By Chuck Leddy
Working remotely has been a growing trend for several years, but COVID-19 has greatly accelerated it and transformed WFH (working from home) into today’s “new normal.” A survey conducted by IBM recently (in April, 2020, just weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and WFH became pervasive) found that more than half of employees now want remote work to be their primary method of working. A whopping 75 percent also said they’d like the option to continue working remotely at least some of the time, perhaps going into the office once a week.
Fortunately, many companies are responding to these WFH demands with new policies that enable full-time or “blended” remote working. An oft-overlooked part of the WFH set-up is managing remote teams: the focus of this post.
Challenges for remote teams and managers
Whether your marketing team is fully remote or “free range” (i.e., they come into the office every once in a while), remote/WFH marketing teams present a unique set of opportunities and challenges for managers:
- It’s tougher for managers to build trust and proactively identify team morale problems. When everyone’s in the office, MBWA (manage by walking around) was a common way to chat with team members, build trust, do quick check-ins, and take the pulse of team members. You can’t MBWA on Zoom.
- Team members may also struggle to build trust and interpersonal cohesion when they don’t have F2F (face-to-face) interactions over coffee or lunch or chit-chat before meetings. Moreover, F2F teams could occasionally have fun get-togethers outside the office to promote team-building. Again, that’s impossible on Zoom.
8 tips for managing remote marketing teams
What follows is a framework that each manager should tweak and iterate for her own team’s individual needs. Every marketing manager is different and every team has its unique working styles and organizational culture (i.e., how they do things).
That said, Rob Begg, Vice President, Product Marketing at Salesforce, who manages a remote (international) marketing team from home, recently offered the following 8 great remote management tips via a Salesforce video (free and accessible on-demand):
(1) Set a clear strategic direction. No remote team, or any team, can work effectively unless they know what they’re tasked with doing and why it matters to the business organization. It ‘s the pre-eminent role of managers to share a roadmap for success. As Begg explains, managers must help the team understand the VISION (“what do we want?”), the VALUES (“what’s important about us?”), the METHODS (“How do we get there?”), potential OBSTACLES, and MEASURES (“How do we know when we’ve succeeded?”).
As author and organization expert David Burkus explains, “If you’re leading a remote team, developing shared expectations, shared empathy, and shared vision should be your primary focus—not just in the beginning but on a regular basis as well.”
(2) Plan the team’s work. The team needs a documented plan to guide them, quarterly and annually. The plan needs to be built from the bottom up, budgeted/funded with sufficient resources, and broken down into realistic, attainable goals supported by clear tactics. Lastly, and especially with remote teams, it must be made abundantly clear who “owns” what tasks and goals, who is accountable and what said person should be doing to achieve her goals.
(3) Build a WFH/remote work toolkit for the team. Managers need to select and enable team members to use apps that the entire team can use. The array of available apps and tools to support remote working/WFH is massive, from Zoom to Slack to Google Hangouts and way beyond. Whatever apps/tools you select, you need to ensure that (1) they are secure; and (2) your employees understand how to use them. You should also be training WFH employees about malware and how to avoid malware attacks.
(4) Use video for communication. We all know how important videoconferencing is for remote working and managing remote teams. When using videoconferencing, make sure you have a clear meeting agenda (shared with the team beforehand) and strive to keep virtual meetings short. “Zoom exhaustion” is real.
You should also be using/recording video “to share information and instructions internally,” says Begg. You can use video for training the team and to record meetings and working sessions that you can share with members who couldn’t attend or who might work from different time zones.
(5) Stay aligned and on track. Managers and teams need to meet regularly in order to remain aligned around their goals and collective expectations. Begg recommends mixing up your meetings, including monthly all-hands meetings, weekly team progress meetings and monthly 1-on-1s to check in with individuals.
Organization expert David Burkus also believes that WFH managers should also use virtual meetings to build trust and team cohesion: “you should actually start [each team meeting] about 10 minutes early. That way people can have the chit-chat, the socialization, and have the discussions about other areas of their life that actually help lead to shared empathy and shared understanding over time,” he says.
(6) Career planning still (and will always) matter. Managers have an important role in supporting the career development of team members, even when the work happens remotely. As Begg explains, WFH managers and team members “need to keep learning and development going.” He encourages managers to discuss individual career aspirations and goals with each member (1 on 1) at least quarterly. Such discussions are also a good way to drive employee engagement and understand the deeper motivations (and strengths) of team members.
(7) Measure results and team/individual performance. Whether you manage teams remotely or not, you need to measure both team and individual performance, sharing those performance insights regularly to drive accountability and improvement. As the old business adage goes, “that which gets measured, gets done.”
Hold frequent updates to keep programs and campaigns on track. Make dashboards accessible to the team to show relevant performance metrics (i.e., revenue/pipeline goals). Fortunately, a wide array of performance measurement tools are readily available.
(8) Find ways to have WFH fun. It’s hard to have fun when working remotely. Managers should research and deploy the various online tools that are emerging to support WFH fun. You can organize team games or show-and-tells. You might have a virtual happy hour devoted to anything but work. “People want to feel seen as individuals and feel a sense of belonging” to the team, explains Begg.
While managing remote teams is a challenge, it’s also something you’ll get better at from experience. Follow the 8 suggestions above and tailor each to your own, and your team’s, working style.