STB 018 Afifa Siddiqui

Managing Remote Work From a Seasoned Pro with Afifa Siddiqui

Afifa Siddiqui runs three companies and they’re all remote. Although this was not planned, Afifa comes in at an excellent time to discuss how to set your company up for success if you’re not usually used to remote work. She shares her tips and strategies to keep her employees engaged and ready to face a new day. She also shares how she handles self-doubt and how she has built resilience throughout her professional career.

Managing Remote Work From a Seasoned Pro with Afifa Siddiqui

Hello, beautiful lady. You know what I love about this show is I fall in love with the women that I have the opportunity to get to know and chat with on your behalf! They are amazing women in their own right and Miss Afifa Siddiqu is no different. She is the founder and CEO of Kronos Consulting Group. They’re a Toronto-based recruiting firm providing augmented workforce solutions for engineering and science teams across Canada. She holds a degree in electrical engineering from the university of Toronto. And basically what Afifa has done is applied her background in engineering to build a recruiting agency that specializes in technical disciplines for industries such as mining, environmental energy, infrastructure, and consulting.

What you’re going to discover about her is she is an avid entrepreneur, like no joke. And what she’s done is truly amazing because she has now built not just one business, but two additional companies, the first being Career Leaf and the second Canadian Payroll Services. So both of these are natural progressions, right from the recruiting industry. Career Leaf provides white label job board infrastructure and CPS offers payroll solutions for global companies hiring Canadian-based talent remotely.

Afifa brings 20 years of experience creating innovative solutions for professional back offices. And this interview is extremely, extremely relevant and timely given the environment that we’re operating in right now. And her unique perspective is really in the forefront, I believe in this interview, on how to launch and scale businesses. So without further adieu, Miss Afifa Siddiqu.

All right. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know, I just can’t help myself. I have my own 2 cents about this interview that I want to lay out for you and also more importantly really is identify the golden nuggets because what you’re going to hear in the first part of the interview is a discussion around a topic that’s on everybody’s mind – remote work. And Afifa is uniquely positioned because she’s been in preparation for this for quite some time and I think what you’re going to take away at the surface level, if you’re a small business and you don’t quite have your ducks in a row, the number one thing you need to be thinking about right now and taking action on. Sure it’s a timely discussion, but I was thinking about what about the individual who’s listening to this six months from now or 12 months from now, and I encourage those of you who land on Afifa’s interview, you know, when we’ve moved through the pandemic and we’re not talking about and scrambling to get everyone working from home to use the information she provides. As a planning tool, a tool for ”what if” for your business.

I think that would be, a really smart way to take the knowledge that she offers and apply it to your business. But I don’t want to stop there. This interview actually isn’t all about remote work. It just happened that that is her area of expertise and what she’s been planning for her business for a while. So why not, you know, why not dig into that? But when you really listen to this interview, what I’d love for you to go two layers deeper on and listen for is some of the wisdom that Afifa offers that is really based in her skillsets around leadership.

She talks a lot about engaging with her people and she spends a lot of time thinking about her people. You can hear it when she even talks about her communication strategy right now with her team, you’ll hear her say, you know, I make sure that I’m touching base with every single person on my team every other day. So I do half of them one day and the next day, the other half, and then I start all over again. You’ll hear her talk about how she makes it a point to identify how each person being part of a remote team engages how they show up, where they are finding their voice and feel comfortable offering and inserting their voice.

And she even highlights how it’s important to relax expectations, to invite more empathy and bring a mentality of “we’re all in it together”. These are the nuggets. These are the items that I don’t want to just get washed away. They might be a sentence or two, but they’re there. And that is the underlying theme I believe of this interview and why I have come to love and admire Miss Afifa Siddiqu. So very much so. Now without further adieu and hang on until the end because I have a few more thoughts of things I want to call out. But for now, let’s hear from the beautiful, Afifa.

I was thinking about how the world has changed since we had our little pre-call. I mean you’re right in the business of the remote workforce right now.

