Running a remote marketing team is a lot like working with a co-located team — we use the same tools, hold the same weekly meetings, and collaborate just as often (if not more).
The challenge in running a remote marketing team is mostly figuring out your internal communication and organization strategy. Most remote-first companies will have the basics already figured out for you — everything from tools to team communication guidelines — which is a huge plus, because trying to get people rallied around a single tool, let alone a set of them, is complicated.
With a solid base already established and a slew of core organizational questions answered for you 🙌, you can focus on honing the existing tools and guidelines to your team’s needs.
I manage a remote content marketing team of three people, spanning three time zones: EST, CST and UTC+10:00 (Australia). We’re part of a 15-person growth team that includes designers, product marketers, sales, customer support, and our boss, the VP of Growth. In total, our team works in 11 different cities across the globe.
Our work is highly collaborative. Blog posts alone involve a minimum of four people (plus our freelance copy editor!) to produce twice a week. Projects: five people at least. And like most (all?) marketing teams, whether at startups or within large companies, we need to produce high-quality content at a fast pace.
So how do we manage? By being purposeful about the tools we use, committing to our choices long enough to determine what really needs to change, documenting process, and being proactive about communication. Here are the tips, tricks, and tools we use to stay connected and productive.
Function in the future
Because our different time zones require asynchronous collaboration, my team tries to work at least one week in advance on anything content-related. This is particularly helpful when it comes to distribution: scheduling email, social, and promotional outreach and so on, because everyone can do their part on their own time. (Having the right tools is also essential. Read on for the list of everything we use and how we use it!)
It’s not about being perfect, but I learned the hard way what happens when we don’t plan ahead: It puts unnecessary strain not just on my team, but on our other teammates with whom we collaborate. Sometimes we fall behind — it’s unavoidable — but when we’re ahead, everyone is happier and more productive, and we produce better work.
Communicate proactively and lead by example
Remote work naturally requires a greater investment in team communication, and it’s best to lead by example. I tend to move more in-depth conversations outside of Slack and into a video call. As I’ve gotten to know my team better, I do this more often, and I’ll frequently lead the conversation off topic (or begin that way), just to connect on a personal level.
Another way I replicate the water cooler is by being less structured about our weekly team meetings. It may sound like a waste of time, but a simple agenda ensures we cover important topics, and the camaraderie that is instigated during free-flowing, friendly conversation is invaluable during big projects when we need all hands working together.
Choose tools thoughtfully (then commit to them)
Many of the tools we use at Help Scout are decided at the organization level, since they are what connect our global team of 60+ people. But when I do have to choose a new tool, I follow this formula: If the tool checks 80 percent of our top features and 20 percent of our “nice-to-have” features, and my team likes it, then I’ve found the right tool. Here’s what my team uses:
Editorial + Projects
We use Trello for our editorial calendar and for larger marketing projects and campaigns. It’s perfect for our asynchronous workflow — we use the comments to communicate on blog posts, tag people in and out of projects, give one another status updates, and so on. But what really makes it work is that we’re committed to it.
Trello isn’t a perfect fit for our needs, but we’ve adapted, leveraged their integrations heavily, and tried not to sweat the rest. I’ve never found a “silver bullet” tool for anything, so I focus on making what we have work.
Communication + weekly updates
Every Monday morning I report on our progress toward our OKRs, the performance of content from the week before, any special projects, and details for the week ahead in a Slack huddle post in my team’s Slack channel. I also include an agenda section and make the post editable, so my team can add any items they want to chat about during our weekly team meeting at the end of the day.
For bigger projects that include several members outside our immediate team, we create a dedicated Slack room and Trello board to consolidate and organize all communication and assets related to the project.
In our weekly content team meeting, we review the editorial calendar with our illustrator/designer and our product marketer. They join our Google Hangout for the first 10 minutes or so, then sign off once we’re done covering action items related to them. Structuring the meeting this way saves everyone time, but it still allows us all to touch base once a week.
We use Hubspot for marketing automation — everything from email to social, marketing campaigns, lead gen, and so on (though we’re huge fans of Buffer and still use it, even though it’s duplicative, because it has more of the features we need). Hubspot requires significant investment to set up and to truly be useful, but it solved our single greatest problem as a team: connecting our marketing efforts from top to bottom of the funnel.
Our growth team is structured by funnel stage:
- Top-of-funnel: Content (my team)
- Mid-funnel: Product marketing and lead gen
- Bottom-of-funnel: Lead nurture, on-site conversions and sales
- Retention: Customer support
This separation allows for simpler and fewer metrics for each team to own, and it makes decisions about where one team’s work ends/begins more obvious, reducing potential rifts or unnecessary overlap of efforts.
