Keys to Leading a Remote team with Peter Coppinger at Teamwork

Many companies have avoided having remote teams. The recent shifts required with work from home make remote teams necessary. There are some subtle shifts to leading a remote team that most people don’t know. Today, our guest is Peter Coppinger, Co-founder of Teamwork. Teamwork is a platform for companies to organize work and communicate effectively on projects. Peter’s team has been made up of more than 30 percent of remote workers for more than a decade. We look at the keys to leading a remote team. One of the tips he calls the golden rule is very important for remote teams.

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Peter Coppinger: The Transcript

Target Audience: Peter Coppinger is the Founder CEO at Peter founded Digital Crew as a consultancy back in 2007, built up a consultancy making software for pharmaceutical companies in Cork, then created “Teamwork Project Manager” cloud-based software to help run the business.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Peter Coppinger
I actually would say I would encourage everybody to have a routine. So just have the routine get up at the same time, start your day. But beyond that have flexibility. We also encourage all of our team leads to run a daily standup. So just get everybody in the same team together on any of the chat mediums on any video calls. And just everybody takes two minutes. Everyone just talks about what they’re going to get done today. If nothing else, it builds that sense of that we are a team together and we’re working on this.

Intro [0:28]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:45]
This coronavirus has us thinking differently about the way we work the way we connect together the way we lead. Today we’re going to talk about remote workers. How do you work and lead remote teams when you think about the keys to work Working with remote teams, what comes to mind? Is it the standard thing? Is it the things like we should be, you know, having a stand-up meeting every day or we should all get dressed, we should all be at our desk between eight and five, just like the normal sort of know you’re working there. There’s a lot of misconceptions about what works best in a remote environment. Today we’re going to talk about some of those things with our special guest. We have Peter Coppinger, he is the co-founder of Teamwork. Teamwork is a platform for managing work and how people connect together and stay on task and alignment. And it really is a powerful tool. I’ve used the tool within my own teams. I really love it. I really wanted to have Peter on here not to talk about his tool, as amazing as it is. But I wanted to talk about his experience of leading and managing remote workers and some of the insights behind that. Some of the things I like about this is, you know when you should give negative feedback on the text and chat how to do that. Well, that’s a trick question. Because actually inside here, you should never give negative feedback on texting, SMS chatting messenger, any of that kind of channels because it’s too easy to misinterpret. Now there’s many more insights behind this in today’s episode.

Commercial [2:16]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks, I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is go to So you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episode. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward and many of them haven’t been published yet depending on when you’re hearing this. But you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. So here is the interview with Peter.

Gene Hammett [3:01]
Peter, how are you?

Peter Coppinger [3:02]
I’m very good. How are you?

Gene Hammett [3:03]
I’m fantastic. excited to talk to you today on the podcast Growth Think Tank. Tell us a little bit about teamwork.

Peter Coppinger [3:12]
Yeah, so Teamworks about 10 years old. We’re completely self-funded SAS company, what we do is we make a suite of software that helps businesses run more efficiently and to be more organized. So our biggest product is called teamwork. It’s a work management platform. And it’s used by over 20,000 companies all around the world, including some of the biggest names like Disney, Microsoft Studios and letters, but it’s going pretty good. But yeah, we’re over the years, we’ve helped a lot of companies with remote working, which is a very topical at the moment.

Gene Hammett [3:45]
It is. We are in the midst of quarantines and people are learning to do things differently. And I would imagine work is continuing to go on with your company.

Peter Coppinger [3:57]
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s weird. Same as everyone else. We’re in quarantine, we’ve 260 staff all over the world 180 here in our city, everybody’s working from home. But it’s business, as usual or software just allows you to carry on. And we can assign tasks to people, we can see exactly what’s going on. We can communicate together, we’ve chat channels going on. It’s kind of ironically actually probably bringing us closer together. So we’re using our own software to do things like sharing pictures of our home offices, or insights into each other’s lives.

