With the spread of COVID-19, working from home has gone from a job perk or a way to hire talent outside your home market to a public health issue.
While marketers have traditionally been adept at working from home, it may be new to you. Or you may now have to work with colleagues who aren’t used to working remotely.
To help, today’s article provides 41 Work-From-Home Tips for Marketing Departments and Advertising Agencies.
Read on for tips about office setup, tools, security, collaboration, and most of all, staying human through these times filled with hardship, uncertainty, but also hopefully new opportunities to employ our marketing skills.
(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)
As a marketer, I’m quite accustomed to seeing an idea go viral. A brand gaffe, an intentional social media campaign, or a Tik Tok dance. But we use the “viral” analogy so often, it’s easy to forget where that analogy actually comes from.
For the past few months, we’ve seen a real, live examples play out. What started most likely in Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 has impacted the entire world as the COVID-19 pandemic after only a few short months and has impacted public health, the economy and so much more.
Since our focus at MarketingSherpa is you — the marketer — I won’t dive into any of the health impacts. The subject of today’s article is one of the biggest impacts on marketers — how to be a productive and leader while working from home.
While we normally publish evergreen topics that can help your marketing over the next two days or two decades, the times we’re in are screaming for helpful information on this topic for marketers right now. (If you’d like us to cover other topics as well, let us know. Previous content about reducing anxiety and reprioritizing your marketing spend may be particularly helpful right now).
I read in The Wall Street Journal recently about school systems learning how to use Zoom and other digital tools to allow children to attend school from home. While this work-from-home imperative is new to many industries, I think marketers have a leg up when it comes to working from home or working remotely. I know I first worked from home in 2004, and I am writing this article from my home.
That said, it may be novel to some marketers, or the new challenges of so many people working from home might impact marketers working with colleagues in other departments.
There has been an outpouring of ideas from sources about this hot-button issue. I culled through them and pulled out the top 41 tips from a wide spectrum of people that will hopefully help you (all tips have been edited for clarity and length).
Why so many tips? MarketingSherpa isn’t a publication that usually makes mega-list articles like other websites.
But in this situation, all marketers are different. We all have different working styles. Some of these tips speak to my soul. Others are way out-of-step with who I am personally. And the same can probably be said for you. So scan the list. See which tips are a good fit. Use those to help you get through these challenging times. (And feel free to share this article on social media along with a picture of you working from home in your own setup.)
Tip #1: Attend a virtual event instead of a megaconference
I’ll start this article off with the first tip. Large conferences, and even megaconferences, have become a key part of marketer’s life. But with cancellations ranging from Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit to South by Southwest, the in-person megaconference is no longer an option for many marketers.
You may want to consider webinars, virtual events or YouTube Live sessions.
For example, MarketingSherpa’s sister publication, MarketingExperiments, hosts a series of YouTube Live sessions. (You can subscribe to MarketingExperiments email newsletter to get notified of the next, free session).
If you watch a YouTube Live, there is a main video with helpful content for the marketer (like the presentation at a conference) and then a live chat feed on the right-hand side that allows attendees to interact with the presenter and each other (for networking).
Creative Sample #1: Screenshot of an interactive YouTube Live from a MarketingExperiments session
Speaking of working from home, here’s what Flint’s work-from-home setup looked like when he hosts these YouTube Live events.
Creative Sample #2: Work-from-home studio
Tip #2: Don’t stare at a screen when you don’t have to stare at a screen (the pause that refreshes)
OK, one more tip from me. Working in an office, you naturally have to get up from your desk sometimes and walk to a meeting room, or you talk to other human beings face-to-face to collaborate.
When working from home, it’s all too easy to stare at a screen for hours on end, without even realizing it. This ends up sucking your energy and creativity.
Here’s one thing that can add energy. I used to do video meetings on Zoom (internally) and other platforms (externally). I learned that not all of those meetings require me to be in front of my computer looking at a screen. So whenever I can, I just call in on my cell phone without video.