Yes. So this is why, I’m actually like when I said there’s a lot going on much of it is actually great for us, but much of it is sadly, right up our alley because it’s forcing change. We were already headed for the remote work for my own companies, but, we were going to do a bunch of tests runs because I just changed out all sorts of systems and I’m building automated software and it was all just about ready to be tested, but we were two months away. So this literally pushed us over the edge, like fledgling birds. Fortunately, much of it worked and you know, a lot of our, in the Canadian Payroll Services business, anyways, they’re already all 100% remote workers. So with them, you know, we’re working towards making sure everybody gets them, fully informed. And, we are in Canada, even though we’re very close, with our work culture to the U.S. there are significant differences that are now really apparent in how our two countries operate. So that’s also a good learning experience.

Let’s dig into that a little bit. I wasn’t planning on this as a topic, but I think it’s so timely and relevant for any leader who’s listening to what we’re talking about here. So what are you seeing as the very apparent differences as we’re navigating into this new way?

Well, you know, what things appealed to me about what your approach is, you’re speaking to leaders in effectively about how they lead and guidance on how think is leaders and you know, in a crisis like this, people, citizens, automatically look to their governments for guidance. Because this is unchartered territory.

A crisis like this might’ve occurred a hundred years ago. And, and you know, the leadership of any country, and I know that this is special area, you know, even with who’s in charge right now in the U.S., but in Canada, I can only speak about Canada. I’m pleasantly surprised with how cohesive our three party system has really reacted. So our government, yes, they’ve all struggled, but for example, they decided there’s a full lockdown and companies surprisingly were even ahead of that. So, you know, again, it’s a good thing to see that the national leadership laid out the path, the provinces, followed suit and the citizens, took it up.

And I actually think that’s one of the reasons why, knock on wood, where we hopefully will be able to flatten the curve of you know, contagion, at least here in Toronto. It is one of the biggest cities, Montreal and Vancouver, as well. So we’re tracking this pretty closely and because a lot of our workers are remote, they’re used to working this way and we’re able to help others who are not. So we’re putting out a lot of content too, to try to help others who might not know how to use some of these tools and processes.

Yeah, that was the next thing I wanted to ask you about. Because you were already running your company remotely. I thought, oh my gosh, you have some great insights to pass along at this time and it being very timely for other leaders around running a remote workforce. What can you offer up? You know what the concerns are on their minds, I’m sure.

Yeah. So I guess there’s people who are not used to any of it is, there is a big learning curve and there’s actually now more and more resources being put out. I think people are sharing them more freely. One of the things I did want to talk about and I’ll kind of segue into that, you know, in all of these type of chaotic situations, this is where opportunity lies. So while you know it, it might look like some businesses are suffering, there’s other businesses that are really thriving and that’s remote work.

I think that some of those companies and industries where they are tanking, this is an opportunity for them to step back and actually look at what they could do for themselves in terms of changing how they work and then getting their hedges, let’s call them, set up. Some companies can do that easily. Others not so much.

Just to take a pause there too, to give you a breath, it’s almost like this has become a mandatory slow down so that you can speed up later for companies. And if you want to think about it in a positive light, that’s how any sort of leader could take the reins of their organization. Just go, okay, great. We’ve were mandated. Just slow down. So let’s use this so we can go more quickly on the back-end when we come out of it.

Yeah. And that’s where I was going with the government and following their messaging. That, here, let’s pause. And yes, we’re going to suffer as an economy. So yes, you know, my business might suffer right now, but it’s a great time for myself, my management, my leadership teams to come together, think about where are these gaps and holes in our organization and then what can we do differently and better? So, I see it as an opportunity, but I also recognize that operational people think differently from people like myself, who’s an entrepreneur.

Yeah. So if I’m leading an organization and I am not prepared for this at all, what is like the number one question that’s on my mind?

So people who have no systems in place and have never worked remote, they may not have the systems or the ability to do this type of work. But most companies, right now, the first thing they should do is set up a communication system so that their leaders and the people have a way to keep in touch and be accountable for their day-to-day tasks.

Looking at the things that I had to do that were half set up, for example, we had just moved all our systems over to Microsoft teams. It is actually very conducive to remote work and basically we can communicate as though we’re in an office and direct call each other. It’s almost like walking over to someone’s room. We just literally call them instead of have the walk.

