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How to Build a Digital Team (Thinks Out Loud Episode 344)

How to build a digital team: Manager developing org chart

The single biggest challenge facing many organizations at the moment is how to find talent and how to build a digital team. There’s massive demand across marketing and technology for digital talent. And it seems likely that the demand for digital talent will outstrip supply for some time to come. The shift to work from home, the demand for increased wages and opportunity, and the burnout many people are feeling after two-plus years of the pandemic have made finding, attracting, and retaining digital talent even harder than finding, attracting, and converting customers.

What can you do about this situation? How is it affecting your existing talent? And what do you need to think about to build a digital team in a high-demand environment. This episode of Thinks Out Loud digs into the data and offers a few suggestions for what you can do.

Want to know more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 344: How to Build a Digital Team Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

Here are this week’s show notes for Thinks Out Loud with links and news related to this week’s episode. Be sure to check out all the links that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

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Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 24m 07s

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Transcript: How to Build a Digital Team

Well, hello again, everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is Episode 344 of the big show and thank you so much for tuning again. As always, I really, really appreciate it. I think we’ve got a cool show for you tonight.

Introduction: How to Build a Digital Team

Today’s a little different than some of the shows we do because I want to talk about one of the bigger challenges that many marketers are falling into, that many digital leaders are falling into, that many companies broadly are falling into and that is they are struggling to find talent.

This is something I’ve been hearing from almost everybody I’ve been talking to lately. I moderated two different Conference Board meetings for chief digital officers and for digital marketing strategy leaders in just the past month. And across the board, people are talking about how hard it is to find talent. In my conversations with clients, I’m hearing the same thing. You just can’t find people easily enough. And it appears that this is a problem that probably isn’t going to go away soon.

The Talent Crunch Isn’t Going Away Soon

If you look at Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there’s about 11 and a half million open jobs in the United States right now. And there’s roughly 5.4 million people who want a job. So as the Wall Street Journal said, that’s about 1.8 openings for every person who wants a job. And to reduce the number of open jobs per unemployed person to 1.2, which we saw in February of 2020, which was a record. The number of job openings would need to fall by one third. That’s probably not going to happen.

In fact, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we sure as hell hope that doesn’t happen. The last time that happened, that was all kinds of bad. You know, we are seeing some signs, there was some discussion on Bloomberg, that reduced consumer spending could potentially start to slow things down a little bit. And because interest rates are high, getting higher and inflation is quite high right now. And obviously you don’t need an actual recession for business spending to slow down. They just need to be concerned that a recession is coming.

But again, it’s very unlikely we’re going to go back to February 2020 numbers. And I again would say I sure hope that we don’t go anywhere near those numbers — and I bet you do too.

Employees Expect More

What we are seeing pretty consistently though to get employees interested is that there is a big shift in how people, especially tech workers and knowledge workers expect to work.

Now, some of this data is going to come from the Conference Board. Some of it will come from other sources. I will cite the sources and certainly have links to all of this in the show notes. But if you’re not sure where it comes from, please do check the show notes at and you’ll find it.

Work From Home Is Here To Stay

Only 9% of workers are in the office full-time still. That’s a really low number. And most employees have indicated a preference for working at home at least part of the time.

In one survey, a 39% of employees said they could quit after the pandemic just to find a job with greater work from home flexibility. Another study found that employees were willing — some employees were willing — to take a nearly 10% pay reduction in order to work from home two or three days a week. Now, let’s be clear about this, that that’s not the majority. By contrast, one third of those who change jobs are now making 30% more in their new job.

Concerns about inflation influencing job hopping

What’s crazy about that number is some of those still worry that their paycheck won’t keep up with inflation. So folks are really focused on the pay situation and they’re really focused on work from home. Those tend to be pretty consistent. Now, I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but the data is pretty consistent that productivity remains high, and that profits remain high for companies that are having employees work from home.

But productivity remains high

There was data from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago and now I’m going to read this verbatim. It showed that the relative productivity of work from home implies a 5% productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy due to reoptimized working arrangements. Now, they go on to note that only one fifth of this productivity gain will show up in conventional productivity measures because it doesn’t capture time savings from commuting and things along those lines. But there’s clear data that shows people can do their jobs remotely and that your employees want to.

What about people who can’t work from home?

There are some differences here that we need to be aware. First, if we have 37% of jobs that can be done fully remote and those jobs pay more, that means that 67% of jobs, the overwhelming majority of jobs cannot be done remote. And those folks are being paid less and that could create a big cultural gap that we’ll talk about a little later.

But the point remains that people want to work from home more often, they want to be paid more and they still have concerns about whether or not that pay will keep up with inflation. So that likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

Demographic Differences Exist

There are some differences by demographic category. So 30% of millennials, or as I like to call them, adults around 40 have left their job during the pandemic. The two biggest reasons by far are better pay and career advancement. By the way, this is from the Conference Board and that data has remained consistent for decades. So that’s not new. People want to leave, especially if they’re in their 20s or 30s or things like that. They want to leave for more opportunity or more money.

