For this edition of our exclusive interview series Ruulmates on the Mic, we are welcoming Peter Benei: He is the founder of Anywhere Consulting, through which he gives mentorship and training services as well as offering a streamlined operating system for efficient virtual operations. With Peter we talk about moving to remote work after years of in-office experience, observing the needs of companies working remotely and developing strategies for growth in the remote business world. Read on to find out how Peter supports startups and scaleups on their journey to success.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What was your career like before founding Anywhere Consulting?
I started in the advertising industry back in the mid-2000s. I climbed the corporate ladder and led creative teams in London and Budapest, working for Fortune 500 brands. Then, in 2014, I realized that most of my work could be done online - so I ditched my London apartment and started working remotely.
I served as COO and CMO for startups; since 2017, I have been a consultant. I founded Anywhere Consulting first to manage my consulting work, but during the pandemic, I thought that my decades of experience in remote leadership would be helpful for emerging remote managers.
Can you tell us about your experience as an agency executive for Fortune 500 brands?
It was the best learning experience. I got to work with amazing creative people, helped to grow big brands, and the creative community in London was truly on another level.
I mostly worked at medium-sized or larger agencies that supported enterprise-level clients, which served me a great deal of experience in terms of leadership and corporate culture.
It's just different when you work with a startup or a small business as a creative compared to when you work with brands like Vodafone.
What made you switch to focusing only on helping growing companies as a remote CMO?
Those freelancers who worked for the agencies I worked for. They started to bill out as much as we earned in the office, but they never came into the office. Not all of them, but some of them worked from a tropical location. And that gets to the bottom of your skin, especially when you commute to the City during the British Winter or need to pay your rent in London.
I'm originally Hungarian, so I had a home in Budapest and thought, why not try this out? So I moved back home and started working for growing companies. Since I already had almost a decade of experience, I started working as a senior marketer remotely.
Can you share with us a project that you worked on that you are particularly proud of during your time as a remote CMO?
If you work on classic ad campaigns, your resume is all about the campaigns you worked on and the prizes you won. However, it's a bit different when you are the CMO for a growing company as there are no big creative campaigns to show off, nor awards (mostly). So I always focus on the growth and the numbers I could bring in during my tenure at a company.
I helped these companies get to a point where they acquired or raised funds, or I helped them launch their products with success. Personally, I am most proud of those periods where I was able to build and lead a great team that wasn't just productive, lean, and successful but also happy and engaged.
What are some common mistakes you see remote companies making in terms of setup and leadership? How do you help your clients avoid those mistakes?
I started providing remote operations and leadership development services because I saw many bad examples. There are two roots of the problem.
First, most startup founders come from enterprises, so most of their leadership skills are enterprise-oriented. You can see this use case when you see a 50-100 people strong startup with siloed departments. Heck, some even have a full-blown HR department with multiple people in it. Horrible. It leads to slow, over-structured, over-managed operations that affect growth - which is the number one priority for a startup.
Second, the founder is the exact opposite - zero business skills. Maybe because of their age, they are too young, have never managed people before, or have never worked in a team. Or, they are product people. They build amazing products, but their business skills are lacking. So they build out inefficient operations, which, again, prevents their growth.
If the leaders have some self-reflection or see signs of stagnation, they usually try to do something better. Some information is available on remote leadership, but because it is so new and totally different from classic leadership techniques based on in-office management, it's a bit hard to find a way to learn. My best advice is to seek external help.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a remote leader to possess?
Proactivity. That is the most important one - in a remote environment, almost nothing happens organically. In the office, it is easy to grab people for a meeting, and it is easy to check up on work stuff. Remotely, you have to do this intentionally.
Leading with intent is the only way to lead remotely. You have to intentionally design everything: the way you share information, the way you collaborate, the way you communicate, the way you operate processes, and yes, the way you lead your people.
The reason why you see declining productivity in your workplace is that you haven't designed the operations intentionally in a way to support your team.
What inspired you to specialize in remote work and what are some of the biggest advantages and challenges of working remotely?
I do believe that failures inspire us. Ours, or others, it doesn't really matter. We can learn a lot from failing. I saw many startups hit rock bottom, stagnate, or not grow as they could because their operations and leadership were either unprofessional, clueless, or just plain and simple toxic and wrong. Since I worked a decade in the office and the same remotely, mainly as a team leader or executive, I thought even if I helped some leaders do better, I could indirectly help thousands of remote people.
Remote work's biggest benefit is the same as its biggest challenge. Connecting people without a physical location is different than building a team in an office.
How do you help remote companies establish a strong company culture and maintain team cohesion?
I do believe that team culture is mostly about how you work as a team. It's not a ping-pong table in the office, nor a remote team retreat occasionally. It's the operational flow of the work, how you organize your team, and how you establish trust and connection with each other.
By fixing operations first, you can directly impact the team culture. The goal is to create a transparent, collaborative workspace where people trust each other.
