Business Unusual: Manage Remote Teams with Jehan Noon

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Jill McKenna:
Thanks, everyone, for being here. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager here at Ruby. And I’m so happy to be speaking today with Jehan Noon, CEO and founder of Noon Dalton. Founded in 2009, Noon Dalton is a leading provider of skilled remote teams for businesses and entrepreneurs throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. Noon Dalton offers outsourcing solutions that impact lowered overhead costs and increase productivity. Thank you so much for being here, Jehan.

Jehan Noon:
Thanks, Jill. Appreciate it.

Jill McKenna:
Can you speak a little bit more about what it is that you do at Noon Dalton for those who are only hearing the name for the first time?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah, we provide resources for local businesses to scale their company. And my background was I worked for Deloitte Consulting for 10 years doing outsourcing for investment banks, started a few companies, needed some back-office support. And I figured if I could do this for banks, I could do this for my company.

Jehan Noon:
We went through and found out it worked and it worked so well where some of my friends were asking, “Hey, can my company use it? How can my company use it?” Shifted focus and this was 10 years ago. And now we have almost 400 staff split between India and the Philippines. And we started the company really working virtually. Back then, Blackberries were prevalent. That’s how old we are. And I figured if I can’t work from my Blackberry, how am I supposed to tell someone else how to work remotely, how to really leverage the resources, the skill set of a global workforce. And we were able to really integrate into a lot of small, medium, and now large size companies, helping companies understand how can they right source their team when looking globally. How do you compliment your current staff to be as profitable and productive as possible?

Jill McKenna:
So obviously I’m hearing so many words that are so popular right now, right? Remote teams, remote work, I’m sure you all are experiencing a change in your own business just due to what’s happening in the world in light of COVID. For a team and a company that’s located in several cities and on multiple continents, when we spoke before, you identified that communication is key of course. What are some of the communication best practices, tools, and values that Noon Dalton has adopted?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah, well, we were lucky enough to where all of our clients were remote anyway. So there wasn’t really a big change in we’ve already adapted all our processes and communication styles. So the key difference when we moved 400 staff to work from home in India and the Philippines, that was a challenge, but really the challenge was more around physically getting them into the seats, getting everything operational. Once that was up and running, there’s a few things management style that all the other companies are going to be dealing with as well, but it’s down to communications and how you structure it and really the frequency. And the frequency, we have start-of-day communication, like sign-in reports or in-person huddles. We have end-of-day reports reporting the tasks that you did. Did you struggle with anything? And then we have also weekly summaries and then goal setting for the week, too.

Jehan Noon:
So there’s a layer of reporting that really needs to be there for… You need to over-communicate. And without that, people can feel lost. They can feel like, “Oh, am I doing what I should be doing?” And it’s a new… Well, it’s not new anymore, but it’s a way of life now for people. And they can feel very isolated very quickly. And the other thing is it’s not just work topics. So a lot of people are just like, “Oh, this, this, this, this.” We really try to structure in social time where that’s extracted. Your social time is now your kids bugging you, or trying to figure out when things are open or there’s not that social interaction that people naturally had. So we really try to do fun, interactive things.

Jehan Noon:
And the tools we use is Tickspot, which is a user-generated end-of-day report where they can track your time, where you’re spending your time. That way your manager can go in and say, for instance, our HR was spending too much time on payroll correction. It’s like, oh, well, let’s figure out. And I’m not seeing her do that. I’m not physically there. There’s not as much communication. So without those reporting, things don’t get escalated as easy as they used to. And the one-off conversations, because you physically have to schedule a meeting, you have to find out if they’re available, there’s not just those drop-ins anymore. So it is definitely a different way of doing it. But with the right tools and the right structure, it’s definitely doable. And it’s sometimes actually even more productive because you don’t have people pinging you all the time and you can actually get work done.

Jehan Noon:
And I’ve talked to a lot of our clients, probably talked about 100 over the last two months trying to see what they’re struggling with because not only do we provide them staff, but we provide a strategy on how to have effectively manage their team because we’re on the same team and we’re trying to do the same things they are.

Jill McKenna:
And let me… Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. Getting back to just some of the tools. So we use Tickspot as one of them. And then we also use Zoom obviously, but that’s more for video conferencing and recording of the trainings. And then Skype or Slack for the chats. And the chats are, we try to have the company-wide and then we try to have kind of social ones where people can have their own kind of little pods or kind of personal ones where it’s not as work-related.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. And for us, for a company who was not in any way remote before, that’s exactly one of the things that we found, what you had mentioned about there are no more drive-bys, right? People aren’t zooming by my desk. I’m not being pulled into three or four different conversations. And when I am working now as a remote worker, I am able to get way more done in a short amount of time than I was before. It’s pretty amazing.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. We’ve kind of known that where some of the feedback we would always get is our clients would say, “Hey, when we give the work to you, it just gets done. It gets done on time, et cetera.” Because we don’t have as many distractions as people getting pulled in all different directions.

Jill McKenna:
And I’m just curious, when we had spoken earlier, you mentioned that you yourself and your partners are always on three different continents I think. It’s three different countries, at least. So in that partnership, I think you’ve only been together, is it what, one time in how many years?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. So if I accumulate all the time myself and my business partner, Edward Dalton, we’ve been probably together for a year out of the over 10 years we’ve been in business. So he’s in London right now, I’m in Denver, our head of operations in the Philippines and we have a head of operations in India. Yeah. So it can be done. It can be done successfully. It’s just a matter of the structure and the execution and just having a great team to be able to fulfill and trust and deliver on the things you need done.

