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Redefining What it Means to Lead in a Remote Environment w/ Frank Cottle

One of the worst things any remote leader can do is lead by operating in the same way they did back in the office. Leading remotely isn't just about sending your employees home and setting them up with a bit of tech to do their jobs. If you lead a successful remote team, then you know, there's nothing more detrimental to the health of your organization than failing to reinvent your processes to adapt to the changing needs of your company, and, of the people working within it.

In this Accomplished Peeps interview, we spoke with Frank Cottle, Founder and CEO of Alliance Virtual Offices, to dive into some of the critical mindset shifts required of remote leaders, the skills needed to lead a business with cross border employees, and much more! In a Q&A to finish off, we get to know a bit more about Frank, his working style, and what he believes is the main component required to successfully lead any team.

Remote Leadership Requires a Complete Shift...in Practices and, in Mindset!

As a leader of any type of remote team, no matter where you're working, it's vital to deeply understand the requirements of your team, and the adaptations you need to make to ensure remote success. For Frank, this starts with setting up everybody in the company with full tech capability, and not just sending them off with laptops. Their work setup includes good lighting, cameras, mics, and speakers, and all the tools and resources needed for success.

The entire management and executive team are also set up globally. They're quite familiar with the team coming together through technology, as opposed to in-person as they've been working with this style of managing teams since the early nineties.

"We believe the best people are where they are, and there's no point in disrupting their families or their lifestyles."

At Alliance Virtual Offices, management is focused on showing up with compassion and sensitivity to who the employees are, and what's important to them. This is something Frank stresses the importance of, and says, that if you're going to deal with a remote workforce, you really have to think that way, instead of just taking the approach of, "well, I'm going to send everybody home from the head office", and that will be good enough.

Leading with a Remote-first Philosophy

"If I'm going to deal with a remote workforce, I actually have to recreate my company and rethink who I'm hiring. Why am I hiring them? And, what's important to them. You start with the people, not the technology. You just use the technology to serve the people that are working within your company and to give them tools and resources to work with."

Leading with a remote-first philosophy is all about grasping a solid understanding of how to recreate your company practices instead of just trying to adapt to changes by working off old practices in a slightly different way. Everything from company culture to the way you view diversity and everything in between needs to be reinvented.

Elevate Your Concept of Remote Culture

Frank shared, that when it comes down to it, to develop people today, everyone needs to understand not just how to use the technology around us, but how to integrate teams comfortably into it and manage their culture through the technology.

For companies fearful that their corporate culture is going to get screwed up in the process of working with new technology, Frank says, 'Well, then you kind of have the wrong culture problems based on the wrong things' if you're thinking in this way. If a company's culture is based on water cooler conversations and birthday parties in the office, unfortunately, these aren't high enough value assets for which to base your culture. For this reason, Frank advises that as a company, you have to elevate the things that are important to you, your people, the people you hire, how you manage them, and how you deliver products to your customers.

"You have to really go to a higher level if you're going to work remotely."

Creative a Comfortable Remote Environment

When it comes to some of the practices Frank's organization uses to create a comfortable remote environment for the team, he gave an example of their TGIF web meetings to demonstrate.

As a distributed team, much of the team's communication happens asynchronously, but there are times when different group meetings, both informative and sometimes just for fun, take place. As an example, in their Friday, all-hands meeting, they like to lead it casually to encourage a comfortable and relaxed feel. For those who just got up in the morning, they may be on camera drinking their espresso, while another person could be drinking a glass of wine because, for them, it's seven o'clock in Rome. All of that blends together and that's part of the fun of it. As Frank pointed out, having the opportunity to speak with somebody from Rome or London, or Dubai in the meeting, and sharing your differences is invaluable.

Lead by Embracing Diversity

A successful leader understands the importance of sharing differences and embracing diversity.

"We've always said that within our company, that our differences are our strengths."

There's nothing more powerful than knowledge shared by someone who is different from you. You can then take those learnings, translate them and adapt them.

"We love our diversities in culture, our diversity in business experiences, and our diversity in how we handle customer experience."

