Remote Working To Virtual Working - Kate Nasser [Interview]

About Kate Nasser

Kate Nasser is a people skills coach who has an experience of over 30 years. She is a well-renowned keynote speaker and leadership coach, who also conducts workshops for increasing the engagement and efficiency of the team. The vast variety of experiences in different phases of her career in a diverse range of areas, makes her a significant figure to have on our show.

Remote Working To Virtual Working - Kate Nasser [Interview]

Sumitha Mariyam

We have the pleasure of welcoming Kate Nasser today to our interview series, I’m Sumitha Mariyam from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

Sumitha

Welcome Kate, We are thrilled to have you.  

Kate

Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here. 

Sumitha

Great. So, Kate, moving on to our interview, my first question for you would be, you had an amazing journey. I mean, 34 years.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? How was the journey to becoming a people skills coach? 

Kate

Yes, exactly. So 30 years, which I say it, it’s hard to believe, but it has been 30 years. And, I came out of college with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and I went to work in computers because that was a seemingly good connection, and I was very technical, but I was also very interested in interacting with people, and I was good at it.

And what I found was that my colleagues, in the computer departments, they were very good technically, but they didn’t enjoy interacting really with other people.

So after about, I don’t think I was in corporate work for about maybe 10 years. And I left and I started my own business to teach communication skills and interaction and people skills to others, especially to computer techies, because instead of the mainframes, where you could be in a back room coding computer programs.

Everything was becoming on the desktop with PCs and all these things. And the computer techies were required to interact with non-technical professionals, and they were not happy about it. 

So I started teaching, and it includes leadership training and teamwork training and customer service training all the issues about interacting with other people and doing it really well. And it has been a very exciting journey. 

Sumitha

Oh, that’s great. I mean, it’s amazing, and you do focus a lot on interaction.

So how would you say interactions are important in building an employee engagement strategy for an organization? 

Kate

You know, it’s amazing to me that there are still many leaders who don’t think that’s the key to an engagement. You can’t lead and engage by issuing orders or only interacting with people when you need something from them, or when they make a mistake because respectful interactions are what build trust and leadership is all about trust.

“You can’t lead and engage by issuing orders or only interacting with people when you need something from them, or when they make a mistake because respectful interactions are what build trust and leadership is all about trust.”

You want people to engage, you want them to speak up, give their opinions, innovate, and do all these things then you have to engage them every day from the time you see them. Even if it’s Zoom, Skype and such, or whether you happen to be in the same physical location as they are, it’s really quite irrelevant.

The point is, they need to know that you care about them, that you believe in them, that you want them to succeed, that you will help clear the obstacles, and so forth. And if you don’t interact, how are they going to know those things? 

Sumitha

Yeah. Oh, that’s true. But in this scenario of the pandemic, and as you said, everyone’s working from home, and even leaders are managing their teams from home.

So what advice would you give leaders who are, you know, managing a remote team right now? 

Kate

I actually thought about this in advance because I thought you might be asking this question, given the fact that we’re, all in sort of locked-down mode. Even that word sounds kind of crazy, right? Little isolating.

So I wrote down five steps because I think when people can see it as a very clear cut then it’s easier to do.

  • Step number one. Don’t call it remote working. It’s virtual.

In other words, now everybody is working virtually. Here’s what happens, even in non-lockdown mode, people have been working from home.

Sometimes they do this teleworking kind of thing. And the leaders in the home office, they say, ‘Well, those of you who are working remotely’ well, the problem is that the word remotely means less important.

In other words, now it’s not so much because everybody’s at home. But if there’s a corporate office, it becomes the important place to be. And then people who were working in other sites are less important. That’s a problem.

So step one. Don’t call it remote working. Call it we are all working virtually anywhere now, right? So it’s virtual work. 

  • Step number two. Communicate very clearly and communicate more than you did before.

Not everybody is used to or enjoys working from home. Some people love it, but it can be very isolating. And when people feel isolated, their need for communication goes up. So make sure that you are communicating with your employees every day.

“And when people feel isolated, their need for communication goes up. So make sure that you are communicating with your employees every day.”

It could be on the phone. It could be in a Zoom session like this. It could be the email, but make sure you are communicating and be very, very clear. If you’re trying to explain something, it’s gonna be this new procedure, or we’ll have to do things differently. Make sure that you slow down a little bit. Use some visual aids.

