200: Engage Your Remote Team with Vivek Nigam

Vivek Nigam, the founder and CEO of BeRemote LLC, which promotes products that help break down cultural barriers, level the social playing field, support inclusion in a hybrid work setting, and provide a better platform for idea sharing. We discuss the five tactics you can employ to improve team participation, the role of AI in building a great remote business and BeRemote future plans.

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Engage Your Remote Team with Vivek Nigam

Our guest is Vivek Nigam, the founder and CEO of BeRemote LLC, which promotes products that help break down cultural barriers, level the social playing field, support inclusion in a hybrid work setting, and provide a better platform for idea sharing. Vivek, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me as your guest.

Absolutely. So, Vivek, let’s start with your journey from being the son of an immigrant who struggled to build relationships to yourself running a business teaching others how exactly to do that.

Yeah. And thank you for that. It’s one of my favorite topics. I love to talk about my father, somebody I was very, very blessed to be part of his life. And so a quick story. My father grew up in India. I actually was born in India, but I came to the U.S. at a very young age. And growing up, I remember the conversations between my father and my mother in the kitchen.

I was very young at the time, but I knew exactly what those conversations were. It was that my father had gotten passed up for promotion yet again. And I remember the pain and the disappointment in his voice. And as I grew older and observed how he operated, when I was a teenager, I remember my father saying to me, when you start working, I want you to go out for a beer, hang out with your friends. He thought that’s what was missing.

So fast forward a few years when I did actually start working, I started to seek out people who reminded me of my dad. People who worked really hard, really smart, but didn’t quite fit in. And so I started studying how do we get these people to participate? How do we give them an opportunity? How do we get the best out of them? And what I found is 100% of the time when I work with people on my staff to get them an opportunity, 100% of the time when they presented, they were off the charts, amazing and brilliant.

And I remember the look in their eyes and how their work changed after that and how their engagements changed. That was very powerful for me. So fast forward, I took that experience and thought, you know, there’s a way to take this at a much broader scale.And that’s why I founded BeRemote, to find tools that we can do to help these people participate on a much greater scale.

This is an amazing insight. talent or was maybe inculcated in a different social setting. So they just didn’t grow up with the way of they didn’t have role models who would communicate the way that they needed to communicate. And then you give them a chance and you engage them, then you can actually tap into fantastic talent and you can harvest energies. And because you give uniquely give them this opportunity, they’re going to be much more loyal to you and they’re going to give their all because suddenly someone is hearing them and seeing them.

Yeah, and from the human aspect I and I’ll tell you, you know, it’s difficult to describe but I remember Once the the the process was done and inevitably the first time they’re gonna go present say oh, I need more time I’m not ready. I’m not ready. Of course, you know, that feeling of, I think I can say the right things, I think I can find the right words, I think I can communicate the things I want to communicate, which are all struggles for people who don’t participate. That’s immensely powerful, just from a human perspective and being in the presence of that experience is really amazing. It’s really very life-changing.

Yeah, I mean, if I think back, I was probably one of those teenagers and young adults who found it difficult to chime in and that it felt out of place. I was working in different countries. And I look back, there was a long time ago that, yeah, that was a big struggle. And now I take it for granted, but it’s definitely very important. So let’s talk a little bit about that. So what kind of tactics can you employ to improve team participation? I think in our pre-interview, we talked about five specific tactics. Would you mind sharing this with our audience?

Absolutely, I’d love to. And I do some workshops on this as well. I’ve presented some conferences with these. And what I wanted to share is these are five tactics that you can do today. They don’t require any additional tools. You probably have all the tools that you need in-house today. You don’t need to go buy anything. It’s a process, it’s a mindset, it’s a tactic. So let’s start with a very simple one. We’re going to do some basic image sharing. So what image sharing is all about? We’re going to create a little slideshow. Ask your team to share something about themselves.

Now, you want to get something personal. Maybe it’s their last vacation. Give me a shot of your last vacation that you took. Maybe it’s your favorite food or your favorite TV show. And have them go find an image. They can take it with their phone. They can go to Google, just grab an image. That part is not important. The part is you want to get an image that shares something about themselves. So this is step one.

