Everyone seems to have a remarkable success story and a cautionary tale about remote work. For every millennial that landed his dream job and got to do it while traveling the world, there is the manager that felt the dead weight of a remote worker who did little more than cash the paycheck.
As marketers, we’ve had to transition into an era of data-driven decision making. And I’d argue that deciding whether remote work is right for your marketing team deserves the same methodical approach. With 92% of global employees saying that anywhere working has a positive impact on productivity, it seems less a question of if it works and more a question of how. Why do some succeed and others demand their marketers work shoulder-to-shoulder?
The debate about whether remote work, well, works, is most likely because leaders seem to be leaving how remote working will work to chance or employee and manager discretion. But with 62% of global employees expecting to work from anywhere, it’s time to get a bit more scientific about this workplace trend.
Making the Case
Fortunately, for those teams still under review, this Fast Company article by Rich Bellis provides some interesting strategies on how to make anywhere working benefit the employee and the employer.
1. Put in Face Time first… and always.
Many of the organizations making headlines seem to be treating remote work as an all or nothing decision – work remotely all the time, or not at all. But where your marketing team works needn’t be so black and white. When a new marketer joins the team, for example, there’s a lot of knowledge transfer and rapport being built in a short amount of time and it may be beneficial for them to spend their first few weeks in the office.
Bellis highlights one such arrangement. “Melody Thomas’s current job, as webmaster for the website of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, wasn’t advertised as a remote position. But since her hiring manager knew Thomas lived 45 minutes from campus, she included that option as part of the offer.” Melody spent the first 3 months working in the office every day, then shifting to part time in the office, and ultimately full time from home.
After the on-boarding period, the relationships built during the in-office time benefit greatly when colleagues can continue to communicate face-to-face. Marketers that work remotely will build trust based on the quality of the work they deliver, and they are much better equipped to deliver great work when there are as few communication barriers as possible.
2. Make yourself essential
The marketing tech industry has seen an average annual growth rate of 170%, increasing from 100 companies in 2011 to nearly 3,874 in 2016 (source: Scott Brinker), making it more difficult than ever to walk into a marketing job with the technology expertise to help the organization succeed.
Only being equipped to do their job from an office can limit your team’s ability to expand their skill set and increase their value to the organization. Alternatively, being empowered to work from anywhere can present interesting professional development opportunities.
Bellis gave the example of a remote worker leveraging flexibility to pursue a master’s degree in predictive analytics and ultimately develop skills that the organization can leverage going forward. “I basically taught myself pretty niche programming things and built a tool for our specific workflow that’s now super-required to succeed in a bunch of projects we’re doing.”
Of course, making yourself essential doesn’t necessary mean obtaining an advanced degree. It could mean simply attending a marketing conference or technology users group in your metro area, wherever that might be.
3. Schedule regular check-ins
Although, there’s no way to know what those essential skills are unless you keep a close connection with the business. Which is why regular interactions play an instrumental role in building a business case for remote work.
Over 64% of marketers report that they feel like they don’t have the time or the personnel to do the kind of marketing they would like. So it’s tempting for marketers working remotely to keep their “heads down” and focus on the tasks at hand. Scheduling regular check-ins keeps remote employees connected to the organization’s objectives.
It can be tempting to think that persistent chat, email, instant messaging, and the occasional voice call is all marketers need to stay connected, but when remote marketers meet over video conference, the communication is considerably richer. When at an event I often find myself saying to a colleague, “I think this is the first time we’ve met in person?” After regular video-based conversations, it’s hard to remember if we haven’t shaken hands before. It seems unlikely the same could ever be said for someone you connect with regularly in a solution like Slack.
4. Use time differential as a selling point
Obviously, not everyone working on a virtual team is geographically distributed. However, when there is a geographical difference, it can be advantageous.
As Bellis writes, the time differential can also mean working when others are sleeping. “And it has helped me say yes to more projects because, although my clients are going to bed, my day has just started. By the time they get up the next morning, the final document is in their inbox. That makes them really happy!”
The commonality among remote work success stories is often the willingness to provide virtual team members with the tools needed to remain collaborative and productive. As Emma Plumb of 1MFWF says in this recent interview, “Collaborative technologies allow for all sorts of new and interesting ways to communicate that are actually more effective than in-person meetings, which can often be more of a time waster than a boon to productivity. They also allow employees to get to know each other even when they might not otherwise have interacted in person at all — for example, if they are not on the same team, or if they work on separate floors or separate offices.”
When flex work was just for new moms or a hiring perk for startups, organizations had to improvise on how to make it work. But with anywhere working becoming the new normal, it’s time we took a more scientific and strategic approach to getting the biggest benefit for the organization and its employees alike.