I then get up and walk around the inside of my home or, when the weather is nice, go to my backyard and gaze out at the pond. I’m being just as productive (sitting at the computer staring at someone else on video doesn’t help much), but it is a nice pause that refreshes the spirit.
Tip #3: Set-up an “office” space and make it fun
Melissa Wallace, CEO & Co-Founder, Fivefoottwo Marketing:
We give our teammates a budget of $150 towards anything they want or need in their space to make it amazing. We’ve found that most use it for art and plants.
Tip #4: Don’t forget the logo
Eric Quanstrom, CMO, CIENCE:
As an agency ourselves, at CIENCE we buy our employees custom wall graphics in bulk with our company logo.
Creative Sample #3: CIENCE wall graphic
The reason is simple — they can pop them on any wall behind them on a webconference and — voila! It "feels" like the workplace. Or at least the next best thing. The best part is the branding and exposure throughout the Zoom call for others on the call because we're all on camera.
Typically we use StickerMule but there are tons of others in the space. Generally, we only buy self-adhesive wall graphics so that they can be removed and not damage anything and so that folks can take them down when not on business calls and returning back to family life.
It's an interesting hack because most employees have shared that even the practice of putting up the sticker makes them feel connected to work. Kinda like flying the flag on a holiday or decorating for a special occasion.
Tip #5: Stay secure
Sara Eide, Vice President of The Creative Group:
Ensure your work tools are set up with the proper safeguards. Your computer, phone and other equipment required for telecommuting should be up-to-date and protected by your company against security threats.
Tip #6: The way to get on your overbooked boss’s schedule
Peter Arvai, Founder/CEO, Prezi:
If your boss’s schedule is booked or they are traveling with a fluid schedule, send them a video of your thoughts and let them decide if you need to talk. Usually, they’ll be able to answer your question based on the one-way video
Tip #7: Invest in proper tools
Jane Kovalkova, CMO, Chanty:
If your team is forced to use tools that are too complicated for them or that don’t work for a marketing department, don’t expect a lot of productivity. Our marketing team had to use Jira for the longest time, which is a great project management tool, for developers, but it is a horrible choice for marketers. Once we replaced it with Trello, things improved pretty quickly.
Tip #8: Downward dog
Karen Dawson, Vice-President of Brand Marketing, Lionbridge:
If possible, start your day with a brisk walk outdoors and if you're practicing social isolation or quarantine, try some yoga. Inversions like headstands and downward dog are great for increasing blood-flow to the mind and getting that creativity going. Even a ten-minute walk down the street and back helps. Think of this as your morning commute. In many parts of the world, spring is starting to emerge. Take advantage of your walks to clip early spring buds or branches of flowering bushes like forsythia for your “office.”
Tip #9: Keep the lines of communication open
Christine Glossop, SEO Content Specialist, Looka:
Marketing is one of those departments that thrives on collaboration, which makes remote work a bit challenging. While a lot of marketers already know the importance of using tools like Slack to keep in touch with their teams, they often don't use these tools to their full potential.
If you're working remote and keeping in touch with your fellow marketers via Slack, don't limit your messages to just when you need something or have to submit something. In an office environment, marketers brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other constantly.
You can replicate this experience (and its benefits) by setting up regular Slack chat times with your coworkers, getting in the habit of messaging before you have something fully formed, and even just checking in on how others are doing. While it feels a lot more intrusive to send a message than just swivel your chair, keeping the lines of communication open is essential to marketing creativity.
Tip #10: Work regular hours
Katie Gorman, Director of Marketing, Eventsured:
Set a schedule and stick with it. Your schedule will guide you throughout your workday. It’s best to work regular hours so you don’t find yourself working too late or too early. This will ensure that you don’t work overtime, which is common when work is always accessible to you. It may be beneficial to utilize a time-tracking app, as they typically provide insight into your productivity throughout the day. This will allow you to prioritize tasks and projects based on your most productive hours.