So that’s a great system in many companies. There’s lots of free tools out there and they can put these together very simply and quickly. For example, Slack is a great tool for a company to get, especially a company that’s under 10 people. It’s a free tool. So having a communication set up, I think is the number one priority. And then making sure that each team has a bit of a team leader. So, our internal organization is 15 people. We also have three separate teams. So I actually have a rhythm now. I have a call every morning. I call it a scrum with each of the teams. So it starts at 8:30, then at nine, then at 9:30. So I make sure I touch points with every sort of team to make sure they have their mandate for the day. And then literally by noon I’m done with those calls and everybody’s working with accountability and all through the day, they basically just check in, this is done, this is done. There’s task lists. But again, we’re a professional service organization, so we can use these tools that way because we’re used to working with processes.

And if I, right now, I’m getting up and going, I’m finding a free tool or I’m engaging with a paid option. What are some of the blind spots in the early stage that I need to be looking for? I don’t know what I don’t know, right. Can you help?

Well, you know, I guess the generalist answer is I guess communications is one thing. Keeping from being isolated and I guess setting accountabilities. I mean, outside of when an organization first has to decide what is it that I need to do that is, that’s going to get me through this period. And let’s assume that it’s a month. What is it that’s most important and critical to see me through and able to pick up after a month?

This is me making up some numbers. We don’t know how long this is going to last. It could be another week, it could be a year. So I’m taking it a day at a time. And that’s actually how we’re advising our small startup clients to think this way. And so this week, if my goal is I have no tools, I have no way to talk to my team. So let’s set that up first. That’s our goal for this week.

So taking these bigger chunks that are a little overwhelming and then giving ourselves little checklists, there’s three things for this week. I’m going to get my tool set up, I’m going to test it, I’m going to get these many people on and I’m going to build it out, these are the core things that my business must do by the end of this week in order to survive. I’m thinking like survival, in a way. It’s like corporate survival.

Yeah. And it even struck me for a bit. It’s almost like even though you’ve been working with your teams for maybe years and years, it’s almost like going back to the beginning. Like when you’re just onboarding them into your new virtual teams, remote teams, and treating it like that one step at a time, in terms of expectations and accountability and how we’re going to be working together. And what is your job and how we’re checking in.

Yeah. And I would even say that over communication is what you need to do. It’s not a choice. You should over communicate. Start with the call of the front-end of the day. And maybe even in the first week or two, you want to check, two or three times because it’s not easy for everyone. Some portion of society actually work better this way. Others really do need that interaction. And then you’ll discover as a leader or the head of the team who actually falls in which bucket. It’s actually very, eye opening to me among my team members. I try every day to talk to at least half the team. And then every other day, the other half, and I am surprised how well most of them have adapted. And then I’m a little surprised at, some people prefer not to call, they want to email all their stuff or their typing, you know, in instant messagenger. It’s quite eye opening!

“It’s not easy for everyone. Some portion of society works better this way, others really do need that interaction and extra support.” Click To Tweet

We also created this little channel, I used to call it “clean jokes” but it’s random. We just share random little, funny anecdotes through a day.

Actually. I love that. Let’s make some space around that because having some playfulness and just kind of that water cooler opportunity is also really important for a remote team.

Yes. As a matter of fact, that’s something we did right from the start because we need that liberty and it also gives those people who normally don’t speak up, you know, they’re able to sort of get in there. Tiptoe in and just, you know, dangle a little toe and then try it out and then nobody kills them so they become more and more open.

So that’s one of the really little gold nuggets. Do you have any more of those hiding in your purse?

Well, I’m sure they’ll seep out! Yeah. I’m like, Ooh, that’s a good one! You know, it’s funny when someone asks you a direct question, it kind of leaves your mind and yet this stuff actually throughout the day I’m like, Oh, I should do this.

Yeah, totally. But, when you’re a leader right now and just thinking about running a remote team, you’re not thinking about adding in levity quite yet. But that is really a key component for building comraderie and, incorporating that playfulness and just keeping things not so serious every minute of the day.

