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We talked with Dan Symonds, VP for Flyt.io, about his 20-year career and the role EQ has played in his remote leadership style.
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Dan Symonds is the definition of a global leader. He’s Vice President of Integrations and Deployments for Flyt in North American, managing three multi-functional teams that span Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Bulgaria. His role relies heavily on emotional intelligence as he juggles remote relationships with his teammates, departments, and company partners. We talked with Dan about his 20-year career across numerous industries, and the role of EQ has played in his remote leadership style.
We’re a global organisation and I’m based in Canada, so I initially need to catch up on five hours’ worth of activity that’s already happened during UK hours. Quite often I’ll be involved in the decision-making process, so I aim to prioritise this first. That takes most of my morning. Afternoons are filled with quite a lot of calls and meetings. The topics vary; we discuss goal progress, pipelines, customer communications, people management, etc. Every week, I also set aside some time for personal development and forward-planning.
When I’m not working, I enjoy exploring Canada with my wife. We’ve spent time in Winnipeg and Toronto and we’ll be heading to Montreal soon. I’m also passionate about golf and Premiership football. Astronomy has always fascinated me and so I’ve started reading about the planets.
To be frank, I struggle with this. I work from home, but I’ve replaced the work I used to do while commuting to an office with longer hours overall. I aim to set aside blocks of time throughout the week to do things that are not work-related, but as my remit covers multiple time zones, these blocks often get overturned.
To be frank, I struggle with this... I’ve replaced the work I used to do while commuting to an office with longer hours overall.
I was a year into my first job in 1999 when the dot-com world was just surfacing. I decided to dive into digital development, recognising that there were many and varied opportunities for someone in an immature but fast growing industry. I read Business Studies at University, but digital skills weren't taught as it was too early, so most of my functional knowledge has been on the job. That being said, studying Business at University helped give me a broad understanding of areas like finance, employment law, marketing, and project management. It was certainly a beneficial foundation that has served me well in all management roles I’ve had.
From there I was excited by the startup culture with an aim to grow digital businesses from the ground up. I worked for start ups in the entertainment industry (sport and music mainly) for several years before progressing to Head of Digital for a social enterprise, where I stayed for 7 years gradually digitising paper based processes and a legacy systems infrastructure.
Nearly 3 years ago I was enticed to Flyt by a friend, who is now CEO, and the opportunity to grow our business in Canada. 18 months ago we were getting our first brand live and now Flyt’s integration technology is used by many of the largest restaurant brands in that territory. I am currently growing a fourth team as the demand for our technology is so high.
I’ve been working remotely around a year now. Flyt started as a London-based company. We went remote-first before COVID19 to attract a greater talent pool and match the timezones of our customers. We got increasingly global when we were acquired by the Just Eat Takeaway group around two years ago.
Over the past year I’ve developed a more structured time-management strategy and I’ve embraced asynchronous work to accommodate timezones. We also have rhythms around quarterly planning and set processes for communicating with individuals, teams, and company-wide. Optimising workflows, so work can be handed off or built incrementally is also paramount to get ahead in this new work environment we find ourselves in.
Optimising workflows, so work can be handed off or built incrementally is also paramount to get ahead in this new work environment we find ourselves in.
For those struggling with long-term work-from-home, I’d recommend a few things. Take time to really understand the digital tools that make life easier; we’re big fans of Slack and Discord. During meetings, be sure to work out loud and find a documentation strategy that works across your organization. If your team is spread across time zones, work asynchronously and don’t expect an immediate response.
Looking back, I wasn’t a very effective people manager in my early career. I saw management as basically ensuring that team members had a daily list of to-do’s to keep them busy. I improved a lot while working at the Chartered Management Institute, where I had a pretty large remit and a team of five that needed much more orchestration.
As an inexperienced manager, I struggled the most with asking for help. My perception was that when I got promoted to a management level, I should know more than I actually did. Asking for help felt like weakness and proved I was an imposter, but in fact it’s quite the opposite! Asking for help speeds things up and creates a culture of collaboration.
My perception was that when I got promoted to a management level, I should know more than I actually did. Asking for help felt like weakness and proved I was an imposter, but in fact it’s quite the opposite!
Now, I’ve managed long enough to know my strengths and weaknesses. I’m good at communication, idea generation, I’m pragmatic and I motivate others well. I also know I’m not always the best problem solver, that I can get better at implementing strategy, and that my emotional intelligence can always improve.
I’ve always used EQ in how I communicate. I am a big believer in the need for tailored communication to an audience, whether that be one person or a group of people. Knowing everyone has a different communication style has helped me win funding for projects, entice candidates to join a business, defuse conflict, and more.
EQ is a crucial part to building relationships, which now more than ever, is a challenge.
I would say working remotely has made me more self-aware. There’s room for improvement in how I handle stress, but I think I handle most of my emotions pretty well. EQ is a crucial part to building relationships, which now more than ever, is a challenge. Influencing others when you’re not sharing an office is hard. Gauging non-verbal communication is now defunct so you have to rely on active listening and other cues. Kona provides two huge benefits to me, one, it constantly reminds me of the importance of EQ in managing teams and two, gives me insight into how my team managers are feeling based on active and passive interactions with the tool.
Flyt is really great at encouraging work-life balance. Each planning cycle, we ask them first to commit to a personal schedule before committing to their goals. Their personal lives should be a priority and we stress the importance of maintaining balance. From there, we touch base regularly with individuals across the business and try to gauge their wellbeing. This practice has been especially important during COVID19 and forced work-from-home.
Their personal lives should be a priority and we stress the importance of maintaining balance.
To build team relationships and avoid burnout, we prioritize socials and celebrating successes. This week we’re doing a virtual escape room and we have virtual mixology and virtual cooking lessons lined up. We stress the importance of downtime and we send out weekly, anonymous surveys to gauge sentiment on burnout. These 15Five surveys help us identify individuals who might show burnout in their responses and respond with care, which is one of our values.
Yes! When it comes to building team relationships whilst remote, I recommend over-communicating. It’s especially helpful for individuals new to remote work. Office settings allow for constant conversation, but it’s much more challenging when remote. Being transparent and clear goes a long way while working remotely. As a manager, it also helps to make yourself as available as possible to your team, especially if there are decisions and blockers that get in the way of them achieving their goals. I believe in leading by example, so I’ll do jobs no one really enjoys doing, like being on-call for support.
Teammates can feel when you care about them as people. That’s why I invest in their personal development.
We often get so wrapped up in productivity that we don’t prioritize bonding time. I’ve found though that it’s really important to set aside time to socialise and invest in one another’s wellbeing. Teammates can feel when you care about them as people. That’s why I invest in their personal development––coaching has helped me forge strong relationships with a number of my team members while helping them achieve their goals. Whenever they have success, we celebrate together.
Finally, revising and properly embedding company values in light of remote working practices is an exercise Flyt has done, which has been hugely beneficial. Values become the guiding principles in everything we do, promoting transparency, care and individual leadership.