Tip #11: Leave time for creativity
Hilary Bird, Marketing Manager, Render Pilots:
I love the creative freedom that comes with being a marketing manager who works from home. For example, the other day I took a break from work to play around with my new digital camera. Fifteen minutes later, a new social strategy popped into my head that came from testing out video on it — not only did I feel refreshed, but it sparked a new idea. I believe that setting up a workspace (or a routine) that's conducive to generating as many of those creative moments as possible is key to being successful at working remotely in marketing.
Tip #12: Set granular goals
Ty Hughes, Account Coordinator, Etched Communications…
Typically when you start your day, you begin with a to-do list. In order to accomplish everything, your to-do’s must be as granular as possible. Make sure every step is spelled out. If not, your list can easily get away from you and the day is lost. This organizational practice can be carried out with pen and paper or through online organizers like Asana or Monday.com.
Tip #13: Houseplants
Rio Rocket, Brand Strategist:
Studies have shown that people are 15% more productive in the presence of houseplants.
Tip #14: Web browser productivity extension
Daniel Richardson, Digital Marketing Specialist, Homes for Students:
Use productivity extensions for your web browser.
When you’re sat at home, idling over some marketing reports, it can be very easy to lose focus and think “I’ll just check on Reddit/social media/the news quickly” and before you know it you’ve wasted half an hour doing nothing. I found a Google Chrome extension called StayFocusd (there are plenty of alternatives available too) which restricts the time you can spend on time-wasting websites — it made me far more productive to the point where now I actually get more done at home than at work!
Tip #15: Invest in the right tools
Noah St. John, Author, Get Rid of Your Headtrash About Money
Invest in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. I recommend the Logi Ergo mouse and K350 wireless keyboard. Invest in a larger computer screen. I recommend a Samsung curved monitor over 45 inches.
Tip #16: Take breaks to stretch your legs
Katherine Torrence, Director of Torrence Marketing:
Go outside for five minutes to get some fresh air or take a walk around the block after your lunch break. This helps you reconnect with the world a bit and minimizes the sense of being a shut in. My rule is that I must leave the house at least once a day no matter the weather or how busy I am.
Tip #17: Start and stay on the same page
Emily Gant, Marketing Coordinator, The Loop Marketing Inc:
We start our day on a Join.me call so we can all get on the same page.
Our agency's top three [practices] (as told by the newest employee):
1. Over-communicate, check-in via voice one to two times daily
2. Keep to the schedule — it's just another day
3. Keep the Lastpass updated
We particularly like Monday.com, Cliq for chat and gifs, and using screen shares when there's a problem.
Tip #18: Understand your team’s workstyle
Eric Yaverbaum, President and CEO, Ericho Communications:
The key is to recognize the humanity of your employees and honor that by trusting them to work without your supervision. It does require you understand your employees’ workstyle, and it took some time before we struck the right balance, but the mutual respect between myself and employees gave us the chance to get it right.
Tip #19: Get the right systems in place
Deni Ivanov, Marketing Director, Royal Cleaning:
Now more than ever with the situation with this virus our team is working mostly from home and the fact that the [following] systems are in place is a blessing for our marketing team. [If] all of these software companies hadn’t built such amazing products, we wouldn’t have been able to do our work nor would have been able to continue doing our jobs in such a health crisis.
We make conference calls using Zoom.me for brainstorming ideas. Connect via Slack to discuss day-to-day activities when a call isn’t really necessary and we use Trello for keeping track of the progress of ongoing marketing projects and campaigns and so on.
Often we work with freelance designers, and for that, we contract people mostly from the Dribbble design community, as plenty of talented people can be found there.