Jill McKenna:
You touched on it before, but I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit more about y’all’s experience about moving to a totally remote workforce due to COVID-19 because you do have this logistic piece that’s very real, what you learned from it and what valuable takeaways you had since this was already, remote work was already a system in place for you all. But this is kind of gilding the lily I’m sure for you all.

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. This has really opened up a lot of other people’s eyes into our world on how we’ve been operating for a very long time. So our biggest challenge was, as we got word of things potentially going awry, is the government shutting everything down. And we’re like, “Oh, could it happen? Maybe.” And then we’re like, you know what? Let’s just plan for it. Let’s get the computers ready, let’s get everything. Let’s test. We have mobile routers. We had all this sort of stuff. We’d send them home with our staff just to test out. Does it work? Does your internet speed work? All this sort of stuff. And then within I think nine hours in India, everyone needed to go home. So it happened like that. And if we hadn’t done that, we would have had 300 people scrambling trying to… It would have extremely affected our ability to deliver for clients.

Jehan Noon:
Luckily we moved everybody in India and the Philippines within two days and zero downtime. And if we hadn’t planned for that, just buying… So desktops, we had desktops, just getting the little wifi adapters to then be able to connect to the router. You couldn’t buy them. They were all sold out at any store. You couldn’t get new laptops, you couldn’t get anything. So luckily we were at the forefront of that and we weren’t in so big of a scale where you couldn’t even get… I know we tried to ship things into the Philippines. It was taking a month, month and a half. So there’s not a lot of options, but that was probably the… Luckily we had a great team to be able to plan for that.

Jehan Noon:
The other thing is work can be done anywhere if the right tech and the staff and the right staff in place. So obviously packing of physical goods, but a lot of the services based activities, it’s just proof that if you have the right training, the right management structure, the right staff, you can do a lot of things. And not necessarily, you can pay for the right type of work to be done because it’s now a really global workforce.

Jehan Noon:
And then the other one is hiring problem solvers, our ops manager in the Philippines was just a rockstar. We had a client that needed high secure phones and a lot of data. The individual that’s been working with him wasn’t within the city limits. So he wasn’t going to be able to go past tanks and borders and all that. So it was intense. He found an apartment downstairs beneath him, rented it out and he had the staff living underneath him to be able to deliver. So there’s just, when you have this kind of scrambling just to get things done, having the right team members is key and being very creative on finding solutions.

Jill McKenna:
Do you have any advice for small business owners or business owners who are really on the fence about kind of leaving their brick and mortar locations or their offices and going virtual and they just maybe don’t feel like they have a good grip on it, or they’re just not sure if that’s the right decision for their team?

Jehan Noon:
It’s really case by case because some people are very old school. They’re like, “Oh, we need to be in here. There’s so much that you miss.” Which sometimes there is, but at the same time, it’s risk versus reward. When you can be virtual and you can hire the top talent and they can still deliver it’s how much has your… And this is running before you’re walking almost where everybody just threw you in and said, “See if you can swim.” And if you see the business maintaining or growing still, then that should be a pretty good indication that there’s a lot more opportunity to restructure and become a lot more, I would say, efficient with your funds because that’s the key right now is your burn rate, your ability to be as profitable as possible to bring back more employees to scale. Cash is king. And when the PPP runs out, there’s a lot of things that slow back down, then how well you can be positioned because as a lot of your competitors go out of business, there’s going to be more opportunity to kind of survival of the fittest.

Jehan Noon:
And I think evaluating if you’re already operating virtually and you’re successfully doing it, challenge yourself and say, “Do I really, really need one of my biggest expenses on my books?” And maybe eventually once you hit certain financial goals, maybe eventually bring it back or bring a portion of it back. But I sway towards the “be as efficient as possible”. Yes, culture will take a little bit of a hit, but the money you save by not having an office, you can throw some pretty cool things. So for instance, you can do Grubhub and order dinner for everybody and they can get on Zoom where you can do events when we can have events again. Just because the office of the old is not going to be the same for at least this year. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah. It’s funny, building, we’re a culture-heavy business. And I feel like I actually get more cultural, company cultural activities now than I did before because we’re very mindful about it. And so we’ve built-in trivia nights and just gabbing sessions were especially for us as a creative team to get together and just generate ideas. So it’s actually been pretty great. And that is a question I had about what are the company culture pitfalls that can easily manifest when teams go remote and how do they avoid those?

Jehan Noon:
Yeah. So kind of like the trivia that’s… One of my favorites is a weekly competition in all our staff chat groups that we… I kind of have games because one of them was the best Zoom background. And then another one is to submit your top TikTok dance. Or I’m trying to think of… And then we also do team trivia. So it’s not just an individual one. We’ll team up in the chat groups and then there’ll be different things where then they’re tracking over time. So it’s about maybe five minutes a day. And then the winners typically get a pizza delivered for their family to their home. We’ve done a virtual wine tasting session, and then also management happy hours. So 15, 20 minutes before the end of the day, everybody has a beer or something like that just to decompress because you’re used to going out with some coworkers or whatever. So there’s a lot of coordination that goes into it, but there’s a lot of creativity that comes out of it as well.

Jill McKenna:
I love it.

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