How marketers are adapting to the new world of hybrid working
Flexible working is now essential for employees. But in an industry that relies on creativity and collaboration, how are marketing directors navigating this new landscape?
The Covid-19 pandemic transformed daily life for many employees, paving the way for hybrid working. This presents unique opportunities and challenges for marketing, which relies on the innovation and creativity that so often come from collaboration.
In the war for talent, hybrid working is now a ‘must have’, with businesses facing growing demand for flexible working models. A report by technology firm Velocity Smart showed that nearly half (48%) of UK workers are ready to leave their current job and look for new opportunities if their employer fails to offer flexibility.
“We are seeing the hottest talent market in decades and companies are increasingly competing on how flexible they are. Those employers resistant to change will lose talent,” says Mark Evans, marketing director at Direct Line.
For the marketing industry, it will be critically important to deliver the right structure, skills and technology. Leaders must address how and when their people work, the ways in which they interact and the role of the office.
The past two years have underscored the importance of marketing, particularly the need to cultivate a strong brand message and the key role of corporate communication and digital delivery.
“Hybrid working can help make conversations more immediate, inclusive and productive, particularly for a global business,” says Andy McQuillan, global marketing director at Legal and General Investment Management. “The trick for marketing leaders is to think differently about how teams and individuals connect to put deliberate structure into creating the conditions for creativity to flourish.”
For McQuillan, an optimal marketing structure should be “location agnostic”, breaking down silos and harnessing diverse technical disciplines.
“It should create the conditions for each team member to achieve their career potential. Get these fundamentals right and a marketing team will be well placed to seize the opportunities of hybrid working,” says McQuillan.
The precise definition of an effective hybrid structure will naturally differ between firms. However, the big issue facing marketing directors is striking a balance between employee demand for greater flexibility and autonomy and maintaining a sense of structure and belonging. A common approach is to designate home days for everyday tasks and office days together for collaboration, brainstorming and learning.
Travel group Explore has suggested two days in the office and three days at home. However, it offers flexibility, with some employees choosing to come in once a week and others opting to work full time from the office.
“Hybrid working allows for people that are creative at different times and in different settings,” says Jae Hopkins, marketing director at Explore. “Not everyone has their best ideas on the spot, in a meeting room or at a desk between the hours of 9am and 5pm. My team are all talented marketers and I completely trust them to manage their own time and to continue contributing to and growing our business.”
However, Explore asks teams to come together in person once a week to ensure they maintain a bond as co-workers. Hopkins encourages employees to do things they can’t do from home, even if it’s just catching up with a colleague over coffee.
“We all enjoy the energy of being together and seeing other people within the business. These days often create the first sparks of creativity, but everyone fans those sparks in the way that works best for them,” she says. “Happy, motivated employees always produce the best work and flexibility is absolutely key to this.”
Employees should come into the office because they want to, not because they have to, says Evans. “It’s important that employees continue to feel a sense of belonging and we work hard to create days in the office that enable our team members to collaborate, brainstorm and learn. The key is demonstrating how valuable our time together is and making that time matter.”
There are many benefits of remote working, but the raison d’etre of marketing is to bring the outside in, says Evans. This means “you need to have your finger on the pulse and understand what customers want. Fortunately, marketing is blessed with working with partnerships and creative agencies, many of whom continue to be predominantly office-based, and these face-to-face interactions continue to bring an energy to the media landscape which is crucial.”
Rachel Kerrone is brand and marketing manager at Starling Bank. Every fortnight, the entire marketing team heads to the office for a day of creative collaboration, she says. There is a dedicated collaboration space, free of desks and screens, where marketers, creatives, copywriters and social media experts generate creative ideas together and run brand audits and sprints.
“We look forward to having focused time where everyone knows that no idea, no matter how big or bold, is a bad one. The practice has led to some brilliant activities,” Kerrone says.
Need for empathy
Such set-ups may appear more fluid and less restrictive than the traditional 9-5 office model. However, they also require greater communication, transparency and leadership, particularly as employees juggle two different work settings.
A study by recruitment agency Monster found that 69% of employees working from home are experiencing symptoms of burnout, while separate research from Aviva revealed 52% of employees believe the boundaries between work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred.
“Leaders need to be communicative and ensure that individual employees don’t slip into silos,” Evans says. “The role of a leader is to inspire and motivate and this is even more important when people are working separately.”
Compassion and empathy have long been key leadership traits, but Evans says the pandemic and subsequent shift to hybrid working have accentuated the need for leaders to understand how their employees are feeling and the pressure they may be under. They must be able to recognise when to push, when to take a step back and importantly, when to reassure.
McQuillan says leaders must work hard to empower their people and create the conditions for them to flourish. “Soft skills, active listening, reading the room, holding productive conversations are paramount, but require more discipline online.”
Legal and General Investment Management uses a traffic light system at the start of meetings to flag individual wellbeing as a proxy for body language signals.
“Of course, leaders now have to put similar effort into ensuring meaningful connection when we meet in person. It’s such an important part of getting hybrid right, the joy of connection and replenishing the bank of trust between us,” says McQuillan.
With businesses catering to a plethora of employee needs, expectations and working styles, creating the perfect hybrid working model is undoubtedly challenging. However, it’s clear that marketing directors are rising to the challenge and working hard to nurture teams that will flourish in this new era.