Man in a white dress shirt talking on a phone
Could an executive be just as effective working from home as right in the office? What about a CMO? PHOTO: Markus Spiske

An increasingly digital workplace is extending the marketing department beyond the walls of the office. 

That has big implications for marketing leaders in terms of how they execute their responsibilities and manage a team no longer confined by brick and mortar.

Virtual Marketing Teams

Some 25 million professionals will work mostly or entirely on a remote basis this year. Faster internet, video calls, instant messaging, document sharing and a suite of collaboration and project management tools have made it so that virtual work doesn’t result in lost productivity.

Indeed, it may actually increase the effectiveness and output of your team when applied strategically and managed by leaders who are suited to running a digital workplace.

It only makes sense telecommuting is becoming more and more common among rank-and-file marketing professionals.

The nature of modern marketing is especially conducive to remote work. Very little of what most marketers do on a day to day basis requires a physical presence.

Virtual work options also open up your talent pool to a broader selection of candidates. If the best person for the job is 500 miles away rather than across town, you now have the option to bring that distant expertise onboard.

Remote options are even attractive for relatively nearby talent. The ability to avoid a stressful commute and work from the comfort of home or a nearby coffee shop some or all of the time is a great way to reward reliable employees, improve morale and enhance your employment brand.

Remote workers are about twice as likely to love their job than their in-office counterparts. The talent market for marketing professionals is a competitive one, and we’re seeing that top performers are expecting more and more flexibility in terms of work arrangements.

What It Means for Marketing Executives

It seems obvious that a diligent graphic designer or PPC specialist or social media manager could potentially work virtually and be effective. So that begs the question; what about the more senior leaders of the marketing department? Could an executive be just as effective working from home as right in the office? What about a CMO?

It depends. But for the most part, the answer is no.

Any CMOs hoping to ditch their commute and start working in their pajamas any time soon will probably be disappointed. The reality is that most heads of marketing cannot afford to work entirely virtually right now.

It’s simply too important for marketing leaders to have a constant guiding presence with their team. They need to be in the trenches; actively listening to what their team has to say and constantly feeling the pulse of the department.

Consolidated Marketing Teams

This is especially important in organizations with a marketing department that’s largely consolidated in one place.

In these situations, you get a lot of constant communication and collaboration among the marketers congregated in that spot. That tends to lead to some amount of tribalism and groupthink — which is good if you’re all on the same page supporting each other, but bad news if there are differences in opinion between senior leadership and the rest of the operation.

Active, hands on-leadership is needed to steer that momentum in the right direction.

There are other risks:  A marketing executive working apart from a team consolidated in one place is likely to be perceived as too far removed from the reality of department’s day-to-day work, like an unseen king issuing orders from a far-away throne. Over time resentment builds, and productivity is lost.

The day may come, quite soon, where virtual work is a viable possibility for even C-level marketing leaders. There’s no telling what technology will come along that will empower executives to remain immersed in the culture and mentality of their departments from any distance.

But we’re just not there yet … usually.

When It Can Work

There is one scenario where a CMO or other senior marketing leader can potentially work virtually with few negative side effects.

Imagine a marketing department that’s scattered between teams across the country or even around the globe.

Perhaps the organization is a growing startup where most employees have worked remotely from its inception, or is formed of several disparate companies that were previously acquired. In cases like this, there’s less likely to be a problematic cultural or creative difference that can spiral out of control.

In short, if the rest of the marketing team is already dispersed, then it’s not particularly essential for a marketing lead to show up at a brick-and-mortar location every day.

But if your marketing efforts are concentrated in one place, the CMO needs to seen — and seen on a regular basis. Do you agree?