How Dell manages remote marketing teams

Dell Technologies’ Head of Digital EMEA, Otso Huovinen, explains his team’s approach to collaborating from a distance

August 13, 2020

How Dell manages remote marketing teams

For marketing organisations, the last few months haven’t involved just one transition but a sequence of adjustments. We’ve moved from the initial rapid pivot to remote working to the task of building sustainable structures that help teams collaborate creatively. Marketing leaders have been discovering in real time how socially distanced teams influence the way that people work, the challenges they face, and the types of support that they need.

Head of Digital for Dell Technologies in EMEA, Otso Huovinen is one of those leaders. We caught up with him about the challenges and opportunities that remote working has created for his marketing team, and the lessons he’s learned so far.

You’ll find more insight and inspiration from marketers managing the transition in our Marketing Manager’s Survival Guide.

How does Dell approach remote working?

Dell has actually had a very virtual and remote culture of working for the past decade or so. It’s a big element in what we’re about as a company – and so in many ways, this isn’t a huge cultural adjustment for us. It’s been very much part of our talent strategy and helps us attract different demographics. That said, I’m actually one of the Dell employees that regularly comes into the office – so in some ways, this has been a bigger adjustment for me than for other members of the team.

What are the foundations that you need to manage a team remotely?

Consider whether this is a quick pivot or more of an ongoing model. If you’re looking to build a long-term approach, then you’ll need to equip your team with tools, platforms and technology to enable them to collaborate and be productive. It’s not just a case of sitting at home with a laptop.

As a manager, you also have to accept that you won’t be physically seeing your employees, and you don’t get a daily handle on what they’re doing. You’ll need to come to terms with the importance of trusting people when you can’t keep an eye on them. This works in the other direction too. Your team members are often used to having a manager nearby whenever they have questions. When that isn’t available, they need to approach projects in a more structured way.

How can you build greater trust and accountability?

It’s a real balancing act. It’s a case of saying to a team member that I need you to own this area and act like it’s your own business – and in return, I don’t care quite so much about how exactly you go about it. You have to enforce a little bit of structure in terms of goals, priorities, and timelines. You might give someone responsibility and encourage them to take ownership of a project, but then balance that by making sure they have regular communication with you. That could involve time in their calendar for bouncing their ideas off you and the team, tissue sessions where they present ideas as they develop and you have an opportunity for collaboration. You want to make sure that it’s not a completely asymmetrical dynamic.

How do you support marketing creativity when teams can’t share a space?

Creativity is one of the biggest challenges for any remote working environment. It’s important to focus on the cultural side of things first – and then try to use technology to support open, flexible sessions where you generate ideas. I’ve seen a lot of organisations embracing this. Ideas like virtual drinks sessions are important when a team is dealing with a sudden switch to remote working and they don’t have that culture already in place. You’re focusing on the fun side of things to safeguard a level of creativity and spontaneity.

How do you help teams balance personal and professional life?

This is another area where structure is really important. My advice is to calendarise things as much as possible. It’s a mental shift – and it can feel restrictive at first – but it will help to manage expectations with your wider organisation so that you don’t get sucked into working all hours. Try to block out time to ensure that everything you need to do gets done – personal and professional.

Managers can help by empowering their teams to be intentional about how they communicate. When lockdown first happened, businesses of all kinds had an increased need to communicate and a lot more all-hands calls. Going forward though, we’ll need to empower people to manage their time so that their days aren’t blocked out and they have the opportunity to get things done.

Part of this is reassuring people that they can make their own judgments about whether they’re really needed on a call, particularly if they are part of a long invite list. We can also encourage our teams to be mindful of others’ time when deciding who they really need in a particular session. It’s about making the best use of your time, and everybody else’s time.

The Marketing Manager’s Survival Guide shares how marketers in organisations large and small are coping with the challenges of managing teams, balancing the needs of stakeholders and maintaining their own resilience levels. It’s available for free download now.