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Successfully Navigating Remote Work

Gwen Murray

November 19, 2020

Remote work has become the norm for many of us since the pandemic hit in March. 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full-time, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Compare this to 3.4% before the pandemic. 

At Earth Class Mail, we have been writing on remote work and what it means for businesses and individuals alike. Our virtual mailbox product helped Basecamp become entirely remote, and we also offer our perspective on what's ahead in our blog The Future of Remote Work after COVID-19 Pandemic.

In a part of our series on remote work, including Managing a Team Remotely at Earth Class Mail, our VP of Marketing Gwen Murray set out to find how other leaders handle the process. She specifically wanted to hear from other female leaders to learn what they are doing to collaborate, maintain morale, and successfully hit productivity goals. She created a series of online interview questions and received detailed and well-thought-out replies. These companies' teams have self-identified as successfully navigating remote work. Read on to hear why.

Searchspring's Marketing Team

Searchspring's Marketing Team Leader is JoAnn Martin. Searchspring is a sister company of Earth Class Mail that provides online brands with user-friendly search, merchandising, and analytics tools. JoAnn is an accomplished executive who is skillfully navigating remote work with her growing team. How does she do it, and what makes her confident that her management style is working?

In her own words, JoAnn describes Searchspring's marketing team as "always focused foremost on our revenue goal. We contribute to that goal by hitting our new pipeline KPI -- each person has specific targets depending on their function that they're working on hitting. We haven't changed our team goals because our business goals have not changed." She notes that success is a team effort and claims "it would be silly to take credit for their ambition and dedication."

So how does that ambition and dedication manifest itself at Searchspring?

Well, what JoAnn has been able to maintain is the "quality" of her team. "Despite a challenging year, every team member has been engaged, productive, and creative."

How do you connect with your team without the benefits of hallway conversations, walks to the local coffee shops, or scheduled Happy Hours?

"There are a couple of ways that I check in on my team to see how they're doing. I don't expect that they will always be doing well. You'd have to be a little 'wheels off' to have fully enjoyed 2020." 

Part of her team's practice is their daily Slack standup, in which the initial question is, "How are you feeling?" JoAnn says, "It's a subtle question that is most often answered with a GIF or emoji but helps the rest of the team understand where you are without an awkward conversation. There are a lot of Nicholas Cage party parrots and Let's Go Taco emojis in that thread."

"The second [practice is] one on ones. Each manager has a weekly one on one with each team member (and me with mine) to talk about activity, but also about anything that they need to discuss." 

But what happens if you notice morale or productivity slipping? How and when do you choose to intervene? 

"I look for productivity trends. Is someone who is typically reliable slipping? Is work quality diminishing? Are our results trending down? Those aren't unique to remote work, but they can bring more complexity when people are piling on anxiety about their children's school (or ability to teach them while working from home), plus spouse's job security or ill family members. Even the stress of a kid with a cold has been exponentially multiplied. So, if something like that comes up, it requires a lot more compassion and grace."

When team members raise concerns, JoAnn jumps in to "change things up." The team recently had a project start to go "'wheels off' because of these factors, so we jumped in and talked about how we simplify and focus the project to be more effective. Did we have the right people involved? It came out better than it started."

It sounds like JoAnn has the right set of tools in her toolkit to navigate remote work - flexibility, empathy, and a playful attitude, to name a few. 

ThankView's Client Outcomes Team

The team at ThankView, a video outreach platform specializing in stewardship for their Education, Healthcare, and Non-Profit clients, is exceeding company goals and doing it remotely. Nadya Collins, their Chief Customer Officer, has experienced a lot of transition since the pandemic hit. During that time, her team restructured, recruited (tripled!), and trained the Client Outcomes teams (Onboarding, Support, and Success), all while being remote.

What are some of the "KPI's" you are using to gauge your success?

"The primary KPI that Client Outcomes is measured on, and frankly, the reason why ThankView decided to invest in the role that I was hired for, is Net Revenue Churn. Before I started in March, that number was between 15%-19%, and I was tasked to get that number below 10%. I was in the office for three days before the entire company moved to work from home. It was definitely hard to come in, observe, build the relationships, and build the trust to drive the change needed to achieve our goal while working remotely in an environment that previously was so built around in-person, fun, and after-work activities. But I honestly think it was the culture and the team that made it possible to align and execute on those changes remotely."

