Running marketing teams remotely: A practical guide

Running marketing teams remotely: A practical guide

Editor’s note: You may remember that recently we announced a partnership with Alliance and the renowned Vlerick Business School for an upcoming interactive masterclass designed specifically for marketing and growth teams working at European tech scale-ups. This article, written by Robin Geers, the founder and CEO of Alliance, and edited by, is part of this partnership. In a series of stories, Robin is touching upon important topics before the five-week intensive masterclass begins. All credits for the practical insights in this specific post goes to one of the experts from the program:  Sançar Sahin (Ex VP Marketing at Hotjar and Typeform).

Running a remote team is fundamentally the same as running a non-remote team — all the basics still apply. Think of Jim Collins’ analogy on driving a bus.

You start with a stationary bus, and you’re the driver. To begin, you need to get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus and then put the right people into the right seats. When you’ve done that, you can tell people where they’re going and together you can decide how to get there.

This includes:

  • Setting up the team for success (tooling, tech, resources, budget, processes, etc)
  • Knowing how to measure success (goal setting, etc)
  • Putting team feedback loops in place (peer-to-peer, manager-to-team, goal reflection/retros, etc)

So what changes when you do all this remotely? It’s less about the What and more about the How. To begin let’s start with getting the right people on your remote bus.

Remote-thinking in the hiring process

When hiring, you need to think remote-first. For example, if you’re planning to fly people in for an in-person interview after a video-call interview, then you’re not thinking fully remote. At Hotjar, for example, they built remote-thinking into the end-to-end process.

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The key differences with non-remote thinking are that you need to make it extra clear that you’re hiring for a remote position when advertising the role. Build it into your story and be clear about any requirements (time zones, etc). After you set the expectations, prepare for the video interviews. For example, ensure a good internet connection on both ends, and make it clear if you will be recording the call.

Give finalist candidates a task that reflects remote working as closely as possible. At Hotjar lots of very good candidates would leave the process at this stage because remote wasn’t right for them (either because they discovered it or we did). Also, ask them about the pros and cons of the remote. See if they have a false expectation or if they can correctly anticipate some of the challenges.

When onboarding new hires, put a big focus on having them connect with key teammates from around the company. Ensure your company essentials (vision, mission, goals, values, goals, etc) are extremely well documented and built into the onboarding. You’re going to be missing out on water-cooler chats, so everything needs to be laid out.

Making a remote team feel close to each other

Once you have the right people in the right seat on your remote bus, it’s important to make sure that they feel close to each other. Because one of the biggest challenges with running remote teams, especially as your company grows rapidly, is to ensure people don’t feel… remote. The aim should be to build a distributed team that feels close. Whether you call that ‘distributed’, ‘remote’, or anything else doesn’t matter.

Here are a few ways to keep people close:

Create common ceremonials and stick to them: organise regular all-hands meetings or virtual standups to help your team feel like a team, and not a bunch of freelancers. Besides the rituals, create guidelines and best practices to encourage collaboration.

For example, something that was highly recommended at Hotjar is that you write down a list of the people in the org that you need to know well to be successful at your job and then set up regular meetups with those people.

Don’t forget to have fun when working remote, but focus less on planning the fun (see how that already doesn’t sound fun) and more on enabling it. A few examples of how Sançar enjoyed working remote at Hotjar were, for example, everyone had a budget that they could use to do things with other people in the company. Things like organising online AirBnB experiences, virtual lunches where we would each order a pizza, played cards and ordered some snacks in, etc.

The Marketing team organised regular “coffee & learn” sessions where anyone could talk about something they’re passionate about or a learning they’ve had. They were super casual 30-min calls where everyone had a coffee while learning something new and personal.

A good tool for facilitating these informal sessions is Icebreaker. It was used company-wide at Hotjar and was a fantastic way to talk with people you usually wouldn’t talk to. It really helps replace those water-cooler moments. The Donut app for Slack is also a great, simple way to keep people connecting. It randomly assigns you with someone to have a virtual coffee with.

Last, but not least, be as clear and transparent as possible at all times: this means setting clear expectations, not shying away from difficult conversations, and giving clear and direct feedback as often as possible. The more transparent and clear the environment you set up, the less distant the team will feel.

Bonus: Tools for remote working

There are a few tools Sançar swears by for running a remote team, let’s take a look at them:

Synchronous work

For synchronous working, Slack and Zoom. Slack is great for remote teams because you can organise channels by projects, teams, goals, etc., and keep everything in one place. It’s great for a one-on-one chat, too.

Just be sure to set some clear & simple guidelines and best practises such as updating your status to tell people when you’re on a call, in focus mode, on vacation, or whatever it may be. It’s a super quick and simple way to give visibility to your working patterns.

Next to your Slack status, be transparent about what people should expect from you on Slack. For example, “if you send me a message, I’ll respond within a couple of hours.”

For calls, Sançar enjoyed using Zoom. Make the most of technology to feel closer to your team. You can do this by using virtual backgrounds (you could even design your own office background that everyone uses) and even improve your audio quality with Krisp.

Asynchronous work

For asynchronous working, Loom, VideoAsk, Miro and Asana worked like a charm. Loom and VideoAsk are great tools for sharing feedback, thoughts, or just about anything, in an asynchronous manner. With their browser plugin, you can record a quick screencast, share it with the team and get feedback. why not do weekly feedback sessions with the team?

Miro is a great whiteboarding tool and can be used from anything such as asynchronous brainstorming, retrospectives, and website product feedback. To improve your remote team collaboration also have a project management tool, such as Asana, to collaborate and keep track of projects. Try to ensure everyone uses it in the same way, to make usage as efficient as possible.

Store stuff

For storing things, Notion or Confluence are great to store and manage all important company documentation or processes. Try to avoid using these tools as a place to collaborate, otherwise, they can get messy. If something becomes “truth”, add a page… anything before that point should stay outside. And Google drive, of course. Set some ground rules for keeping it tidy.

Build better relationships

As previously mentioned, you also have tools to build better relationships for remote teams: IceBreaker is a fantastic tool to help remote teams get to know each other better. While the Donut app for Slack makes having random coffee calls with people easy and fun.

Featured image credit: Avi Richards on Unsplash

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