Gene Hammett [4:33]
I’ve had clients that have talked about their unity that’s coming together as teams and companies are having to there’s some uncertainty out there, which brings people together as opposed to tearing them apart. So I thought we would talk about some of the keys to working with a remote team. You’ve been doing this for a year. Some people have been doing it since Monday.

Peter Coppinger [4:55]
Yeah, I suppose. So. We’ve been doing this for years. 30% of our staff are remote and all around the world. And so we kind of like the hybrid model where we allow 30% of any team start each part of Sunday team to be remote. Over the years, we’ve tried everything from 100% remote to 100%. co-located, and we found that mix works best. So companies in the future are gonna have to embrace more remote work. So you’re being kind of forced into it, but it’s kind of probably a healthy thing in the long term to embrace it.

Gene Hammett [5:25]
I think so too, I mean…

Peter Coppinger [5:27]
Again, and share with you some of the tips we have built up over the years.

Gene Hammett [5:30]
There’s some special things that are different about remote work, I put out some videos and we’re gonna talk about some extra things today. But why is being intentional and leadership so important during this time of dealing with remote workers?

Peter Coppinger [5:44]
Oh, well, first of all, everybody just so much uncertainty out there and nobody knows how long this is gonna last. Just today we had virtual hands stuff where we were just reassuring them that nobody knows how long this is going to go on for is it going to be a month of lockdown or two months. lockdown or three months lockdown, or a year, we just don’t know yet. Our assumption is that it’s just going to be a month. But I think, you know, people that are pregnant people that are going from mortgages, people that have gone on their lives, people who have elderly parents, they need reassurance and then needs strong leadership at this time. And they need great software in any great company. And we’re sharing our stuff that if any of you do get sick, that we will back up 100%. And that message is so critical together.

Commercial [6:27]
Hold on, Peter just talked about reassuring your workers. Let’s be honest here, you may not be exactly clear about where we’re going to come out of this. And what is the world will look like? I do know that things will be different. The way we travel, the way we make plans, the way we wash our hands will be different, but also the way we work. And so you really have to reassure people about some of the things that they’re scared of have conversations about those topics. Take time. It’s not just about crisis management’s not just about finances, and about customer success and everything, it’s about taking care of your employees, you as a leader need to lead. And if you want to take the time to do email, great, but the real value is to make sure people feel reassured. Back to Peter.

Gene Hammett [7:20]
I think a lot of leaders have not had to communicate in this way. They just really just want the work to get done. But this is the time when we really need leaders, and you are going to share with us some specific things you’ve learned that we could all know embrace as we try to grow together and lead these virtual teams. So let’s dive into it. You have I asked you to do some research and just kind of organize your thoughts around the golden rules of leading a virtual team. So what are you coming up with?

Peter Coppinger [7:55]
Yeah, so I suppose there’s the standard advice that everybody out there can give you you know, if you Google how to do remote work, you’ll get the standard advice, which recommends that the staff get up at the same time every day and get dressed and turn up and do an all-hands meeting in the morning and just stay connected to each other and have your daily routine. That’s all kind of the bog-standard advice that you’ll get up there. I wanted to kind of give you some of the insights that we’ve got all yours are the kind of top tips we’ve developed on how to do remote work. So a couple of the insights I’ve already mentioned. One is that you know, when we’re out of this crisis, we recommend the blend of about 40% of every team should be remote in the future. And that’s just the balance of works really well for us to have the right balance between taking advantage of allowing the flexibility of remote staff and having people co-located.

Peter Coppinger [8:49]
So it’s the right balance between cost and flexibility. But moving on, there’s a very important rule that we have in our company. We call it the golden rule. And the golden rule is that you will never ever, ever Ever argue over any text medium, be that email, SMS or chat. If you’ve got something negative to say to someone or something that could in any way be misinterpreted, pick up the phone, have that conversation or have a zoom chat like we are now. It’s amazing to problems that golden rules have. And it’s in our company. It’s a firing offense. If you’re being negative to somebody on a chat medium. It’s a firing offense. it’s that important. Because you know, yourself if you don’t put that little smiley face at the end of your message, it can be interpreted completely the wrong way when you’re just trying to have fun, right?

