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In this new opinion series, we ask readers of The Drum from brands, agencies and everything in between, for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

This week, we asked our readers across the world about an issue dogging the steps of managers and executives alike.

With much of the marketing world working from home for the last eight months (and potentially continuing to for years to come, should predictions around the great office exodus prove true), how can team leaders hold their teams together?

How do you keep staff inspired when they’re working remotely?

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Arianna Huffington, chief executive officer, Thrive Global 

We have something we call ‘Thrive Time’. If somebody has had to work extra hard or work over a weekend to ship a product or to meet a deadline — as I know a lot of creative people often have to do to complete a client presentation — then take ‘Thrive Time’ immediately after. Take time to recharge.

What we’re finding is that this is good for them and good for the company because most people get sick when they try to power through and they are not their best when they haven't given themselves time to recharge. We acknowledge the importance of not burning out. 

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Brad Hiranaga, chief brand officer, General Mills, North America 

We stay connected to our purpose of making food the world loves and needs. For the marketing team, this means showing up with empathy every day so we can solve real problems and deliver joy to people. To keep that mission at the core of every conversation, we bring in external inspirational leaders, like [former NFL player] Emmanuel Acho, and encourage employee discussion on important topics, like social equality, the hunger gap and the challenges families face in a pandemic.

We also have an internal podcast to share ideas from anyone, anywhere. When you’re encouraged to innovate and have a deep sense of why you show up every day, inspiration comes much more easily. 

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Rachel Konrad, chief communications officer, Impossible Foods 

To be frank, I’m not keeping the team inspired. The team is keeping me inspired!  Every single member of the comms team at Impossible Foods was based in the company headquarters in Redwood City, California, and we frequently traveled as a group – to international launches, trade shows, customer events and media tours. We spent a lot of facetime together, learning from each other, making ourselves laugh and getting busines done. But we went into full-time virtual mode on March 6, and we haven't seen each other in person since.

Early on, we decided as a team to overcommunicate to compensate for the distance, the possible misinterpretations and the lower-bandwidth format of Zoom. So we have staff meetings three times per week, one-to-ones, cross-functional sessions and all-hands meetings.

We have happy hours and support groups (for parents, for women, for people of color, and other groups). I chat with my team leaders when I’m out walking the dog, when I’m cooking dinner, when I’m hiking on a trail – whatever’s needed.

And it’s paid off: we’ve seen no meaningful decrease in impressions or brand sentiment. We’ve actually increased media access to our senior executives through regular virtual news conferences, and we've been able to do a lot more university lectures, panel discussions and Q&As now that we don’t have to travel for them. So while coronavirus-induced social distancing is by no means an ideal situation, we have muddled through together and provided new ways to broaden awareness and keep our corporate narrative relevant.

Frankly, we’ve realized a lot of benefits from the imposed telecommuting, including an increased focus on precise roles and responsibilities, and crystal-clear communications across internal and external channels. Don’t get me wrong: we all look forward to a return to physical events and a safe, secure, post-coronavirus world. But this pandemic has shown us that there are benefits of a more distributed and flexible team structure – and we won’t go back to ’business as usual.’ The team will keep evolving. 

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Simon Forster, founder and executive creative director, Robot Food 

Since working remotely we’ve been really fortunate with our busiest period ever and some really exciting projects. When the work is challenging the team are inspired so the emphasis has been on making sure everyone feels valued. 

Working remotely has changed the way we interact and we’ve lost the Friday beers, Deliveroo lunches and other small acts that people really value. A lot of clients have focussed on their D2C strategies and we’ve supported them and the team by delivering things like cheese and beers as a small sign of recognition for the hard work from home. We’ve also moved everyone to MacBook Pros and bought designers two monitors (one to keep at home), so more flexible working is here to stay. 

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Alicia Tillman, global chief marketing officer, SAP 

Employee engagement has never been a one-time task you check off a to-do list, but now it requires a powerful focus on keeping teams connected and updated like never before. That is why, since the start of the pandemic, I’ve communicated weekly with my entire global marketing organization, be it a written note, video, or even a live session to bring everyone together.

I also recently launched a new series, Passion for Purpose, where I interview particularly inspiring colleagues at SAP. These employees have gone above and beyond in their communities, dedicating their time, resources, and expertise to give back when the world needs it most. Their stories are a beautiful reminder – that we could all use right now – that goodness will always prevail and deserves the spotlight. 

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Jinal Shah, vice-president of marketing, Feather 

I’ve found that there are two things that ultimately keep my team inspired: a sense of purpose which comes from our mission and a sense of kinship which comes from our teamwork. As we’ve shifted to a remote world, we’ve prioritized engineering online moments and spaces that bring the team together and reinforce our connection to Feather's mission and to each other. Our people team does a fantastic job of organizing remote events – everything from 30-minute fitness sessions, game nights and even safe spaces to discuss politics and such. And in our weekly town hall, we have a very open and transparent dialog about how each of our team's activities ladders up to the mission.  

For my own team, I’ve found that in a Zoom and Slack universe, we’ve lost the serendipitous and asynchronous exchange of ideas. This has required us to shift our creative processes and get more comfortable with being vulnerable with each other over video. I make it a point to reinforce and remind them often of the role they are playing in driving our company's growth. Honestly, momentum is the fire that fuels them the most. 

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Kevin Diehl, vice-president, US marketing, Dr Martens 

The work really started prior to the pandemic. I try to make sure I have the right people in the right roles who are naturally inspired during normal circumstances. The changes that I then needed to make to keep them inspired was about not losing the connection and communication we had when working together in the office. I also had to have an increased level of flexibility and empathy to make sure I was understanding and reacting to the outside of work challenges each individual is facing. Everyone is dealing with different home and family dynamics and you can’t have one size fits all expectations if you want to get the most from your team. 

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Erica Routledge, operations director, Accept & Proceed 

Inspiration is key no matter your role or business. As with anything creative, it doesn’t just ‘happen’. You have to carve out time for social interaction, encourage the team to get out of their daily processes.

Time away from the screen is particularly important. That’s why every other Friday, we close down the studio to allow the team to do something they enjoy. Some smaller groups have used the time to go to exhibitions and to help local causes. 

Make sure you provide opportunities for your team to do non work-related tasks to stay on it; virtual Pilates, breathing workshops and lunchtime tennis never go amiss!

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Perri Grinberg vice-president, human resources for Rapp

At Rapp, our leaders have learned a lot about how to keep our remote staff inspired through connectivity, collaboration, and empathy. Nowadays our people have the ability to communicate more frequently because of online discussions, Zoom meetings, and virtual happy hours. Our leaders know how important engagement and collaboration is for remote workers and we have seen a much bigger emphasis placed on giving employees the tools and time to collaborate and connect digitally.

Empathetic leadership can also help you best manage your team during remote working. Leaders are truly taking the time to check in on their employees. With the ease of virtual meetings, many leaders are connecting more with co-workers than they were in person before. There is more of a conscious and concerted effort to do these things now rather than distractedly hustle around an office from meeting to meeting. The understanding you show as a leader goes a long way toward building a trusting and inspired work environment.

Leaders are now managing to get results that aren’t based on someone’s time in the office and employees who have a true sense of balance have thrived in this environment. Leaders have been forced to learn and appreciate that certain individuals might work best early in the morning while someone else works best late at night. By being authentically empathetic, connecting, and collaborating more – everyone can make the most of remote working.

Feel like sticking your oar in? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com to be included in upcoming editions.