Now there’s a couple nuances to this. You don’t want to publish this. You don’t want to share the whole collection until everybody’s participated. It’s very important because you might need to create a little bit of that pressure that, hey, I need to complete something so that my team can complete a task. That’s very basic psychology here. So you can send this out in an e-mail, say, hey, I’m going to collect them.

I’m going to put them on my share drive, send them back to me in an e-mail. That’s fine. You’ve got all the tools you need to do this. We’ve created some additional tools to be able to do this type of thing, but that’s just facilitation. Start with what you have. Now, quick little story. We shared one on our team about favorite TV show. And I’ve got some people, different generation than I am, different backgrounds, different histories.

A woman on our team, she posted the 100th great TV show. I’ve never heard of it. I said, Giselle, I’ve never heard of this show. I had sent over the X-Files. I’m a little bit different generation and different style. She said, I’ve never heard of the X-Files. Great opportunity for us to understand a little bit more about each other. This is tactic number one. Get some topics, have people share just an image.

Then let’s say they could take it with their phone, they can go to Google, download it. What’s interesting about this is, once you do this a couple of times, next time people are out somewhere or they’re on a vacation, you’re going to find that they take pictures of things anticipating, hey, maybe next time, we can share this with the team. So great way to start improving participation, very easy to do, doesn’t take a lot of time, doesn’t make people stop their work, and really endearing, and really learns a lot more about each other. So that’s tactic one.

I love that, and especially the TV show one, I’m just thinking that, I mean, I’m not a big TV watcher, but because it’s something that I do with my wife together, I can make the effort. And actually, there are some really good TV shows, and we watched a couple of them the last year and now we’re watching a third one I’m really into it and I think if someone is into a show and then they can share why they are into it. It can reveal a lot about that person’s thinking their personality. So I do see at the point .

Yeah, and actually quick a couple of additional experiences with this my kind my company is in five different countries. So you talk about five different cultures, five different celebrations, different backgrounds, different histories. And I had done a question, I said, show me your favorite food with a group of mine that’s actually from Pakistan. And I had known a little bit about the Indian culture. I expected to get all these vegetarian dishes back, right, just knowing what I know about India.

And the very first picture I got back was the picture of a steak on a grill. And the caption said, I like my steak medium rare. And really, for me, it was like, hey, Vivek, you’re not as smart as you think you are, right? Let me learn more about these people. So those type of opportunities don’t come that easy. But this is a very simple tool, and you’ll start to reveal some backgrounds like that, that you can now say, let’s engage a little bit more and let’s learn more. And when you learn more about each other, you’re always going to get better.

Engaging with one another and actively learning fosters growth and improvement. And when you learn more about each other, you're always going to get better. Click To Tweet

I’m going to try this. I wish I knew that this morning because I had this exercise with my team and it’s a much more boring variation of it. So I’m taking notes. All right, so this is number one. So what’s the second tactic?

Second one, we like to call these equitable voice videos. Now, it’s kind of a fancy term, but it really means a lot, right? We talk a lot about being able to have an equal opportunity to speak. And one of the challenges that a lot of people have is they don’t find the opportunity to speak in a team meeting, right? So how do you get them the opportunity to speak? Some people are very comfortable. They want to speak and they love to hear themselves talk and they love to, they’ve got lots to say.

And they’re very comfortable in those social settings and a lot of people are not. So we want to create an equity, right? So everybody has an equal opportunity. That doesn’t mean everybody needs to talk for three minutes or five minutes. It’s that they have the opportunity to do so. So what we want to do is this. Similar to a slideshow, you pick a topic and say, I want you to give us an update, or it could be an update, or let’s talk about this situation, or let’s talk about your position on this.

It could be talk about culture, talk about your celebrations. It could be a variety of things, right? The topic, you start off with something very friendly and then you can get into something, you know, more, you know, more deep if you need to. But what you do is this, have people on their phones, on their computers, just record a video, same type of thing. Submit the video to somebody, keep those videos safe until everybody’s contributed and then you can take them and put them out onto a share so that now everyone can watch each person’s video and see what the responses were.

