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Thriving Remotely: How Agencies Can Excel Managing Distributed Teams}

Thriving Remotely: How Agencies Can Excel Managing Distributed Teams

Published 2024-05-28

Everyone's favourite agency growth expert, Chris Simmance, returns to deliver some valuable advice on how to manage a distributed team in today's remote agency environment.

Remote work has transitioned from a temporary necessity to a permanent fixture for many agencies. I remember my first role in digital (I'm old but still remember), where ‘remote' work was limited to a single day of the year on a nominated “Duvet Day” 🤮. We could take the ‘loaner' laptop out and access work via a VPN. It wasn't fun.

The largely recent shift brings unique challenges and opportunities, particularly for those managing remote digital marketing teams. As businesses continue to adapt, mastering remote leadership and communication becomes paramount to maintaining productivity, fostering collaboration, and preserving company culture across geographical boundaries.

Keep reading to discover my 6 top tips for managing remote teams.

Catch Chris in our webinar on agency efficiency, growth & quality. View the recording.

Contents:

Setting the Stage for Effective Remote Leadership

Effective remote leadership starts with setting up strong communication channels and clearly stating what is expected of team members.

Your selection of tools is key; platforms such as Slack and ClickUp help to ensure smooth communication and the effective management of client projects. Leaders need to establish clear goals and expectations to bring team members in line with the organisation's objectives.

Regular meetings and open updates further strengthen this alignment, making sure that everyone is informed and can contribute effectively from any location.

6 Tips for Managing a Remote Team

1. Choose the Right Tools for Communication & Project Management

Choosing the right tools for communication and project management in a remote work environment is crucial for maintaining efficiency and avoiding the clutter of excessive notifications and dispersed information sources.

Rather than recommend tools, which will cause arguments I'm sure, I'll recommend the things you need:

  1. A daily driver communication tool for instant messaging & ideally integrated with internal and external client video calls
  2. An external communication platform for accountable client comms (aka Email)
  3. A consolidated cloud-based file system with proper version and access controls
  4. An accountability building Ops tool that can clearly track time, tasks and people for each client. The ideal one will allow for automations and templated Standard Operating Procedures too.

Consolidation and Integration

To avoid the pitfalls of using multiple disjointed tools, which can lead to information overload and reduce productivity, it's important to consolidate and integrate your communication and project management tools wherever possible to allow for:

  • Integration capabilities
  • Centralised notifications
  • Unified search features
  • Shared workspaces

2. Set Clear Objectives and Expectations

Setting clear objectives and expectations is crucial for the success of remote teams. Clear expectations ensure that everyone understands their roles, responsibilities, and the outcomes expected of them, which in turn fosters independence and ownership of work.

Using goal-setting frameworks like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can effectively align team efforts with company objectives. These frameworks help clarify what is expected at both individual and team levels, promoting transparency and focus.

3. Schedule Regular Check-ins and Updates

Regular check-ins and updates are vital for maintaining open lines of communication and promptly addressing any issues that arise in remote teams. Scheduled meetings – whether daily or weekly – provide a platform for team members to report on their progress, discuss any challenges, and adjust strategies as needed.

Project management tools, like Asana or Trello, can facilitate real-time updates and keep everyone informed about a project's status, upcoming deadlines, and any shifts in priorities.

These should not burden you, or teams, so make sure they are simple and repeat logically. For example, daily via Slack at 3pm with a one-sentence “I'm working on X, I've completed Y, and am working on Z for delivery tomorrow.”

4. Consider Remote Team Building and Collaboration Activities

Organising virtual team-building activities is not just a box-ticking exercise; it's about creating genuine connections and a buzz of collaboration amongst team members scattered across different postcodes.

Let's dive into how we can transform your digital marketing team from a group of individual email addresses to a dynamic force, brimming with camaraderie and innovation.

Interactive Online Workshops or Casual Hangouts

Kick off with something that's a tad informal, shall we? How about setting up interactive online workshops or even casual Friday hangouts?

Picture this: one week, your team is deep diving into a workshop on the latest SEO trends, and the next, you're all having a natter over virtual coffee, sharing the latest gadget you've bought or the new series you're binging. It's these moments that chip away at the formal barriers, encouraging open dialogues and forging stronger bonds.


Above: You could create an internal version of SEO Office Hours by Good Signals

Virtual Team Challenges or Games

Nothing like a bit of friendly competition to spice things up, right? Initiate some virtual team challenges or games.

Imagine your team cracking codes in a virtual escape room or battling it out in a trivia contest that covers everything from pop culture to the peculiarities of pay-per-click advertising. These activities aren't just fun; they're a goldmine for teamwork, getting everyone to pull together and think on their feet.

Implementing Pair Programming or Buddy Systems

Moving onto something a bit more structured – pair programming or a buddy system. This isn't just about ticking off tasks; it's about building a mentorship culture.

By pairing a seasoned pro with a fresh-faced newbie, you're doing more than just transferring knowledge. You're building confidence and nurturing a supportive workspace. Rotate these pairs regularly to prevent cliques and to spread the wealth of knowledge and experience far and wide.


Above: You could launch an internal version of the Women in Tech SEO mentorship program

Encouraging Open Communication

Now, onto the cornerstone of any thriving team: open communication. Set the stage with platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These aren't just tools for pinging over files; think of them as your virtual water cooler or your team's digital pub table. It's crucial that everyone feels their voice can be heard, from the interns to the head honchos.

Regularly soliciting feedback and ideas can transform your workflow. Whether it's through structured brainstorming sessions or a quick 'any ideas?' message after a meeting, encourage everyone to throw their digital hats in the ring. It's about fostering an environment where feedback is not only heard but acted upon.

