It’s awfully strange to feel lost in our own homes, but here we are.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, workers around the world are being thrown out of their comfort zones by being confined to the zones where they’re most comfortable. Being thrust into a full-time WFH dynamic, while also dealing with the broader impacts of a global health crisis, creates unprecedented challenges for employees and the people who manage them.
Marketers and designers are generally a bit more familiar with working from home than some other lines of work, but few teams in any field have experienced it as a universal, everyday reality.
Collaboration and communication are essential to almost any professional pursuit, and creative work is no different. Threats posed by distance and disconnection are significant. To help leaders guide their teams smoothly into a new era of work flexibility and distributed teamwork, while perhaps even uncovering opportunities for innovation along the way, we reached out to five veteran leaders in marketing and human resources to gain their perspectives on key topics.
Keep communication simple and focus on “how” and “what”
Sharlyn Lauby is an author, writer, speaker, and consultant covering human resources management from all angles. She’s the person behind HR Bartender, a popular long-running blog, and she says she views human resources as a strategic partner: “the marketing department for a company’s internal clients rather as administrative.”
We asked Sharlyn for her recommendations on maintaining tight cross-functional communication and collaboration while transitioning to a distributed setting.
Let’s break remote communication down into two parts: how to communicate and what to communicate. First, the “how.” I’m hearing many organizations say that they thought they were very digitally connected (i.e. had all the latest and greatest technology tools) but COVID-19 has made them realize that they aren’t as far along in digital transformation as they thought. Hopefully, organizations are looking at communications technology in a new light and exploring practical solutions to help employees connect and communicate.
Once the organization has the right tools in place, they can focus on “what” to communicate. During this time when many employees are working remotely, it’s important to remember that employees need succinct communications. Try to make a habit of focusing on one takeaway. Just one. If there are multiple takeaways – break the communication into parts. It’s easier to digest. It can also help the sender reinforce previous communications.“Try to make a habit of focusing on one takeaway. Just one. If there are multiple takeaways – break the communication into parts” – Sharlyn Lauby
Take advantage of team problem-solving at scale
As the CEO of TopRank Marketing, Lee Odden oversees an agency that frequently interacts with clients from around the world, and has embraced a flexible workplace dynamic with team members operating remotely on occasion or even full-time.
He challenges himself and his team to stay focused on innovating and solving problems creatively, even amidst changing or difficult circumstances. We asked him how he’d advise fellow marketers to drive continued excellence by maintaining this mindset.
We’ve all seen quarantine productivity stories about Shakespeare writing King Lear, and Isaac Newton developing his theory of gravity while doing their best to avoid the bubonic plague. While these famous minds didn’t have to answer email or participate in Zoom meetings, they did have one thing in common with many of us experiencing COVID-19 quarantine: the opportunity to focus on very specific problems and solve them.
A complex, fast moving business world requires increasingly capable problem-solving within organizations. Individuals like Newton often get the limelight in history but in today’s environment, the wisdom and skill of the team is what moves business forward. To capitalize on team problem-solving at scale, companies must rely on 3 key COVID-19 era changes:
- Digital Transformation to better use technology for operational effectiveness and communications
- Team collaboration and working as both accountable individuals and as a team
- Focused time to spend on prioritized problems vs. on a commute or on spontaneous office coffee talk
Help your people stay organized with “time-zoning”
If you’ve read Ann’s writing on the site, or subscribe to her newsletter, or follow her social feeds, then you know she specializes in empathy and relatability. She just gets people. With this in mind, we wanted to pick her brain on navigating work/life balance at a time where it’s never been harder.
WFH, day 1: You have your whole day stretched out wide and luxurious in front of you, right here in your home office! No distractions! No one popping their head in asking HEY HOW WAS YOUR WEEKEND…? So much potential to do the deep work that can really catapult a career! THIS. IS. GOING. TO. BE. GLORIOUS!
WFH, day 1, 4 PM: All you’ve really managed to do is answer some emails and rifle through the fridge 40 dozen times. You’ve also consumed 4 lunches (post-breakfast-snack, pre-lunch, lunch, post-lunch snack because you felt a little peckish). You’re depressed. You vow to change your ways tomorrow. (Should you shower first, maybe…? People say that helps, right…? Should you put on pants…?)
