While managing an office-based marketing team certainly isn’t a walk in the park, managing a remote team can sometimes feel like running a marathon on an invisible track.
Varying time zones and working cultures, inconsistent internet speeds and communication difficulties all pose tough challenges for managers.
In this week’s blog, we share eight tips to help you run a successful remote marketing team.
There are eight key areas of remote team management.
- Culture: Everyone should understand and embody the company culture
- Tools: You should provide the right tools and ensure everyone uses them
- Boundaries: Be flexible with work hours but strict with deadlines
- Goals: Set SMART goals that can be easily tracked and reviewed
- Communication: Schedule regular catch-ups between managers and colleagues
- Collaboration: Encourage your team to work together and share the load
- Accountability: Every team member must feel accountable for their performance
- Connection: Meet up in person at least once a year to help your team bond
Why Run a Remote Operation Anyway?
Exposure Ninja operates entirely remotely. Why? There are many benefits to running a remote operation. Here’s how it could benefit you:
- Recruitment: Remote working enables you to hire the best talent you can find from anywhere in the world — not just those who happen to live within five minutes of your office. It also enables you to hire highly skilled individuals who are overlooked by your competitors, such as working parents who might need a more flexible schedule.
- Retention: Remote companies don’t lose employees just because they move cities — or even if they move countries! That time you spent helping your employees become experts in their fields is protected, while being able to offer flexibility will reduce your employee turnover rate — recent studies have even highlighted that flexibility is the most-desired work perk (even above financial incentives!) and that a lack of it can cause your team to jump ship.
- Running costs: Because there are no premises to manage, you can save on office rent and associated costs like team lunches, fruit runs, stationery and equipment.
- Productivity: Happy employees are productive employees, and it’s no coincidence that remote work creates happier and more productive employees. By enabling your team to spend more time with their families and work flexibly around commitments, you provide them with the work/life balance they need to perform at their best.
- Customer service: A remote operation is able to offer sales and tech support around the world — and around the clock — enabling you to provide a better service to clients.
While running a remote team isn’t for everyone, if these benefits sound attractive, you’ll likely want to know how to manage your distributed team effectively. Here’s how.
- Develop a Strong Company Culture and Onboard Everyone
- Provide the Right Tools and Ensure Everyone Uses Them
- Set and Reinforce Boundaries
- Get S.M.A.R.T with Team Goals
- Communicate Clearly and Regularly
- Collaborate Using Slack and Google Docs
- Hold Everyone Accountable
- Meet at Least Once a Year and Have Fun Often
1. Develop a Strong Company Culture and Onboard Everyone
Having a clear company culture that your employees can embrace will foster their loyalty, dedication and commitment. Your company culture should be the foundation upon which you build your management style, employee handbook and contractual agreements. It should be underpinned by a strong mission statement and company vision, which your employees should be taught on day one of employment.
Remote companies foster a culture of flexibility, freedom and accountability. This allows them to attract employees who naturally fit into the desired organisational structure and share the organisation’s core beliefs and ambitions.
Having employees who are a cultural fit is vital to your success. In the words of remote-working advocate FlexJobs, “Remote working is the foundation of our culture… A culture based on the understanding that life happens speaks volumes about how we value our people.”
2. Provide the Right Tools and Ensure Everyone Uses Them
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we couldn’t do what we do at Exposure Ninja without the right software!
We’ve tried and tested many different time tracking, performance monitoring and online communication tools. The ones below are our top picks to keep your team working effectively and communicating clearly.
Proper communication is the most crucial element of any collaborative effort. The majority of your communication will happen over instant messaging tools like Slack.
Slack has an attractive UI and runs efficiently on desktops as well as smartphones (although we discourage our Ninjas from installing Slack on their phones — we don’t want our team checking their notifications when they’re not working!) Slack enables you to have one-to-one conversations with team members, create separate channels for project discussions, share files and do many other tasks in a simple and easy way.
Technically, you can use Slack for video calling, but in our experience, most people will stick to text messaging if they’re already on Slack. That’s why it’s also important to make time for video calls. With a text messaging system, your attention is often split across multiple channels. Video calls are a good way of showing someone on your team that they have your undivided attention for the next twenty minutes or so — and they also let your team members see the friendly faces they work with every day!
