Managing Teams Remotely During a Crisis

Media has taken a really big hit during the Coronavirus crisis.

With everyone working from home, consumer engagement skyrocketed, but at the same time, there’s been a precipitous fall in ad revenue. In response, many media companies have resorted to dropping paywalls, lowering floor prices, and significantly reducing staff. It hasn’t been a picnic, that’s for sure.

A couple of weeks ago, we caught up with some folks in the AdMonsters publisher community for a virtual meetup and check-in and asked them to speak candidly about the many challenges they currently face and what they were doing to not only survive, but continue to thrive amid this pandemic.

The conversation covered everything from monetization strategies to improving processes and workflows to managing relationships with partners and other teams inside your own organization. But one area that was prominent throughout the discussion was how to manage teams remotely during a crisis.

“I think everybody is sort of concerned about the status of the industry,” shared Jen Castillo, Sr. Director, Ad Operations, Slate. “It’s not only, ‘Are we going to continue making money?’ But, ‘Is my job safe?’ I think one of the hardest challenges is ensuring your team members that you are there for them and that you’re their voice in leadership meetings when discussing what’s next and what’s happening. One of the hardest parts is finding balance, you don’t want to overshare and create panic. ”

In our recent guide for working-from-home, we talked about the many challenges with boosting morale at this time and how important it is for managers to be transparent and human. There’s been a great mental toll to workers, as many juggle homeschooling, the loss of loved ones and friends, and other distractions while they WFH. Many people are working extended hours just to keep up. For managers, it’s important to help them find balance.

“We operate globally and we have local managers who keep close connections with people to make sure they feel supported and allow them to find their best way to be productive,” explained Jeannie Gammon, VP Sales Operations, The New York Times. “There’s no blanket rule for everyone. It’s been really important to look at the individual and see what they need and cater to that.”

Although the work environment has changed, the idea of understanding your team members strengths and weaknesses hasn’t. What are people good at? Is it time to modify job responsibilities based on the current situation?

Given the pressures of working from home and dealing with personal issues, times are really different than they were two months ago. Managers may need to be a little more lenient with timelines and understanding that people will get work done at different times throughout the day. Helping teams prioritize tasks is really important right now, determining what’s most important and what can be put on the back burner for a few weeks. And then, if anything is urgent, there may be other people on the team you can call on to step up to help get things done in a more timely manner.

Communicate, then Overcommunicate

“I told my team, this is a time to overcommunicate. If it’s not an eight hour day and you have stuff to do and deal with your family and you can only be on for two hours, that’s fine. If you have a project you need to get done, ask for help or let me know in advance and we can figure it out,” related Reena Mehta, Sr. Director, Digital Advertising Operations, Fox Networks Group.

“Eight hours a day being in an office is very different from being at home in your own environment with 15 people around you asking for milk or water or whatever… You have to manage and respect that,” Mehata added.

What the crisis has presented is an opportunity to build stronger trust between managers and their teams.

Then there’s the matter of not being able to read non-verbal cues now that you’re communicating over platforms like Slack or even back-and-forth on email more often. “It’s not like when someone could just walk over to your desk in the office. Sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and work through it,” expressed Jared Collett, Director, Ad Operations and Analytics, Major League Fishing.

Even on video platforms like Zoom, managers have talked about not being able to pick up on body language during a call. If someone on the team isn’t contributing during the team call, check in on them personally.

We’re in the midst of creating a new normal that is sure to impact how we function as an industry and as organizations going forward. Even as businesses begin to open up more steadily around the globe, how we managed during this crisis is creating new rules for how we operate in the future.

What we learned about managing teams in terms of being more flexible with timelines, prioritizing tasks more efficiently, overcommunicating, and automating processes and workflows will provide a framework for building high-performance teams that can lead to successful outcomes for years to come.

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom (Gavin Dunaway, Editorial Director, AdMonsters; Scott Messer, Senior Vice President, Media, Leaf Group; Jared Collett, Director, Ad Operations and Analytics, Major League Fishing; Doug Park, Global Sr. Director, Media Solutions Advertising Operations, Expedia; Jeannie Gammon, VP Sales Operations, The New York Times; Reena Mehta, Sr. Director, Digital Advertising Operations, Fox Networks Group; Jen Castillo, Sr. Director, Ad Operations, Slate; and Rob Beeler, Chairman, AdMonsters)