With business benefits such as office-space savings and increased workforce productivity — and employee benefits like flexible work-life balance and lower stress rates — it’s no wonder that there has been more attention on the work-from-home lifestyle.
According to a recent Gallup Report, 43% of Americans spent at least some time working remotely last year, and it’s affecting more than just freelancers and project based contractors. Thirty-one percent of telecommuters are doing so four or five days a week. Remote work is one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the today’s workforce — and that means more organizational challenges for marketing leaders to navigate.
Learn how to create a more efficient and successful work environment for your remote workforce with the following four step method: strategy, application, performance, and education.
Four-step method for working with a remote workforce
1. Think about your marketing purpose strategically
As with any challenge that you encounter in business, it helps to have clarity, focus and direction for finding success. In other words, you need to have a game plan. Too many marketers consider strategic direction only after mid-way through a project —or it’s simply forgotten. It’s even common to approach marketing challenges with a trial-by-fire attitude with intentions to save time, execute quickly and test multiple variables; however, this mindset can lead to sloppy work and be an expensive lesson to learn, especially with a remote workforce.
When leading a remote workforce, you don’t have the luxury of swinging by a desk for additional clarification; and not everyone is open about asking for help when they need it. It’s your job to share clear yet concise marching orders and expectations: That means planning your marketing more strategically before getting started.
In order to accomplish this, you need to keep brand, mission and marketing objectives easy to understand. Start by creating strategic marketing and creative briefs that summarize what your remote team must accomplish, the resources they need to use, and your expectations — before communicating anything to your team. It’s important to provide well thought-out direction before delegating to your team to avoid confusion and any frustrating back-and-forth conversations.
Additionally, you should think about optimizing your marketing processes from a strategic level. Plan to build processes that accentuate your team dynamic — that is, create an effective workflow that maximizes the strengths of your team and minimizes their weaknesses. It may seem like a no-brainer, but expecting your graphic artist to edit content or update website code may not be the most efficient use of their time.
You need to consider these nuances beforehand or suffer losses in productivity. While this concept can be applied to all marketing management, it is further emphasized with remote teams because you’re missing the reassurance of face-to-face communication that can affect performance.
2. Apply your marketing strategy with thoughtful team communication
Even the best strategic guidelines and processes will be moot if they are not properly applied across the marketing department. As you may have guessed, communication is the most important factor when applying your marketing strategy. In order to accomplish effective communication, you must establish trusting relationships with your team. The trick is to manage expectations with flexibility, without micromanaging your remote team.
For example, once you’ve shared marching orders and given your team the resources that they need for success, trust them to deliver. Even if you’re worried about their work, it’s typically best to give them the benefit of the doubt. While it’s tempting to check in every few hours to see how they’re doing, this can create angst that damages team efficiency and frustrates your team. You hired professionals for a reason, trust them — the time for closer direction is after you’ve given them space to deliver.
Transparency also helps build trust.
Sarah Nagel, Senior Manager of Brand Advocacy and Community at SproutSocial, and frequent leader of remote teams recommends, “Overshare your calendar and keep meeting details as transparent as possible. Also make sure that your team knows when you’re on a plane, WFH, on PTO, etc. This creates a lot of trust organically.”
When you first start building a remote team, or take a position managing a pre-existing remote team, it’s best to keep processes and communication simple. Do not expect to immediately add excessive workflows or communicate complex assignments. Remember that it takes time to grow a cohesive remote team, so patience is an important trait for marketing leaders to nurture.
3. Assess team performance and make adaptive improvements
While the ability to effectively apply your marketing strategy is a step in the right direction, if your marketing or team processes aren’t performing well, there is room for improvement. To assess the performance of your distributed marketing team, start by looking at the quality of work that they produce. If work is not completed on time or does not meet the expectations of the organization, consider the following:
- Was the assignment properly communicated to the team?
- Is the team under stress from tight deadlines? Is this affecting work quality?
- Are the deadlines too soft or misguided?
- Did the team have the appropriate resources and information to find success?
- Does the team possess the right skills to meet our expectations?
- What can I do to better understand the needs of my team?
Oftentimes you’ll know when a project will be a challenge before you even start — a sign that you need to reevaluate the campaign or expect speed bumps along the way. It’s best to trust your instincts and make the changes before they become a problem, and communicate any of your concerns ahead of time.
Remember that processes are fluid and apt to optimization. You shouldn’t be afraid to make changes to process workflow, communication channels, and overall project timeline expectations as appropriate. Just be sure to share changes with your remote team and give them time to adapt.
4. Invest in ongoing education for your team
Leading a remote workforce is equal parts experience and education. As a team leader, you should aim to make your team better through education, and not just a powerhouse by focusing on cranking out as much work as possible. Teach your team about the importance of open communication, empathy and flexibility, and stress the mentality of “always learning and striving for improvement.” This mentality goes for marketing processes and remote workplace challenges.
- Share the latest articles about remote workforce best practices
- Attend educational webinars to spark new ideas
- Hold collaborative monthly brainstorming sessions around any challenges the team is facing
- Set aside a handful of hours each month for employees to learn more about an aspect of their work
These ideas instill the mindset that the team doesn’t need to be perfect, but encourages them to ask questions, raise concerns when problems arise, and take the lead on projects without the fear of being overly scrutinized. In short, it helps them learn to become more efficient and self-sufficient, which alleviates headaches later.
Keep in mind that education goes far beyond the marketing department. All employees should respect remote employees and understand the challenges that a remote workforce can bring. For example, in many cases, remote workers, freelancers and contractors are perceived as outsiders, because they are not in the office every day. When remote employees begin getting more attention, this can cause a superiority complex and even jealousy with other employees that are required to be in office. This is a tough environment to navigate as a leader, but one that can be solved through proper education and expectation setting.
- Discuss what remote employees are working on with in-office employees to keep everyone informed
- Expect remote employees to perform as well as an in-office employees, and vice versa
- Invite remote employees on company trips or offsite events when financially feasible
- Assimilate regular team meetings where remote employees video-conference in
The point is: Remote employees are people too. They are valuable to your business, just as any other employee. Do not forget to communicate with them as you would any other internal employee to avoid alienating your team. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché that you must constantly battle.
As a final thought, here’s some empathetic thinking for all marketing leaders: It’s your job to be the glue that holds the organization together. You must understand the needs of the business (sales team, shareholders, board of directors), needs of the team (skills, resources, expectations), and the needs of the customer. Then you must consolidate all of this information into a concise message so that it can be effectively communicated with ease, regardless of time zones and cultural differences.
If you invest in properly building a marketing strategy, apply the strategy through the organization, measure the performance of your strategy, and educate your organization along the way, you’ll be well on your way to be a more effective marketing leader, whether your team is remote or not.