Marie Hattar is CMO at Keysight Technologies, responsible for brand and global marketing efforts.
The pandemic has completely transformed how teams work — from collaboration and communication to productivity and accountability. It’s also given company leaders the opportunity to rethink professional development for virtual teams.
Now that we’ve moved past the crisis mode and have settled into remote work, marketing leaders need to focus on engagement and development of team members’ careers remotely. More than just virtual happy hours for team bonding, we need to ensure that employees can still learn, grow and drive their careers forward in a virtual setting.
In this article, I’ll share virtual professional development and communications strategies to help you broaden your team member’s skill sets, increase their agility and create exciting new career challenges to keep talent engaged.
1. Offer virtual training sessions.
Just because your team is working from home doesn’t mean they can’t learn new skills. In fact, remote work provides an excellent opportunity for online learning. Bring in an outside vendor to lead a virtual training session on soft skills like communication or change management, or focus on more technical skills like coding. If you don’t have an internal training platform, you can also enable your team to choose a topic from one of the many relatively low-cost online learning platforms available, such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning and others.
At Keysight, we took this time to do a deep dive into our marketing tools — helping the team get the most of software for business intelligence, marketing automation, content management and webinars. We’ve offered training sessions with vendors so team members could ask questions and learn new features to make their jobs easier. We also hosted PowerPoint and basic graphic design training to ensure brand consistency in presentations.
The best part? Once team members completed the training, they were able to coach their colleagues on these new skills, helping to share knowledge throughout the entire marketing organization.
2. Update internal processes for agility.
With change as the only constant this year, many long-term plans and strategies have been disrupted. To continue to drive business goals in today’s ever-evolving world, marketing leaders must update internal processes to allow for agility. Set your team up for success in this new environment by defining clear objectives and outcomes that provide high-level guidance while allowing flexibility.
We recently transformed our email marketing process to increase transparency and collaboration. We rolled out a centralized scheduling tool to create an organization-wide marketing email calendar accessible to all teams. Optimizing this internal process not only allows team members to be more accountable and agile but ultimately provides a better customer experience.
3. Increase internal communication.
Internal communication has never been more important for marketing leaders. Develop a comprehensive approach to communicate organizational changes, and set up regular check-ins with your direct reports and the broader team. Whether they’re juggling parenting duties, taking care of loved ones or living alone, learning about everyone’s unique situation can help you to lead with empathy.
I hosted a series of coffee talks and small-group listening sessions with my leadership team to understand what was (and wasn’t) working. I also set up time to connect with managers and individual contributors who I don’t regularly work with to ask simple questions like, “How are you doing?” and “How has working from home been for you?” When stress levels are high, having perspective, patience and strong relationships at work will help your team thrive, even in the most challenging environments.
It’s also critical to leverage internal communication channels to recognize hard work and celebrate wins during this time. Marketing leaders can give praise virtually, whether through monthly email roundups, an online kudos board or e-gift rewards.
4. Offer stretch assignments.
Give stretch assignments that help promising employees develop new skills and get exposure to executives while providing resources to teams in need. Encourage team members to raise their hands if they have time and interest in joining a project outside of their normal scope.
Is there a top-performing individual contributor who can get valuable management experience by leading a new initiative? Does one of your copywriters have an interest in product marketing?
Times of transition provide opportunities for employees to try out new roles and hone their leadership skills.
5. Help your team avoid burnout.
Many employees are balancing an increased workload on top of a laundry list of external stressors. Marketing leaders must take steps to help their teams avoid burnout — otherwise, you risk losing valuable employees.
Conquer “Zoom fatigue” by giving your team permission to decline meetings that don’t have a clear agenda or are outside of regular work hours. And even though we can’t travel like we used to, encourage your team to take much-needed time off.
Bring corporate wellness initiatives into a work-from-home environment. We offered mindfulness and meditation training to the entire marketing organization to help them clear their minds and minimize stress.
Lastly, as a marketing leader, don’t forget to focus on your own wellness. Maintain reasonable work hours, take a vacation and focus on prioritization. If you model the behavior you want to see in your team, you can encourage everyone to stay engaged and continue developing their careers during this difficult time.
Every organization is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for virtual professional development and new communications strategies. Talk to your direct reports, and test these ideas with a small group to determine what makes the most sense for your needs and what can drive a positive impact. Your team will be grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow their careers, even in a virtual setting.
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