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Productivity Tracking Tools
We know that remote workers more productive than their office-based counterparts, but you’ll likely want to use software to organise and track your whole team’s workload. We use Hubstaff to keep track of our team’s productivity. When a member of our team begins work for the day, they simply start Hubstaff’s timer. This tool functions in the background and doesn’t create any disturbance. As soon as our Ninjas have finished work for the day — or they want to take a long lunch or well-deserved break — they can simply stop the timer.
Hubstaff will also periodically take screenshots while your team are working. This isn’t meant to be invasive or a breach of privacy — after all, your team should be working, not spending valuable client time binging Netflix shows — but serves as a means to monitor how your employees are getting on. As human beings, we don’t always like to admit when we’re struggling with a task, and when you aren’t in the same room as your team, it can be even more difficult to identify when someone needs help. Hubstaff allows you to see when your employees are spending longer on a task than expected, which means you can offer your support.
If a team member stops working for any length of time and forgets to turn off their timer, Hubstaff automatically detects the idle time and pauses the timer, which, at Exposure Ninja, means our clients don’t get billed for dead time!
Task Allocation Tools
It’s important to make sure that each member of your team is crystal clear on their responsibilities. You can use a task-allocation system like Teamwork to assign tasks with instructions and due dates to each member of your team. This makes it clear to everyone who is working on a project and who should deliver what and when. One missed deadline can push back multiple teams working on the same project, but with solid task management in place, you can make sure staff are collaborating efficiently. This brings us to our next tool…
Collaborative Working Tools
How can two people work together at the same moment even when their desks might be hundreds of miles apart? The answer can be found in three pieces of free software released by Google: Drive, Docs and Sheets. When using Google Sheets, we often have 10 or so people from three different countries working on the same spreadsheet at the same time.
Because any changes to a Google Sheet happen in real time, there’s no danger that a member of your team might be working with out-of-date information. It’s also possible to give people different access settings, allowing your managers or admins to make changes to a sheet that other members of your team (or even clients) can only view.
Top Tip: Make sure that everyone uses the same tools consistently and doesn’t just revert to using their own preferred software. Otherwise, you’ll find it difficult to track projects and assess performance.
3. Set and Reinforce Boundaries
Managing a successful marketing team is as much about setting clear boundaries as it is about hiring and inspiring the right staff. While the beauty of remote working is that it provides your employees with flexibility in terms of their working hours and location, it’s important to set boundaries around the hours they put in and when they work. Here are some of the ways that Exposure Ninja safeguards our productivity and performance:
- At least 30% of time worked is within core hours: This ensures that everyone is available for manager catch-ups, Slack channel updates and quick convos at some point during the 9 to 5.
- Employees commit to weekly catch-ups with managers: Frequent chats are not only important to ensure that staff are happy, on track and producing their best work, but they also allow our team to develop great relationships with their managers. This means they feel comfortable going to them with any concerns, issues or great ideas they might have for the company or a client’s campaign.
- Hubstaff is used to track all working time: When our team are working for Exposure Ninja, they turn their Hubstaff timers on. This helps us understand productivity levels, see employee trends over time and identify any issues with performance so that these can be discussed with individuals and resolved.
- Contract Ninjas have a set minimum and maximum amount of hours per month: Everyone knows the amount of work they are expected to put in and will chat with their manager before committing to more than a certain amount of overtime. This means that Ninjas don’t have to worry about having enough work for the month or, conversely, that they have too much on their hands. We don’t like stressed Ninjas in our Dojo.
4. Get S.M.A.R.T with Team Goals
Managing a successful marketing team means setting clear goals, and it’s important that these are S.M.A.R.T — specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based.
While there are plenty of acronyms floating around the marketing sphere, some more useful and actionable than others, the S.M.A.R.T system provides you with a clear goal-setting structure that helps you prioritise, budget and meet deadlines.
The S.M.A.R.T goal setting system states that goals should be:
- Specific: Well-defined and clear to anyone with knowledge of the project
- Measurable: You must be able to understand if the goal is obtainable, see how far away completion is and understand when the goal has been achieved
- Agreed Upon: Part of holding your team accountable for their performance is ensuring that everyone agrees to and understands not only their independent goals but also the goals of the team
- Realistic: Your project should be achievable within timeframes and budget constraints and with the available resources
- Time-based: You should set clear deadlines that are challenging yet achievable. This prevents your remote employees from becoming complacent and gives them a huge sense of achievement when they meet their S.M.A.R.T goals.