Did you use any external partners to help maintain the momentum? 

Nadya brought in expert help from Simu.ly, who "helped us build a Sales playbook, train the team, and assess the team afterward through simulation calls. However, if the team hadn't been so open-minded, empathetic, and motivated to change, we would never have been able to absorb the new way of working and drive that >15% Net Revenue Churn down to the <-1% it is today."

What an incredible accomplishment! 

What new processes and tools have you tried?

Nadya rolled out a "life-changing tool" called Front. Front is a multi-channel inbox that lets you assign tasks, follow, comment, and analyze efficiency. "Especially with shared inboxes, tripling the team and needing to train and support new employees while on the job, Front has been an absolute game-changer. I honestly don't think I could ever go back to just using Gmail after this."

What are you doing to keep up the pace and achieve high levels of morale and employee engagement?

"We try to come up with new and inventive ways to celebrate still and continue to invest in our culture. Fun is actually listed as one of our company's core values, and ThankView had had a Fun Committee since before I started, so it is something that is always top of mind for any of the leadership here."

"We have done virtual game nights, poker nights, happy hours, a Halloween themed event, and we also like to celebrate people's achievements and milestones through events and gifts. In addition to our normal benefits, the company has also implemented new perks such as reimbursement for work-from-home equipment (monitors, etc.), and monthly boxes by SnackNation."

With her team, she also encourages time off in the form of a" mental health day" where any ThankView employee can take a free day off every two weeks. From Nadya's perspective, companies should keep in mind that it's not just about going remote... It's also about "acknowledging that this past year has made life increasingly stressful with people potentially having to deal with isolation, sickness, loss of loved ones, and other events that are impacting people's mental health." She further explains, "It's important to listen to your employees to understand how you can best support them."

Nadya's team has made impressive progress over the past few months, exceeding her goals! Her ability to stay connected and embrace new ways of keeping employees motivated is inspiring. I want to be more like Nadya! Don't you? 

Merkitus’ Market Team

Charlotte Laings is Head of Marketing at Merkitus, a unique software platform that helps their customers understand and optimize their buildings' environment, maintenance, usage, and health. Charlotte's team has been busy the past few months winning an award based on her team's digital marketing campaign and onboarding a new employee - all while being fully remote.

In a few sentences, describe why you think you've had success managing your team remotely? What are some of the "KPI's" you are using to gauge your success?

"In terms of performance, during the lockdown, we have done some of the best work we have ever done. We've increased website views by 20% and tripled social media following." She attributes this to "the closer bond the team has formed over this time." 

For Charlotte, keeping morale high has been about "truly embracing the benefits of remote working. Making the most of flexible working hours and using the time saved from commuting to learn new things," keeping her team happy and productive.

How has your communication style adapted to stay connected with your team? Have you tried any new tools or tactics?

"Not necessarily a 'productivity tool' but calls are your best friend. Whether it's a video call or just a phone call, it's miles more effective for communicating one on one." For Charlotte, this takes people out of the routine of constant slacks and emails and helps maintain personal relationships amongst co-workers. 

What feedback have you received from your team that indicates working remotely is going well?

Charlotte's Senior Content Manager provided the following input:

"We all know when deadlines are, and as long as we stick to them and are present for meetings, we can manage our own time within that space. As a writer, I can't always write on command, especially with big, research-led pieces, so this style of working suits me down to the ground: it allows me the room to think creatively and to work at my own pace. I think it's a testament to the way Charlotte runs the team that things rarely fall through the cracks, and no one is ever burnt out."

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to learn from others' experiences during this time, and I encourage you to reach out to your network and find out what they are doing right (and maybe mistakes made along the way) while managing remote teams. I have learned some great tips from these women and think I'll be asking HR about SnackNation! I love seeing teams come together to support one another during what can be an isolating and challenging time, and I hope you also found value in the stories these leaders shared.

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