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Marleen Reininger, Senior Business Manager at Microsoft UK

In this Accomplished Peeps interview, we had the pleasure of speaking with Marleen Reininger, Senior Business Manager at Microsoft UK. Marleen leads a team that works closely with their General Manager and leadership team to ensure the successful running of their segment, the Customer Success Unit. This includes driving the business rhythm, managing strategic initiatives, delivering effective communications, fostering a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion, and working closely with different stakeholders across Microsoft to achieve our objectives.

Find out more about Marleen's role at Microsoft👇

And, continue reading for an inside look at some of Marleen's non-negotiable routines and rituals when working remotely, and how her team uses asynchronous communication to stay in the loop.

Describe the layout and feel of your personal workspace

I wish I could share my very professional workspace layout here, but the truth is, I have been working in our second bedroom/changing room for the past 18 months. However, I have made it work for me. A key for me is a good chair that supports my posture. Sitting for long durations can be tough on our bodies, as we all know so investing in an ergonomic chair is key.

When it comes the feel of my workspace, I tend to keep it simple – laptop, mouse, keyboard, a second screen, water and natural light. I have tried to ‘’decorate’’ my office space but I cannot say that I am naturally gifted in this area so, Microsoft Team’s backgrounds come in handy for me!

Are there any routines or rituals that are non-negotiables for you? Ones that you believe make you a more successful leader?

In my opinion, a healthy morning routine is key to start the day right. For me, this means getting up at around 6am to exercise. Now that we can enjoy lighter mornings, I take my dog for a nice long walk. That is when I get to clear my mind, listen to podcasts or just enjoy a quiet morning. I might use the time to scan through my diary and inbox to get some important tasks out of the way but for the most part, I just enjoy the calmness around me.

When I get home, this is when I get my exercise out of the way. If you asked me about my non-negotiable, that would be it. It gives me energy, is a real mood booster and, believe it or not, regular exercise is proven to break your stress cycle (if you are interested in this topic, I recommend reading up on the work of the Nagoski sisters) All these aspects contribute to my personal wellbeing, make me feel good and help me start the day with energy. I believe that looking after your wellbeing is such a crucial aspect of being a successful leader. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

However, I do have my own challenges with work-life balance, I enjoy what I do and often I have a hard time switching off completely. At the end of the day, it starts and stops with our personal accountability to disconnect.  I am lucky to work for a company that creates an empowered culture with work-life flexibility at the core. Every employee regardless of where they work and who they work for should be trusted and feel empowered to make work, work for them. I hope that more companies are implementing this nowadays!

How does your team use asynchronous communication to stay in the loop while working remotely?

I think this is where working for Microsoft is probably answer enough – We love Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams has been invaluable in staying productive as a team in a virtual first environment. It keeps us connected, organized, up to date and fosters team collaboration. And then there is of course our team’s Teams chat (which often ends up being used for fun conversations…. Or GIFs). This has been instrumental for me in staying connected to my team, especially since we do not get the opportunity for non-work-related conversations when going for a coffee together.

We are also fans of Microsoft’s enterprise social network Yammer, where our teams share what they have been up to with customers, their teams or colleagues or what company initiatives they have been engaged in. This has also been an invaluable asset for us to welcome our new starters, by introducing them to our community, virtually, on day 1.

What's one of the #1 struggles you've needed to overcome when managing your remote team?

I would say that the number one struggle is probably the lack of observing social cues, nonverbal communication, and body language, which is so crucial in building trusted relationships and fostering effective communications. Since we went into lockdown, I had a couple of new members join my team and I have not met some of them in person, yet. It has been very important for me to prioritize calls with my team as well as 1:1s on a regular basis, someone even initiated a weekly lunch chat which we join when we can. When we meet, and especially during 1:1s my camera is switched on and the same goes for my team. This has really helped me connect with my team at a deeper level, foster authenticity, and pick up on nonverbal communications - to me, all these are important factors in building trust and communicating effectively. That said, I cannot wait to see my team in person again for the first time.

Which tools, habits, beliefs do you live and work with that allow you to overcome the struggles of working remotely?

Microsoft has invented great tools that help us switch off more easily, such as settings that set focus times or switch off notifications after hours. I have made this part of the way I work. I do not receive work notifications before 7 am and after 7 pm. In addition, I try to include focus hours during the week wherever possible to stay on top of my tasks and tackle my inbox. An easy habit to fall into for me is to not take enough breaks during the day, which is why scheduled breaks and focus time can make a real difference. I also believe in the power of checking in with people on a regular basis, whether that means a virtual get together, more regular 1:1, unscheduled calls with colleagues you have not spoken to for a while of making time for walking meetings, or fun team get-togethers, like a virtual quiz. Someone in my team recently hosted a virtual baking session for us, we had so much fun, and it really boosted our morale.

Is there one particular podcast or youtube channel that you can't stop listening to?

I love my podcasts, here are a few I highly recommend:

  • Brené Brown – Unlocking Us & Dare to Lead
  • Jay Shetty – On Purpose
  • I Weigh – Jameela Jamil
  • A bit of Optimism – Simon Sinek
  • WorkLife – Adam Grant

And …. I do like a bit of True Crime!

If you could be doing anything else than what you're doing, what would it be?

Right now, travel, travel, travel!