End of the year. Classic time to do a learnings of the year post.
I’m Brad — a senior writer at a London-based, global fintech company.
I’m not particularly important. I’m not an entrepreneur, or a maker, or a CMO, or some enviable rich guy who’s bringing you some grand, career-changing lessons.
But I found it interesting and insightful to sit back for a while and mull over the stand-out things I’ve learned this year, professionally-speaking. I personally find it helpful writing this stuff down. But in case there a just a few people out there who find it helpful reading it, I’ve decided to publish it too. 👇
1) Fully remote work is better
Loads of people have said loads of things about remote work in 2020. I’ve debated a lot internally, and had endless chats with others on the topic, but I’ve come to the conclusion I prefer fully remote work to a 9–6, Mon-Fri office environment.
By which I mean everyone is remote. The hybrid approach of “there’s an office you can go into but also feel like you can take a few remote days per week if you wish” sounds like a nice compromise for the remote hardcores and office hardcores, but I strongly prefer everyone being remote always.
Why? Because I like the benefits of working from home (less distraction, save commute time, avoid walking home in the cold dark, own kitchen, own bathroom, can quickly throw some washing on during the day, etc.), and I believe everyone needs to be on an even ground to minimise stressors and “othering”.
Being the remote-always person in an in-office team doesn’t just mean occasionally missing out on the pub after work, it also means missing those little conversations that can be key to a project succeeding, or failing the develop the same rapport with your manager that others do (and ultimately jeopardising your career progression). At the very least, you’ll always be the slightly-forgotten-about meeting attendee joining via Zoom.
I’ve also met more new people at work via the ice-breaking Donut Slack bot than I have being in the office. It’d be odd for me to just wander over to Finance, let’s say, stop everyone working, give ’em a big ol’ wave and say “Hi, I’m Brad. Who wants to get a coffee with me?” Offices get cliquey. It’s natural. A remote company with Donut, however, doesn’t have those same barriers.
Don’t get me wrong, it took some serious time to adapt to remote work as the default. But now I’m here, I much prefer it.
Just make sure you get yourself out for a before-work walk as often as you can — it’s a remote working necessity, in my opinion. (And if you’ve got money to burn, a coffee out is always better than a coffee at home. 😉)
2) Cross-functional teams are better
Not that long ago, I would’ve shrugged off the term “cross-functional” as a kind-of-bogus, startuppy hype word. But now I say it’s essential to greater success in the workplace.
Up until April, the marketing function where I workwas split into functional teams- that is, things like a Content team, a Campaigns team, an Events team, a Digital team, a Partner Marketing team,etc.
There was always encouragement to work cross-functionally with each other, but when you’re grouped by your function, it’s too easy to slip into a little siloed world. It’s really easy to justifythat position, too — other teams can sometimes feel like distractions, with requests that serve their needs but not yours.
But what this ends up doing is diluting resource across a broad array of goals. When we switched to cross-functional growth teams — effectively split by customer type — things really clicked for me.
No longer was I working on “Content team goals”, trying (and failing) to fend off other teams’ requests with one hand while roping in the help I needed with the other. No longer were people I should probably be working with strangers from a few banks of desks over — they were teammates.
Now, I was working on the same goals as everyone else, and there was no strange dynamic where one day someone from the Partnerships team would be taking me away from my work, and the next day be a resource I desperately need assistance from. We were actually all aligned, with a shared focus. And that changed everything for me.
Several people have commented on the positive effect this change had on my own performance, which culminated in a promotion in November.
3) Internal marketing and self-marketing are essential, not done by most, and require you to embrace selfishness
Let’s define these real fast so we’re on the same page:
- Internal marketing — Showing off the success of your projects far and wide, internally. Particularly to those higher up.
- Self-marketing — Similar, but more about showing off your own success and authority as an individual, and takes place both internally and externally.
If you want to be seen as an expert in the area you work in, find new opportunities where you can have an impact, and be recognised for your efforts with promotions and whatnot — you, your advice, and your success needs to be everywhere, all the time.
