Ep 30: Lessons Managing a Remote Team (with Kevan Lee from Buffer)

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What are the benefits and challenges of managing a fully remote team? 

In episode 30 of The Growth TL;DR Podcast, we talked to Kevan Lee, VP of Marketing at Buffer, about the trials and tribulations of remote management.

SUBSCRIBE TO PODCAST: iTunes – Spotify – Google Play

Here what I’ve learned, in a true TL;DR format, from our episode with Kevan. 

  1. Genuine personal connections are mistakenly devalued 
  2. Share positive feedback in Slack channels 
  3. All timezones should be created equal 
  4. The secret to rapid career growth
  5. Why honest upward feedback is tough

1. Genuine personal connections are mistakenly devalued 

As managers, especially at fast-growing SaaS companies, it’s easy to obsess about metrics. The most common question we ask is 

Why did the numbers move? 

Or if things aren’t going so hot we ask

Why didn’t the numbers move? 

The problem is, if that’s the only question we’re asking our remote teammates, we transform into emotionless drones who care about one thing – moving a number. The problem is people are not mechanisms to moving a number. People are people. 

Take time to learn about the people on your team. What is their dog’s name? Where is the coolest place they’ve traveled? How was their camping trip last weekend? Or if you really know your teammate … how did that Tinder date go last week?  😮 

2. Share positive feedback in Slack channels 

Recognizing success is equally, if not more, important that critique. 

Kevan explained on the podcast how Buffer uses Slack to share positive feedback publicly using these tools: 

We tend to under-communicate the good and over-communicate the bad. However, affirmation is a powerful mechanism for keeping your remote team glued together. A community that is all in this together. 

3. All timezones should be created equal 

Buffer’s marketing team does something pretty cool. 

They have identical “all hands” marketing meetings once per month. However, they do two identical meetings to accommodate for different timezones: 

  1. APAC and West Coast US
  2. Europe and East Coast US

That way timezones with less employees (which is often APAC at large software companies) are not screwed with meeting at 2am. Too often we exclude the timezones with the least amount of people. When that isn’t fair to anyone. 

4. The secret to rapid career growth

When thinking about career growth (whether for others or myself) I rely on this framework: 


However, we all (Kevan, Kieran, and myself) all agreed there is one part of the diagram that has the most weight – what the business needs.

The recipe for quickly growing your career is to make an impact.

It’s really that simple. Here’s how to think about it

  1. Identify something the business cares about but no one is doing
  2. Proactively raise your hand to own it
  3. Crush it and move the numbers 

You will be rewarded. 

5. Why honest upward feedback is tough

One of the most difficult aspects of remote management is eliciting honest feedback from our teams. 

I’ve been fortunate to have strong personal relationships on my team. I’ve learned that genuine personal connection, and friendship, breeds honesty. For example, I’ve had people on my team tell me: 

Dude. You are a control freak. Just let me do my thing and stop trying to get in the weeds all the time. I’ve got this.

It was a kick in the balls. But a deserved kick in the balls. It takes a while to get to this level of honesty with people. But it’s so refreshing once you get there.

Honesty is the root of all successful relationships … inside and outside of work. Honesty breeds feedback loops. And feedback loops breed growth — personally and professionally. 

Now that you’ve finished reading my TL;DR recap of the episode GO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE EPISODE.    😉 

SUBSCRIBE TO PODCAST: iTunes – Spotify – Google Play

Happy growing, ya’ll. 

Thanks for reading 🙏

If you found this article helpful, feel free to contact me for startup marketing consulting.
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