Here’s a great idea, something that we did on my team a couple years ago, again we’re in many different countries. Around the November-December time frame, I asked them about their celebrations. There was Diwali going on. There was some Eid celebration. There’s Thanksgiving, right? There’s a lot of things going on in this time This Heritage Day. There’s there’s a variety of topics.

So said tell me about these celebrations what does it mean to you and people just recorded a video some people did in 30 seconds. Hey, you know, it’s a big celebration so people went deep and they said we bring the families together, we forgive each other, we do all this right. Start there, talk about something like this and just say this you know let’s talk about what this means to you. It could be just as simple as show me how you decorate your house during this time of the year. Is it a lot of lights? Is it a lot of decorations?

Something a little bit personal, something that gets you to learn more about them. Some people do this just to say make a workload related, give me your update for today, we’re going to do our stand-up. But it’s important that you make these asynchronous videos and not live. When you do these live in a team meeting, some people have some stage fright, and what you were trying to do is avoid some of that stage fright.

So give them an opportunity, let them record it whenever they have a moment, and send the video to you. They may do it several times. They may polish it up. They may, you know, say, hey, I need to try it a couple times to say the right words, and then let them send it to you. What you’ll find is, first time you do it, maybe a little rough. Next time you do it, it’s going to get cleaner.

Next time you do it, people, it’s going to get better and better. You’re going to start establishing some communication norms because people are going to listen to each other and see what you hear, what people are saying. But the biggest thing about this is everybody’s going to have an opportunity to be heard. And that’s so powerful. So, yeah, that’s what we call a second voice videos.

That’s great. So before you first do this, do you record your own to give them as an example? This is the kind of looking for.

Great point. And typically when we start these, you’ll start with your own video and say, OK, here’s the topic and here’s my update, because you need to take that lead and you need to break that ice. That was a good point. So, and when you do that, then people say, okay, I’ve got a template, I’ve got a style, and you want to keep it, if you can, keep it not too polished. Make it so that it’s very natural, very authentic. It’s okay to stumble a little bit. You want to keep it human.

I’ll try that one as well. Awesome. So this is tactic number 2, there are three more. So what’s the third one?

Third one is simplified check-ins. Now, everyone does one-on-ones, and you should. You could do team meetings, you do one-to-ones. I mean, these are great things, they’re very important. What we like to add is do an additional electronic check-in. It could be through an e-mail, it could be a set of emojis you send out, it could be a little checklist. Say, how are you doing today? We have a list of six check-ins that we like to do, six responses.

There’s things like pressured but managing, or I’m inspired, I’m on a roll, I’m all good. Or they could be I’m feeling a little disconnected, or I could use some help, you know, I could use a team meeting. So come up with some that are very positive and some that are somewhat like, you don’t want to make them negative, like I’m struggling, but things that say, hey, I could use somebody to talk to, right?

And that type of engagement. If anybody needs help, feel free to reach out and I’ll give you a couple sets of these that we have used. Use a simple checkbox like that, simple result, blast it out to your team, say, how are you doing today? Do this once a week. And when the results come back, track the results by person. Just have a spreadsheet, say, hey, on this day, this is the response I got. This day, this is the response I got. Now, why do you do this? It’s going to save you time. It’s going to give you insight into your one-on-ones.

Typically, what you’ll find is the first six or seven times you do this, everyone’s going to say, I’m all good. Why do they do that? They make their manager happy. But after that, you’re going to start to see some very substantive responses. If someone tells you, I’m feeling a little disconnected, but they’ve been telling you I’m all good, it’s a good opportunity for you to say, hey, my next one-on-one, let’s have a conversation.

What’s going on? Is it work related? Is it personal related? Is something going on? Are you distracted? Are you overwhelmed? Did I give you a task you can’t handle? It gives you great insight that you can start to engage with people. And when you get comfortable enough, you can share those responses, not just with yourself, but let the whole team see everybody’s responses and let each other, the team members, kind of help each other. And if you can get to that point, it’s a really powerful state to be in.

