The playbook for managing remote teams is rapidly evolving, and everyone is seeking the right tools to help them succeed. At Pathlight, we want to help every manager achieve their professional best, so we created the Virtual Manager Series.
In this series, we speak with real managers about their insights, tips, and tricks for successful management in this unprecedented time, so you can start implementing their best practices on your team tomorrow.
Introducing Ben Siegel
Ben Siegel joined Falcon.io, originally a European company, a year into their efforts in New York— back when it was just 24 people at a WeWork in Brooklyn.
During that first year, Ben wore many many hats; beyond his role in commercial operations he helped with training and onboarding, building out sales processes and framework, and piloting continued education for the existing team.
He soon earned the opportunity to take on a management role and has been leading Falcon.io’s account executives and account managers in a closing role ever since. In February of 2020 he stepped fully into his current position— Director of Sales in the Americas.
While some managers and leaders have let coaching take a backseat during the pandemic, Siegel says he recommits himself to the task regularly: “The biggest challenge to anyone who wants to be a better coach is making time for it.” He echoes his boss, Scott Domareck, VP of Sales at Falcon.io, who says there are only two reasons as to why a manager wouldn’t be constantly coaching. Domareck says, “Either they don’t believe they know better and don’t see themselves as somebody who should impart wisdom, which is a confidence thing, or they’re not prioritizing or making the time for it.”
“Don’t finish your week without having made time to improve somebody on your team.”
Siegel’s advice is simple, “Don’t finish your week without having made time to improve somebody on your team.” He continues, “There’s two ways to do it — in a group setting and in a 1:1 setting. I think you need both, and the cadence should be weekly.” Siegel says, “It’s up to every manager to drive what they want the team to be doing at large, but the best way to learn and to coach is to enable others to share experiences and give feedback.”
Get in Face Time
Since shifting to working from home, Siegel has doubled down on sticking to his schedule and maintaining communication with his direct reports. “I’m much more strict with my scheduling now, specifically as it pertains to 1:1s,” he says. “When we were in the office, I sat with my team, in the sales pit, from 9:00am to 6:00pm every day. It’s always been a pillar of my management style to be available and approachable.”
Siegel says, “In that setting, I’d be much more likely to be flexible with my schedule, moving meetings around if a priority item or something time-sensitive came up, just because I know I get so much face time with my team during the day. But I don’t have that kind of face time at my disposal when we’re working remotely.”
“Remotely, you lose the visibility and availability factor that you have in the office,” he says. “So I’ve made it a priority to be strict with my calendar and make sure I never miss a 1:1 or a team meeting. If I did, I could go the whole day without spending time with that person, which is the antithesis of the teamwork and collaboration that we pride ourselves on at Falcon.”
Enforcing Work-Life Balance
Siegel says that everyone at Falcon.io “adapted to remote work way beyond [his] expectations” but that “the big challenge was adjusting to a new schedule or routine.” He says that the early days of working from home were met with plenty of questions about how to find a new work-life balance. “For example, not having to commute meant we had more time in our day— how did we want to spend that time?” Siegel says. “And being in quarantine meant we were constantly indoors, which affects everybody’s level of emotional bandwidth.”
“Companies have to be proactive, like offering flexible work schedules and planning happy hours, otherwise employees end up working 12-hour days without even knowing it.”
He says, “With no real way to break up the day people were actually working more hours. They were constantly on Slack. It was just so accessible and easy to be in front of your computer.” Siegel says, “For us it became a lesson in self-care.” He says Falcon.io, being a Danish company, does a good job of promoting work-life balance and adds, “Companies have to be proactive, like offering flexible work schedules and scheduling virtual happy hours, otherwise employees end up working 12-hour days without even knowing it.”
Siegel says he has found success in encouraging his team members to build more time for themselves into their daily schedules. “As I guessed, it hasn’t had any affect on our performance, and we’re currently performing about 30% better than we were this time last quarter, and pacing to plow through our quarterly team goal,” he says.
Culture > Perks
Siegel doesn’t believe in culture for culture’s sake, but rather culture that genuinely connects people and positively impacts the business. “Whether it’s COVID-19 or anything else that comes up in the world that could be affecting someone’s life, we take it in stride together,” he says.
“I know some leaders who would say that there should be clear lines between what is a personal, emotional connection you have with someone versus a professional connection. That type of leader would, at times, frown upon what we have at Falcon, but no leader at Falcon sees it in a negative light.” Siegel says, “We’re proud of what we have. Our people and the way they work together is what drives the success of our rocket ship.”
“COVID-19 is a perfect example of what happens if you’re a company who prides your entire culture on catered lunches and happy hours — what happens when all of that is taken away?”
“It’s not even a hugs and unicorns and rainbows culture thing— it’s literally about the success of our organization. It’s how we move forward. It’s an integral part of our business,” Siegel says. “Yes, we have catered lunches and happy hours, but that’s not our culture. There’s a fine line between perks and culture. Our culture is the relationships that each employee has with one another and how we rely on each other.” Siegel says, “COVID-19 is a perfect example of what happens if you're a company who prides your entire culture on catered lunches and happy hours— what happens when all of that is taken away?”
Tips and Tricks
What is something you’ve learned NOT to do as a manager?
“I’ve learned that you can never assume any of your team members, or anyone in general, would handle a situation the same way you would. It’s an easy way to get disappointed when you don’t even need to be. You need to be understanding of the differences people have. If you expect everyone to handle something the way you would, you’re not really treating people as individuals.”
“You need to be understanding of the differences people have. If you expect everyone to handle something the way you would, you’re not really treating people as individuals.”
What advice do you have for managers adjusting to remote work?
“As a leader, you have to practice what you preach. You have to remind yourself to take a break, too. A good manager, by nature, will want to cover for an individual contributor who needs an hour off to make sure they’re not driving themselves insane — but it’s also on us to lead by example.
What was the #1 thing that helped you and your team adjust to working from home?
“It sounds kind of cheesy, but we really have an awesome culture where everyone has a team-oriented, goal-driven, doing-it-together attitude. The importance of culture can really get overlooked when you’re in the mud, in the trenches working 24/7, but this was a period where me and other leaders looked at ourselves and thought ‘Thank god we have this culture that keeps people together and keeps people moving forward.’ It’s really what saved everybody’s sanity and emotional capacity, as well as their bandwidth from a work perspective.”
What is a quality that every manager needs to develop?
“It’s a tie between empathy and reliability, but I think empathy is probably the most important human trait. You have to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes.”
What is your favorite thing about managing people?
“Seeing people that you care about succeed and, even better, feeling like you had an (even small) influence on their success.”
How have you bonded with your coworkers while working remote?
“Always devoting time to connecting about things outside of work and making sure we aren't just chatting about deals, quotas, and Falcon.”
What is a manager’s spirit animal?
“It depends on the manager and their style, but I would envision a lion. Lions are strong and loud and the leader of the pack. They lead by example. A manager shouldn’t put restrictions on everything and overrule— it’s about leading, not ruling.”
Thank you to Ben for sharing his invaluable insights. If you’re looking for ways to manage your team effectively in this new environment, check out the other interviews in our Virtual Manager Series or try the Pathlight platform for free.