Digital nomads aren’t new—there have been communities of creatives eschewing the traditional workaday world for eons. These individuals travel instead of being confined to a desk, roaming coffee shops, highways, forest preserves, and anywhere else they can connect to Wi-Fi. What’s new is the mass adoption of the lifestyle.
Market forces have conspired to create a world without boundaries. Teams are fully distributed and foregoing repetitive commutes and stuffy office environments. While the possibility of working remotely was fully available pre-pandemic, the post-pandemic workplace has flipped a switch. Some employees will never go back to the way things once were.
If you’re responsible for leading marketing teams, you’ve probably dealt with significant challenges in keeping your team together. Perhaps you’ve seen price sniping of top performers, new team members who overstated skillsets, disjointed or underperforming teams, and an overall malaise that has hindered the creative process. These factors and more all contribute to the rising costs of running a marketing squad. Creative teams are burnt out, plain and simple.
The static office environment was never a breeding ground for success in creative disciplines anyway. This new shift allows for better maintenance of the entire process. On-ramp and start projects seamlessly with existing vendors; turn them on for a project with a fixed price point. Scale up and down as minor project hiccups occur. The ability to add and subtract resources as the project progresses is a game-changer for expense management.
Managing marketing teams has become an all-encompassing task. The demand for creative professionals has shifted the negotiating power back to the labor force. Marketing team leads now have to continuously recruit talent, develop team members in order to keep them satisfied, keep up with increased labor costs, and gently manage coworkers through these new, altered work environs.
In our own experience as a growing agency, we needed to be price sensitive to the small and mid-size business clients we were pursuing. High-dollar teams just weren’t an option. We ran lean, including a fully distributed team from throughout the United States and Europe.
We’ve let our team determine whether they want to be hourly W-2, 1099 contractors, or vendors based on their personal situations. The process allows many otherwise disenfranchised employees to participate in the labor market. This allows for many talented creatives to participate in a consumable fashion. We have worked with grad students, stay-at-home parents, and entry-level professionals who struggle to find opportunities. We build individual teams based on competency and give them as many hours as they want.
Working within an upper and lower limit allows us to check in with employees between projects to gauge their willingness and ability to accept additional projects. We have multiple creatives of various disciplines, styles, and price points to flex in and out of projects based on client needs. This is how profitable agencies have run for years, and now the labor force is on board. They seek the downtime between projects to live life in whatever capacity they wish.
Running an agency or team this way is not without its challenges, including:
- Time zones: Depending on where your team is located and what the time change is, this could be a huge advantage (think 24/7 availability) or disadvantage (think unresponsive teams with full-day lag times between communication).
- International PTO expectations: We’ve grown quite envious of our European counterparts’ vacation benefits and expected days off.
- Supply/demand of creatives: The best creatives are often booked well in advance; clients aren’t always patient or flexible in their expectations.
- Burnout: Another pro/con scenario in which more free time leads to less burnout, but when it happens, it can be problematic.
There is no job without daily problems in need of solutions. These challenges are no more or less significant when looking at full-time staffing considerations. Billing hourly or on a flat project basis also provides control against runaway budgets and rampant inefficiencies. The creatives on a team are motivated to be efficient, as they’re not only being judged on the creative output of each project but the efficiency with which they execute their work.
We’ve found that a minor increase in administrative oversight as it relates to specific projects provides a significant return on the profitability of most projects.
Freed from the interpersonal management of in-house teams, your directors can take more time to manage metrics such as campaign results, project budgets, new and future team project recruitment, and their own professional development. Figuratively, nomads aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to successfully navigate the labor market even after their negotiating position of authority cedes. After all, they’ve got places to be.