Schedule in-person meetups
Every so often, the entire Growth team gets together for team building and tactical planning. Right now, we use a satellite office in Boston, but we’ve talked about changing it up and meeting in a different city every year, perhaps where each teammate lives. The location isn’t all that important — it’s more about just being around each other and how we structure our time.
We also schedule “team time” during our company retreats for collaboration, brainstorming, or anything else we choose, and usually the agenda comes from the team. Suneet conducts an informal survey in our team’s Slack channel asking us what we want to talk about and accomplish, compiles it into a proposed agenda, and solicits feedback. This way, we maximize our rare face-to-face time.
In addition, I sometimes have in-person meetups with individual team members for specific big projects, like content planning. It can help kickstart larger, daunting projects, but perhaps more importantly, it’s an opportunity to check in, talk face-to-face, and really see how things are going. For far-flung folks, sometimes I tack on an extra day to a conference we’re attending or make time in between events for a dinner or brainstorm session.
6 pro tips for remote marketing teams
1. Document your process
Each company inevitably customizes the tools they use. Documenting your processes means no single person becomes an information bottleneck to your team. It’s also a form of automation for tasks that your team performs regularly. For example, we created a blog post template that authors duplicate and use to ensure that when a post is submitted, it has everything we need in it without having to ask.
keyword (where applicable):
People referenced (Twitter handles):
Companies referenced (Twitter handles):
Hashtags (where applicable):
Body [35 words or less]:
If you are adding a secondary CTA at the bottom of the newsletter:
Body [9 words or less]:
Attach image for callout to post trello card (562x315 or approx 2x1)
2. Create a style guide
A style guide takes some of the thinking out of your day-to-day work. It makes working with content partners, guest authors, PR firms and freelancers much easier, because you can quickly share company assets, voice, and so on. It’s an easy way to maintain quality and save time by streamlining communication and administrative tasks, like sending logos. If you don’t have one yet, there are plenty of examples out there you can draw from — here’s ours.
3. Work with freelancers
Freelance writers, PR agencies, and, in some cases, social media consultants can take things off your plate and deliver on tasks you may not have the time or staff for. An important step in creating a successful freelance relationship is to share your style guide with them, so they know how to write and edit based on your style.
4. Invest time in onboarding
If you work for a remote-first company, they most likely have an employee onboarding process already. Develop one of your own. Your documentation will help with this. Marketing is highly collaborative, so it’s important to help new hires integrate quickly into the team.
5. Seriously though, stop blaming your tools
I can’t stress this enough: Stop looking for a one-size-fits-all app for all your marketing needs. It’s sort of like unicorn hunting or looking for the end of a rainbow — you’ll never find it. The impact on your team’s productivity (and peace of mind) isn’t worth it, and you’re not saving time; you’re wasting it.
When you commit to your tools and processes, the pain points will surface quickly and you can find solutions. I suggest using a set of tools for at least six months — enough time to go through weekly content cycles, at least one larger project, and a few rounds of tweaks you learned from using the tool. After that, evaluate! If your marketing tools cause you two-thirds pain and one-third happiness, it’s time to explore your options. Also, leverage app integrations, and use Zapier to solve for any missing features. Remember: Small tweaks over time are better than complete overhauls. Then stop complaining — nothing is perfect.
6. Share stuff
The daily grind makes it feel nearly impossible to find time for continued education or even aspirational reading. But as creatives, we need regular external inspiration. Maybe it’s a podcast episode, an article, a book you just finished, a website you think is beautifully designed, or even a simple quote.
Share things that make you think differently about something — anything. It doesn’t have to be related to your company or craft. Then share why you liked (or disliked!) it. Give your team something to think about with no purpose or action item attached. It’s a means of connecting, inspiring, and drawing out their thoughts and opinions. It shows another side to you, and it invites your team do the same. These types of conversations take your team out of their day-to-day thinking, help them solve creative problems, remove writer’s block, and come up with new ideas.
The hurdle is the solution
Running a remote content marketing team is a fun challenge for me. It’s helped me develop communication skills at an exponentially faster pace than all my previous co-located companies. The complexities of digital communication, both in managing human emotion and expressing technical and creative concepts, has even made me a better writer.
But my team’s success isn’t coincidental — it begins with working for a company that doesn’t just have a remote policy; it has a remote culture that it actively nurtures. Everyone on the team puts a concerted effort into it, and we all communicate proactively with a focus on maintaining harmony. In fact, I’ve experienced more open, honest, and productive conversations on this remote team, as a result of not being co-located.
By actively focusing on communication and connection, our team has made working remotely a bonus, not a deficit.