Ah, you’re really totally bang on, Michelle. It’s, already a stressful time and people are already quite serious about things that need to get done. They’re worried about their jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they’re worried about, you know, am I going to get it? Like all of these concerns are already there. And so whatever we can do, this is almost like is sort of the leader of my true peer. I want to make sure that they get some of this stress out, because this is me taking care of them so that, they will look after their families and then ultimately the business survives. But I have to put my people first and I think that’s where the levity comes from.

I was thinking this, it’s not something we can let go of. And by the way, mistakes are going to happen and it’s not an if, it’s a when. So part of why the levity is important, it’s so people can actually take a responsibility for things as they move. Cause it’s so fluid.

People are going to drop balls internally, towards clients, towards workers, but it doesn’t matter. So long as we, we, it’s figure it out and we’re doing it together. That’s actually one of the messages I would give to everybody that you have to relax the expectation and literally work to get through together.

The other thing, I was pondering this the other day, that I actually feel more alive right now because it reminds me of all the startups. Parts of the businesses, and I say businesses because I do manage three and I am the entrepreneurial leader. I thrive in starting things and making them. Figuring out how to solve problems and if someone’s going to pay me to solve a problem, I know I have a business.

So this is my little nugget. And even like right now, there’s so much opportunity that once things calm down, there’s room to make more money and more companies and more ways to help people and grow our livelihoods.

You can hear that entrepreneurial energy kicking in right now inside of you.

Yeah. Well, you know, I often joke it’s not really a joke. I’m a Gen X’er with undiagnosed ADD!

So, okay. I just want to wrap up what you were saying, but before, by just adding that, what it really sounds like overall that we need to, as leaders right now especially, but any time when you’re engaging with a remote workforce, it’s like bringing more of the human element back in. Not that it should have ever gone away, but really emphasizing that.

Yeah. So, this conversation, you and I are used to having chats over headphones. You know, there’s some of the, let’s say, older communities, like insurance companies, banks, etc. . Some of these people have not been acting or operating this way. So it takes them some time to get used to. So to make it easy, making it human and fun is the best way, or at least it’s a way that’s worked for me.

So what is fascinating about us having this conversation today is that when you and I first met you were talking. We were not in crisis, we didn’t know this was going to be happening at all. And you were already talking and having the conversation and widening the conversation about why now is the time to go remote. So if we can dial it back before we knew of the crisis at hand, why were you saying that to me? Why was that a big piece of your next entrepreneurial dialogue?

I’m going to step back actually a whole bunch of steps and start at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. So a lot of what I’ve created, the businesses I’ve built. There’ve been companies or industries that I’ve had no experience in. So I am an engineer. I’m a power engineer. My first 10 years I spent working with power plants and making sure people kept their power on. But secretly I am responsible for a number of outages. I wasn’t a particularly great engineer, but I was a really good project manager. I was a really good team leader. I was in a very good communicator.

So with that, I started Kronos. It’s a very specialized recruiting company in engineering and science because I could not get a job, and this is way back. We were just starting in the 2000’s. There was a recession. The industry I was in completely got outsourced to India and China in the electronics. I was an applications engineer at the time. So I’ve gone into this and I was interviewing for jobs. I went to five different interviews within the first 10 minutes, I knew I’m not the right person for this role, but I know two or three other people who you should speak to. So I started doing this. I started, giving opportunities to other people. And then after the fifth time, I’m like, wait a second, I should be paid for this.

I decided, okay, well there has to be a business around this, but didn’t know a lot about recruiting. I set up to recruit, the way I would want to be recruited. Up until then I didn’t have good experience with headhunters and recruiters myself. And, this is actually how I met my husband. He was working at another company, but they dealt with blue collar jobs. And so I went to him and I said, here, I’ve got all these roles, but I don’t know how to do this. Teach me. So he did. And then I recruited him from there and he became my partner. So, Kronos came out of a need. We set it up and it took off. After 10 years of running Kronos, I could see that the whole market is changing.

Recruiting used to be about having a database. It used to be that having a whole network of people and at the time, links, deans came in, the monsters, the Workopolis. All of these massive online databases took that advantage away from recruiters. So, I saw that coming and I am an entrepreneur. At that time, I started looking at, Hey, there’s other ways I can use what I’ve got set up because I’d built a bunch of software to power it. I’m going to basically take what I have and now find other industries to use it in. And that’s how I kind of stumbled on this. Everything that I’ve built, by the way, I’ve stumbled into because I didn’t know enough about it. I’m very lucky, I’ll tell you that I’m one of the luckiest people you’ll meet.