Gene Hammett [9:33]
Yes, absolutely. And there’s probably a story there. And I don’t know, any names or anything like that. But where does this come from?

Peter Coppinger [9:42]
Well, I think the owner is myself and my co-founder, we’re both such passionate people that we were just misinterpreting each other and banging off emails to each other at 12 o’clock at night. And often when we just picked up the phone and just had that conversation. It was you know, just a very simple misinterpretation. And over the years, I must have my co-founder been working together for 20 years now I call them my work wife. And we’ve just learned this is what works, you know, just pick up the phone. And you know, sometimes you’d be you’re angry over something, you pick up the phone and it’s solved in four seconds, right. And the other thing is everyone’s everyone can be keyboard warriors when they’re angry, banging off that all caps messages. I mean, that doesn’t help anyone. So this golden rule is really helped us just get things done within a stress-free way.

Peter Coppinger [10:27]
Moving on, I’ve another golden rule here. So people, especially with remote work now a lot of people are using chat software. And the danger with chat software is brilliant. It allows everybody to be connected but the problem with it, it’s also a huge distraction. So you know, chat messages are coming in 24 seven, all right around the clock. People are spending more time checking chat messages and respond to check messages than actually getting worked on. So we’ve introduced what we call the golden hour is teamwork. So between two o’clock and four o’clock every day, everybody You should be in Do Not Disturb mode in our chat software. And that’s your time to really knuckle down and get work done. And the flip side of that is we have an hour before that where everybody has to be available. So that’s the time you know that everybody is on chat. And everybody’s going to react to your messages. The other thing we tell people is chat should be synchronous. You should not expect an immediate answer all the time. You know, so we like email, we encourage you to learn to work in the morning, check your email, check your email a couple of hours later and check your emails at six o’clock in the evening. You should not be on an email or chat all day long because that is just not enough.

Commercial [11:35]
Peter just talked about the golden hours. I really appreciate this because it’s a powerful way to look at how do you take time to actually focus on getting the important work done. I’ve seen my clients take golden hours, even to the point of having golden days, if you will, where they don’t have meetings on certain days because what they were struggling with was how to find the time to get the work. Done and meetings were consuming so much time. They’re in a creative space. And they needed time to be creative and think and really create strategies and time to do the work. It wasn’t just meetings. So they really protected those times. And they ended up turning into not just one day, but they two afternoons each week. They don’t do meetings. So imagine what the golden hours would do for your business. Do you have the courage to say you’re going to be able to focus on your work? Here’s the benefit. Not only do they get to focus on their work, but you also get to focus on your work. The Golden Hours. Great idea. Back to Peter.

Gene Hammett [12:38]
I love… let’s talk about this a little bit of golden hours. When you have you said it’s two to four?

Peter Coppinger [12:46]
Yeah, two to four is what we do.

Gene Hammett [12:48]
Does that provide just like, that’s when are people saving up that creative time thinking for those hours where they’re not being distracted?

Peter Coppinger [12:58]
Yeah, so people do too. To schedule their meetings and things that they know they’ll be interrupted within the mornings, it’s not to say that they won’t sometimes get inflow in the morning, but it’s just that they know that if they’ve got something that’s particularly difficult or an awkward task that just involves, you know, you know, laser focus that that is an ideal time to work on it. We also have some other roles in the company, back home around the office, if someone’s doors closed, or to their office close, we say never interrupt that person, because they’re inflow. That’s the signal that they’re inflow, leave them inflow and even get work. Because in the nature of knowledge work, if somebody if you’re in the zone and somebody interrupts you may not get back in that salon for another week. So it’s so critical to do everything you can to…

Gene Hammett [13:41]
Is there a version of that for the home office?

