TecHRseries Interview with Nancy Knowlton, CEO at Nureva

Catch this conversation in which we had Nancy Knowlton, CEO at Nureva discuss some useful work from home tips while sharing a few learnings she’s come away with during the Covid-19 pandemic!


Hi Nancy, good to have you participate, as a starting point, we’d love to know what a typical day at work while working remote now looks like for you…?

Nancy: I have tried to maintain an element of normalcy to my days. As I say that, I will admit to workaholic tendencies, so if I didn’t otherwise focus, I would just get up and start working. I’m a very early riser, and I enjoy the quiet of the early morning to get some work done along with some thinking on thornier issues. I usually start my day with a list of priority items for that day – and that list grows throughout the day.

My days are really quite solidly booked with meetings, both larger group and one-on-one meetings. I have started to say that people really don’t need me in some meetings now, so that is freeing up more time for me to get to my projects and activities.

I find being 100% remote more tiring than a typical day in the office. I have been trying to focus on why that is, and that usually involves asking others how they are experiencing full-time WFH. I am feeling less tired by shutting off video and just concentrating on what people are saying. It helps me to really listen and digest their comments.

How did the idea of Nureva Inc. come about – what is your biggest vision and plan for the platform?

Nancy: My husband and I started Nureva after an intensive 25-year experience in another company we had started. We had poured our heart and soul into typically 70-hour work weeks. After a break of a few months, we started Nureva with many of the people who had worked with us in that company with the aim of creating collaboration tools that we would want to use. One of our biggest frustrations was poor quality audio. It was so frustrating to constantly remind low-talkers to speak up or to ask people to repeat themselves. Our team at Nureva started with a blank piece of paper, fully aware of the audio technology approach that the market leaders were employing, and set out to create an entirely new approach. There’s a lot to our technology that we intend to leverage and extend.

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As a tech start-up entrepreneur, what are some of the biggest leadership learnings you’ve experienced that you’d like to share with us today?

Nancy: I think of myself is being on the team. I need to work and contribute. I need to deliver on commitments. I need to respect and value ideas that are better than my own. I need to be a cheerleader. I need to tell the truth. I need to care about people and their circumstances. I get to be the CEO of a team of people because they let me be the leader.

At a time such as the present, with the ongoing pandemic and its effects on businesses and the need to work from home, what are some top tips you would like to share when it comes to tracking remote teams and a distributed workforce?

Nancy:  Some functions and some people are better suited to a WFH experience than others. It’s important to recognize right up front that some people and functions will need more support and connection than others.

We need to make sure that we have some time for the human connection as we would have if we were bumping into people while getting a coffee in the office or having lunch in the kitchen. Asking about the family or what they’re watching on Netflix only takes a minute, but it helps to understand what’s going on with people.

Checking in on projects as they progress also works well for some people rather than waiting for the finished result to be delivered.

Also, what are some of the top tips you would like to share with us when it comes to implementing a sound virtual hiring and virtual interview screening process at a time such as the present?

Nancy: We need to think through the whole experience not just from the company’s perspective but also from the candidate’s perspective. How can we make the candidate feel comfortable and that they are getting the feel for the company, the work and the team during the conference call? For some, the medium will detract from the experience, for others, it is a positive. Just being mindful that interviewing over video is different can make us more sensitive to the candidate’s experience.

How according to you will the global workforce and work cultures shape up given the changing work environments due to Covid-19 and otherwise? What are some of the biggest changes that will stay long-term?

Nancy: WFH is here to stay for companies and individuals. I think that we all have learned something in the process of the sudden move to having everyone WFH – there are good things about WFH and working in the office. We need to work at keeping those good things in place for the longer term.

One of the things that we are struggling with is how to bring in younger workers. Certain functions like software development seem to work well for remote working and our teams are functioning well. We need to learn how to bring new graduates and less experienced people into other functions in the company where normally there would be a high degree of daily support and interaction.

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In the tech marketplace, work from home is a not a new concept, at a time such as the present, it is all about more teams and businesses getting used to the concept. What remote work tips would you share with professionals who by now must be finding it challenging to be isolated and working from home through the world crisis?

Nancy: There are several things I have learned:

  • Start every day with priorities and work at them
  • Protect some time for your deliverables every day
  • You aren’t going to be at maximum productivity throughout the day, every day. Save some things that take less brain power for those times and give yourself a little break.
  • Connect in with your colleagues socially. It could be a small exchange during the workday or something outside of work. Now that there is a little latitude for small social gatherings, connect and spend some time.

What industries / roles do you feel need to proactively start inculcating more employee friendly work from home policies today?

Nancy: I don’t really spend time looking around at others as we are so focused on making sure things are working within our own business and with our own roles.

What other collaboration tools would you advise teams to use, to boost productivity especially during these uncertain times due to the global pandemic and as work from home starts becoming the new normal for several people and industries.

Nancy: The technology toolset seems to be fairly standard these days. Beyond the standard tools, we see some companies working to help their staff learn how to collaborate and work in the new environment. It would be a mistake to believe that everyone just knows how to collaborate. It’s not innate – it’s learned. So, setting up the processes and expectations is key.

Tag (mention/write about) the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!

Nancy: Marissa Mayer. She was famous for bringing Yahoo back to the office away from WFH. What does she think about WFH now?

A few last moment tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic

Nancy: Embrace the moment – what can work now to allow us to thrive in the new ways of working? Congratulate yourself for surviving, now make the experience better – better for productivity, for creativity, for profitability and employee happiness. It’s this constant effort to make things better, with, of course, suggestions and input from everyone, that will lead to the work experience actually being better.

Be prepared for what’s next. If it’s a combination of WFH and attendance at the office, there is a new richness to the mix that this experience will have provided.

Thanks for your time with this Nancy!

Nureva Inc. is a technology-rich, multiple award-winning private company that imagines and builds audio conferencing solutions that solve the frustrating and persistent problem of poor audio performance in meeting and learning spaces. At the core of every system is the company’s patented Microphone Mist technology, which places thousands of virtual microphones throughout a space to pick up sound from anywhere in the room and deliver clear, reliable audio to remote participants. A passion for achieving simplicity through deep user understanding drives the company’s product roadmap and the value it creates for its customers.

Nancy is the president and CEO of Nureva Inc. She was previously president and CEO of SMART Technologies Inc., which she co-founded in 1987 with her husband David Martin. Both companies have been focused on collaboration tools that have transformed the way people work and learn. Nancy has undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration and has experience as a chartered accountant and university lecturer. Nancy has contributed to several public and private commissions on education and business and has received numerous awards, including Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2015, she received the C21 Shifting Minds National Award for her distinctive achievements in 21st-century learning and innovation.