So remote work and the recognition of that came from, Hey, there’s all these companies around the world that want to hire Canadian talent and I have a recruiting company. My recruiting side is not doing that well, but I can still payroll all of these other workers and actually use the core strengths of my back office, which is really what it is. It’s a professional back office. So we payroll people, we comply with all the daily or sometimes it feels daily changing, you know, government regulations. So we were already doing that. And then we opened up the market to do it for non-Canadian companies. So in the U.S. this is a very well known industry called PEO, the Professional Employer Organization. It’s not a well-known in Canada. The reason the PEO industry exists, I believe in the U.S., is because of healthcare and the lack of availability of health care. in Canada we don’t have that because we have universal healthcare and we have on top of that additional benefits providers.

So I kind of pulled all of these threads together and there’s already a lot of outsourcing going on. And in this current climate, where people are looking for really specific skill sets, these pockets of skillsets, they don’t exist now in like, they don’t all live in the U.S. or China or Europe. They’re everywhere, but specific needs for, you know, like say a cybersecurity expert. These people don’t physically have to be in your office to do this job. And that’s what I recognized a few years ago and that’s kind of what I’m capitalizing on now.

It’s a long-winded way to answer your question, but it’s recognizing a need and it’s really doing what I believe all entrepreneurs do anyways. We see problems and we figure out how to solve them.

Well, I have a feeling it didn’t just happen because of luck, but I do have a sense that you are very entrepreneurial and you’re able to see very clearly and taking that risk is what you’re willing to do and go for it.

I absolutely am. And by the way, that’s not always a good place to be or a good way to be. And I recognize that. This risk-taking that, yeah, I am very fortunate that much of my risk taking has paid off. I’ve got a great business right now because of it, but it’s that same thing, your biggest strengths are your biggest weaknesses.

So I unfortunately I have also seen the dark side. So, for example, this risk taking early on when, you know, VoIP phones came onto the scene. Yes. It’s a few years ago, I was so excited I wanted to be a leading edge adopter of the VoIP tool set. So I literally shifted literally over a month. I moved everything to VoIP and shut my company down for a solid two weeks. We could do nothing.

Oh wow. So it doesn’t always pay off, right?!

No. It was one of my biggest failures actually.

I love that you shared that. I can just imagine visionary leaders like this that are really entrepreneurial and willing to take risk are just like a tolerance. So, it just grows over time. That’s how I see it anyways. And so I can just see you going in and going to your team. I’ve got this great idea. We’re going to shut down the company for two weeks and they’re just like going, OK, Afifa, OK! Whatever you say!

Yes, it didn’t work. That was the problem. VoIP was just not mature enough. And, what I did learn from that is, Hey, I have to be more measured and I have to listen to my management, my CFO at the time was like begging me not to. He’s like, it’s not ready.

Yeah. But that’s risk-taking. It is called just that for a reason. Right? So what is interesting to me about you is that you is that you are self-proclaimed not good at marketing yet, you’ve got three companies!

I think about this a lot and some of what I think about is controversial and I’m just going to say it.

See, when I started my first company, part of it is I couldn’t get a job and what I wanted to do and what I believe myself capable of I knew no one was going to give me that chance. See, at the time I was young, I was Brown, I was female. So, you know, I’m a Gen X’er. I basically thought that, okay, because I can’t, my best chance is to actually start my own thing and give myself that opportunity. So, I’m actually quite proud to say I am self-made. Fortunately, I attract good people. My current partner is awesome. He actually helped be that other side because at the time we worked in mining of nuclear energy and oil and gas. And we would go to meetings together. People would be looking to him, you know, he’s got this big handsome CEO jaw and I’m sitting there answering questions. In the end it all works out. But I have to have people who lead the charge because at the time that was what was required. People ask me, does that make you feel resentful? No, it’s what it was at the time. I read an article recently, it’s still the case. You know, there’s a couple of girls started a something out of, I think it was Boston and they created, they made up, a white CEO, you know, cause these two ladies were both ethnically named. Their names did not reflect an Anglo position at end even though that person didn’t exist.