If you’re in a Zoom session, go step by step because when people feel isolated, their ability to even absorb information and listen and grasp all of this actually goes down. It changes a little bit, so make sure that you’re very clear. 

  • Step number three. Provide them with the latest information you have,

Whether it’s about the work they’re doing, how the company is going to handle sick pay during this lockdown, whatever it is you know because without information, people who are working from home and feel isolated feel that they cannot be successful and there’s nothing worse, especially in what we’re doing right now.

We already have the stress of this whole pandemic. You don’t want them to feel the stress of failure. That’s like doubly bad. 

  • Step number four. Make sure you solve the technical problems and obstacles that may be arising.

Whether it’s an Internet problem, email access, anything. Make sure that you as a leader are helping to solve those problems. Whether it’s you go talk to your peer, leader, and the IT department or whatever.

Because right now this is the lifeline, right? You and I are speaking, we are on opposite sides of the world, so we’d be speaking this way anyway. But this is the lifeline. And if that lifeline isn’t working, the stress level goes way up. So as a leader, make sure you are doing everything to remove the obstacles of them working at home.

  • And then lastly, make sure you ask them how they’re doing.

Some people are working from home. Their children are home as well, so they’re trying to deal with a five-year-old and do the work and deal with how we’re gonna get groceries. And, did my child touch that mailbox? Do I need to watch the child? There’s a lot of stress going on, so make sure you’re asking them how they’re doing. We’re all in this together. What can I do to help you? that sort of thing.

“There’s a lot of stress going on, so make sure you’re asking them how they’re doing. We’re all in this together. What can I do to help you? that sort of thing.”

Sumitha

Wow, that’s like a guidebook. This answer is like a guidebook to all leaders. Thank you for that. And, like being a former techie. And we use so much technology nowadays in this situation.

So what do you think is the role that all the technology can play in creating a good employee experience, like, do you believe that the digital workplace hub is the future? 

Kate

I do believe these hubs or portals are definitely here to stay, and they will grow in use and in comfort. The thing that’s most important is that whatever technology is being used for the employee experience, it’s very important that it’s well designed, and I mean, well designed, as in intuitive, the part that I loved the most when I was a techie and I started out doing backroom computer things. 

But then I moved into designing the interfaces, coding, and designing the interface is that the customers would use. The customer could be an employee in a company or could be an external customer.

And it was amazing to me how just positions of icons and the language we used on the screen. All of these things. You must make it intuitive. You must make it easy to use. And of course, it must be stable so that it’s not going down five times a day. Very frustrating for people. So you want to make sure that technology is as easy to use as picking up and dialing a telephone. 

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I think that leaders and managers, now that they’re seeing that people are working from home and so forth, I think besides, they’re being these digital hubs and portals for people to work anywhere.

I think that leaders and managers have to really now shift their mindset from that traditional picture of people having to be in the office, and I have to be able to see somebody know that they’re working.

Working from home has been around for decades now. I remember when it was first put it was called telecommuting, and then it was called teleworking and so forth. And it’s amazing that a lot of leaders and managers continued to treat that as different. And they had trouble managing people who were working from their home. And they almost looked at it a little like, ‘Are they really working? Or are they home taking care of their kids or something?’

So it’s very important that leaders start to really move into the realm now, if we’re gonna have digital hubs where people can work from anywhere, leaders and managers have to lead, and they have to measure more from accomplishments as opposed to, ‘Were you at your desk for eight hours straight?

“So it’s very important that leaders start to really move into the realm now, if we’re gonna have digital hubs where people can work from anywhere, leaders and managers have to lead, and they have to measure more from accomplishments as opposed to, ‘Were you at your desk for eight hours straight?”

Sumitha

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, But do you think, once we come out of this pandemic, the situation right now is really bad, and everyone’s very much accustomed to working from home, and they’re at peace right now with the situation.

But how do you think the future of life and work is going to change once we come out of this?

Kate

That’s the question of the day. Everybody is asking it. Everybody’s talking about it. I do think that this very difficult, in some ways, very sad. The pandemic is finally going to prove that people can work from anywhere.

“The pandemic is finally going to prove that people can work from anywhere.”

