COVID-19 has caused organizations, across the board, to shift the landscape in how they operate. As many companies continue to head into uncharted waters, still navigating best practices, the future of work remains a major topic of discussion.
One question we see frequently discussed—will employees stay if they are forced back into an office environment full-time?
Candidates have a say in whether or not they will be returning to the office. While some love the feeling of being in-office, others thrive in remote environments.
That is why when we sat down with Anna Griffin, Chief Marketing Officer, we discussed various topics around how her organization has pivoted, what she’s learned through the past year, and how she is helping her teams successfully transition into their new hybrid model.
Anna Griffin – Chief Marketing Officer formally at Smartsheet, currently at Intercom
Quyen Pham – Vice President, Sales + Marketing at Swoon
Sharam Khosravipour – Division Director | Digital, Marketing + Creative at Swoon
Megan Hari – Director of Marketing at Swoon
Megan: Anna, what is the current makeup of your team? Is it more hybrid, remote, or in-person?
Anna: Well, it is always in flux. Before this last wave of the Delta variant, we decided that we were going to implement a full-time, hybrid model. This way, our employees and colleagues have the opportunity to come into the office if that is the type of work environment they prefer, or if they want to work from home, they can do that as well. We even redesigned our office buildings to better support this. However, we are all back to fully remote right now, but we did have a nice 30-day window where we were all able to test out this new space and hybrid model.
Megan: We have heard many negatives around the challenges of working remotely, but what would you say are some of those unexpected positive aspects that have come about from having a hybrid or remote work environment?
Anna: Well, I think all of our pets, especially dogs, have made out the best during this time! On the other hand, I have seen people rise and be empowered during this time, which has to do with being connected digitally. It puts democratization into communication, which has helped people feel empowered to speak up when they would not have done so if they were in a boardroom-type setting with figureheads in the room. I have also seen people whose natural inclination might be not to speak or share their ideas step up and shine in virtual meetings. The dynamics, body language, and influence just kind of go away in a hybrid world, and everyone is just the same little square on the screen. Everyone is equal, and it helps to create a very different environment where the hierarchies disappear, and everyone feels equal and comfortable speaking up.
Quyen: That is a very interesting perspective, and it reminds me of uniforms in school. Since everyone wore the same thing, it helped to equalize the playing field, and now with everyone being in the little boxes on the screen in meetings, it kind of does the same thing. Anna, when you say that you have seen more unexpected people rise to the occasion, has that been more men, women, specific roles, or has it been a gamut of things?
Anna: I have definitely seen it with women, and I think that is because men typically seem more empowered to speak. With women, I think it is more of a generational thing where they have been raised to watch and listen first before speaking. I believe that we are all actively working to change, and some of the dynamics will force change to happen faster.
Quyen: That was what I have seen also. It is amazing to see that equalize and have various people’s talents come through.
Swoon is primarily remote now, and we were 50% remote before the pandemic even started. So, with everything happening so quickly, we have embraced this. We began to hire nationwide, so it did not matter where people sat. As far as positives that I have seen, it is funny how engaged people are because when you are in a box and talking to each other, if people are multitasking or just not engaged in the discussion, you can tell. On the other hand, when you are in-person, a lot is going on all at once, so it has definitely jumped up as far as productivity between the two goes. I have been able to really be in the moment and give my all to what I am doing that very second.
Megan: What advice would you give marketing teams that may be facing some challenges right now trying to work in a hybrid or remote environment?
Anna: We have entered into this world where everything is either a Zoom, WebEx, or some sort of chat where we are collaborating. However, it is essential to note that collaboration without action is more daunting and less productive. We are all collaborating more than we have in the past, but without the ability to turn ideas into action, you are hurting everyone on your team. Now, I know this sounds kind of self-serving since I happen to work at Smartsheet, a collaboration tool, but it does help with taking those ideas and turning them into action plans where people are assigned to a specific task. This helps with accountability, and team members leave meetings knowing precisely what is happening next and what tasks they are in charge of completing. This also helps reduce the number of meetings because there is so much collaboration in this tool. Let’s face it; we are killing ourselves with meeting after meeting, day after day. It is not productive, and it is draining for everyone. That is why I believe it is so important that you give your team this outlet to take the collaboration and the ideas and turn them into project plans where you can see what everyone is tasked with without jumping into numerous meetings.