I mean, this is like the Remington Steele scenario. The fact that it happened like literally two years ago! And once they created this person, their business took off. It’s not a surprise. It’s exists and it just a fact of doing business. So when I said to you that I don’t market myself that well, I really don’t. And it’s actually held my business back in many ways. This is a new thing for me. Kind of doing this type of conversation, this meeting, I now recognize that it’s actually in vogue to manage yourself out there!

Yeah. Now you’re popular. You’re famous! Now everybody wants to talk to you, see how fast the trends change?!

Yeah. I know it’s quite amusing. But I mean that’s why I’ve always had great people who did lead the charge, so that’s how we got around it. But we still didn’t do as much marketing as we should have.

Yeah. So, because you’ve kind of opened that door. I want to open it a little wider. So you weren’t so good at that. You weren’t used to putting yourself out in front. Now you are taking those steps. Is there any like self-doubt coming up? Is there any, you know, I think the reason I’m asking is so many people believe once you’re really successful this kind of stuff goes away.

No, I don’t. So for myself it doesn’t go away. Mind you, I’m a little bit of an unusual, I don’t have a lot of self-doubt. I am in that sense a bit binary. I try things. Luckily, now after decades, most of them work. But you know, I’m used to failure. I just keep going. I keep going. And most of like 10 years ago I would pick myself up five times a week.

Now, you know, maybe I’ll pick myself up once a month. So I’ve matured in that. I still make stupid mistakes and I actually encourage my team to, as well. I don’t want people to be afraid of making mistakes. They see me making mistakes, often. The self doubt is more around, you know, am I moving too fast because I’m used to moving? But am I moving too fast and not considering you the risk and am I going to hurt my team and my company. Those are more the things I consider now. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.

“Mistakes are going to happen. It’s not a case of if, but when.” Click To Tweet

It makes a lot of sense. What I hear you saying, and I’ll just kind of rephrase it back for the listeners. Maybe once a week, years ago you would kind of look yourself in the mirror and have those moments of daily picking yourself up but you went to that mental gym, right? You’ve developed that area of yourself. And what I love that you said that had me pausing is that you’re thinking more about your style, your entrepreneurial style and how when you kind of let that unleash itself, how that will or will not affect your team and can they keep up with you and at what pace and where will the gaps be?

Yes, I think leaders in general, we spend a lot of time self-reflecting, I’ll speak about myself. I spend a lot of time self-reflecting because I want to be more careful and more conscious about how I occur to people because I know in my nature, how I do things quickly and I am very forward thinking in many ways. Even my own team sometimes they find it hard to understand why I do some things. Like why did we move so fast into remote work?

Literally, I would get questioned by my own team and it’s good. It’s good because they make me think because I know it’s the right thing to do. So I just need to communicate it in a way that that brings everyone along with me. So I spend time thinking about that to make sure that not just our external markets, but my internal team has to buy in.

So I mean, the whole self reflection, l use this word like I am an entrepreneur by nature. This is something I’ve known about myself, but I’ve become an operational leader by necessity. It’s not something I enjoy. I have learned to do the things that I like about it and then really delegate and hire the best people to do those other parts that either I’m not good at or shouldn’t be doing. Let me be the thinker.

Oh, that’s so funny. So what’s coming up next for you?

I know I’m sort of on the right path because I have people calling me out of the blue right now to learn more about what I’m doing and how I’ve got it going. And so I’m going to continue this path. This whole remote worker element is just started.

I know I’m in this whole industry and there’s a variety of related industries. So for example, the three businesses, they’re all sort of service related, but I also have a software SAS software company and it is a white labels, job board software. So we sell that across the globe. I’d like to look at integrating the three of those and really building out a solid offerings.

So the professional services, on recruiting and managing a professional back office, payroll, HR, but putting it in a way that also connects my software. Because if I can sell it as a system, like a business in a box, I think there’s huge value for that. And there’s a need.