The issue is going to be not everybody’s going to want to work from home. They’ve actually been doing studies now for years after they introduced telecommuting, teleworking and not everybody liked it.

There are a lot of people who wanted that social interaction of being in a workplace together. So I think they’re going to have to finally get around to saying ‘All right, there may be some jobs where you have to be on the job.’

Think about it in a hospital, for example, right? The doctors, the nurses. They have to physically be there right, and there may be some jobs in every industry where that’s the case.

But If this working from home, which is being, I think proven now can be very effective, are they going to give people a choice or are they going to say, ‘Well, it’s a lot less expensive to have people working from home. Why do we need these big office buildings?’

And they may decide now everybody’s gonna work from home except the people who physically have to be in the space for a particular reason. 

Well, not everybody’s gonna want to work from home. And even if they say well, that’s too bad you have to work from home. What’s gonna happen to the issue of child care? It’s one thing to say yes, there’s a lot of that’s gonna come out of this pandemic locked down.

Are the leaders and managers really thinking ahead now to say, how are we going to craft and fashion all of this to work? And the other thing that I might suggest that could help that, leaders and managers if you are watching this podcast interview right now.

Think about right now asking your employees, if they’re interested, you don’t have to force them. But ask them if they’d be willing to keep a journal of what they are going through while working from home.

And when this is over, they could share with you, as they go day by day. But once this is over, they could submit a summary of their insights into what they went through working from home. 

This is a tremendous resource for leaders and managers to then be able to look at that and see all their employees. This one had this struggle. This one had that struggle so that as businesses try to, as you say, what’s the new normal, right?

What, it’s gonna look like after this, you’re gonna have a treasure trove of information if you ask your employees to journal what they’re going through while they are home. 

Sumitha

Yeah, well, that’s wonderful. I’m definitely writing a journal down, starting tomorrow and I’m suggesting it to my teammates for sure. That’s wonderful. I love the idea. And, so decision making, that’s something like everyone is struggling with right now with respect to the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

So how do you think AI and automation will help in driving decision making and support? 

Kate

AI has been around for a very long time. In fact, my second corporate job, We were starting to investigate AI in its very early stages. And my goodness, have we come so far. And the digital age has driven that because AI is basically a learning tool, right?

I mean, in other words, it’s learning from data and back then, 30 years ago, we would have to go to an expert, interview them, code that into this, I mean, it was, pretty kludgy.

But now with the data, that’s everywhere, I mean, think, for example, customer service, customer experience. It’s becoming very, AI-driven now because there’s all of this data, the machine can suggest to a customer. Oh, you might also like to buy this or that because the data is showing them a pattern of what this particular customer buys and likes. And so that’s a form of artificial intelligence.

So I do think that every industry, over the next 10 years, is going to become even more driven by this data-driven AI. The question is for leaders and managers. Are you willing to share decision making with your employees?

“So I do think that every industry, over the next 10 years, is going to become even more driven by this data-driven AI. The question is for leaders and managers. Are you willing to share decision making with your employees?” 

One of the reasons decision making has always been hierarchical. Besides that, it was just the way people wanted it. It was simply because people at a higher level often had access to information that people at the lower level did not have. They also generally had more experience, etc.

Well, once AI, data-driven AI comes into the picture and you can give that data and the AI to your employees at a staff level, they can become more empowered to do more significant work.

Question is, will leaders and managers feel comfortable empowering and pleased at that level? Will they say to themselves, ‘What’s gonna happen to my job if employees are empowered?’

But the truth is leaders and managers, you will still have a job. It’s just that your job will be different in nature. You will become more of a facilitator and a coach and work to clear obstacles as opposed to making all the decisions yourself. 

Sumitha

Yeah, but, organizations worldwide are boasting of having an employee-centric culture.

Do you think that’s very relevant? Do you think they are keeping their word? 

Kate

Do I think that all the corporations who say they are employees centric are, as a matter of fact, really employees centric? Is that what you’re asking me? 

Sumitha

Yeah, exactly.

Kate

That’s a tough question. Of course I can’t speak for them. I will say this much. No matter how employee-centric you think you are, there’s room for improvement.

Because I understand why. Corporations, especially big public corporations, They have stockholders. They have to constantly focus on, the leadership of the corporation, stock price, and so forth.