Starting a new body of work? Make it a project. Give it a code name. Brand that thing. Do a kick-off email to everyone about it, milestone/update emails throughout (if it’s a huge and/or long project), and a wrap-up email when it’s over. Thankfully, we have company-wide email groups for this purpose — it would be much harder if you work somewhere where you’re the only one throwing out the all@ emails.
Also, overshare your learnings. Why “over” share, specifically? Because I believe it’s instinctive to undervalue small, regular learnings, in favour of huge, once-in-a-blue-moon learnings. And by their very nature, the former happen way more often. Capitalise on that! This is a great thing to bake into your project wrap-up email — summarise all the things you learned in a section for people to digest, and also come back to later.
And, educate internally. You want to be seen as an expert in your area? You have to metaphorically slap people in the face with your knowledge. Loads of internal peopleprobably don’t know exactly what my job entails. Or realise what my skills are and how they can be used. So I co-ran a writing workshop internally. That ended upbeingan inflection point for people coming to me for writing advice — after that, significantlymore people came to me for help with things they’re writing.
Am I the world’s greatest writer? No. SO far from it. But my skills are definitely above the company average, and that little workshop helped people realise it, and boost my authority in their eyes.
With all this in mind, don’t actually be selfish, though. Sure, you should self-promote like crazy (no one else is going to do it for you), but equally you should shout out everyone else’s great work.
4) Double down on your strengths instead of trying to fix your weaknesses
I didn’t study marketing at university. So breaking into marketing felt like a big scary barrier to me — I had no idea the extent of what I needed to know. I self-taught from online materials, but I could never trick myself into thinking that’d be as comprehensive as a degree.
So entry-level marketing job ads were all I had to go off. And boy do they love a marketing generalist. They tend to list about a bajillion different responsibilities (spoilers: you’ll never be able to do all of them well, especially not at the same time), which made me hyper-aware of my weaknesses and anxious that one day my lack of fixing them all and becoming brilliantly talented at everything would blow up in my face.
I’ve changed my tune now, though. Having now had the chance to work in an environment where focus is really encouraged, and where there’s enough resource to support the other functions within marketing, I’ve realised that trying to turn myself into a master of all trades is silly.
Instead, I’m a decent writer and editor. I feel like I’ve been blessed with some amount of natural skill there. It’s a far better outcome to keep trying to build on that with the aim of turning myself into a superstar writer and editor, than it is to drive myself mad building up every other skill under the marketing umbrella and ending up being mediocre at them all.
I admit, though, that this isn’t something every marketer has the luxury of doing. You need the right company to be able to break away from generalismand focus on honing your specific strengths. If you’re an entry-level marketer and/or working in a small company, you probably will have to run the generalism gauntlet for a little while. Alternatively, you might just be that one-in-a-million superstar who does become the master of all trades. (In which case, go you!)
5) Do everything you can to keep working with the people you click with
The company I work for has great people. Seriously.
But within my bubble of influence, there are a select few I just really, really click with. It’s a real joy working with these people.
1,000% you should try and identify these people where you work. And try to keep working with them, project after project. Not only does it make the work day more fun, you’ll alsobe more effective and efficient on what you do work on.
6) The people you work with are everything (old and basic, but SO true)
I could say lots about this. Instead, I’ll keep it short: yes, there are probably companies out there with “cooler” products, with nicer offices, with higher salaries, where you could take a more senior position.
Now, I’m not saying ignore your career progression, but working with a great bunch of people trumps all of this for me.
I’ve had a fair few recruiters message me this year, relative to previous years. I’ll sometimes ask about salary out of curiosity, but I’ve never followed through to a call about a role, because the thing I care most about I’ve already got in my current role — great people around me.
Trust me — when you hear about a friend’s workplace drama, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to put up with that.
7) I’ve criminally ignored focus time until now
I’m going to come clean with you, reader — I’m getting a little antsy to finish this article so I’ll keep this very brief. Until practically half the company started using Clockwise, I’d never truly achieved focus time.
But having blocks of several hours uninterrupted by meetings on the regular is a godsend.
If you’re missing that in your current schedule, I’d highly recommend you look to change that ASAP in 2021.
What are your big learnings this year?
I’d love to hear from you. Genuinely! Drop me a comment below. 🙂