I’ve been fortunate to work in a remote capacity almost entirely since 2009, apart from a few years during my AdTech days where I returned to the daily Manhattan grind. Remote working has become so second nature to me that it was a surprise that many marketing leaders became remote managers for the first time during the 2020 pandemic period.
In an already stressful social and economic environment, unnecessary pressure was placed on employees working under first-time remote managers. Pandemic stats indicate that during that time workers increased their hours and productivity to ensure their paranoid managers knew they were working, alongside the constant fear that they could be next to lose their jobs. The result of this has been significant employee burn-out, and a trend which has been coined “The Great Resignation”.
As the market slowly recovers, more businesses are looking to adopt a remote mode of working as a long-term solution. Having personally worked in remote teams –successfully and unsuccessfully– my intention for this post is to share how to work to your strengths within a remote environment and to help your remote marketing team to stay connected, thrive and grow.
From my experience in remote teams and fully remote companies, the success and team motivation always came down to having high levels of transparency, trust and communication. And without fail, this must start with those at the top.
Self-assessment is key to play to your strengths
I’d consider myself a highly social introvert. I love collaboration and to be social but prefer to churn through work on my own once I get in the zone. Having run my own business and spent years in business development roles I’ve always assessed my workweek by revenue generating tasks.
-How much revenue do I need to close each week? Therefore, how many cold calls or emails will I need to make in order to book enough appointments to meet that quota? When is the best time to reach out to those prospects? When am I at my best to work on detailed budgeting or PowerPoint presentations, etc?
This self-assessment approach followed me across to my marketing career. When working remotely it’s vital to self-assess in this way to play to your strengths.
1) What are your tasks?
2) When are you better at performing them?
3) When will you have less distractions and interruptions?
I ask my remote or geographically diverse team to do a similar assessment and to share the answers with me so I can also help to set them up for success. It can also identify any weaknesses or gaps at a team level where I may need additional staffing or staff training.
The goal is to have the team break down their responsibilities and tasks across a typical week and to note if there are any time contingencies affecting when they should be performed (e.g. pacing reports need to be run earlier in the day and week so we have enough time to act against them).
The next objective is to have the team consider an ideal work situation and self-assess when they’re most effective and efficient at performing each task. By way of example:
My topline self-assessment
- I do my best creative work (strategy or daily planning and copywriting) first thing in the morning. After my first coffee. In fact, my best creative ideas come while I’m exercising.
- I do my best design work (building ads, graphic social posts, website edits, build email templates, PPT decks) in the evenings when I’m relaxed and uninterrupted, and I’m not mentally preparing for my next meeting.
- I’m more detail oriented during the day (budgets, editing) from mid-morning (second coffee 😉) through to mid-afternoon. However, I need to block uninterrupted time to do budgeting to be most effective.
- I’m more likely to be interrupted with small fires that need fast attention between 10-12pm so I can’t block too much continuous time during those hours.
Once my team share their ideal times when they can churn through tasks at their most efficient, I can help schedule our 1:1 check-ins and team meetings accordingly so they don’t interfere with our prime-hustle hot spots. It also helps me to set realistic deadlines when assigning tasks.
It will be virtually impossible to please and cater to everyone’s preferences, but if you see that your whole team are in their prime-hustle zone before 10am, avoid setting your team meeting at that time.
And then there are time-zones.
Someone’s going to have to compromise for meeting times
While in AdTech, I worked for a company who allowed their team to come into the office after 10am and work late into the evening where they provided free meals for those working after 7pm. But by the time the west coast team meandered into the office around 10am PST, made themselves breakfast in the company kitchen, and cleared their email before breaking for in-office yoga at noon our European team were already at their end of their working day and the east coast were also winding down. Most often, the European team were made to stay late to join meetings to make up for these scheduling issues.
Running a geographically dispersed remote team can be equally challenging, so there will always need to be a compromise. Consider making the compromise change seasonally to make it fair to everyone. Having lived in New Zealand for most of my life, we were no stranger to having global meetings that started around midnight. But my company would change it around, so our midnight meetings were only during the colder months and the other regions joined late during their own winter months.
I’m not a fan of daily check-ins, although I do see the benefit for Scrum managed teams to keep on top of progress and bottlenecks. But as a marketing team, I’ve only found them beneficial as part of a project management leading up to a large launch. And even then, daily meetings for the entire project group can be a bit much.
Daily meetings are often used by remote bosses wanting to check that their team are online and active, but as a standard they can easily become repetitive and highlight a lack of trust. A specific Slack channel can often be better used for the team to notify everyone if they need help, if they’ll be off the grid for any amount of time, or even to celebrate small wins.
Successful remote working is all about getting into the flow – as early in your day as possible – so minimizing those interruptions will maximize everyone’s day.
Make the most of your in-person or video time
The best way to keep your remote team calibrated and motivated is to ensure they look forward to any in-person sessions.
Find ways to briefly share what everyone’s working on, to encourage collaboration and celebrate successes. But allow for time to brainstorm and share market observations on your video calls. That relaxed, conversational interaction is what will keep the team feeling connected. It’s in those moments that innovation and creation can occur. Take notes on live shared docs and have people add to an inspiration folder across the week as conversation starters.
My remote team at my previous company would also meet in-person once or twice a year for strategy planning. These can be helpful to get to know your workmates in a single time zone – but they can also be time-consuming and expensive for the company. Creating a virtual mini team conference for ½ days over a week can be just as beneficial –it can still include a planned social hour each day and fun activities. A big advantage is that it is less disruptive to everyone’s lives and avoids a major drop in productivity which can be tough for the team to recover from.
But make it special. Issue a daily food budget so the team can DoorDash or UberEat their lunch and snacks. Send out a care-package or gift bag in advance of the event. It will set the tone that this is more than a typical Zoom meeting. There are many economic gains to a company with remote teams, some of those deserve to be passed back to the team as perks.
Allow your team to work their strengths – and show you trust them
It’s going to be important to your team that you respect their work hot spots. If they consistently get their work done on time to a high standard and shared that they do their best work in the evenings – then you should expect to see them offline for a while during the day.
If trust is an issue for you, then running a remote team or running a team remotely might not be the best fit for you. The top-down approach starts with you. Consider Slacking the team “I’ll be offline for the next hour – text if something urgent comes up!” and “I’m back – what did I miss?”. This will set the tone for your team to do the same so they have the freedom to use their time effectively, and you have the transparency of knowing how to contact them if something comes up across that period.
Whether you’re hiring for a remote workforce or trying to help your team to navigate a new remote environment your efficiencies will come by working to your strengths, and your collaboration will come through transparency, trust and communication.
By Sarah Calkin-Ward, Head of Marketing, WorkReduce