Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

Get Dressed, Adjust Routines to Your Vibes and Stay Connected, CEOs Advise

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

During an October 2019 SIPA webinar on managing remote workers, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said that the most relevant stat was that 90% of remote workers said they’re more productive. “We hear this a lot at AI,” she said. At that time, many of us might have raised our eyebrows. Now, we’re all (tired) believers. But is it sustainable?

“Many also advocate for experimenting with small adjustments to your routines to hit your most productive period in the day,” Diana Shi wrote in a Fast Company article titled 9 CEOs Share Their Best Tips for Successful Remote Work

That sentence struck a chord for me. At around 7 am this morning, I read work emails written around 10 pm last night. And I’m sure that colleagues look at my 7:05 am emails the same way I look at their late-night emails—when I’m either asleep or on the verge—and we make similar exclamations. We all have different times and vibes to get our best work done, and working remotely encourages that.

Looking back now, it was prescient of SIPA to conduct that October 2019 webinar with Farley and Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media. They gave an excellent blueprint of what to do and not do managing remote workers. Let’s mix some of their advice with some from the CEOs that Shi featured in her article for an updated guide.

Invest in relationships. “Find creative ways to still informally connect with your teams, to build and strengthen relationships,’ said Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread. He also advises to share praise. “Remember to recognize and show appreciation of your team.”

Engaging in meetings is very important. In October 2019, Fink was concerned that remote workers would receive audio and video feeds from conference room meetings. “We’ve installed some large screens in conference rooms. There’s a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference.” Today, engagement in meetings remains important. I’ve read that we lose a lot by multitasking during meetings. A recent study found that “those who focused on nonverbal communication cues from their colleagues or said they tried harder to listen attentively were less likely to see any change in the quality of their work relationships.”

Make time for one-on-one voice calls, without video. “There’s a lot of video fatigue, so be conscious whether all parties want to use it,” says Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business. “With family, do take advantage of all the benefits of video, especially with those whom you haven’t seen for a while. If they don’t know how to, get them set up.”

Ask for feedback. I think this one still applies. “Is this working for you?” Farley asked. “What are the pain points? Are you lonely? Do you feel disenfranchised? Is the work getting done? Relationships work because they’re built on trust. We talk about it on a regular basis, to have regular touch-in points is critical. Things don’t just happen. Clear the decks and course correct to get those situations working.” She also said to “over-communicate.” Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, agreed and said that’s also incumbent on the manager. “Communicate. Schedule time for more all-hands, team stand-ups, one-on-ones, and skip-levels.”

Check on their technology. Pre-pandemic, 77% of remote workers were between ages 25-44. But now it’s everyone. Money-Media was quick to order “kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.,” Fink said. “Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

Pretend you’re going to the office. “In this virtual world, maintaining some of the habits that helped me think and feel my best when I was going into the office has been really important to me,” said Joel Flory, CEO of VSCO, such as getting up early to exercise. Any guess what Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway—a subscription fashion service—recommends doing? Get dressed nice every day, of course. “Getting ready in the morning helps signal my body and brain that productivity is my priority.” I’ve read that some people even ride around for a half hour and then come home to give the commuting feel. I’ve kept my Friday tradition of driving to Heidelberg Bakery in the morning.


‘Echoes for the Long Term’: Day Two of SIPA 2020 Offers Ideas to Last

“People don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be communicated with.” As I look over my notes for the again-excellent SIPA 2020 Day 2 sessions, that quote from Jeson Jackson, audience development manager, Education Week, stands out. Because even though so much of what we are doing now is in response to the pandemic, there will be a carry over of successful ideas and methods.
And that will be one of them. If a theater I like simply asks me to buy a 2021 subscription, I might hesitate. But if they communicate with me and engage me in a conversation between four or five of their diverse actors and directors for next year, I’m probably in.

Day 2 keynote speaker, Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Revmade, talked about “echoes for the long term” that she is hearing now. “Overall what I’m seeing is we’re heading to some type of reordering. How can we be more important to buyers so we’re not cut off? In my mind we should think like this all the time. We talk about products but not outcomes… We shy away from the end result.”

