People management is critical to the success of your remote-first SEO team.
You may never meet in person, and many of the verbal and visual cues inherent to working in the same physical space are gone.
This is the final part of a three-part series on building your remote SEO team, whether in-house or at your own agency or freelance business.
Now, you’ll learn how to structure your remote SEO training and development program and find helpful tips for onboarding, team building, mentoring, work-life balance, and more.
Building A Success Remote SEO Team Culture
The most important consideration when building a fully remote SEO team is how each member is thriving within the team.
Help Members Feel Settled
You can help your team perform well individually in several ways.
First, we should look at helping each member feel settled in the role.
Joining a team is daunting. Walking into the office for the first time can be overwhelming.
Joining a remote-only team is similarly nerve-wracking.
The only thing that will change for some team members between the Friday at their last job and their first Monday with you is the laptop on their desk.
For others, it may be the first time in a remote role.
Onboarding colleagues is crucial for setting them up for success.
There are many ways to help your new team member feel settled, but in those first few weeks, you should consider:
- Offering (not mandating!) a catch-up before they start once they have accepted the role to meet you again as their line manager so they can ask any questions and get to know you.
- Creating a structured first week and sharing the plan with them before they join so they know what is expected of them and the hours they will be needed for their first few days.
- Sending over any equipment before they join to set up in time for their first day.
- Sending them information about their colleagues, even if it’s just names and their job titles, to get familiar before they join.
- Do not use this as an excuse to get them to start working for you before they have officially joined the company. Anything you send should be for their benefit and not yours. This is not an opportunity to get their “thoughts” on a client pitch or take a “quick look” at an audit.
You might be building a team from scratch or inheriting and growing a team.
If it’s the former, the members may not be familiar with working together. You will need to spend time up-front helping the team become efficient.
This may mean scheduling “ways of working” discussions and “getting to know you” sessions upfront.
If your team has been working together for a while, and you’re the new one on the team, take the opportunity to learn their current cadence of things like meetings and retros, and find out what’s already working well.
Helping your team gel together remotely doesn’t always require a lot of face-to-face time.
It goes beyond organizing a few virtual escape rooms or drinks over Zoom after work.
Look at the personalities and skillsets within your team.
Where are they working well together?
Where are they not?
Assess the weaker points in their teamwork and create a plan to address them.
For example, it may be that they all have very disparate ways of approaching common SEO tasks.
This might be an issue when handing overwork or working together on a project.
Getting the team to discuss their approaches and agree on a standard output would be one way of facing this challenge.
Team building can be part social, part operations-focused.
But do not make the mistake of thinking weekly virtual quizzes will solve these challenges.
A crucial part of your role in leading a remote SEO team is making sure you are checking in with your team members regularly.
You will need to assess their happiness, productivity, and how you can help remove obstacles to either.
You will know from your own experiences that there is a fine line between being a supportive manager and an overbearing one.
It is worth discussing with each team member how they work best.
Would a weekly 15-minute chat reviewing what they are working on that week help?
Would they prefer to keep you updated with an email each week and a more in-depth face-to-face review once a month?
Whatever you decide on, make sure you keep it in the diary.
Your team needs an opportunity to voice any concerns or wins.
You also need regular touchpoints to see what support you should be giving.
One significant difference between an in-office and remote role is that it is a lot easier to miss the signs that your colleagues are struggling.
These regular check-ins go some way to addressing that.
Training & Professional Development Tips
High-profile digital marketing agencies have recently commented how they would never want to go remote-first.
The comments centered on the need for junior staff to be around more experienced staff to grow and learn.
Remote-first SEO teams simply don’t have this set-up.
That’s not to say that the opportunity to learn from more experienced colleagues isn’t there. It’s just not going to be through overhearing a conversation from across the desk.
Training must be more thoughtfully considered and planned with remote teams.
Guides And Mentors
A great way to make sure your new team member feels welcomed and settled onto the team is by assigning them a “guide.”
This is someone, not their line manager, to who they can ask questions.
This way, they have a point of contact where they can find out information about the company, logins, and the history of SEO on the websites without worrying they are bothering the wrong people or looking silly in front of their manager.
This is particularly important for remote roles where it isn’t possible for a new colleague to just ask a question of someone who is passing by.
A mentor can be particularly helpful for junior team members.
Their role is to help with training and development needs.
As a line manager, you will likely have helped identify skills gaps.
The mentor can be someone who has a strength in those skills and can be a sounding board, or signpost, for your team member.
For example, if your new junior SEO wants to learn more about technical SEO, you can pair them up with your senior tech SEO, and they can arrange one-to-one training or coaching.
