Companies that are newly remote can learn a thing or two from remote veterans like Kerry Guard.
Kerry is CEO of MKG Marketing, a digital agency that helps cyber and cloud security brands. It’s one of the first fully remote marketing agencies to serve Washington state and the Bay Area. Her people-first approach has enabled her to keep her team lean, the productivity high and still offer great flexibility to her employees.
Remote work is not just beneficial to her team either – MGK Marketing is better for this approach. Kerry shares how flexible and asynchronous work can be a win-win for everyone and empower a global workforce.
Shifting away from the nine-to-five workday
It’s easy to assume that most remote companies started only recently. Some companies however, like MKG Marketing, have always operated in that capacity. However, it doesn’t mean these companies are not adjusting to the monumental shifts that a more remote-friendly office culture has led to.
“We’ve been remote for 10 plus years. Being remote isn’t the challenge — it’s just the world as it is today that interferes with our ability to operate remotely,” Kerry says.
Part of conquering that shift is to offer more flexibility. To Kerry, this means moving away from expecting a standard nine-to-five shift.
“Even before the pandemic when we were remote, we didn’t really care what people’s hours were, they just needed to be consistent,” Kerry says. “If an employee wanted to work in the morning from 10 to noon, take a long lunch to work out and then work in the afternoon, that was great. They just needed to keep to that schedule so we knew when they’d be online.”
“Now, given the unpredictability most people are facing, we’re shifting to a mentality where every day is a new day. As long as people are popping on and giving their schedule for the day, outlining what meetings they’ll be in and what hours they’re working, it’s no problem. We are just continuing to lean into the flexibility remote work affords.”
Encouraging more flexible work also helps to combat burnout – empowering employees to go offline when they need a break or need to take care of something.
“With flexible work, if hours are relatively consistent, we can plan accordingly without the nine-to-five rigidity.”
Tapping into asynchronous work is the key to success
For flexible work to be successful, it requires strong communication. The biggest hurdle to overcome with people keeping different schedules from each other, that can vary day-to-day, is ensuring that there are no roadblocks to meeting deadlines and moving projects forward. Asynchronous work has become a bigger, more important focus as a result.
“Problem solving asynchronously is going to become the new normal — where there will definitely be scheduled times for brainstorms, client calls, or opportunities to chat live — but otherwise, it’ll be working toward figuring out how to work past a roadblock if a person you need isn’t online or available,” Kerry says.
Asynchronous work is possible (and effective) with the right tools and processes. Kerry outlines the following as the key to MKG Marketing’s success with it. She also emphasizes how important it is to find the right tool for each specific organization and the team’s needs:
· A strong project management system
· A robust chat system
· Clear email communication
MKG has several lanes of communication. Internal communication is always through chat. Communication around specific projects happens in the project management system. In this way, if someone needs help with something from a colleague and sees them online, they can ping them – otherwise, if the colleague is off, they can hop into the project management system and keep things moving forward. Client communications are through email, so the team can focus on what the clients need.
It’s not to say there aren’t areas of improvement. Kerry remarks that creating processes around sharing how something gets done, and walking people through it asynchronously is challenging. She cites a time where a team member with less experience had trouble ramping up remotely. Kerry reflected that if there was an in-person presence, this team member may have been more successful. It’s also why she and the team are so intentional with recording and creating clear processes to ensure everyone’s success.
Overall, this shift has been a positive thing for the company and her team.
“I feel like with all the technology we have now, asynchronous work shouldn’t be a problem. We need to lean into the tech and the new normal and stop fighting this idea that we’re going to grab everybody and bring them back to the office. That’s not going to happen anymore – and you’re going to need people to be remote. It opens a world of possibilities.”
The full power of a remote workforce
Beyond the productivity benefits and better work-life balance, a remote work environment is beneficial in its ability to attract and pull talent from around the country – and even the world. While Kerry is in the United Kingdom, she has team members from Portland to Pennsylvania, and even a virtual team out in the Philippines. To her, this is an essential part in empowering great work.
“It’s amazing what can get done in the hours in which people sleep and then be able to be in meetings when I need to. I’m so much more productive now that I’m not in the same time zone as my team, and it makes our communication that much more impactful,” Kerry says. “And then when I am in the same time zone as my team, it is very clear on what needs to happen without constantly being in meetings. It creates very clear communication on a more regular basis.”
Since her team is so dispersed, Kerry searched for a strong system of communication to put in place. Noting that connectivity in a remote workplace is more intentional, she wanted a way for her employees to be able to chat live instantaneously – and actually see each other ‘face-to-face’. For this reason, she moved all chat communication to Zoom (not Slack) for its strong video component.
“It was before Slack had a very good video system. At the time, it was really important to me that people could easily smash that video button and immediately call the person that’s available into a quick meeting to discuss things,” Kerry says. “Trying to solve big problems over chat is incredibly frustrating for all parties involved. Making it really seamless in the technology that we use has really helped in terms of our connectivity and bringing people together.”
As for the future of remote work? Kerry is leaning into her global workforce.
“In the future, I don’t think it’ll matter where you live. I think it’s going to be exciting to give people the opportunity to live wherever they want and tap into those benefits of a diversified workforce.”