Aside from that our marketing team has to measure information gathered from the website so we can constantly improve the design, layout, call-to-action buttons and more. The tool we use for doing that is Hotjar. I for one particularly like the heatmap and visitor recording features as they give us a great insight on what the site visitors like and dislike on the site and how they behave once they’re on it.
Tip #20: Plan your day and stick to it
Eden Chai, Co-Founder, Generation Marketing
Working from home provides many more distractions than going to the office. This requires a higher level of discipline. You can take a break to do your laundry, cook yourself some lunch, etc. If you choose to do these things during your workday (I don't), make sure you plan it into your day so that it doesn't get out of hand. Planning my day has helped me get more done. I personally like using Gmail's built-in task manager.
Tip #21: Clear policies and procedures
Becky Winter, PR & Brand Manager, Trainual:
It's important to have every policy and procedure in one, well-documented place when you're going remote. It's key to making sure every employee knows what's expected of them and leaves no questions unanswered by giving them the info they need right at their fingertips.
Tip #22: Teach yourself new things
DJ Haddad, Executive Creative Director, CEO, Prime Minister of Design, Haddad & Partners:
The hardest part about working in a silo is the lack of professional development. You never realize how much you learn through office osmosis until it’s gone. As a graphic designer, I learned (or was motivated to learn) tons just looking over the shoulders of colleagues and asking what they were working on; this all goes away completely when you work from home. So years ago I learned to set one-and-a-half hours aside every Friday to just learn: I watch tutorials, I read blogs, and I look at work from other designers. I even once tried to teach myself PivotTables. (This was a total failure and I couldn’t tell you one thing about a PivotTable to be honest.)
Tip #23: Keep organized to maintain efficiency
Megan Shroy, Founder and President, Approach Marketing:
Choose a desk with drawers in which you can file papers and store basic supplies (stapler, paper clips, pens) and incorporate bookcases or floating shelves for additional storage. National retailers such as The Container Store, IKEA and Target offer stylish solutions at reasonable prices. As part of your daily routine, take five minutes at the close of your workday to consolidate paperwork and straighten your desk for peace of mind and in preparation for the following day. Set standing reminders (weekly or monthly) on your work calendar to spend 15 minutes going through files and recycling items that are no longer needed.
Tip #24: Maintain an open line of communication
Nicolas Straut, Content Marketing Team Lead, Fundera:
My top tip for marketers working from home is to maintain an open line of communication with team members to ensure they're not isolated and are engaged. It can be a slog to work from home and not to talk to anyone during the workday so making sure that you're using a team communication tool like Slack to stay in touch, share tips and articles, and feel more comradery is a must. I'd also highly recommend Zoom for this as well. By video chatting with others for meetings or even just a coffee chat will keep you and your team happy and focused.
For example, my entire company is working from home currently in New York City to avoid coronavirus, and I video chatted with a colleague on another team just to stay in touch and discuss what we're working on and how we're feeling.
Tip #25: You don’t always need video
Kathleen Smith, Marketing Coach and Consultant:
Sometimes video chat is actually an unnecessary distraction and a phone call works better. Sometimes video chat is crucial for communicating “face to face.” Know the difference and choose wisely.
Tip #26: Back it up
Morgan Taylor, CMO, LetMeBank:
Backing up your work to the cloud is essential, otherwise you could lose a month’s worth of work in one hard drive failure. Regardless of whether you are writing an ad, doing client work, whatever: keep the file backed up in the cloud. If you worked in-house you would almost certainly be working on a system where this was mandatory. If you just trust your computer will never break, eventually you’ll find yourself looking at a month’s worth of work that can’t be retrieved. Trust me, this is coming from a place of experience. Automatic backups are essential.
Tip #27: Clear expectations
Paul Ronto, Chief Marketing Officer & Director of Digital Content, RunRepeat:
Being clear in your expectations is crucial. Remote work is inherently more flexible than in-office work, so be understanding as your team transitions [as] they may work odd hours to get all their work done. Some may have distractions like dogs, family, or kids running around, especially with the Corona scare, so be flexible with them, and trust that if you set out clear project goals and deadlines that they will hit them.