Getting the whole SEO team together for regular workshops can aid in both building team support and sharing knowledge.
By coming together as a team, you have the opportunity to learn from each other and build a culture of solving problems together.
Similar to team workshops, knowledge shares will build a culture of looking to colleagues for help rather than going it alone.
Knowledge shares can be sessions once a week, or month, where the whole team talks about developments in the SEO industry, such as sharing a recently read article or conference notes.
Group Conference Trips
Bringing the whole team together to attend an in-person, or virtual conference can help with upskilling and team building.
Remember to make sure it’s accessible for everyone.
Virtual might be the better way to go if your team is spread across a large geography.
Pooling Training Budgets
You might like to encourage your team to share any training budgets they are afforded.
Pooling together their budget might allow them to hire a specific trainer or coach.
It could give them access to a resource portal or back-catalog of videos from a conference.
By sharing their budget, they will have a unified development opportunity to talk about as a group and increase the scope of what they can afford.
You may want to empower your team to give their own training sessions.
Chances are you have hired team members with strengths in certain areas where others are lacking.
If they are up for sharing that knowledge, you can suggest a training seminar.
Respect Why People Have Chosen Remote Working
There are many reasons your team may have chosen to work fully remote.
It is a good idea to find out why they’ve chosen remote work and make sure you are helping them get the most out of the opportunity.
Outside Of Work Commitments
Many of us chose to work remotely because of our commitments outside of work.
Working remotely reduces the need for a lengthy commute and keeps us closer to our homes, hobbies, and families.
Be mindful that just because a team member is already at home and does not need to rush off to beat the traffic doesn’t mean they don’t need to clock out on time each evening.
Those outside-of-work commitments might be during lunch breaks or before work starts.
Your team working from home does not give you access 24 hours a day.
Their work hours are when you should expect them to work.
Child And Elder Care
Some of these out-of-work commitments might well be looking after family members.
Be prepared for kids on video calls and parents walking past your colleague’s desk as they’re talking to you.
Your team’s offices are in their homes.
It is unreasonable for us to expect other people in those homes to work to our company’s schedule.
It is reasonable for you to expect your team to keep distractions to a minimum where possible.
However, likely, family members popping on screen or an emergency trip to the doctor likely causes your colleague far more stress than the company.
Help to normalize a healthy work/life balance.
Let your team know that it is OK to prioritize family when emergencies happen.
Flexibility And Work/Life Balance
Another reason employees choose to work fully remote is the flexibility that it brings them.
There is the freedom to pick the kids up from school or take the dog for a walk.
It is important to realize that if this flexibility is a core driver for your team member working from home, frequent infringement on that might be why they look for another role.
Make sure you and your team understand what is required of them in terms of working hours, and don’t be the one to break that agreement.
Conferences And Meet-ups
If work-life balance, commitments outside of work, and the desire for a short commute motivate your remote team, be very careful not to over-index on meet-ups and in-person conferences.
Remote first businesses often want to gather their team together once or twice a year for face-to-face meet-ups with a view to team building.
This might already be the limit of what your team can commit to.
Consider the additional toll it takes on employees.
You may not be aware of the additional steps they need to take to be present at the in-person events; for example, the single parent arranging childcare during their time away.
The extra effort of staying overnight in an unfamiliar place can be for someone with health conditions.
The desire to not be away from family members.
Be prepared not to expect too much in-person attendance from your fully-remote team.
Remoteness Of Home
Finally, another consideration you should make around why your team might choose to work remotely is their home location.
Some people don’t live near major cities or transport links.
For them, working remotely opens up SEO jobs that would otherwise be physically out of reach.
If you expect them to travel to clients’ premises or a social event, keep this in mind.
Making Sure Remote Is Right
When building your remote-first SEO team, a key consideration is finding candidates suited to remote roles.
The pandemic has led to some people working remotely for the first time.
They may now never want to go back to in-person alternatives.
For others, this might be their first experience working fully from home.
Part of your interview process might include exploring how comfortable they feel with a remote-only role.
Does the candidate appreciate the loneliness or change in the work environment that a fully remote role brings?
However you choose to build your remote SEO team, there are a lot of benefits to doing so.
Being remote-only opens up the possibility of increased diversity in your team.
Your team may include people from across the world, not just in the city where old offices were based.
Embrace that opportunity to build out a diverse and accommodating team.
Your team may experience a greater level of freedom as a remote team.
Make sure they are comfortable with that and understand the boundaries you’ll need to work within.
ICYMI – be sure to read How To Build A Remote Team For SEO: Planning & Structure and Legal Considerations & Communication Tips For Your Remote SEO Team for more on setting your remote SEO team up for success.
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