Interview with Amity’s Head of North America: Why communication is key, now more than ever

With the current Covid-19 situation enforcing organizations around the world to work remotely, how are business leaders navigating the situation to ensure optimum continuity and productivity? Michelle Daigle, Head of North America at Amity, shares her experience of juggling client expectations while maintaining an engaged and productive team.

June 26, 2020
Lauren Feille

Business development teams are at the forefront of any company’s growth and strategic opportunities. Their role in developing partnerships and cultivating valuable relations with customers depend on one main factor: communication. With the current Covid-19 outbreak enforcing teams to adhere to social distancing and remote work on a full-time basis, this brings brand new challenges to the way these teams perform their roles.

We talked to Michelle Daigle, Head of North America at Amity, to ask her about how businesses are evolving to cope with the current situation, what communication challenges have emerged during this time, and how best to tackle them.

From a business development perspective, how do you think the current situation is affecting organizations?

I see two different types of emerging trends—we have organizations that are growing rapidly to accommodate COVID-19, with some of them growing at a rate they didn’t anticipate. With that swift growth, there are a lot of growing pains. Whether it is hiring a lot of new people, training them, or getting everyone on the same page.

On the other hand, there are those businesses that slowed down and became stagnant because of the current crisis. Many of them are now utilizing this time to reflect upon ways that they will do business after the pandemic, looking into issues that they have been putting band-aids on for a while and properly addressing them.

In both cases, the common factor is that they need guidance on how to adapt. Whether the need is urgent with the companies that are growing rapidly or it’s a more calculated approach to those who are more stagnant right now.

With most of your clients now working from home, has this required a new way of outreach and engagement with them?

I think that working remotely brings quite a few challenges. The main one would be maintaining client calls remotely. Since I talk to clients most of the time as a part of my job, communicating with them at this time can be challenging.

I also understand that some of them are working remotely for the first time in their lives. With that, they also find being in this situation challenging. Add the fact that there are several factors that might affect them as they work from home—their families are at home, some of them have pets that are too eager to spend time with them, and end up barking during calls! I’ve had phone calls recently where the lady was putting her baby to sleep while we were speaking, others have to jump off and break up a fight between his children. That’s the life we live. But of course, it makes the situation more complicated than just working from the comfort of home—we are working remotely under extraordinary circumstances.

I think that now people are starting to make the best out of the situation and I think it takes a lot of understanding on both sides. I have been a remote employee almost my entire life, so I have seen and heard it all. I think that recently I have spent the first 10 or 15 minutes of every call reassuring the people: “It’s okay that you have your dog barking” or “It’s okay to have your children crying—it’s okay.”

Let’s talk about your team. As you all work remotely, how have you ensured productivity and accountability remain high?

Our team is small and very close. Of course, we’re not able to see each other, and it has added a layer of stress as well as loneliness to some of us, and that is why we have put a few things into place to help us.

The fundamental way to work together cohesively and to be productive in my opinion is for us to have the right mindset. We’ve had discussions about what interesting things we’ve done during the weekend, as well as new hobbies we are learning and healthy recipes we are cooking. That is a way for us to engage conversations that are not solely about the pandemic, which is a dark conversation. We try to focus more on how we can bring some positivity out of our current situation. We also have 15-minute video calls every day where we do some exercises or any activity.

So once you have the mindset, how do you transfer it to productivity and efficiency? To start with, I still have 1-on-1 calls every week with everyone in my team. We also have a weekly meeting, called a “roundtable call”, to keep people in the loop of what everyone else is doing. Doing this ensures we stay collaborative, informed and it allows us as a team to provide additional ideas or to offer help.

What tools do you use to work with your team effectively?

We use conference calls for all our team meetings, as seeing each other helps replicate social interactions we could have had in a physical workspace. I am fond of having my chats organized with sub-topics to streamline my communication. So whenever I need information on a specific subject, I can easily get back to it without getting lost in too many conversations. We also create tasks to keep ourselves aligned and up-to-date.

What piece of advice would you give to business development managers trying to cope with the situation?  

Communicate. Communicate often and thoroughly. Doing so will help you and your team stay aligned and productive even when you’re working in different locations. It may also help you sift through the misinformation often shared because of a lack of clarity.

I spoke with someone recently, and they were looking for a way to communicate information to their teams because there was no way for them to do it effectively right now. And because there was a lack of streamlined communication channels, the team members end up talking among themselves. This situation creates a bit of an uncertain feeling on what was going on because they didn’t have the right information.

Also, more importantly, look at that light at the end of the tunnel. Know that whatever happens, we will come back stronger, and think about what we can do in the meantime. Let’s continue to improve the way we communicate after COVID-19 as well. Whether it’s now or in a post-COVID world, communication is the key.

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