What is new, there’s about a quarter wanted to work from home. Men tend to be in the office more than women. Again, TCB studies. And then data from Microsoft that’s really, really fascinating talks about the fact that business leaders are actually thriving in this environment. I want to be very clear. That includes me. So one of the reasons I’m citing so much data is that I want to make sure I’m not only talking about my experience.

So, What Do Your Employees — and Digital Team — Want?

Your employees are concerned about their ability to make a good living. They’re looking for opportunities where they can grow, where they can make good money, where they have opportunity to make more money and where they can also work with some flexibility. And one of those reasons is because women, working moms, Gen Z, frontline workers, the folks who can’t work from home and those new to their careers reported struggling the most over the last year. These are folks who need an opportunity to have some balance here and we’re not necessarily doing a good enough job of meeting their needs as employees.

Now, I talked about this a few weeks back when I talked about why would anybody want to work for you, but I want to come back to it now because it gets at how do you put together the team that you need? How do you create the kind of environment that you need to attract the right kind of talent to compete in a digital economy in a digital ecosystem?

Build Capabilities In-House? Or Buy Them?

There was a great article on Chief MarTech that said the real build versus buy question is around talent, not technology. Now, they were talking specifically as you might imagine about MarTech, but they also were saying basically if you need marketers who really understand tech, if you basically if you need digital talent, we’re really talking about where do we build and where do we buy? And that’s why starting with what’s important to your employees is the right place to start.

Now, I mentioned a moment ago that I’m a leader in my organization so I’m doing great and I’ve got no complaints, but the other reason I need to call this out is I have a bias here for my clients. I am the buy option. They’re not building in many cases when they come to me, they’re buying either an extra pair of hands or extra knowledge, or more often than not both from me and my team. So there is a buy scenario here so I’ve got a bias and make sure you keep that in mind as a talk about this.

So the question becomes if you’re trying to build a digital team and you know that they’re burned out and you know that they want more money, and you know that they want opportunities to succeed and you know that they have opportunities for growth that they’re looking at, you need to be very clear about what’s the right way to structure our organization, your organization to get the results that you want.

Consider What’s "Core" and What’s "Critical" to Your Company

Now, I heard a great framing of this Conference Board meeting I was at. It’s actually similar to something we’ve done, but I like this a little better and I’m going to use their framing where you think of a two by two matrix of what is core to what you do and what is critical to what you do?

So you can think high core/high critical, low core/low critical, high core/low critical, and low core/high critical. And then think about how to build a team in that context.

High Core/High Critical

I thought it was a really, really smart way to think about it because if we’re talking high core/high critical, well, that belongs in-house. That’s not something you can go buy or probably shouldn’t because you don’t want to be dependent on an outsourced partner, on an outsourced vendor, on somebody who could change their business model tomorrow because it’s core to your business and it’s critical to your business.

Low Core/Low Critical

By contrast, if you’re talking low core/low critical, you want to do precisely the opposite. You clearly want to outsource that. You want to buy, you don’t want to build. And ideally you want to buy only when you need it because it’s not core to what you do and it’s not critical to what you do. You may find you can get away with not having it at all at least some of the time, if not, most of the time.

Where it gets interesting, of course, is when it’s high core, low critical and low core, high critical.

High Core/Low Critical

So let’s talk about high core/low critical.It’s something that is core to what you do, but it’s not super critical to your operation. You’d probably look to build. It’s core to what you do. It’s core to your needs. But… maybe you do it with part-time or contractor labor. So it’s not something where you hire people full-time and all the time. And this kind of gets to how you can think of about how do we offer people flexibility? How do we offer people who are burnt out some flexibility? Maybe you have some people on your team who would love to move to a contract relationship. Maybe you don’t. I want to be fair. I’m not trying to shove people out the door needlessly, but ask them or explore rather, is this something that sense in some cases to where we can find ways for people to work that works for them? And also helps you control your cost as a business leader to say, "What’s the right thing to do here?"

Low Core/High Critical

And if it’s something that’s low core/high critical, well, you probably want to buy that, but also be very real about the fact that this is critical to our operation. So make sure you’ve got a plan B and a plan C, and all the other elements that you need here. Should you look to make it core for your future?

How Else to Build a Digital Team

And you have to think as you build about what’s motivating people.

Good management. Obviously good management. We’ve said for years, people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their bosses.

Wages/Income. Of course, in an environment where a third of the people who are leaving are leaving for a 30% higher wage, it’s obvious that good management’s only going to take you so far. So money has to play a role here and that’s why you have to think about what is build versus what is buy. Where can we afford to put our talent?

