In the wake of social distancing measures implemented due to the coronavirus, many companies have shifted their workforce to working remotely. In fact, Forbes reports that almost half of all American companies have asked their employees to work from home since mid-February. For many business leaders, this has resulted in major changes to daily operations. For this blog post, I jumped on a conference call with Roxanne Lujan, SWBC’s VP of Marketing, to get some tips on managing a remote workforce.
Q: What do you do in your role on a daily basis, and how has that changed now that you and your team are working from home?
A: As the Vice President of Corporate Marketing, I am in charge of overseeing all aspects of the SWBC brand, including traditional, digital, content, and social media marketing. I also manage all of our sports sponsorship marketing and our spokespersons contracts. Most days, I’m orchestrating strategy sessions, meeting with our leaders and partners, and managing a 20+ person marketing team.
This has definitely been an adjustment period. Before, I would work from home every few weeks when I had a log of procedural tasks and action items that I needed to execute. Now, I’m having to coordinate big-picture strategy and planning sessions that I typically do in collaboration with my team over the conference table. Not having that collaborative element available is probably the biggest adjustment that I’ve had to make. Figuring out which communication platforms and strategies work best in a virtual environment has been a challenge. The good thing is that everyone is figuring this out together as we go, so I’ve found that people have been very creative and patient when it comes to navigating new channels of communication.
Q: What overall advice do you have for team leaders who are managing employees and projects remotely?
A: Marketing is a highly collaborative work environment. There is a lot of coordination involved in planning and executing campaigns, staying in communication with the divisions we support, and managing various roles within the marketing department. Communicating and working together are essential to our process, but working from home can limit the normal channels of communication that we’re used to operating within. As a result, over-communication has become key.
Everyone is being pulled in so many different directions right now, so anything we can do to overcome that communication gap is going to be valuable. When you have someone’s attention, take advantage of that time by over-questioning, over-explaining, and over-documenting those conversations.
Q: What are some new tools or creative ideas you’ve been using to keep up employee engagement and morale?
A: Because I’m part of such a collaborative team, it’s very important for me to let everyone I work with know that they still have a team behind and available to them, even though they’re at home working from their offices.
One thing I’ve started doing is having a quick fifteen minute chat with a different member of my team every day. We jump on an informal call and “go on a walk.” I use this time to talk about how they’re adjusting to working from home, discuss any roadblocks they might experiencing, and catch up with them on a personal level.
I think it’s important to carve out extra time for informal communication and to build those interpersonal relationships by over-participating in new and imaginative ways. It may feel cheesy at first, but I think that as we adjust to using new communication platforms, we will continue to find creative ways to gather around the virtual water cooler.
Q: Can you speak to the role of flexibility in managing a remote workforce?
A: Regardless of what you’re doing for work, these times are very draining, both physically and emotionally. From a management perspective, I feel like it’s important to give your employees some grace and flexibility right now because there are a lot of elements of daily life that have been disrupted, and we’re all trying to figure out how to adjust to a new normal.
For me, that means that I need to be flexible enough to have realistic expectations and understand that not everyone is going to be able to have their nose to the grindstone for eight hours every single day. It’s having trust in your employees and being able to rely on their integrity to know that they’re getting their work done, even though it may be on a timeline that’s a little non-traditional.
Q: What are some tricks you’ve been using in your life to stay on track while working from home?
A: I’ve found that sticking to as much of my normal routine as I can is really helpful. It’s important for me to get into “work mode,” even though I’m not going into the office. I still get ready in the morning, blow-dry my hair, and get dressed for the day. I’m not necessarily walking around my home office in high heels or anything, but I get ready for my day like I normally would because it helps me transition into feeling like I’m ready to work.
Having a dedicated workspace is also important. Even if you don’t have a home office, setting up a separate area where you do most of your work is a good idea. When you don’t have that physical separation from your home and your work, it can feel like work is always within easy reach, so you might not know when to put it down.
Q: What advice would you give to other business leaders for making it through these next few months?
Obviously, we’re all going through unprecedented times. For those of us who have the opportunity to work from home, we’re fortunate that advances in technology over the past 20 years has enabled us to continue functional daily operations and production. While the recent disruptions have definitely presented some obstacles, none of them are impossible to overcome—they just require some creativity and tenacity to push through them. With enough commitment, teamwork, and compassion, we will come out a better, stronger, more resilient team!