Peter Coppinger [13:45]
For the home office? Yeah, well, this is exactly I mean, every chat software out there has the Do Not Disturb right, but I think I think you got to allow your employee’s employees by default won’t feel empowered to turn on that do not disturb mode, but we still or employees, it’s okay not to reply to chat messages and simply, it’s okay to turn on your Do Not Disturb. It’s okay to actually get work done. Imagine that it’s actually okay to get work done. So that’s it. That is the danger of remote work. And the danger of chat is that people are just popping in and out all day.

Gene Hammett [14:15]
I do feel sorry, I did find that leader…

Peter Coppinger [14:19]
I was just gonna say kind of what goes hand in hand with this is that you want to give flexibility to your employees, if employees are working from home, there’s a very good chance that they’re going to be distracted that they’re going to be picking up the kids that you know, they’re going to have to pop out to do something that they may have to come and go during the day. We are completely cool without teamwork, as long as your team lead knows. You can work your own hours. So you can just make the hours up for us. We just are software allows every employee to just track their own time and they might work 30 hours a week and they might make up their last time or next two weeks. We don’t mind at the end of the day as long as the work gets done. I think that’s very important that if going ahead that’s businesses that are open that I fix though.

Gene Hammett [15:00]
Let me ask you a question there. Peter, you had mentioned some standard advice to get up at the same time and get dressed. And there’s some funny stories I could tell you about this from a zoom standpoint, but you’re suggesting that’s not necessarily as necessary as having that flexibility and giving them and empowering them to get their work done the way it best works for them around their schedule?

Peter Coppinger [15:25]
Well, I actually would say I would encourage everybody to have a routine. So just have the routine get up at the same time, start your day. But beyond that have flexibility. We also encourage all of our team leads to run a daily standup. So it’s just getting everybody in the same team together online you have to chat mediums on a video call. And just everybody takes two minutes. Everyone just talks about what they’re going to get done today. If nothing else, it builds that sense of that we are a team together and we’re working on this together. So that’s a really strong tip to build a strong culture as well and make a team feel connected. A part of what we do at As well as we asked everybody to share a bit of good news, something that’s going on in your life, it might be you know that your kid took their first steps yesterday, it might be that you had the most amazing steak of your life last night. It might be just so you’re watching a really interesting show. But it just brings that human connection together as well, which is really important to be deliberate about that human connection in times like this. And when people are kind of feeling alienated, working at home, probably for you know, for extended periods for what is often the first time in their lives.

Gene Hammett [16:31]
I love that too. Because you know, that connection is very different than talking about the project, or the deadline or the net the metrics or the sales or whatever is going on. It really does allow people to connect over something personal and you get to maybe even see what’s going on. You know, if they’re distracted a little bit, you know about their family, you know about what’s going on for them.

Peter Coppinger [16:57]
Yeah, absolutely. Even when we’re back in the office. We do this with all weekly meetings, we have these weekly meetings because every team, the first five minutes of the weekly meetings is kind of just talking about something positive that’s going on in your life or just catching other people up. And often you don’t know that someone on your team is also into kayaking, and it just does these little connections really build a strong sense of team. And at the start, it’s pretty weird to do if you’re used to just like being in business mode all the time and never really digging in. But if you just take that five minutes at the weekly meetings or your daily stand-ups, it’s transformational. We feel to your culture.

Gene Hammett [17:33]
Peter, when we talked earlier this week, you had mentioned some of the things that you do around core values. Core values have been pretty important for the company to be successful reaching over 20,000 users of your software, how are you reinforcing the core values in a remote environment?

Peter Coppinger [17:50]
Yeah, so so some of our core values as strive for excellence is one of them so so like just because you’re working at home does not mean, we don’t expect you to get your work done to put into the right amount of hours to work efficiently, to be there for your team. And to always be learning is another part of this. So one of our core values is that we are a learning company. And I feel every company should be in a world of changes so fast. But if you’re not the type of person who wants to always be learning, then you’re in the wrong company at teamwork. So we encourage you to continuously share with your team across different channels and messages, books you’re reading blog posts, or reading podcasts or listen to, we have, we have different chat channels.