So this is what I’m thinking about right now. I’m pretty sure that this is going to be an exciting journey and getting through this time. I might be able to pilot some of this because you know, people have to work remote anyways.

You are well-positioned for the time.

Yes. And that will change, too. I guess the thing I’ve learned over time, we didn’t see this coming when you and I chatted less than a month ago. Yet, it’s created opportunities, but it’s also taken away opportunities. So how do we regain that, that balance, like every company is going to have to figure out a pivot point, I call it. And I think that those who are resilient, those who are leaders are just inherently good at the businesses. I think that’s what it’s going to do. It’ll be interesting actually what happens this year.

There’s always a reset somewhere and it comes in different shapes and forms, but I do believe there’s always a reset button every now and again.

Yeah. People have been calling for a reset on a lot of fronts. Like I’ve read so many times that there is a pandemic looming. I mean these articles have been coming up for months now and years. So it’s here and we’re going to have to cope through it. There were people who actually were very well prepared.

Yeah. I was actually talking with a couple people, entrepreneurs and the like saying, you know, I feel they were saying, I kind of feel guilty going around saying I’m thriving right now. I’d love your take on this. That’s why I’m bringing it up. I said, you’re thriving. Not because of the situation we’re in, but because you’ve been preparing, you’ve been doing the work, whatever that means for your business.

Yeah. You know, that’s a really good question and way to look at it. Everybody asks me, why do you have so many businesses? I have them actually because they’re all hedges for each other. So in terms of planning for events like this, the, the Canadian Payroll Business came out of the recruiting business being in a down cycle. Literally I had to lay off the whole company and then build back. It took me six months to a year and I was into the next business.

And then the software company, it’s a hedge for the others. So they’re all on different sort of cycles. I consider that planning and preparedness. Business in general, every business should have some hedge built in. You know, if you have a professional service business, invest in something affiliated that’s close that either you partner with or can move into.

Yes. You know what I just realized, and I’m not sure if you agree 100% on this, but sure, you happened to have a business and remote work. So people could say, well, of course you’re perfectly positioned for this time of crises, but actually I don’t believe that that is why you are uniquely positioned. I think it’s because you’ve taken so much risk, you’re used to the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and you’ve already gone through cycles like this in your business. It just wasn’t called a pandemic.

That’s true. I mean, technology has taken me out once or twice and I’ve been forced to move into other areas and then, because I was kind of angry and mad, I built my own software and clubbed them back and took them out. Through whatever lens you look at or whatever you call it, I’ve been preparing. You know, in the end, too, it’s about survival and making sure my work family also survives and thrives. That’s something I did want to talk about. Our people. We are our people there. There’s a members of my team who are passionate about what we do, but they’re loyal. I returned that loyalty and some of them may not have the best or most effective skills, but because of that loyalty and who they are, they’re part of the team and we bring them along. So, it’s something that’s also really important to think about companies or not just CPS, Career Leaf, Kronos. CPS is all about, the Maria’s and the Shika’s and the Dale and the Peters and everybody who is in the business IS the business.

Yeah. And this is actually kind of full circle back to where we started, which was the underlying current of the beginning of our discussion, which was all around the human elements. And I think what we’re going to see is that part of the reset is going back to, for companies anyways, to emphasizing value around their people. And I do feel like in the last 50 years we’ve gotten away from that quite a bit.

Yeah. I would totally agree with that and I welcome it. I think people need to be valued for their worth, and maybe that has kind of fallen off but people running their businesses compassionately with empathy. I would love to see sort of a shift in that direction.

Yeah, me too. Which is a much more, I’ll just throw it out there. Feminine vibe.

You know, this is another question I always struggle with when people ask me in the start of the conversation with anyone as a female leader, as a female entrepreneur, I’ve never thought of myself in those terms. So I don’t often know how to answer those questions because you know, I’m a leader, I’m an entrepreneur and I’m Brown and I’m female.

You know, I didn’t realize you were a Gen X and so am I. And I think a lot of the same way you do. Like it was kind of just like you said before, it was kind of just part of what it was. The environment you grew up in. But yet, I like walk into every room thinking about it like, I can’t really explain it, but now I’m meeting you and we’re talking. And that’s exactly how I was thinking.