Opportunities. You have to think about, "Are we giving people the right opportunities? Are we helping them build the right job growth path, the right success path, the right career path for their needs?"

Flexibility. We have to think about flexibility and are we letting people work in a way that works for them and works for our company?

Purpose. And, of course, we have to think about purpose. Is there something meaningful about what they’re doing in your organization that inspires them?

How to Start

Where do you start? Where do you start to build the right kind of digital team? Well, first think about what is critical to your business and think about what is core to your business. What must you have and what can stop you cold if you don’t have it? What do you do for your customers? That’s core. And what will actually blow you out of the water if you don’t have it? That’s critical. That’s the critical element.

Start with retention

Look at your existing team and think about ways to reenergize folks who are burnt out. This isn’t just about hiring. This is about retention. If we’re building a team, we need to think about our existing folks. Not our existing resources, but our existing people, the existing human beings who do this today and say, "Are we giving them the right level of purpose? Are we giving them the right level of opportunity? Are we giving them the right level of flexibility? Are we giving them the right level of management and support?"

And yeah, are we giving them the right amount of money to make it worthwhile for them? Are we helping them find ways to disconnect so that they can be fully charged when they reconnect? Notice you’re talking about young moms. You’re talking about Gen Z. People who are new in their careers are the people who are most burnt out. Let’s make sure we’ve got the support systems in place to help manage those resources to help those folks be successful and want to work with you for a long time to come.

Integrate existing resources as you Build and Buy

Think about how you integrate the resources you buy. So if you hire somebody like me or somebody from my team into your internal resources, are you scheduling enough downtime not for the buy resources, but for the folks within your organization who are working with them? Do you have the right resources in place to support the talent you buy in the marketplace, that you hire on a contract basis?

One of the most unsuccessful client relationships my company ever had was with a client that the company’s contact, our contact at our client didn’t have enough time for us. They weren’t sure we were doing a good job, but from our perspective we didn’t receive the information we needed in a timely fashion. We couldn’t get ahold of the person, not because they were doing a bad job. Not because they didn’t want to connect with us, but because they were pulled in a million directions.

We went to the client, we had a long conversation with them and then we helped them hire an internal person for part of the job that they’d hired us for because it really was kind of core to what they did. It really was fairly important. And we switched management of the account to that person we did. The client switched management of the account to that person because it made it work better for both of us. And the overall satisfaction of my client and of my team improved dramatically.

Avoid silos

The other thing you want to look there whether it’s a build your team or buy talent in the marketplace scenario is find ways to avoid silos. Microsoft’s data that I referenced earlier suggests those are much more common now with people working remotely. So are we building the support structures in place to improve knowledge sharing, to improve learnings, to improve data sharing, to make your talent whether it’s internal talent or outsource talent build versus buy more effective and more efficient?

Consider technology

You can certainly look to technology to help. I mean, this all started with a discussion of technology you build or buy, but it’s a people thing, not a tech thing. But there’s three areas where you can look at technology. One, automating tasks. I’m not going to spend much time on that. You know what tools exist or you should be looking at tools that exist to help you automate many of the processes. But look at technology as well to help with hiring.

Use digital just the way we use it to attract customers, use it to sell your brand as an employer, as well as a supplier of products and services. Use it to help you connect with your networks that you can grow your company from that perspective.

And then the third place to use technology is to help with retaining talent. Are you using tools effectively to lighten the workload for folks who are pretty burnt out? Are you encouraging your team to build their network and helping them become an advocate part of the secret Salesforce for the company to help them attract, to help you attract talent like the people you really like? Obviously it’s not going to be a one size fits all solution, but use technology where it can help to help support your people, to augment your people.

Conclusion: How to Build a Digital Team

This is not a situation that’s going to end anytime soon as I said at the beginning. But we’re only going to get there if we realize we must provide the right tools and we must provide the right structure, the right organizational design to help make sure that our company succeeds. Because digital obviously is changing the way our customers interact with our companies, but it’s also changing the way our employees interact with our companies.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for ways to build a more digital company, the right place to start is with your people.

Show Outro

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes. By going to Again, that’s Just look for Episode 344.

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As I do each week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment provides an amazing suite of search tools to help provide search as a service for large enterprises. Don’t lose customers by making the content they need hard to find. Use SoloSegment to find search results that focus on business results and help customers find the content that matters to them, and the content that drives results for your business.

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Show Outro

With all that said, I just want to say once and how much I appreciate you listening to the show as noted in the data I shared before. People are kind of burnt out right now. People are having a tough time. And it means so much to me that you take a little bit of your very, very valuable day, your very a valuable time every single week to listen to the show. It means more than I can say and I wouldn’t do the show if it wasn’t for you. So thank you so, so much.

And with that said, I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then please, please, please be well, be safe and as always, take care, everybody.

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.

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