I love it. What I particularly like about this is that often these check-ins are all positive. We expect each other to be positive and then essentially it silences people. They’re not allowed to be unhappy. That can cause frustration. But I like the way you approach it. You don’t give them the options which are super toxic negative, but give them the options which allow them to vent a little bit and then you follow up. You don’t necessarily have to drive on it. You don’t have to make it necessarily openly. You don’t use it to contaminate the atmosphere. You use it for your own benefit so that you can help these people. Love it. Okay, give me two more.

Okay. This is a recognition and appreciation. At our core, every human being really wants to be field valued. And how do you do that you recognize someone for their for an accomplishment, a small task, it’d be something simple. And you know, when we open up a session, we say, “Hey, thank you for letting me join here today.” These are nice courtesies that we’ve come come to try to do is take the small things that people do, and recognize them.

Now, you could to our typical thing is you send an email, say, “Hey, thank you for your help.” Okay, that’s good. I don’t want to put you with that. That’s really good. We want people to continue doing things like that. We want to take it to the next level. Similar to how we did the equitable voice videos, record yourself, and it could be on your phone, it could be on your computer.

Just create a little video snippet and say, Steve, thank you so much for letting me join today. I really enjoyed our conversation last time, but so looking forward to this. And really it was a highlight of my week and I just want to say thank you. That’s it, right? Make it sincere, make it visual, make it something that they can go back and look at in the future. It’s a small recognition, but it’s a recognition.

And it is something that really will make people feel good about not just themselves, but being part of the team. And what you see is when you do these small recognitions, that team cohesion gets so much better. The team participation gets so much better because people feel valued and appreciated. We recommend somebody on the team should do this once a week to somebody else. You don’t need as an individual to recognize everybody every week.

Small recognitions will make people feel good about not just themselves, but being part of the team. Click To Tweet

That’s not what we’re saying. That may be a little bit overwhelming. But if you can get to a cadence where one person says thank you to another person on the team and shares it with the team, say, hey, I just want to say thank you, you’ll find over the course of three or four weeks, even five, six weeks, you’ll see a very noticeable and measurable difference in the team and you’ll see how people operate, you’ll see how people sit in meetings and how they engage.

So small recognitions, we prefer you do them in video so that people can have them, they can go back and refer to them later. And you want to recognize the small tasks. It doesn’t have to be a big milestone we’ve been working on for three years. You should recognize those things. But something small. Hey, thanks for looking over my shoulder and just helping me out, taking five minutes out of your day. Very much appreciated. But yeah, that’s tactic number four.

Now it’s, okay, one more. It’s probably an overkill at this point.

The last one requires a little bit more tooling, but with things like a Chat GPT and other tools that are available today, you’ve got access to technology that you can use. It’s called professional and inclusive language. So this is something that I know my father struggled with, and a lot of people today, whether you’re a native English speaker or not, we find a lot of people in the workplace struggle with this. How do I say the right thing?

How do I say thank you in a sincere way? There’s a lot of AI tools out there. We recommend you start to experiment with them, embrace them, and when you’re about to send a thank you, instead of just saying, thanks for your help, maybe you go to one of these tools and say, I want to thank Steve for this. Can you help me say this in a more sincere, more formal way? And have them say it.

Now, if you can get very sophisticated with this, and this is something that we at BeRemote have been working on, we monitor the language that a company uses. And then using that, we train the AI to give people the responses that are more in line with the company language. But start with some basics. Use some of the tools that are available. Say, how do I reword this? Find a way to say thank you, say hello, say whatever, say whatever the statements that you’re trying to send out.

Have an additional filter on them so that you can say them more professionally and more inclusively. Now, the inclusive part is important, especially in today’s world. Let’s just do a quick check. And there’s tools out there that are available that do a great job with this, and they’ll identify immediately, hey, maybe you don’t want to say that word, and we should say this word. It’ll help you not just say the right words and people receive the message properly, but it’ll also train you over time to say things a little bit better. So be available to the landmines, yes.