I put more emphasis on being a Gen X or a Baby Boomer or a Millennial than I do some of these other filters. And I think it’s because we were educated and grew up in our, let’s say, age groupings or our tribes, we had common value systems because we were educated in the same way. We read the same books. We came through the same culture, a work culture, school culture. I think those things sort of left more a mark, then, say feminism and I shouldn’t say that because I also recognize all the value that I’ve gotten from previous generations opening these doors. It’s an interesting topic.

They are, and just seeing or meeting another female who is the same age range, to have that same somewhat of the same viewpoint. That’s fascinating to me because I was interviewing, I think it was Laura Tim, and we were talking somewhat about this. We were talking more about walking into a board room where maybe it’s all men. And I said to her, you know what, I might come to that conclusion as the second or third or fourth thing, but the first thing I’d be thinking about is, Oh my gosh, I’m wearing bright red and everybody’s wearing black. Like I would be more likely to notice that before thinking about female versus male and all that.

You know, that’s funny. I actually have walked into a meeting all in red, my power suit and everybody’s in navy or black, and I was the only woman. And I think even the generational differences or gaps, the, the thinking is more towards compassion and empathy. And I guess I would agree with you that these are more feminine qualities. Frankly, I think the world would be a better place if we were in charge.

Well, a little bit more balance. I like the yin and yang of things.

Yeah, totally. Balance is good.

Is there anything we didn’t cover that is just resting on your heart that you’ve got to shout it from the hilltops?

No, I’m not in a shooting mood, but I would love to say that compassion and understanding today sort of lead the way forward. I’m used to a lot of aggression and pushing to get through. I think that that’s a bit of a shift, working together so that we get through together is where my head is at right now. Cause if I succeed, but others don’t, they’re no longer able to survive. That’s not me being successful, I’m thinking more like that right now.

I love that. Thank you so much for sharing and thank you so much for being on the show.

Oh, thank you Michelle. This has been very enjoyable. Thanks for the great questions.

Well, well, well I hope that you really took away the entrepreneurial nature of her. She is heart and soul entrepreneur. You can hear it and things like just her stories around risk-taking, times that it didn’t pay off. Certainly the fact that she says now more than ever she feels alive. I love that. I love that about you, Afifa. So I want to give you a shout out. But there’s one more thing before we wrap for today that I wanted to just call out. Because again, I do believe that this interview, while on the surface level, you know the first half we talk about remote work, I believe that you know, we dive into some other things but the through line here is how her leadership style is showing up now and how she thinks about her team just as a whole as she’s growing and scaling her business.

And the one thing that I didn’t yet call out that you I hope heard in the interview, that’s why I’m giving it another shout out is that we started talking about, I asked her about self doubt and we talked about how that has shifted for her over time but this is so good and I’m going to be thinking about this for a while. She says, I’m maybe not struggling with self doubt for me per se, but I’m very conscious and I spend a lot of time about how I occur to other people. And in that group specifically meaning her team, and she talked about reflecting on, am I going too fast? Are the risks too big? How is this going to impact my team and my company? And I really, really love that. And I think that is something to ponder and to ask yourself, are you being conscious in how you occur to the people in your life, on your team, in your organization, and in the greater community around you?

“I spend a lot of time self-reflecting because I want to be more careful and more conscious about how I occur to people.” Click To Tweet

About Afifa Siddiqui

STB 18 | Managing Remote Work From a Seasoned Pro

Afifa Siddiqui, BASc., is the Founder and CEO of Cronos Consulting Group, a Toronto based recruiting firm providing augmented workforce solutions for Engineering and Science teams across Canada. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto. She applied her engineering background to build a recruiting agency that specializes in technical disciplines in industries such as mining, environmental, energy, infrastructure, and consulting. An avid entrepreneur, Afifa has continued to start and grow new business opportunities, founding two other companies: Careerleaf and most recently Canadian Payroll Services (CPS). Natural progressions from the recruiting industry, Careerleaf provides white label job board infrastructure and CPS creates payroll solutions for global companies hiring Canadian based talent remotely. With 20 years of experience creating innovative solutions for professional back offices, Afifa offers a unique perspective on launching and scaling businesses.

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