5. Communicate Clearly and Regularly
Remote companies need strong channels of communication. Exposure Ninja uses a wide range of tools to facilitate easy communication between our team and clients, including Zoom, Yay, Slack and Skype.
Jan Schulz-Hofen, CEO of successful remote company Planio, says that for remote companies, text communication works best, as it is transparent and non-disruptive: “Text communication makes you more respectful of each other’s time, especially when you’re living multiple time zones away. Immediate communication can be disruptive… with an email, [team members can] consider your write-up at a convenient time.”
Exposure Ninja teams use Slack channels to report progress on individual campaigns, update project managers on challenges, and ask questions.
Slack is an ideal platform for us because it works in any web browser, keeps chat logs for future reference and allows us to quickly and easily signal our online status to one another — whether in a meeting, working with Slack closed or out of the office — as well as add stars to important messages and pin information to look at later.
We schedule regular voice calls where appropriate — such as for weekly manager chats and client updates and monthly progress reports.
6. Collaborate Using Slack and Google Docs
Remote team collaboration poses the added challenge of not being able to interact face to face. Body language and non-verbal clues make communication and idea sharing much easier, but while you may not have these at your disposal, the right communication and productivity tools will make it easier to collaborate on projects.
Organise Team Collaboration Sessions in Slack
If your team needs to share ideas and collaborate on a project, Slack video calls are a great option. You can add multiple participants to calls and screen share with colleagues, record calls for future reference, set topics, add tags, pin and send documents, and set notifications for changes. It keeps everything within one workspace, so you’re not waiting for your employees to install, load or, in some cases, troubleshoot different software!
Collaborate on Documents in Google Docs
As mentioned in our remote working tools section, Google Sheets and Docs are great for collaboration as they allow multiple contributors to comment on documents, make amends, highlight sections and write notes to one another with suggested actions. You can revert to different versions at any time by viewing the version history, which also shows you all changes made by individual contributors — you can see who did what and why.
7. Hold Everyone Accountable
Remote teams have to be results-orientated and set clear goals and deadlines if they are to be successful. Every Ninja at Exposure Ninja has clear tasklists set by managers in Teamwork with deadlines, time tracking and the ability to add progress or make comments on each task.
All Ninjas are expected to update Client Dashboards and show their managers what they’ve been working on during weekly catch-up calls so that we make sure that deliverables are on time and up to standard. This also lets us proactively identify when anyone is at risk of missing a deadline so that it can be quickly mitigated.
Part of holding your team accountable is ensuring that they know which personal and professional goals they should be working towards. Holding quarterly one-to-one evaluations and setting KPIs is just as important for remote companies as it is for office-based ones. Make sure that every member of your team has clear targets to work towards and, if appropriate and possible, offer a performance bonus to keep them motivated.
8. Meet at Least Once a Year and Have Fun Often
Finally, make sure that you make time to meet with your team and celebrate successes, whether that’s a coastal trip in the summer or indulging in a little Christmas fun!
The best remote teams are closely connected and eager to see one another succeed. Colleagues will talk to each other every day, just as they would in an office environment, and they often form genuine friendships — foster the connections in your team by creating ways for them to interact with one another.
Exposure Ninja has a Watercooler channel in our Slack space where every Ninja can chat, as well as smaller groups dedicated to individual interests, from cooking and fitness to art, gaming and film.
We often share photos of our families, pets and holidays, ask one another for advice and spread the word about new tools and technology we think our colleagues would find beneficial. Throw into the mix the odd Halloween and Christmas quiz — complete with Exposure Ninja swag and other goodies up for grabs — monthly Ninja of the Month rewards and team huddles for different working groups, and you’ve got a great working environment for your employees.
Feeling inspired? Which of these could you introduce to your remote marketing team?
We’re always on the lookout for the best and brightest minds in digital marketing to join our fully remote marketing agency. Check out our remote jobs page to see if there’s a position open that suits your skill set.