Keeping the human connection in remote times

Remote work has been a growing global trend even before we entered the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, statistics by Flexjobs suggested that remote work grew by 44%. Today, this percentage has increased to over 55% and is expected to climb as remote work continues to become the norm.

Now that swopping the traditional office space with an at-home office is more acceptable, how are employees and business owners adapting to the future of work? To delve into this, I invite you to step inside the internal workings of The Digital Alliance (TDA), a Johannesburg-based digital marketing agency, whose team has successfully been tackling working from home since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like every other business, we’ve had to think on our feet since shifting from working in one collaborative space to our individual at-home ‘offices’. “As a creative team we used to rely on sitting around a table together to bounce off ideas and attend to the details of the production process – so adaptive solutions and agility have been crucial,” says Colleen Lewis,Managing Director at The Digital Alliance. “Fortunately, most of us have come from a freelance background and our past experience of servicing the client from a distance has come in very handy.”

Strengthen digital engagement

Colleen points out that the rapid uptake of online meetings from the public has been a huge advantage. “Most of our clients are now perfectly comfortable with discussing everything online and are unlikely to go back to the old style of face-to-face meetings.”

On the other hand, not having that face-to-face contact does present challenges. Especially when working with prospective clients. Hazel Chitondo, head of TDA’s sales and marketing strategy, finds that prospective clients are not building trust as easily. “It is difficult to get a client’s buy-in when you are missing the in-person contact. This affects and slows down the decision-making process.”

Hazel recommends that marketers re-evaluate their sales strategy and look at ways to increase brand visibility on digital platforms by improving SEO and user experience and updating your online presence with offers that will attract prospects.

Embrace the logistics

In response to the logistical challenges brought on by the Covid environment, Colleen believes that businesses can find a way around it. “Of course, the times of not having decent Wi-Fi connection or being interrupted by load shedding is very frustrating and time consuming. However, there is a sense of empowerment that comes with overcoming practical and communication challenges, which is good for morale within the team. It also gives insight into how we can support our clients.”

By overcoming the challenges of remote working the TDA team has learnt to work smarter, be more organised and refine our workflow processes.Nadine Butcher who oversees TDA’s logistical planning agrees on embracing this new mindset. “All businesses are finding ways of doing more with less. With fewer networking opportunities to meet new clients, we’ve had to leverage our relationship with existing clients to offer more value-added service.” Nadine includes that by understanding how the pandemic has impacted our client’s businesses, TDA has been able to adjust digital marketing strategies where needed.

Speak from the heart

Turning to the rewarding aspects that come with working from home, Laurel Pretorius, TDA’s head of content creation, addresses some valuable points. “Working from home has allowed me to become more introspective, to research online and learn new things. This focused time has benefitted the quality of content produced by the TDA team. Not only for our own brand but also for our clients.” For people who work in a creative industry like TDA, the flexibility that comes with remote working is a major perk.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also having a positive impact on the tone and type of content that marketers are producing, says Laurel. “Considering that people are facing bleaker times, there is a great need for real, authentic messages that speak to the heart. Perhaps we took engagement for granted in the days where we could be in dynamic, physical spaces. Now we must do that on a screen. Marketers are finally stepping outside the box and finding more authentic ways of engaging with consumers online.”

Simulate human connection

“Since working in isolation, the core aspect that has kept our team afloat is that TDA is invested in the culture of human connection. During our online meetings we prefer to keep our cameras on, because that maintains some sense of connection. When we brainstorm and meet via Microsoft Teams, we are set up in a way that closely replicates being around a table with each other.”

Colleen advises other business owners to retain a personal connection by ensuring that your team is well supported. “It becomes more important than ever to maintain the personal contact. There isn’t always the opportunity to smile, give a pat on the back or ask someone how they are doing. However, you must find a way to keep it going, because everyone needs encouragement and acknowledgement whilst working in isolation”.

Ways of doing this includes making time to connect with each team member, sending notes and approaching emails and messages with a warm and friendly tone. “It is very easy for miscommunication to happen simply because the tone of written communication is not quite right”. She also recommends that business owners engage with one another and share how they tackle problems. “The pandemic is a great networking topic. Have those conversations with your peers, it will make a big difference”.

Provide leadership and structure

The topic of leadership and how to successfully structure and manage a team remotely, has had a major impact on how Colleen and our entire team make it all happen. “Now more than ever your team relies on you for leadership. To give them the knowledge and affirmation to feel a sense of achievement and support in their daily work. You also need to provide your team with the structure that will help them maintain the standard of work they were accustomed to delivering in the office environment”.

Just like our fellow companions in the marketing industry, The Digital Alliance continues to learn how to balance remote work on the daily. Every organisation will find a recipe that works best for them. But for us it really has been about supporting one another by upholding the human connection over a screen.

Credits: Anna Dedekind

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