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4 Secrets about Remote Workers Every Marketer Should Know

Managing remote workerrsThere’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Marissa Mayer’s recent change barring Yahoo employees from remote work. Now, for the record, I couldn’t care less whether Yahoo lets its employees work remotely or not.

This post isn’t about Yahoo.

It’s about you and how to succeed whether you choose to let your people work remotely or not.

I’ve run digital marketing and e-commerce teams for the better part of the last 17 years. I’ve worked remotely relatively regularly during the decade prior to launching my company and frequently pushed for more remote work for both others and myself. I also favor it, in the right circumstances, in my current role. So, I’m generally a fan of remote work.

But… I don’t believe for a second that it’s the right decision for every company, every project, or every employee.

If you’re interested in exploring remote work for you or your team, here are 4 tips worth considering:

  1. Don’t confuse individual productivity with team productivity. One of my past employees frequently cited how much he accomplished when freed from interruptions like meetings and, y’know, talking with his co-workers. And while many individuals benefit from focused time away from the office, that doesn’t mean that the team, division, or company benefits equally. This specific individual often ignored emails, phone calls, and instant messaging while working remotely to focus on his specific deliverables — often to the detriment of team members who needed his insights.

    When an individual has specific, non-team dependent deliverables, let them work remotely to accomplish those tasks. But if they’re a key contributor to specific team efforts, they need to be fully available to the other team members regardless of where they work. Either invest in serious telepresence (i.e., video chat, instant messaging, etc.) or get ’em in the office for those projects.

  2. Measure productivity, not presence. Outputs matter more than inputs. Too many managers give too much attention to those people “in their face” day-to-day. Judge instead the results people produce rather than the hours they’re in the office. As per #1 above, of course, is not only whether they’re “productive,” but whether your people help their teammates succeed, too. The individuals who move the team’s goals forward are worth their weight in gold. And, again, if they’re able to accomplish that remotely, let them work remotely. But if not, don’t hesitate to have them come into the office.

  3. Choose employees to work remotely wisely. Sales people who spend most of their day on the phone, in meetings with potential customers, or traveling? Great. Let them work remotely. The same with people who demonstrate the commitment to managing communications and connection regardless of their location. If not, then remote work may not be appropriate.

  4. Test and see what works in your organization. Screw Yahoo. Who cares if their folks work remotely (or not)? Try letting people work remotely one day a week or once every couple of weeks for 3-6 months and see what happens in your culture, your environment. Do your project teams get more effective or less so? Do teams work better or not? Do your customers realize a benefit or do complaints increase?

Again, I’m in favor of remote work but only in those circumstances where it works well.

Sure, many celebrated figures have chimed in on the Yahoo situation, with Richard Branson recommending giving employees the freedom to work where they want Wired looking deeply into the pros and cons of Yahoo’s decision, Farhad Manjoo saying “Mayer has made a terrible mistake,” and Business Insider suggesting Yahoo had lots of abuse of its work-from-home policy.

Again, I don’t care what anyone says about the Yahoo situation (though as my tips above suggest, I think Manjoo’s thoughts are at best ill-conceived and at worst downright silly).

The point is, you’ve got to do what works for your environment, your company, your productivity, and your culture. And, based on my experience, the tips above will help you figure out what exactly that is.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Can’t agree with this more. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been incredibly productive working remotely for a 2-year stint but have worked at places where team projects precluded me from doing so and any remote days pushed projects back significantly.
    Marissa Mayer will likely see mixed results from her rash decision to ban remote work. Certainly morale will suffer.

    1. Hi Veronique,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. I agree with you on the moral side. But do you think that may have been intentional? I almost wonder whether it’s a “hidden” layoff, designed to push those more committed to remote work than the company out the door.

      And, as for remote work, I’ve had the same experience. It can work wonderfully in some situations and be a real productivity drag in others. Hopefully these tips will help people figure out which is true for their organization.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. Always good to see you here.

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