When you take the time to embrace diversity, look at things from another perspective, and see how others are doing things differently, you naturally become more informed. This ultimately helps you lead in a more compassionate way, and allows you to connect better with your team.

Understand the Way People Think Across Borders

"You have to always find the balance of the perspectives, particularly if you're doing business across borders."

At Alliance Virtual Offices, they have a simple philosophy that says, every time you cross a border, you need a partner. You always have to have someone help you interpret things, especially the news, locally. For example, the news about China to a Chinese living in Beijing is much different than the news about China to a Californian reading CNN.

"I can't say I'm a globalist because that implies a variety of economic and political definitions, but I am a globalist in terms of culture and trying to understand the way people think in different places, so I can act appropriately in those places."

Frank emphazised the importance of having an understanding of what's taking place in the areas where they are doing business in, and in the places in which their employees work. Most, if not all of the executives in Frank's company do the same. A remote leader who can connect with, and understand the differences across diverse locations and cultures, ultimately has a better chance of being able to communicate more effectively.

"Recognizing that difference about you [living in Catalunya, within Spain] and the things you have to understand about where you live, helps us to have a better communication."

Accomplished Peeps Q&A

To finish off, and allow you to get to know Frank a bit more, we asked a few final questions.

What does your office set-up look like?

My personal office is quite traditional. There is an art collection with paintings, some done by my wife's grandmother. It's a very calm office environment, but I enjoy it here. I also have 1300 offices in 54 countries, so my office is wherever I'm connected today. Right now I happened to be here, yesterday I was at our office in Las Vegas and was working in a very different environment. It doesn't really matter to me where I am so long as I have my computer, and access to our systems.

Do you have any routines that you start or finish your day with?

No, each day is different in my world. I mean, most days start by me checking my calendar. Today, for example, I have various video meetings, and two in-person meetings. My in-person meetings will be outside of my home office. One of them will be at a restaurant and the other will be in our main offices, which are in Newport Beach, California.

Do you favour a particular workspace setup?

For in-person meetings, I work outside of my home office, especially when I need conference rooms or another layer of in-person clerical secretarial or administrative support of any kind. I always have access to all of that. Again, we're in the remote working business, so I'm fortunate, just in Newport beach, I have about 35 or 40 offices I can access. I'm the king of remote working in that regard. I can float around anywhere and just walk into conference rooms that are available. We have booking and reservation systems that we utilize internally and externally for our clients and for our own team. All of that is necessary to manage a remote working environment effectively.

Is there a remote thought leader that you admire?

No, I'm the oldest guy in our space. There are a lot of people whose opinions and thoughts I respect overall, but there is no singular thought leader in the space that I think exists. I think we're all a reflection of each other, honestly. I'm trying to think, if I have a problem, who do I call? -  Two or three friends, but they aren't necessarily thought leaders, but they do understand the way I think, so they can say to me 'no, you're wrong and here's why'.

When you're out in front in a sector, which we are as a company, it's a little lonely, a little scary at times, but the most valuable contribution that any of us can make in business, or maybe as human beings, is the creation of an original thought. Have you ever thought of something new that no one else has thought? Maybe... only you know. Have you ever been able to put it into practice? Maybe, or maybe not.

"If you're going to lead, you have to come up with original thoughts, and then have the capacity to execute on them. That a lot of times means you should go sit on the beach and stare at the ocean for three days instead of calling somebody else."

While many remote leaders and advocates have built their skills and habits for success over a period of 10-15 years, others, like Frank Cottle are what some people would refer to as pioneers of the remote working space.

Frank Cottle, Founder and CEO of Alliance Virtual Offices, has been working in the flexible workspace industry for over 40 years, and as Frank says, "we're in the remote working business, if you will, in the virtual office business, and service a customer base, globally across 64 countries". With plenty years of experience chairing the Alliance Business Centers Network, and plenty more managing remote teams, Frank has honed in on his experience and is a true flexible workspace & virtual office expert leader who is redefining what it means to lead in a remote environment.