Make Social Distancing Your Marketing Team’s Secret Weapon
How to embrace its creative limitations while increasing productivity
A few years back, I was asked as director of marketing to help build a remote design team on the opposite side of the world. The mandate from our CEO was both unexpected and unwelcome. For over two years, my partner and I had been building a culture in our small startup office in Salt Lake City, Utah. Building a remote team, I feared, would slow our productivity.
It turned out I was wrong. We easily increased our productivity by 200% by adding our remote team. However, it wasn’t without its fair share of hiccups along the way, the biggest obstacle being what to expect, and not expect, in the creative process. As voiced by our general manager at the time:
“I miss the face-to-face interaction, even arguments, that happen when you’re all together. Sure, there are efficiencies that I’ve found in being remote, but for quickly collaborating and communicating the creative aspects of business I feel we’re at a real disadvantage.”
Our initial hope was that our remote design team would be a natural creative extension of our in-office team in the States. In the spirit of inclusion, we wanted to share the creative process equally, which immediately started creating problems:
- Logistically, time zone differences made collaboration complicated. Dnipro was a full workday ahead of us, which meant that by the time we wanted to brainstorm they were already at home, their mental energy spent from a day of creative output.
- Culturally, we soon realized that our design team in Dnipro didn’t do well with “open-ended” tasks in a remote setting. These tasks, like “come up with a few marketing campaign ideas for product X,” were often met with either a long list of questions or a stab at solutions way off the mark.
Tired of stumbling over these hurdles, our in-office team in the States started just doing it themselves, deciding they preferred to fall behind rather than try to manage our remote employees. Something needed to change if we were going to keep the team together.
Learning How to Play the Remote Game
As we discovered, one of the biggest battles for remote teams is learning how to play well together. Failing to find a creative flow between groups or creating unrealistic expectations causes friction which can be especially costly within creative teams. The key is to find the right time and place for creative activities to be accomplished:
Activities best suited for creativity together:
Activities best suited for creativity alone:
We learned that we needed to leverage “synchronous communication” for initial product ideas and marketing campaigns. These were generated in a small group setting, after which we asked our remote team to weigh in with their thoughts and ideas.
Once we had come to a consensus on design deliverables, we then leveraged “asynchronous communication” to build clear and concise creative briefs, establish product launch calendars, and then start cranking out deliverables, which is where productivity levels starting rising dramatically.
Current COVID Application
“In thirty years time, as technology moves forward… people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.” — Richard Branson
It’s probable that thanks to COVID-19, you now find your teams splintered between remote locations more than ever before. With that in mind, here are a few takeaways to consider while working through this unique period:
Avoid brainstorming in large groups
In an office setting, it’s easy to roundup a generous helping of participants for any creative brainstorm. When remote, however, brainstorming in large groups can actually slow you down. Technology limitations like people dropping or cutting out on calls can kill the creative flow and it’s always hard to know when to jump in online without cutting someone else off. Instead of trying to create the same way you’ve done in-office, consider creative ways to collaborate in smaller teams without being dependent on group brainstorms.
Develop new ways of micro-connecting
If you’re not already doing it in your marketing teams, consider finding ways to connect on a human level while everyone’s remote and you can’t just catch up over a coffee or lunch. One idea is to create a dedicated Slack for something like “favorite binge-worthy TV shows” or “remote work fashion tips” where everyone can join in and feel like they’re still humans working together.
Another idea is screencasting a recording of yourself that others can playback later as a movie. The simple act of recording your work to share with colleagues allows for a degree of vulnerability that can then be reciprocated until it becomes a contagious part of the work-flow.
Kill as many meetings as possible:
As Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, likes to remind people:
“There’s no such thing as a one-hour meeting. If you’ve got five people in one room for an hour then it’s a five-hour meeting.”
If you’re managing a team, it’s a great time to look at your list of projects and consider how to prioritize project tasks that will work well for your remote workforce. Consider killing meetings wherever possible and replace them with asynchronous communication tools like improved creative briefs and task management programs, like Jason Fried’s Basecamp.
Not Being Together Right Now Is Not the End of the World
You might be convinced that being forced remote will hurt your team’s productivity. Speaking from personal experience, I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised. In fact, if leveraged properly, this unique time might just help you create new processes for a stronger, healthier team once COVID-19 has passed.