Michael Dobson, senior VP of digital media with iNvolved Media and Active International, leads a boutique strategic digital agency that plans, executes, optimizes and measures cross-channel media campaigns. Having worked in digital marketing for over 12 years, he’s used to dealing with constant change and rethinking traditional ways of getting things done.
For him, the 2020 remote-work revolution — and the concomitant churn in the employment market — is just one more transition to embrace.
“Right now, the hiring market is very bumpy. There’s a shuffle of individuals going from one agency to another or going from an agency to in-house,” he said.
And there are lots of factors influencing this current level of employee turnover.
“With the pandemic, people had a bit of a reality check, time to think about what they do or don’t want to go back to, what they miss about before … Like, really how great was the culture they were previously in?” Dobson said.
“Also, people don’t have to deal with it in person — they can give their notice virtually, which is even easier,” he pointed out, comparing the emotionally lower stakes of leaving a team remotely to breaking up a personal relationship without having to look the other party in the eye.
Hiring in the new normal
The remote environment has brought additional flexibility to employers and recruiters in turn, although Dobson points out that there are advantages and disadvantages to contend with.
His company, he said, has “a majority of clients based on Eastern or Central time zones, so we can generally recruit anywhere in that geographic area, which is very broad.”
While management job candidates are often found mainly in certain markets, entry-level job prospects “could be anywhere,” he noted.
When job candidates live in a location far from the central office, the issue of salary differentials is bound to come up early in the conversation. While some tech companies have cut employees’ salaries when they work remotely, Dobson is approaching the issue of location-related pay more individually and creatively.
“We might be able to offer an attractive prospect a better-than-local salary — better than they’d get in North Carolina — without having to match New York rates, or requiring them to relocate,” Dobson explained.
Giving employees the flexibility they crave
Because the pandemic has proven the effectiveness of remote work, Dobson has decided to offer existing team members the possibility of teleworking — to reward loyalty and retain good people, particularly while the market is in flux.
Dobson says he’s surprised that more employers aren’t embracing this possibility, and the mutual benefits it offers.
“If you have somebody who’s been with you for five years and you have an opportunity to retain them when they want to relocate, why not allow that?” he said. “They’ve shown you they can work remotely successfully over the past 18 months. Supporting talented individuals to find their preferred lifestyle balance and continue their career growth with your business is a win-win.”
Retaining employees who have demonstrated the capacity to work effectively at a distance is also a distinct advantage in client-service delivery and the agency model overall. As part of a trend that was growing long before the pandemic lockdowns, remote client service has become increasingly prevalent.
“The majority of our clients, we’ve long been working with them virtually anyway,” Dobson said.
“We may go and visit them in their offices once a quarter or twice a year. But for the most part, they’re not sitting right down the street, and therefore our talent is already working virtually,” Dobson said of the day-to-day services his agency provides.
“And it’s enabled us to pick up clients in new areas as a result. If we take on someone on the West Coast, I can hire talent that’s in the right time zone for them. We can even explore doing business in other countries as well,” he added.
Working around the clock
By moving out of the synchronous time-zone space, iNvolved Media is also starting to leverage some the potential that this offers — the ability to get things done around the clock and make the most of having some colleagues working while others are offline.
“If you have people who don’t have to be client-facing, it can work to your advantage on the back end,” he said. “You can have trusted people doing activation work as it relates to things like building digital ads, doing that work overnight during their own working hours, so it’s ready to go when the account manager and the client wake up.”
It’s a new way of working for Dobson and for many others, and while this more distributed approach unlocks many advantages, it also inevitably impacts on cohesion and communication.
“It’s a little harder to connect and collaborate virtually. Things like training become a little more ad hoc, and it’s harder when someone is new to the team,” he said.
“But we’ve found ways to overcome it, and sometimes this has meant systematizing things more, creating programs — such as milestones for each new hire to pass through in their first week, first 30 days, first 60 days,” he added. “We set them up with specific people to cover certain things and create screenshares and recordings together to refer back to.”
And while many people have wondered whether the lack of physical colocation will impact the onboarding experience negatively for junior team members and those at the start of their career, Dobson considers that it’s easier to onboard virtually, when people don’t have other experiences and expectations to compare it with. And the company aims for a flexible, blended approach tailored to individual preferences and expectations.
“Of course, some are curious for that idea of an office environment with endless snacks and beverages and the social opportunities for small talk, and we’re looking to offer hybrid opportunities where we can — letting them get out of their small apartments in metropolitan locations with too many roommates,” he said.
“Offering flexibility, a change to break things up a bit, can make all the difference,” Dobson concluded.