The remote work realities of 2020 have hit us hard. For those unaccustomed to working or managing a remote team, the shift has been mind-boggling.
In marketing, and especially content, we are often working within a team or group located in the same physical space and being involved with ‘in real life’ meetings all the time. That was until a global pandemic made video calls with noisy toddlers and meowy cats the new normal.
But this time can also be an opportunity to re-make the way we work together as remote teams in a productive and meaningful way. Stephanie King, former director of global content marketing at American Express, has been working and running remote content teams for almost a decade. Her hard-won lessons are instructive for anyone looking to sharpen up their team’s productivity, no matter where everyone is located.
#1 – Strategy is a must-have for successful remote content teams…
All content marketers can tell you a lack of a clear strategy impacts your success. Research from the Content Marketing Institute highlights this link; 65% of the most successful content programs work to a documented strategy, compared with only 14% of the least successful.
As one of the global content leaders for American Express, Stephanie validates the important role strategy plays in keeping high-performing remote teams focused on the audience. “It’s important to get to a place where you have that guiding framework,” she says. “We boiled it down to identifying five key audience needs that essentially formed the backbone of our editorial content strategy.”
#2 – … but not all teams need the same strategy
While a strategy is important to prioritise your content efforts, it’s not mission critical to have the one strategy for the whole organisation. Some businesses need that more than others, but, Stephanie says, it depends on “the strategic role that content plays within that organisation.”
She notes that at American Express the strategies were designed globally for each business unit to ensure uniform global coverage of key audiences without creating impractical rules that parts of the business couldn’t or didn’t need to comply with. “We did not have one single global plan or program,” says Stephanie. “We were working towards a single global content strategy within our business unit… a central view that we would run across all our priority regions and markets.”
#3 – Bake flexibility into your approach
While the need to stick to the right kind of a strategy is clear, Stephanie also believes a degree of flexibility in your approach improves your remote team’s odds of success. Your approach or strategy should be prepared to “have enough flex in it so that you are not chopping and changing quarter on quarter, year on year,” she says.
Flexibility and consistency might seem like competing priorities, but Stephanie recounts how being prepared for flexibility at American Express was a big reason why content came to be seen as an integral part of the business’ operations. “What I have seen over the years [is that] you have to be very clear, very conscious, of sort of being that strategic partner as opposed to being a kind of servicing arm for the organisation,” she says.
#4 – Simplify the tech your remote team uses
With only 16% of organisations having the right tech in place to manage their content programs (according to a 2019 study from the Content Marketing Institute), Stephanie is unequivocal about the need for a deliberate, simplified approach to tech.
In her experience, it has played a significant role in the success of the remote content teams she’s worked in saying, “technology was an absolute game changer for us at American Express and specifically for the content team.”
Many remote content teams have spent the first half of 2020 cobbling together tech without a clear plan for how to scale and sustain that approach. Stephanie’s experience with “a lot of different processes, a lot of email, a lot of spreadsheets” has allowed her to understand that without a more holistic approach to choosing and using technology, it’s very hard to grow or maintain any kind of success within remote content teams.
#5 – Make the first move to collaborate with other teams
Content is often described as the common thread that runs through many of an organisation’s marketing, communications and customer initiatives. If you’re part of a remote content team, it’s even more important to understand this principle and reach out to those other teams to ensure success and a productive working relationship.
Along with the rest of the global content team at American Express, Stephanie would spend much of her time talking to and partnering with other teams to make sure content was meeting the needs of the business at large. She says this is one of the pivotal roles and most gratifying parts of working in a remote content team, adding that “this kind of collaboration, being that advocate or having the responsibility of cohesion across everything [to do with content], makes it a quite unique and fascinating space to operate in.”
This article was developed from the advice and insights Stephanie shared during a webinar in July 2020, hosted by Storyation and NewsCred.