing is — and always has been — a requisite for us. For us, it’s mandatory because without it, we can’t read body language, make eye contact or forge any sort of a real connection. And we know that a company’s culture lives and dies by its ability to create and nurture connections.

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

It would be the integration of all of our favorite tools in one. Each organization is unique so those may look different everywhere.

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?

The concept that all work and communication could be done on one platform is more intriguing today than ever with remote work.

So we’ve taken certain steps to head in that direction at BELAY. We’re deciding which tools we will use — and which we won’t — and mandating that users integrate for the greater ease of the team.

We pay attention to tools that integrate and play well with each other so there are fewer places to look for communication.

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

Tech enables great service but does not replace it. The human connection as it relates to excellence in customer service will always remain key and important to success in business.

People like to work with and buy from people they like, respect and value. Tech makes us faster and efficient but it does not replace relationships and human connections.

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?

We still get on the phone or video and talk to and connect with our clients.

As an all-remote company, we decided 10 years ago that we’d sell and service that way — digitally, virtually.

We’ve been a remote team for over a decade so we’ve leveraged technology to service our customers in our own way always. No status quo here. But we do miss being with customers at live events and conferences and look forward to seeing them again soon.

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 believe the best method for giving feedback is in-person or on video conference. Tone can be misinterpreted in email or other written communication. Additionally, it should be a communication tool that allows for a conversation, watching body language and expressions.

And there are countless opportunities for providing feedback.

It can happen in the day-to-day. You can give more in-depth feedback or coaching on weekly 1:1s, or at quarterly review time.

The most important thing is to just do it — regularly, in real time — not weeks or months later.

The number one mistake leaders make when it comes to feedback, besides not giving it at all, is waiting too long, only giving it at review time. This allows resentment to build before giving people the opportunity to improve.

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

When your organization is virtual, you just have to think outside the box a little to find a different approach to team building — and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

In fact, ‘fun’ is literally one of our core values in a live-it-breathe-it-embody-it kind of way.

It says that, ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Seriously.’

And we create, nurture and foster that core value through our Pay-It-Forward program, Frugal WOWs, virtual coffees and happy hours, BELAY buddies and the scavenger hunts we mentioned.

Your camaraderie and fun are really only limited by your imagination.

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?

I’d want to inspire individuals to cast aside doubts and lack of confidence and ask them to believe in themselves, their possibilities and their future. As my three guiding tenets, I think a person’s success hinges on them owning the journey of their life. No one else.

Rise up, advocate for yourself, do the hard work and grow. If opportunity isn’t knocking, build a door.

You are your greatest asset and as such, you must be prepared to invest in yourself. Put in the work, be an expert, be a learner, and evolve — and expect that there will be times that a door is shut on you.

And while it can be hard to see in the moment, viewing rejection through the lens of opportunity or a redirection — and not defeat — it’s often one of the best things to happen to us.

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

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.


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