In this XTRF Summit #online 2021 session, Mario Pluzny from Tenable joined Juanma López to discuss how he uses what he’s learned from managing vendor teams to manage his in-house team-based remotely. This article is based on that session.
I began my career working for Memrise, where I managed a virtual team of 25 freelance translators based around the globe. I built a strong connection with my team, despite the distance that separated us. And I saw a real need to elevate their profile, to make sure they felt engaged and experienced a sense of connection. Having recently moved to Tenable, where it’s a different setup and I manage a team of external vendors, I started thinking about how I can apply these principles to this new context.
Let’s start by reflecting on what it takes to engage external vendors.
How to engage external vendors
1. Meet them
Make sure they’re not simply faceless contractors, but that you meet them using videoconferencing tools. I also try to reverse the model and think, how can I become my vendors’ favorite client? How can I be someone they enjoy working with? I need to make their lives easier, show I care and support them.
2. Be transparent
Remove all the barriers to their work. Give them access to all the relevant information you have to help them do their job.
3. Make the invisible team members visible
Because otherwise, in-house staff may not realize they exist at all. So you need to advocate for them within your organization, bringing them up in conversations and meetings. Elevate their profile. In turn, this will elevate your profile, your manager’s, and your entire department’s. Maybe invite them to internal meetings to get their opinion. Not only does this help with profile-raising, but it also shows them you care about them and value their insight.
4. Engage on an individual level
Show your vendors you care about them on a personal level. One example of something my manager and I implemented recently was a ‘voice of the linguist’ call. This involved bringing together all the team members for each language for a discussion, including the translators to the reviewers and the project managers. They talked about what works, what doesn’t work so well, what we can improve. And vendors remember this. It’s a useful way of increasing engagement.
How to engage remote teams
Now let’s think about how we can use what we’ve learned about vendor management to lead and engage with our remote internal teams.
1. Show you care and respect them
You need to develop genuine human relationships and show that you care and respect your team members. You can show this through:
- Small talk
- Setting up virtual socials, where you get to know everyone and listen to them
- Little gestures, like sending a small gift box
2. Communicate effectively
There’s a very fine line between micro-management, where you’re constantly checking in, and being too hands-off and letting projects fall by the wayside. You need to strike a balance between not having too many meetings but also checking in regularly.
Seeing each other face-to-face is also important because body language makes up a big chunk of interpersonal communication – 55% in fact – while tone and voice account for 38% and actual words a mere 7%.
But it’s now been a year of working remotely for many of us, and it can be draining. In fact, research has shown that video meetings are more draining than in-person meetings. So it’s important to remember that it’s not one-size-fits-all and you need to be flexible. You need to find out what works for your team, and go with that.
It’s also helpful to come up with rules of engagement. This means making it clear which communication tools you should use for what. For instance, some things are done better face-to-face, while others might be better suited to email, Asana, Slack, or another tool.
3. Set and align expectations
This is about ensuring that team members understand what you expect. But also being clear on what they can expect from you. And making sure that they let you know about any blockers that will prevent any of this from happening.
This can also include leading by example when it comes to work-life balance. In this industry, we’ve often seen a glorification of working crazy hours and doing overtime. And especially in the Covid era, it’s easy to be switched on, day and night. But this isn’t healthy. So I make a point of switching off at the end of the workday, and encouraging my team to do the same.
4. Bring the human touch to leadership
A lot of this comes back to humanity, empathy, and common sense. Because it’s this that will get us through this challenging situation.
I think we need to see a real shift in the translation and localization industry. We need to see, value, and seek out soft skills. This means valuing empathy, emotional intelligence, flexibility, the ability to stay calm under pressure, to lead by example, and to listen to everyone.
Localization Manager, Tenable Inc.
CEO, and Founder, Exero