Yeah. Absolutely true, and I can testify to this. When we moved over here 12 years ago, and my daughter was a middle schooler, and she got on the stage in a spelling bee competition. And it was a round-robin, and whoever missed would drop out, and eventually they were down to the last, I don’t know, eight people. And she was the last girl who dropped out and then there’s all boys.

And she came on the stage and said, oh, you did really well. You were the best girl in this group. And she got so upset. She said, how can you just say that? And how can you discriminate between girls and boys? And this is patronizing. And it was a big light bulb for me. I was not aware. It was a blind spot for me. It was my social conditioning that I didn’t see that. And yeah, so that definitely happens a lot.

Your intentions were pure, right? Your intentions were right. And that’s what we find a lot of times. And people sometimes step into situations where they’re blindsided. Like, I don’t understand what I said. So here’s an opportunity to help with that situation as well.

Yeah, that’s fantastic. So you mentioned how Chat GPT can really help with this inclusive language. And is there other ways that we can use AI to help us build a great remote business?

Sure, and actually, so we are spending a lot of time with AI tools, not just the tools that are in the market, but combining different tools and then adding some capabilities on top of ourselves. Now the trick to AI, it’s not a trick, it’s all about getting the most effectiveness and how do you do that? We believe in constraining the AI, right? If you ask Chat GPT a question, it will give you paragraphs of questions. It’s actually kind of fun if you were to go to Chat GPT sometime and ask it, explain quantum physics to me like I’m a sixth grader. And it’s pretty entertaining to see the words it uses.

So you’ll see the foundation of what’s there. And Chat GPT is just one of the tools. There’s so much we can do with AI. And really from the application perspective, what we’re finding, it’s great, it’s still evolving, plenty of tools out there. We are focused on internal communication. So yeah, we do think start with simple things like chat TPT or BARD and just reword what you’re doing. You can take this to so many different levels. We are doing idea sharing.

We’re talking about how do you create an idea and the tool that we’ve created using some of these AI tools will tutor you and say, hey, have you thought about this? Have you thought about this? Have you thought about this? And at the end, when it’s learn more about your idea, you can say, tell me some pitfalls and it’ll give you a list of things to consider. So these are the type of things that you want to get AI to help you with. It’s not intended to, it’s not the Terminator apocalypse, right? These are things that are going to actually help us be better. So yeah, I think the uses right now are limitless.

Another AI tool is changing the world. I regularly find myself asking questions. I’m a very curious person. I’m like, why do I ask Chat GPT? Why do I ask Chat GPT? And sometimes the answer is actually silly. You can see that it’s just a synthesis of all those general misconceptions all pulled into one, especially if it’s an area where you maybe have a little bit more than average knowledge. But definitely it’s a great tool for curious people like myself. Awesome, so what are you working on going forward to the future?

What kind of, what do you see around the horizon that is going to help us run remote businesses better? Wonderful. Our current passion, and it’s also evolving, most companies that we talk to have innovation as one of their key pillars, things that they want to improve. And what does that mean? Obviously, everybody wants to be innovative, want to create something new.

A lot of these companies are trying to get people to share an idea based on their experience. You know, you’ve got a large company, people are in different facets, they see different things in different levels of detail. If the companies can get people to share an idea and say, hey, here’s something that we can do, here’s a new innovation we can do.

Foster a culture where everyone feels empowered to share and refine their ideas. Click To Tweet

And it’s not, it shouldn’t be just like, hey, let’s make chocolate milk water fountains. Okay, maybe that’s great. But why? Right. And what’s the value? Why is that going to make us better? It’s thinking through the rest of those things. So I mentioned a moment ago that we’re working, we have a tutor that we’ve created. So we’re focused really on this innovation space, on the idea sharing space, and there’s multiple facets. We spent all this time talking about how do we get people to participate? That’s step one.