If you typically pop over to co-workers desks unannounced to chat about projects and expect workers to be available on chat or video call at any time, make that a clear expectation from the start. Remember though that in the office you usually can see if someone is not at their desk and wait until they are back. Don't get frustrated if there's lag on responses from your team, they may be focused, or in the bathroom, or just not used to watching chat every second. Consider scheduling quick chats 10-20 minutes ahead of time to ensure everyone is present.
Tip #28: Business hours
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Owner, Falcon Valley Group:
Keep some regular business hours. When you work at home you're always at work. Instill some discipline and SHUT DOWN at a reasonable hour.
Tip #29: Flexibility
Adam Hempenstall, CEO and Founder, Better Proposals:
The one major tip that I have for marketers working from home is to forget about working from 9 to 5 and forcing people to work eight hours in a day. Flexibility is one of the best perks of remote work, so make full use of it.
Instead of forcing people to stick to hours of work, give them goals. For example, my marketing team has a task to build three-to-five links per week and write a blog. They all work remotely and I don’t care when or how they work, as long as they get the job done. They can get all of their work done by Wednesday or keep working for the full week — it’s their choice.
This kind of approach works well and actually makes people more productive than forcing them to spend eight hours behind their laptops, with maybe two or three hours of actual work.
Tip #30: Organize your works in chunks
Cassy Aite, Co-Founder and CEO, Hoppier:
The thing with marketing is that it’s a department that doesn’t require you to be present around the clock, like customer support for example. The biggest tip I have for marketers working remotely is to organize their work in chunks or blocks. A lot of times, you will get interrupted at home by your family, chores, meal preparation, etc.
Set up your work in blocks of time so that you have a rough idea on when you will work. When you don’t have a clear structure, you can end up working until late in the night, which happens pretty often to people in our team. They slack through their morning, thinking that they have just enough time later on, and work catches up after 7PM. As a result, they spend most of their day behind the laptop and they end up “working” more than they would in the office. Make some structure for yourself and you will be that much more productive.
Tip #31: Record your meetings
Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-founder, Airfocus:
Make sure to record your meetings. We use Zoom and we record calls with one push of a button. That way, when I’m working on something and I want to know what a coworker said, I just go to the video meeting and replay it instead of trying to remember something. In a remote setting, this is one of the most efficient ways to get creative work done easily. (Editor’s Note: Make sure to ask all parties permission to record)
Tip #32: Use segmented chat
Jovan Milenkovic, Co-founder, Kommando Tech:
In an attempt to organize my workload, years ago, I've discovered Slack and its most amazing feature — the channels designated by hashtags. My team and I use it to talk about specific elements of work, elements of projects, etc.
Tip #33: Screen remote employees
Marina Vaamonde, Founder and Real Estate Investment Specialist, HouseCashin.com:
Screen your employees very carefully, especially if you hire someone from another country or state — you can’t sue them as easily as if the person lived in your city, and they know it.
Tip #34: Set reminders
Oksana Chyketa, Marketer, Albacross:
For me, Slack is much more than just a tool for communication. There are tons of Slack features that increase productivity and the quality of communication. One that I would like to highlight is a Slackbot reminder. I set a Slackbot reminder to create a to-do list. To keep track of what I need to get done, I use the /reminder commands. It’s easy as ABC, all I have to do is to enter /remind into the text box, followed by the task. The great thing about this Slack feature is that it’s only me who’s able to see the command along with the reminder.
Tip #35: Grace
Sangram Vajre, Chief Evangelist and Co-Founder, Terminus:
Above all, a lot of team members will have kids at home as well, so if there is one word that wraps this all together it’s grace — having grace for each other in times when things are a bit uncertain.