What are some of the most important factors that contribute to successful remote team collaboration and how do you help clients achieve this?
Transparency, support, and mentoring are the three great practices.
As a leader, you need to create a transparent workspace. You can do so by providing access to all aspects of the company operations to mostly everyone on your team. Documentation and policies help.
You also need to show support. It means you listen more than you talk, facilitate more than you direct, and provide more than you ask. Great remote leaders work within their team, supporting them in every way and promoting contribution.
Lastly, mentorship. Every remote leader should become a mentor for their team and promote team-wide mentorship to share experiences, learnings, knowledge, and information with each other. It helps your team not just to contribute more but to grow beyond their limits.
How do you ensure that remote teams are staying productive and meeting their goals without micromanaging them?
Micromanagement happens when there is no trust. But you can't create trust - you can gain trust only. But, you can create a workplace that helps others to gain trust easier.
One is transparency. You can reduce misalignment and increase engagement by providing access to elements like decision-making, company performance, information, and more. A transparent workplace is a trusted workplace.
The second one is measuring performance, mainly through people analytics. I am a big fan of metrics, and I think most remote leaders don't trust their teams because they can't see them performing. In the office, it was easy. Everybody was there. Remotely, it is harder to see the work happening. So by measuring the flows, since all happen online, you can create visual dashboards for the work with people analytics. And what you see, you will trust more, even if it is on a virtual dashboard.
Can you share some of the best practices you use to effectively manage and communicate with remote teams?
The best and simplest step is to start documenting your work or ask someone to do it for you. Then, host all your documents in your company wiki. Finally, add policies that define how you work. Just with these steps, operational efficiency will rise.
The next step is to decide when you need to work synchronously and when you need others to work asynchronously. Find the delicate balance between the two. It is crucial if you have a team with multiple time zones.
Another best practice is to start measuring things. For example, how do you collaborate, how many meetings you have, how effective are these, and how can you improve? A simple analytical tool can get you so far.
What are some of the common obstacles you've seen remote companies encounter and how do you help clients overcome these challenges?
The three biggest ones are employee engagement, long-term productivity, and collaboration.
In remote teams, employee engagement is more visible. People are just simply offline or not producing outcomes. In the office, there are ways where and how you can hide. In remote work, there's none.
Productivity is also an issue. Short-term productivity is always better. That is what you see in the studies when they say the productivity increased by X% since the team is working remotely. Yeah, during the first months. But if you measure it for years, it drops below office-levels. In remote, it is harder to keep the team productive and engaged.
And the last one is collaboration. It is just different in a remote environment. You need to do more intentional facilitation, pick the right tools, do the proper meeting flows, and all in all, and you have to invest more into it.
The overall benefits are better for remote, but leaders need new skills to learn how to solve these issues.
Can you share a specific example of a remote team that faced a difficult challenge? How did you help them resolve it?
When I come to a company, I always start with operational setups. It comes before I meet with my team. I need to know how we work. In many cases, I saw that things weren't documented, were all over the place, and were chaotic. Also, I saw too many meetings just by looking at the calendar schedules.
So even after a few days, I establish new ground rules and policies. It immediately frees up a tremendous amount of resources for the team, so there is a huge spike in performance.
What do you think are some of the most important skills for remote workers to possess and how do you help your clients identify and develop these skills?
I think the two most important skills, literally for everyone, are creativity and a growth mindset. These are not even skills, more like attitudes. But you can do pretty much any type of job successfully with those two.
Creativity helps you to think outside the box. It also helps you to solve problems. A creative mind loves problems. They are challenging for the mind. Solving them is almost like a dopamine effect. A creative person never stops stepping up and going into problem-solving mode.
The growth mindset is also important. Someone willing to grow is coachable. They can learn new stuff. They are also driven forward. They want to accomplish. Mix it with creativity, and you have someone who is smart and wants to be smarter. You want that person on your team.
Identifying these is easy and usually presentable during a simple interview. However, supporting these people to grow that's another story. It starts with trusting them and allocating resources toward learning and development internally.
How do you see the future of remote work evolving and what do you think remote leaders will need to do to stay competitive and successful?
I think within a year or two, we will finally stop the argument about where we should work. There will be a set of companies working remote-first, anothers hybrid, and some in-office. So we can finally focus on the bigger question, how do we want to work?
In terms of leadership, I think current managers need to learn remote leadership skills. Otherwise, they will be outcompeted by others. We are seeing this trend already. Tech companies are laying off their mid-management layer to stay leaner and more efficient. Companies need to focus more on fixing their operations by providing more tools for their managers to upskill as remote leaders.
In the spotlight
We are grateful to have Peter’s unique point of view and insight into what makes success possible in the remote reality of modern work. You can find all of his offerings on his website and contact him through LinkedIn.
How about you? Would you want to share your own experiences and the roads you took towards success? If so, share with us a short introduction at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you ASAP!