Lead a remote marketing team and improve communication

April 2nd, 2020

For many companies, marketing is predominantly an in-office team, and for good reason. Whether it’s teaming up with the product team to develop a go-to-market strategy, gathering intel and creating resources for sales representatives, or optimizing internal communications, marketing teams tend to collaborate with other departments more than any other team.

But what happens when you and your marketing team suddenly must work from home? This is the situation many marketing leaders have recently found themselves in largely due to effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It’s important to also note remote work environments may become increasingly prevalent after the effects of this pandemic subside, as many companies may recognize the long-term benefits of allowing and facilitating employees to work remotely.

I started at FFW a few months ago as the head of U.S. marketing. FFW is a digital platform development agency which serves some of the largest organizations in the world. There are a handful of small offices across the country, but the workforce is predominantly remote, including my marketing team. In the seven years before FFW, I led marketing and its team of 12 for a company with a traditional office environment. Having to manage a fully remote team was a significant change. Below are key changes I’ve made in my approach to management, which I hope helps my marketing counterparts who have been thrust into this new remote work environment.

Increase Communication and Frequency of Check-ins

Depending on your natural management style, this may feel counterintuitive, or even like micromanaging. But increasing communication frequency in a remote work environment helps in a number of important ways.

Maintains Team Member Focus

An environment of working alone can quickly result in a lack of focus, including losing sight of priorities. Increasing the frequency of communication with your team members provides more opportunities to align on priorities and important milestones.

Reduces Missed Deadlines and Wasted Time

One of the most common causes of procrastination is not having an understanding of expectations or how to proceed on a given project. We’ve all been there at some point in our careers. These are projects we know must be completed, but we continually put off to focus on others until right before the deadline. 

Even for those who don’t procrastinate, being unsure of how to execute a project or task often results in delays due to analysis paralysis. As most of us know, staring at a blank screen doesn’t lead to sudden epiphanies as often as we’d all like. Many employees demonstrate an aversion to asking for help, out of a feeling of not wanting to annoy their supervisor, or appearing incapable. 

Communicating more frequently provides more opportunities to catch these instances with your team members, including proactively asking them to walk you through the next steps of their current projects so you can identify needed areas for more direction.

Using More Direct and Human Communication

Direct communication doesn’t mean curt, concise, transactional, or sterile. Rather, it means being extra intentional about the words you choose, how you are phrasing things, and most of all being specific. By no longer being able to rely on in-person communication, important non-verbal cues can be lost, and people are more likely to inaccurately infer information.

Critical Feedback: Direct and Intentional

One of the most important aspects of using direct communication is for critical feedback. Speaking in generalities results in all the cost of a tough conversation with none of the benefit. Feedback can be tough to hear, but with a healthy relationship and mutual understanding, it’s also something that is typically valued by the recipient. But being too general, or beating around the bush, can cause vague feedback, reducing its value and effectiveness, and causing the recipient frustration.

Increase Active Transparency

It’s especially important to practice increased transparency when managing a remote team - and this is exponentially true during times of uncertainty and duress caused by the pandemic. Being transparent means more than telling the truth, it’s actively providing additional context, background, and potential risks and implications. All of these are information often gleaned organically by being in an in-office workplace, and such are lost with a remote team. 

Though being actively transparent by providing this extra info might seem like wasted time, this added context illuminates the unknown for the employee which both aids in their understanding of why they are working on a given activity and how it fits into the larger picture, and it can eliminate potentially anxiety-inducing context they may have generated in their mind.

Be Human. Be Vulnerable.

In uncertain times like these, it’s also a good practice to be ok with being vulnerable in your communication. Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, humans by nature are tribal people, and deep down need a sense of social community. It’s ok to be both a boss and a human. 

Don’t neglect to put the extra effort into ensuring conversations with your team aren’t purely transactional (that can be for emails and messaging apps). In an office environment, we can get away with cutting to the chase in our conversations, since this environment creates regular opportunities for friendly banter. But in a remote work environment, there is no watercooler to chat around, and no break room to eat lunch and chat with co-workers.

Don’t Jump To Conclusions

Try to reserve making assumptions about your team members. This is an unprecedented time for all of us. We have no certain idea of knowing what our team members are facing outside of work. Though accountability and standards should still be enforced, it’s good practice to not draw any assumptions if you see a shift in an employee’s attitude or demeanor. Instead, use this as an opportunity to check-in on the employee.

Bolster Collaboration

Extra focus on collaboration with and amongst your team is very important in a remote work environment, but especially so with marketing people. These are some methods to boost opportunities for collaboration.

Leverage video conferencing and screen sharing to communicate and collaborate on abstract or visual concepts

Marketing concepts can be more difficult to convey remotely, as opposed to sharing a business proposal or HR team discussing new employee onboarding protocol.

Focus on creating opportunities for team creative thinking in a group setting

Team-wide discussions on existing or conceptual projects and initiatives have multiple benefits. These discussions help create an outlet for creative and abstract thinking, which is typically fulfilling for marketing folks. It also helps break up the stretches of more tactical, pragmatic thinking associated with solitary environment work.

These discussions also facilitate group collaboration and direct communication. A healthy discussion among the team, including elements of respectful disagreement and debate, can strengthen trust among the team and result in ideas that are not created in a vacuum void of multiple perspectives.

Team book club

Designate a business book for anyone interested in joining a book club. Hold book club meetings weekly to discuss the last several chapters, with the person leading that week’s discussion revolving each week among team members. This would aid both in collective team knowledge and discussion, as well as provide another opportunity for team members to bond.

Set Manager Office Hours

Designate a block of time every week for anyone on your team to chat about anything on their minds. Though you may already have regular 1x1 meetings with your team members, these can often be focused heavily on current work projects. Office hours provide an outlet for your team members to discuss how they’re doing overall, questions or concerns unrelated to current projects they have, or any personal matters relevant to their work life.

Work Buddy Program

Fostering and instilling an increased sense of community within your team is important, but so is creating opportunities for cross-team community as well. Consider creating a ‘work-buddy’ program, where you select a team marketing works closely with (ex. Sales, Product Management), then coordinate with that team’s leader to pair employees from either team together. Each work buddy sets and maintains a weekly 1x1 with the other. To take the concept a step farther, each pair could identify and take on a special side project. 

Ryan Pirkle is the Director of U.S. Marketing for FFW, working remotely from his Seattle home office. For more information on FFW visit: www.ffwagency.com. For more guides on managing remote teams, visit www.ffwagency.com/remote-collaboration.


Ryan Pirkle

Ryan Pirkle

Sr. Director Marketing & Communications Americas