Tip #36: Employers and managers equip your teams
Wally Nowinski, Head of Marketing, Collage:
Give or reimburse your team for the equipment they need, including internet access. Slow internet or old computers waste a ton a time for the entire team. Make sure everyone has the equipment they need. If internet access is an issue, consider sending your team some cellular hotspots, since you can usually get those delivered much faster than setting up a new internet connection.
Tip #37: Minimize security risk
Francis Dinha, CEO, OpenVPN:
If you’re stuck with unsecured Wi-Fi, here are things you can do to minimize the security risk.
For some companies, remote workers pose a major risk. According to an OpenVPN survey [of 250 IT leaders], more than 36% of organizations have experienced a security incident because of a remote worker’s actions. To guard against this, there are policies they can put in place to keep their employees’ personal data and the company’s data safe.
For example, a virtual private network (VPN) is a simple, effective tool that allows users to virtually access a network safely from a remote location rather than exposing themselves and/or their company to cyber threats. A VPN does this by encrypting the user’s data, meaning their information is translated into a code that only the VPN server can decipher. It also masks their IP address, or digital footprint as it’s often called, which makes the user unrecognizable to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the rest of the internet in general.
Tip #38: Overcommunicate
Vivienne Hsu, Chief Business Officer, Cognito:
When all team members are remote it can be tricky to know what everyone is working on or when team members need help. External and internal marketing departments should all connect daily, it’s a great way for collaborate on projects, share the workload, and make sure nothing gets missed. Use of video can be a real asset when working remotely as so much of communication is non-verbal; even simple things like having a catchup with coffee over video link can do wonders for morale and help spur ideas that you might not have thought of by yourself, and a great way to stop isolation [and] becoming lonely.
Tip #39: Webcam pro tips
Dustin York, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Communications, Maryville University:
Pro tips for all those Zoom/Skype/Etc meetings via webcam:
Tip #40: eGifts
Zackary Alspaugh, Director of Customer Lifecycle Marketing, Sendoso:
While we all adjust to remote work, eGifts like food delivery, a streaming subscription or a gift card to support someone’s favorite local coffee shop go a long way in times like these.
Tip #41: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Gavin Finn, President & CEO of Kaon Interactive:
Market uncertainty will continue to change our businesses and society in important ways. These challenges expose organizational weaknesses, presenting opportunities for improvement and ongoing growth. Marketing leaders MUST take this opportunity to pioneer change and amplify their digital transformation efforts. Creating transformative customer engagement strategies will allow companies to clearly communicate their differentiated value, develop sustainable and predictable revenue streams, and provide a true competitive advantage in uncertain times.
Bonus Tip: Stay productive, stay safe, but above all, stay human
This last tip is from me. Viruses have always had an impact on humans. According to Neil Shubin in The Wall Street Journal, “Almost 8% of the human genome is made up of viruses that once infected us but have been rendered inactive.”
But let’s all make sure this virus, this disease, this significant change in our home and work lives doesn’t rob us of our humanity.
I first worked from home 16 years ago as a consultant. One of our clients, IBM, was an early pioneer in working from home and the entire sales enablement team I was on — along with many on the international sales force and other teams — worked remote. So in addition to the case studies and other technology, product, sales and marketing info we included in the internal newsletter, we had a feature called, “Who’s Barking in the Background?” that featured employees’ dogs.
People loved it. It added humanity to the people on the other sides of all those conference calls (this was before video calls). And everyone felt self-conscious when their dog barked. Addressing this very normal part of everyday life in a straightforward, light-hearted way helped to normalize the behavior.
Times are tough. And interesting. And strange. And yet still filled with opportunity. Above all, let’s be accepting and kind of each other’s lives and loved ones as we all get through this together.
Oh, and if you’re ever on a call with me and a cat or squirrel walks by my house, this is the guy barking in the background (picture taken by my now schooled-from-home daughter who is using Microsoft Teams for the first time).
Creative Sample #4: Video conference meeting interrupter
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