Application in Practice

Let's picture your digital marketing team, all geared up but working in silos. By weaving in regular virtual coffee breaks and setting up those buddy pairs, you start to see a shift. The team begins to interact more seamlessly, and the sharing of insights makes the whole operation smoother and more innovative.

Regular feedback sessions become the norm, not the exception, ensuring that every suggestion and concern is woven into the fabric of your team's strategy. This isn't just about keeping the ship steady; it's about steering it boldly forward into new waters.

Implementing these practices doesn't have to be daunting. It's about small steps leading to big changes. So, why not start today? Get that virtual coffee break in the diary, set up a trivia quiz, or pair up team members. It's about building a team that not only works together but grows together.

5. Leverage Technology for Remote Team Success

In the ever-twisting world of digital marketing, nailing the art of managing remote teams with savvy tech use is a bit like finding the perfect espresso in a sea of instant coffee.

It's essential.

Drawing off nuggets from my book, "CTRL ALT LEAD," the secret sauce lies in picking the right tools to boost communication, streamline your processes, and crank up that productivity dial. This isn't just me having a chinwag—it's what the top dogs in the industry are barking about: tech is the bridge over the vast waters of geographical gaps.

Diving Into Advanced Collaborative Tools

Let's chat about Miro first. It's a gem for those brain-tickling sessions where ideas bounce around like ping-pong balls. Miro lets your team throw ideas onto a digital canvas from anywhere in the world, mimicking those lively in-office vibes without needing to share a postcode.

And then there's Trello. It's like having a high-tech whiteboard where everything is laid out visually from to-do to done. It keeps everyone in the loop, avoiding those awkward moments where projects might otherwise disappear into the void.

It's worth mentioning that it's not just ‘collaboration tools' that can facilitate collaboration. When it comes to SEO, for example, the move away from using a Desktop crawler (like Screaming Frog) and upgrading to a Cloud crawler (like Sitebulb) can be a huge boon to team collaboration. This is because it unlocks the ability for multiple team members to view the same audit data at once, run crawls without slowing down their machines, and capitalise on automation and scheduling capabilities. Benefits like these make Sitebulb an excellent SEO audit tool for agencies.

These tools aren't just shiny toys; they're the gears that keep the engine of remote teamwork running smoothly, ensuring everyone's rowing in the same direction—even if they're oceans apart.

Embracing AI-Driven Analytics Tools

Moving onto AI—a bit like having a super-smart assistant who doesn't need coffee breaks. AI-driven tools that track team performance and highlight where you can tweak things for the better. It's like having a coach who's always on the ball, helping your team play their best game.

Personalised Development Resources

AI also gets personal, tailoring learning goodies to suit each team member's growth trajectory. This ensures everyone's skills are sharp and shiny, which in turn, keeps your business at the cutting edge.

Ensuring Everyone's Tooled Up

It's all well and good having these tools but, as I harp on about in the book, it's crucial that every team member gets their mitts on them. Keep the team clued-up with regular updates and training on the newest toys in the digital marketing sandbox. This isn't just about keeping up; it's about leading the charge.

Balancing Technology Use

And here's the kicker: balance. It's all about making sure these tech wonders are making life easier, not piling on more. Regular heart-to-hearts and feedback fiestas can help make sure these tools are hitting the mark and not just gathering digital dust.

By choosing and using these tools wisely, leaders can keep their teams firing on all cylinders—innovative, collaborative, and, crucially, not on the brink of a tech-induced meltdown.

6. Cultivate a Strong Remote Company Culture

Creating a dynamic remote company culture isn't just a nice-to-have; it's an absolute must if you're steering the ship from afar. But how do you keep the team spirit alive when everyone's dotted around the country, or even the globe?

It's all about making a conscious effort to mould a culture that truly clicks with remote working.

Defining Core Values

First off, it's crucial to pin down what your agency stands for—especially when your team's not sharing the same office kettle.

The core values should reflect the unique perks and realities of remote work. Think flexibility, independence, and a hefty dose of accountability. Get these values right, and you'll have a solid foundation that resonates with everyone, wherever they're logging in from. More on that here.

Celebrating Milestones and Achievements

Then there's the matter of celebrating those big wins and milestones. Sure, you can't pop a bottle of bubbly together, but virtual events can still pack a punch.

Whether it's a well-crafted Zoom party or a creative online awards ceremony, it's about making everyone feel valued and recognised. This isn't just about boosting morale; it's about fuelling motivation across the board.

Continuous Feedback Loops

And let's not forget the power of feedback. Setting up regular surveys and feedback mechanisms isn't just bureaucratic box-ticking. It's about keeping your finger on the pulse of the team's vibe.

What's working? What's not? This continuous loop helps you nip issues in the bud and adapt strategies that support and include everyone.

Conclusion

By weaving these strategies into the fabric of your operations, you can turn the challenges of remote work into genuine opportunities for innovation and growth.

In the fast-evolving world of SEO and digital marketing, adopting these practices as long-term solutions can help your team not just survive but genuinely thrive in a dispersed work environment.

Remember, it's about creating a place where everyone feels part of something bigger, even when they're working from their living room. Cheers to building a culture that bridges the distance!

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Chris Simmance

Chris is the founder of The OMG Center, a digital agency accelerator business. With 10 years of leadership experience, Chris knows how to get things done. He's worked with clients across all levels and has been exposed to multiple layers in order for him to help you reach your goals as quickly or slowly as is right for YOU!

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