Again, just another day in (SIPA’s virtual) paradise produced a litany of strategies and ideas.And you can get them all on demand here. The 41st annual SIPAwards were also given out. See those winners here.
Kopacz gave five sales tips:
1. Executives should make it a priority to talk to 10 advertisers a month. It’s not about selling, it’s about listening
2. Start doing audience poll surveys at least two times a year. How hopeful are they, what are their pain points and budgets? It will keep you relevant.
3. Convene weekly sales and product team meetings. What are sales hearing? How should the product team respond? Do we need a new price point?
4. Continue realigning your product portfolio with the client input that you get. You’re not selling a webinar but a sales funnel.
5. Make sure your sales team has what they need to meet those pain points and make more sales. Get new products into sales team hands.
Education Week’s Jackson spoke more to the marketing bent. “The offer is the distillation of your message. Make sure you’re asking the customer to do what you want them to do,” he emphasized. How often have we read an email, agree with what it is saying and move on because it isn’t specific in what action we should take? Where’s the big red button?
Listen to your customers, Jackson urged. “By listening we can [act accordingly] rather than assume. You want to uncover what your customers want, which may be less intuitive than you think.” He said that attractiveness is amplified by relevance, importance and urgency.
“You want well informed customers making well informed decisions. Your company’s future is secured by innovation not persuasion. And clarity alone should be the only persuasion you need… Your unique benefit is how you transform your customers. What problems did you solve for them? Be specific. Value propositions need to establish your unique value.
“Take some time and make sure your value prop is still relevant to the moment,” Jackson said
Later in the afternoon, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, amplified some of these themes, speaking about learning the pain points of your customers.
In the case of virtual events, she said to make sure that both your clients and your sales team are comfortable with the platform you use. “My biggest advice is to send the sales team to somebody else’s event on that platform where they can get comfortable [enough to sell it well]. Because if they’re not comfortable…”
Farley added that sales may also need to have conversations with one of your brand leaders or editors because as packages become more integrated and bundled—that was a common theme today—they may know best what a client needs.
“We’re also seeing a pushback on pricing,” she said. “There had been, at least back in March, a sense that virtual should be cheaper. But people are starting to appreciate the value of what we bring [virtually]. It still has the value of live, and [brings] the experience to connect buyers and sellers. The connections that you’re bringing aren’t all of a sudden cheaper. And the same amount of time that goes into [putting together] live events goes into virtual events. We have to make sure we don’t give deep discounts.”
Joining Farley, Tom Gale, CEO of Gale Media, spoke about a live Zoom call that they hosted where 500 people signed up. Remember how this article began? People want to be communicated with. “Engagement with community,” Gale said. “We’ve gotten intelligence for what our customers are looking for [from that].”
As I said yesterday, these are only snippets from two days of really sharp and exceptional content. I will report some more but even better, you can also get it all on demand here to review at any time.
Much thanks to BeaconLive and ePublishing for being sponsors for SIPA 2020!