How to WFH, day 1, Zero-Fridge-Rifling Edition: Help your team proactively set priorities by Time Zoning.
How: Help them carve up the day into dedicated zones of time to focus on specific tasks. And help them do it ahead of time: Set this not the morning of, but ideally a week at a time. (I do this the Friday before the following week.) Color-coding helps: My hot-pink time-zone means Hot Writing Zone.
Why: In an actual office, your time is often structured and managed for you: By others setting meetings with you. By lunch plans. By that guy popping his head into your office.
Prescription for WFH Day 1 success: Proactive priorities. Delivered in time-zones. Set in advance.
You can adjust as necessary (a meeting runs long, you’re in the writing zone, whatever). But you are nonetheless managing your day. Not letting your day manage you.“Help [your team] carve up the day into dedicated zones of time to focus on specific tasks… Manage your day – don’t let your day manage you.” – Ann Handley
As virtual becomes a reality, rethink your management style
As someone who has gone through the growing pains of learning to manage a remote team, The Memo, LLC founder and CEO Minda Harts can speak directly to the associated challenges. We asked for her advice on overcoming obstacles she encountered.
In 2016, I became a Sr. Director, and it was my first time managing remotely. Quickly, I realized that with team members in various time zones, I did not want to lead everyone the same, because each had unique skill sets and personalities. My ‘open door’ policy had to look much different in virtual reality! Managing a diverse team required me to be intentional as I invested in the success of each person. Productivity was at its highest when I consistently managed in the following ways:
- Provide a Meeting Monitor. Not every member of my team was as vocal as others. In virtual team meetings, I would rotate the meeting monitor to ensure everyone had a chance to be heard by establishing a culture of inclusion.
- Prioritize Team Dynamics. It was essential to foster inclusivity by building a team that felt cohesive and mission-aligned. We had to redefine the definition of team-building because we could not walk over and pop our heads into each other’s office or go to lunch. We provided different opportunities to stay connected, like virtual book clubs and team-building conversations and activities.
- Over-communicate. Often, when you’re not in the office as frequently, some members of the team might feel like they are isolated or not in the loop. Communication is even more critical on a remote team. I was clear on expectations and provided context for every decision. It’s our job as a manager to fill in the gaps and create normalcy.
Celebrate creative collaboration and lead by example
Brian Fanzo is an energetic and passionate keynote speaker (now virtually) who describes himself as a digital futurist. Given his knack for staying ahead of the trends and understanding the new dynamics of work, we wanted to get his insight on driving collaboration and keeping team members motivated from a distance.
Collaboration from afar can oftentimes feel overwhelming and difficult, so it’s important to celebrate the wins and those teammates that are fostering collaboration in unique ways. Do this in creative ways such as allowing them to select the theme for the next video collaboration call.
Another less mainstream method for inspiring creative collaboration is for leadership and management to communicate and be overly transparent with their collaboration process and procedures, as not only will it show leading by example but in many cases will facilitate questions and be the inspiration for teammates doing things outside of the box.“Celebrate [collaboration] wins and those teammates who are fostering [it] in unique ways. Do this in creative ways such as allowing them to select the theme for the next video call.” – Brian Fanzo
Set your remote creative team up for success
By rethinking communications, collaborating to solve prioritized problems, using thoughtful techniques like “time-zoning,” adapting to virtual management techniques, and staying laser-focused on collaboration, marketing and design leaders can equip their teams to succeed in a work environment that will likely be forever altered.
At monday.com, we’re focused on providing the guidance and tools needed to bring the best out of your teams in these challenging circumstances.
Mark your calendar for live panel on LinkedIn on Wednesday May 27, 11 am EST, for an engaging conversation with inspiring marketing leaders including Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs, Evan Kirstel, Chief Digital Evangelist / Cofounder, eViRa Health, and our own Creative Marketing Lead, Joel Goldstein.
Or, visit our Remote Work Hub for more resources and tips.