Just as an example. And when you’re doing that, I’m not so sure you’re as employees centric as you think you might be. However, the good news is, there are examples of companies out there who have become very employee-centric by engaging their employees about the employees experienced and making substantive changes.

So if you really want to become more employees centric, you better be including your employees in the decisions about the employee experience. 

Don’t just have them fill out a survey and let’s say 1 to 5 and you’re getting like a three-point. You think, Oh, that’s pretty good. You know we’re employees centric. A survey does not mean you’re employee-centric. You have to be engaging them in term of ‘what experiences can we make better for you?’ And there are companies out there and you can read up on them and see what they’re doing.

“A survey does not mean you’re employee-centric. You have to be engaging them in term of ‘what experiences can we make better for you?’ And there are companies out there and you can read up on them and see what they’re doing.”

Sumitha

But do you think that technology can help? Do you think human resources should spend more on technology? Or do you think that can improve employee engagement or experience to some level

Kate

I think that HR has had a tough road over the years, they’ve been tasked with, leading all of these engagements, employees experience improvements.

And yet, because they are part of the infrastructure in most companies, not part of revenue generation, they are often not given the latest technologies to do the job.

So I think that most HR departments again, you have to look, at each company. But I think most HR departments need technology improvements and would love to have them, especially when it comes to the employee engagement portals that they’re trying to put together. 

So let’s say I want to access maybe tuition reimbursement, right? I’m an employee. I want to go back to school part-time. The company says they’ll pay for it. How hard is it for an employee to tap that benefit?

So a lot of HR departments want to have really good employee benefit portals that again they have to be well designed. They have to be easy to use. They have to be secure with private with the employee’s private information that they have to be stable systems.

So I think that HR departments would love to have more technology, and the employees would love to be able to use it. 

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Sumitha

Well, yeah, that’s right. I completely agree with you on that one.

So the final question I have for you any important sound bites you want to leave our viewers with? 

Kate

Yes. And it’s interesting. I wrote a book two years ago which continues to sell. It’s called Leading Morale’ and I’m writing it. Two years ago, I could never have envisioned that we would be in a pandemic, locked down, where morale would be critical.

But nonetheless, it’s very important, and I think I want to say is that if you want to lead employees, whether it’s in an everyday mode or during this very difficult lockdown, you must treat them with dignity and respect. Morale is all about dignity. Morale is all about dignity. It’s not about pizza on Fridays or doughnuts with the coffee. It’s about communicating with them, engaging them, empowering them, letting them know they belong.

“Morale is all about dignity. It’s not about pizza on Fridays or doughnuts with the coffee. It’s about communicating with them, engaging them, empowering them, letting them know they belong.”

Believe it or not, belonging is huge. It comes up on the way. When you study morale, it comes very high up on the list. 

Employees want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want to know that they belong. They want to know that they have a purpose and that their work affects not just the company but the customers of the company.

So there are so many things that leaders and managers can do to show employees that they matter. That is it? That’s what morale is all about. Certainly, it’s fun to have birthday parties and food and all. It’s wonderful.

But I can tell you there are so many stories about people, work leaders, and managers treat the employees like dirt. And then the next thing you know, they’re saying, ‘Oh, come on, we’re all going on for a happy hour’. ‘Huh? I don’t want to go out for a happy hour with you. I’m not happy.’

And if you engage, if you treat them with dignity and respect if you show them that they matter, yes, hold them accountable for their work and so forth. But you have to do it in a way that they know that they matter, and that is how you lead morale. And that is how you get maximum contribution and high performance out of people.

So I hope you know that my book will help others. It’s still selling. I’m glad to see that people are still finding it. People that haven’t known about it are finding it. It’s available on amazon.com, and there’s a lot more resources on my website too, kate nasser.com. So I’m here to help, and I want to help and I believe that we will get through this. 

Sumitha

Yeah, I’m definitely reading the book. 

Kate, it was wonderful having you. We learned a lot. I learned a lot personally, the past half an hour was amazing for me. And I’m sure it will be for our viewers too. Thank you so much for coming to our interview series, and we hope to keep in touch with you. 

Kate

Please do. And thank you so much for having me on. I think this is a wonderful series that you’re doing.