Let’s find a way so that people will be willing to share their idea. Build that foundation so that they can share it. And then when they’re ready to share it, let’s help them structure the idea so they’ve thought things through. It’d be great to get an idea coming to maybe you’ve got a central group that reviews these ideas or can evaluate these for investment. If you can get that coming in and saying, okay, here’s the concept, here’s the 30-second elevator pitch, here’s the detail, here’s the risks I’ve thought through, here’s the major obstacles, and here’s some next steps.

Let’s get to that point, and let’s be able to share those in a concise fashion. There’s a lot of AI involved here. In some cases, we even do this thing, let’s make it anonymous. So you’re going to use an avatar instead of your own face, you can use an avatar to talk about the idea, do the presentation for you, take away some of that shyness. So we have right now five pieces of AI built around here, and there’s probably going to be one more that we’re fashioning.

But that’s our current passion to say, how do we get people, number one, to be willing to share an idea, and then when they share the idea, how do we get them to construct it in a way that it’s consumable and then we can have a very serious conversation about do we invest in this and take a next step. So that’s our current framework that’s taking our engagement and our participation process to the next level into innovation.

So if I understand correctly, what you do is you really orient people so they provide the information in a structured way so it can directly be applicable to whatever problem you’re trying to solve.

Exactly right. And the more you can learn about the company and the conversations people have had with the company, and AI is great at this, the more you can say, well, why does this concept that you have, what pillar that’s valuable to the company, does it tickle? Is it about inclusion? Is it about profit? Is it about cost reduction? What are the things that this company really values that this idea really falls into? And AI can help you walk through that as well.

Well, Vivek, this is a fascinating journey, this whole remote business. And I remember coming out of the pandemic, people were split down in the middle. Some people said, now we all have to go back to the office, go to the good old days where we can interact together and be in the same place and build a culture. And other people said, no, we’re not going to do that because you already hired people in different geographies. We’re just going to double down on this and embrace it and see where it leads us.

And now all these tools are emerging. How can you actually make this? So there was the intention, you’re gonna get through it. And now there are tools, companies like BeRemote LLC, your company is bringing us these concepts that are being refined and that you actually can build these remote teams. It’s fascinating. I mean, so many companies are now essentially building their business with remote people in Asia or South Asia, and they are tapping into the talent pools of these places, and this is all part of the US economy, if you think about it. Absolutely. It’s pretty crazy that we don’t just have to land the 330 million whatever people, we have another billion at our disposal or more that we can pull in to drive this economy as well.

It’s a very exciting time in technology for sure.

Yeah, it is. So Vivek, if someone would like to learn more, maybe they have a remote team, they want to tap into your resources, or want to, you know, could use your help, or learn more about this, where should they go and how can they connect with you?

Yeah, a couple of ways. First of all, if you’re interested, I hope, I would love to hear from people. So go to our website, beremote.com, and there’s some contact information there. Drop me an email directly, vivek@beremote.com. I would love to talk to your listeners and absolutely would love to share the journey that we’ve been on, the AI experience we’ve gained, and I would do some workshops and do some webinars. I’m happy to share those with you as well. And of course, find me on LinkedIn. So unfortunately, there’s a lot of feedback nicknames out there, but hopefully you’ll find one that looks like me. I’m happy to share my LinkedIn address with you guys as well. Would love to connect with folks, but I think those are probably the best ways. Go to the website, send me an email, and LinkedIn. Absolutely, would love to discuss further. Really exciting things going on right now.

Well, definitely don’t miss out on that. So Vivek Nigam, founder CEO of BeRemote LLC. I promise you he’s easy to find on LinkedIn. And yeah, and and you know, don’t miss studying this this concept because that is the future. There’s no turning back. Most companies are going to be remote. And this is where the talent is and you want to be able to build a great business remotely. Plus, it helps you really, it reduces your break-even point when you have a remote company. And it’s really, it helps us entrepreneurs to make our dream come true. So, thank you Vivek for coming on the show. And for those who are listening, I mean, you can see the quality of the CEOs that come to this show. So, don’t miss next week’s episode as well. Have a great day.


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