Peter Coppinger [18:34]
We have one called SAS university where, where people just share all sorts of random articles and tips and books that they’re reading. We also when people start in our company, we kind of set the expectation from day one. When you start in our company, you get a big gift box on your desk or posted out to you if you’re working remotely, and it’s a big black box with a beautiful little arm and big green ribbon and a little card sign from us. When you open the box inside. You’ve got your laptop and Your hoodies and your T-shirts. But then you’ve got 10 books that outline the type of culture, we want to have teamwork. So we think that kind of sets the right expectations from day one. But it’s important to reinforce all the time that we expect you to be learning and developing. And it’s not for us to develop your career, it’s for you to develop your own career.

Gene Hammett [19:21]
Do you think about, you know, leading a remote team, anything else we haven’t discussed that’s important for our new managers leading these remote employees?

Peter Coppinger [19:32]
I think to trust your employees so. So this is something that’s very hard when your employees are working remotely for the first time. I think it’s it’s very important to get everybody together online and just set clear expectations. Let them know that you still expect to hit your targets. Let them know how hard you expect them to be working, let them know that you’re there for them if there’s any concerns, but ultimately, you gotta trust them and that that can be really hard to do at the start. You know you know that they’re there as a whole environment where they can’t even go to a coffee shop in this current environment.

Peter Coppinger [20:04]
So you know, in a home environment, there’s often distractions, you’re going to have to be a little bit more flexible, and you’re going to have to tell them that you you will be more flexible. But the flip side of you is more flexible is that they have to deliver the results. So I think as long as you’re upfront and clear with that, another little tip we recommend is in your, I recommend that every single company out there is using some sort of chat product. So we have a product called teamwork chat, it’s completely free, but you could be using slack or Microsoft Teams or one of the other hundreds. But I highly recommend every single company in the world in this day and age should have it there’s no excuses. There’s many free ones out there. But on that create working from the home channel. And what we do in our working from a home channel is we ask everybody to, you know, we might say Hey, everybody, if you’re up for it, why don’t you post up pictures of your current work environment.

Peter Coppinger [20:54]
If you’re up for a post up pictures of your pets, your dogs you’re watching up to this weekend and it’s just crazy. A sense of fun in the company. So just today we did it. And we had, we said, Hey if you’re up for it, you know, whoever’s up for it. You know, if you want to share pictures of your current working environment, go for it. Well, we’ve had hundreds of pictures of all sorts of random, crazy, quirky working environments all around the world close enough. And again, it just feels that sense of we’re all just together. And just a sense of fun and connection to each other.

Gene Hammett [21:24]
I love that you added that because it really could humanize this. This is one of the few times that I remember, we’ve all been through hard times, but usually, others around us are struggling. This is one of those times when we know the whole world is feeling the effects of this. So Peter, I really appreciate you being here on the podcast, sharing these golden rules and these insights of years of working with remote teams and…

Peter Coppinger [21:49]
Just add on to your note there just one last thing and just you know, I would encourage everyone to look after your team if you see it. If you feel there’s a team member who’s feeling down pick up that phone, make those random cut outcalls and connections because that can be transformed.

Gene Hammett [22:03]
Love it. Well, thanks for being here.

Peter Coppinger [22:06]
Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Gene Hammett [22:08]
I love this conversation really powerful about how you can actually take some of the tips inside here practical, actionable elements and use them inside your leadership. include them in your culture, your organization to work better as a remote team. Today we talked about some of the key things. If you’re struggling to understand your places a leader struggling to see the vision or maybe even manage the crisis in front of you. I’d love to get to know you. I’d love to give you some time. I’d love to serve you any way I can. Make sure you reach out to me [email protected] as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT Featuring Peter Coppinger



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