Quyen: I completely agree – we all need to reduce the number of meetings we are in each day. I have found myself quite guilty of this and have had a few people comment that it was tough to get on my calendar because I would often have a solid block of meetings for days. That was when I started to think about what I could do differently to be more readily available for my team. I began to choose the most important meetings. There are many meetings where we feel like we have to show up because someone might need us or because we are used to always accepting the numerous invites that come in. Now, I am consciously looking at all the invites and reassessing if I need to be there or not. I do this based on the objective of the meeting and what they are trying to accomplish. It is not about leaving people out. It is about saving your time, and once I started to realize that, I cut out half of my meetings. Another aspect is that if I do not believe I need to be at that meeting, I am trying to empower my team to make these decisions because I trust them. If the decision ends up not working out, there is always a way to fix or solve the problem if it happens. I want to empower my team to decide and do the things they need to do, but if they need my opinion on something, I am more than happy to help in that aspect. I do not need to be at every meeting to do so, though. All in all, I would say to make sure to evaluate your day, evaluate meetings, see what is necessary, give time back to your teams when you can, allow them to make decisions, and promote them to make decisions because incredible things always come out of that.
Megan: What recommendations would you give leaders to focus on when managing their teams remotely?
Anna: I would say a single source of truth. Your team needs to create a single source of truth, where everyone can come to data, actions, and plans without constantly meeting about it. The most important thing is that your team is effective, aligned, and working in a more unified fashion.
Quyen: I think it is all about finding ways to save time. Often, when we go into a meeting, we are unsure what we are trying to solve or accomplish. We usually are just trying to solve for growth which is so massive. We want to ensure that every meeting has a clear and precise objective of what we are hoping to accomplish, so we do not spend time, in the beginning, discussing that aspect. This also helps ensure that participants are coming prepared and have ideas and things to talk through instead of catching everyone off guard.
One thing that I encourage within my teams is to have prep time before these meetings where you sit down and think through items, such as the biggest problem we are trying to solve and some possible solutions that I can discuss with the team. This way, by the end of the meeting, you have an action item to move forward with rather than having to meet a second time.
Megan: How is your team currently fostering a culture in a remote environment, and what strategies do you think have been the most effective for your team and maintaining or building that culture?
Quyen: I think one of the things that many companies are struggling with right now is getting engagement from their teams when it comes to participating in videos for social media, joining virtual events, etc. What are you doing to combat that?
Anna: I have not noticed decreased engagement from our teams, but what has helped us the most is having various channels where our teams can engage. For example, we have Employee Resource Groups where you can engage on various topics, and we also have events like the cooking one I mentioned earlier. If it is all just yoga and stuff only during certain times of the day or only events after working hours, it can be harder to have people join. Another aspect that seems to help is tapping into your culture carriers. Maybe someone might not have proactively had the idea to engage, but you might call them and ask them to send in a video of them cooking for this event. It might just surprise other people in your organization who might not have even known they had this skill! People want to engage with other people, and you have to find easy and fun ways to do that.
Sharam: Have you shifted your interview process or your interview style with not having onsite interviews? How have you had to adjust, and what positive impacts have you seen in the shift to remote interviewing?
Megan: What are some upcoming trends in 2022, and what skillsets would you recommend that marketers add to their resumes?
Anna: Creative is back, and it is on fire! Companies are starting to realize that they must have a creative soul on their team, even as a linear, logical engineering powerhouse. Creativity is essential, and I am starting to see more companies understand that and are looking for those individuals to add them to their teams to solve problems creatively. In addition, they know how to ask the right questions.
I look for people in the interview process that go right in and ask, “how do you make money?” because if you can figure out how a company makes money, you have everything you need to know to be incredible in your job. Most people may never ask because they do not think that it is part of the job. I know creativity is something that I look for when hiring, and I believe it will be a much-needed skill in the future. It will not be something that is just pushed off to marketing either. It is going to be required across the board. Creativity is on the rise.
Meet our Panel:
Chief Marketing Officer
Vice President, Sales + Marketing at Swoon
Division Director | Digital, Marketing + Creative at Swoon
Director of Marketing at Swoon
Want to read more? Check out our previous Leading with Purpose Blog: Fostering Gender Equality and Diversity in Big Data with Morgan Templar, Vice President, Information Management at Highmark Health