Set Goals, Be Okay With Saying No and Urge Visibility to Manage Remote Workers

Remote working continues to be a debatable issue. Many editorial departments for B2B publishers—Lexipol and Bobit Business Media’s Trucking Info to name a couple—are run without main offices, better to attract and retain the best writers. But other publishers—I recall Marijuana Business Daily—require some degree of coming to the office each week.
In a fascinating and comprehensive SIPA webinar titled Remote Employees: When to Do It and How to Optimize the Arrangement last October, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, and Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, gave great insights on the work-ins and work-outs of remote work. One where they agreed on was managers working remotely. Money-Media may be a bit more emphatic, but both executives see flaws in it.
“Currently, our policy doesn’t allow managers to be full-time remote when their team is located in a central office,” Fink said. “We do allow managers to work partial-remote (e.g. Tuesdays and Thursdays at home), but we don’t do that often. That said, managers are given wide ad hoc flexibility to work from home as needed. Everyone in our organization gets that type of flexibility to balance work-life issues.”
For Farley, it’s more a matter of, “Can their employees work at a high level if their manager works remote? It might go beyond that person’s skillset.” On the positive side, she said that it can be a great opportunity for emerging people to step up when a manager works remotely. “Somebody goes remote and that next person takes more of a leadership role. You’ll then have a good understanding of where their capabilities are and where they need to be shored up or what you need to be alert to.”
Here were more of the highlights from the webinar:
Find better tools. Still on the idea of remote managers, Fink added that they “are actively implementing better tools to support more flexible working arrangements, which will eventually apply to managers, too. We are issuing laptops to all staff, installing large screens in all conference rooms, deploying video conferencing software, setting up Slack company-wide, and clarifying our criteria and expectations for making remote work successful. We are embracing the flexible working trend, but with a deliberate and well-planned approach.”
For the young and the rest of us. While remote work has grown 44% in the last five years, 77% of remote workers are between ages 25-44. Farley attributed much of that to technical proficiency and a better comfort level. She added that the most relevant stat is that 90% of remote workers say they’re more productive. “We hear this a lot at AI. [But] if an employee feels more productive, is that apparent to the employer?”
Set expectations. “Experience is a big factor,” Fink said. “Earlier career-stage staff looking to work remotely can raise concerns. It’s important to set expectations. Maybe they can do this role, but then a situation comes to fruition, and a lot of expectations were not sorted out up front. There were two different interpretations.” And when will the person be in the office? Setting expectations on how days may shift is important. Child care may require them to be at home certain days. There has to be clear expectation on both sides. Or there could be difficulty.
Attending—and engaging in—meetings is very important. “We have a video conferencing system,” Fink said. “Frequency of cameras being disabled has become an issue that we’ve tried to address. We are encouraging people to use the video component. Audio is one element, but video another; it really enhances it. What collaborative tools are in place to support work goals? We’ve installed some large screens in conference rooms. There’s a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference.”
Farley agreed. “Do they have good relationships and how do they fit in with colleagues and the overall ecosystem. Making sure your company is equipped with the right kind of tools to stay connected is critical. Also, they might be not as organized out of the office atmosphere. Are they prepared for the distractions of home? We do require that you’ve made child care arrangements.” They also like to have the employees come to the office at different times throughout the year. “We do different trainings, awards dinners, meetings.” Fink said they require 2-4 week-long trips to the office during the year. It also gives those employees a chance to take advantage of the video set-up they have and the better access to interviewees.
Check on the taxes you’ll have to pay. Fink said the cost can be as low as $2,000 but as high as $20,000—usually the states where more business is done have the higher taxes.
Set guidelines. “What if an employee is out of the office 2-3 hours and you need to get a response?” Fink asked. “When do you move from email to Slack to mobile phones? Is an employee okay with people calling his/her personal phone? Once an arrangement is in place, from our experience, there are pitfalls in thinking, ‘Oh, I’m sure we’ll get the hang of it and it will all get ironed out. It’s much harder to change later.” The goal should be “to make it as comparable as possible. Keep responsibilities the same, meeting schedule; you want to mirror the office experience as much as possible. Can’t always do that but that’s the goal.”
Urge them to stay visible. “For employees, be visible,” Farley said. “You’re not in the office everyday so it is incumbent on you to be visible. Advice: be more visible, over-communicate. Dan has people not using the video system. This is an opportunity to be more connected. Speak up in meetings. Sitting there and being captive is not good for you. Stay engaged with your team.”
Be transparent. The easy thinking might be that it doesn’t matter where that person is once they’re remote. But both Farley and Fink say that’s not true. You may be visiting grandma in Florida and that means a different set of circumstances. “As an emerging best practice, always let your manager know if you will be in a different location,” Fink said. “Even if it won’t affect [your work], it’s good communication. You may have a problem with wifi, or there could be 10 more knocks on the door, or a dog barking.” He has one pet peeve in a meeting with someone remote—when that person sends you multiple emails during the meeting. “It feeds a negative impression of what they were doing during the meeting.”
Ask for feedback. “Is this working for you?” Farley asked. “What are the pain points? Are you lonely? Do you feel disenfranchised? Is the work getting done? Relationships work because they’re built on trust. We talk about it on a regular basis, to have regular touch-in points is critical. Things don’t just happen.
Clear the decks and course correct to get those situations working.”
Scale salary. Money Media scales compensation to the geography or where a remote worker lives. Fink said that they have to do that or it would create a huge financial incentive to move away. (Money-Media is headquartered in New York.) Also, he added, staff at headquarters could be resentful and he fears that without scaling, a remote employee would have a hard time making a job move.
For reviewing performance, set quantitative achievement goals. “Have a two-way dialogue about what is and isn’t working,” Farley said. “Review performance metrics regularly and again, over-communicate. Make sure everybody understands up front what they’ll be measured on, and the cadence. At AI we’ll review for these criteria at 90 days. Then we’ll have a formal review in six months. If there’s criteria or something lacking we’ll meet earlier. Set regular intervals to talk, not relying on “Oh, it’ll work itself out.” Tell them to come to that meeting with thoughts on how it’s working.”
Know when to say no. Farley cautions that there are times it may not be best. “If an employee is new in their role, do they understand our system? Have they interfaced with accounting, production? It’s six months before we would consider someone for a remote work.” She then repeated something she heard and liked: “The least fair thing you can do is treat everyone the same. Why would it be fair to treat a top performer like a low level person? Look at each individual and each opportunity.”
“There are people here that we would’ve hated to lose if we didn’t allow them to work remotely,” Fink said.
“It can reduce turnover,” Farley said. “We have our fair share of challenges. If [allowing people to work remotely] can help us retain employees and improve job satisfaction… Our people are our assets. We need to value those assets. It’s about finding that motivation to make it work for everyone.”
She added that the cost of losing an employee can be huge when you measure the time and effort to find someone else, the onboarding and training that will be required and the value of losing someone who really knows your business.
Listen to the webinar here.