What The World’s Most Influential CMOs taught me about remote work

The real secret to online collaboration doesn’t lie in the software

Every year, my experience of remote work changes dramatically from winter to spring. In the fall and winter, I lead a relatively independent existence as a freelance tech writer and researcher. That pace changes when it comes time to rejoin the team at Sprinklr, where for the past four years I’ve been the data journalist on their annual partnership to develop the Forbes World’s Most Influential CMOs list, which came out last week.

The experience of working on this project always leads me to reflect on the differences between solo and collaborative remote work, but never more so than this year. That’s because I’ve been working on a book about remote work even while collaborating with the Sprinklr team…and also, because so many of the extraordinary stories in this year’s report speak specifically to the way companies have adapted to remote work in the face of Covid-19. For example:

  • At SAP, Alicia Tillman’s team introduced “Remote Work Pulse”, a survey tool designed to assess how employees were faring at home, and turned their own “Take your child to work day” into an online event.

These stories reflect the variation in how CMOs from different industries influenced the conversation around remote work. Not surprisingly, tech led the way: Tech CMOs at companies like Twitter, Salesforce, Microsoft and Adobe all threw themselves into the challenge of helping businesses and workers navigate the overnight transition to remote work.

Chart showing which industries’ CMOs get mentioned most frequently in relation to remote work, led by Tech and Restaurants.
Chart showing which industries’ CMOs get mentioned most frequently in relation to remote work, led by Tech and Restaurants.

It’s a transition I remember well, even though I’ve been working from home for most of the past two decades. But it’s a transition I relive every year, as I ramp up from solo work to working with the Sprinklr team, and then again in reverse (right now!) as I go back to the lifestyle in which “collaboration” consists of exchanging a few emails with editors each week. Far more than the transition from office to home, it’s the transition from in-person collaboration (or no collaboration) to remote collaboration that makes remote work such an adjustment.

What this process teaches me, over and over, is the secret to effective remote collaboration isn’t just about the right software or virtual collaboration tools. As much as the nerd in me would love to claim that the right software makes it possible to form effective remote working relationships, the truth is that it’s quite the reverse: Strong professional relationships, and a genuinely collaborative culture, are what make it possible to get the most from the rich and growing toolset for supporting remote collaborative work.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that the most intensely collaborative part of my working life is embedded within one of the strongest business cultures I’ve ever seen. The talented, generous and hard-working people I work with at Sprinklr remind me that as much as I love the independence of freelancing, it takes a real team to undertake and execute on something genuinely ambitious. (Actually, several teams: We’re also fortunate to partner with an amazingly creative and collegial team at LinkedIn, and to do all this work with Forbes, whose CMO Network is designed to facilitate exactly this kind of peer-to-peer collaboration and development.)

Most of all, it reminds me of what a joy it can be to be part of a really lovely and effective team: a team where technology makes long-distance collaboration feel intimate, rather than remote. That’s exactly the kind of teamwork the most influential CMOs enable themselves, as you’ll see in this year’s report.

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

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