Employee wellbeing and care have never been more important, and it's the duty of CMOs and Heads of Marketing to take ownership of this in their departments. This can be challenging enough when you're in the same room as your team, but how can you do this in a world that's continuing to shift towards remote work? Our guest on a recent episode of CMO Convo, Amanda Reierson, Head of Marketing at Thumbtack, joined us to share her insights.


Prefer to listen? Check out Amanda's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast 👇

Amanda's professional background

Hi, Amanda, can you tell us a bit about your professional background and what it means to be Head of Marketing at Thumbtack?

Sure, happy to. I'd say I'm a 20 year plus marketer, I've worked for a variety of brands, everything from LA Times to Direct TV the satellite entertainment company, to Yahoo, Farmers Insurance, and now Thumbtack. I'd say what I pride myself most on in my career is I've loved the brands that I've worked for.

It's funny a lot of us former Yahoo's talk about bleeding purple. I think it's so important, especially as a marketer to have a heart for the brands that you work for, and the companies that you choose to be a part of. I'd say that's definitely followed me on my journey. And really had a variety of roles, B2B, B2C, lead a digital transformation at Farmers.

It's been fun to be a part of this industry, too, because it's funny, I tell people at the LA Times, we launched LAtimes.com when I was there, sort of dating myself, but we were talking about, "Wow, we can actually bundle a banner ad with a newspaper ad and isn't that progressive".

Now we're talking about the deprecation of cookies and programmatic advertising. It's just so fun to watch how it's evolved. Most recently, I've joined Thumbtack as head of marketing, and it's so exciting to be part of a company that's truly tech first.

They've got an amazing mission, and the people are wonderful to work with. As Head of Marketing, I run brand advertising as well as our performance and growth teams and product marketing. So that's a little bit about what I'm about.

Remote work at Thumbtack

Awesome. Let's talk a bit more specifically about the structure of your marketing department at Thumbtack, how is it set up in terms of remote working?

Yeah, so we're remote, just really like a lot of the rest of the planet. It's interesting, too, because I'm two and a half months in here at Thumbtack and so the onboarding was completely remote, which I've never done before.

That's been a first for many recently, it's interesting, isn't it?

It is, it's a whole new world, literally. But I've seen other people in past roles build their brand remotely, and it's fascinating and it's doable. But obviously, a whole new way of working. A lot of Zoom, a lot of getting to know each other that way.

The exciting thing about Thumbtack too is they really embrace the future of work. When I joined there wasn't even a location on my offer letter. It was "We're a remote company" but just the flexibility of that I think is really exciting. Even recruiting talent here and in other roles, over the last couple of years, it's so exciting that we can go find talent anywhere.

It opens so much up. That's not to say people still do crave that human connection so we're trying to figure out, how do we do that safely, just so people can form those connections and it's so important as a leader too, so we're working our way through that.

But we've set up... I'd say Thumbtack's really well equipped for remote working, and if anything, just the way they're set up with respect to collaborative working tools, and that type of thing, they really had a running start, from what I can tell too before COVID of being able to really succeed with a remote workforce.

The advantages of remote work

The shift was heading that way, even before the pandemic. COVID just accelerated it. But despite the benefits and despite people talking about it being the future of work, there are some people who are still quite resistant to it.

The UK Government, in particular, have recently been pushing hard to get people back into offices, to get people back into their commute, back into the grind, while there are many people who have no desire to go back to that lifestyle.

What do you think are the advantages to this way of working beyond just flexibility, being comfortable, and not having a commute? What are the advantages to actually operating a marketing department in this way?

I agree with you on the commute factor, the only thing I'd say is the downside is I have less time for a podcast and books on tape, but that's okay. I think there are some pros, other than personal work-life balance which actually goes both ways, I think working remotely, your personal life and work-life start to blend.

Sitting literally eight hours a day in a chair in front of a computer screen has its downsides, I think, from a health perspective, as well as overall mental health, from a seclusion perspective. But there are advantages in that I think there is a little bit more accessibility, to be honest, because when we're all running around you sort of have to schedule a time and find a conference room.

Now, it's literally you can just jump on a Zoom and that goes for all levels in the organization. So I've found that accessibility with people. If anything, there have been some benefits there because it's literally just pressing a button versus having to track them down in their office.

There are certain things from an inclusivity perspective that I think are helpful in that before we would have meetings and there's only so many people that can fit in a conference room and, okay, this one will be limited to 10 people. Now it's like, okay if we're having a certain presentation that I think it'd be great for my team to hear, anyone can dial in.

Zoom rooms are as big as you want them to be and there's a certain to me transparency there of yeah, sure, come and listen. I've taken advantage of that, too. Where in the past, sometimes I feel like things would be limited just based on capacity and who's in the room. Now everyone can be in the room.

There are opportunities as well for more people to make their voices heard, particularly more introverted voices that might get drowned out in face-to-face meetings. Having everything done remotely gives people a chance to present their ideas.

If you've got a project management system, they can just post comments, post ideas, without feeling threatened, feeling like they'll be drowned out by the louder voices in the room.

Yeah, now you have chat tools, at least we have more collaborative working docs, where anybody can make comments and have their voice heard, really, in different ways. I'd say speaking up on Zoom is probably still a challenge for some people, maybe that are a little bit shyer. But now there are just a lot more remote tools where people can be heard in different ways.

People are are also finding their meetings are also a lot more effective. They're only having meetings that have to happen rather having meetings about every single decision. Whereas now people have these quick, agile style meetings.

That's true. There's less time for the small talk. I don't know, that can have pros and cons too because you just want to have time to be human. But yeah, there's a certain efficiency. I guess what I've found though, is now hour meetings are being replaced with half-hour meetings, and there are two of them instead of one.

So it's really important that we still give ourselves daylight on our calendar. One tactic I started which seems so tactical but makes a big difference is to start your meetings five minutes after the hour.

Just having those five minutes to go and take a minute is honestly, scary as that sounds, little things like that in remote working we all just need hacks that allow us to just get up and walk around, sadly, versus running into conference rooms.

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Tracking the emotions of people you can't see

Speaking of those kinds of things that get you through the day, that's what the main topic of this podcast is, it's about how to be a compassionate leader in a remote setting. Because you have the advantage when you're in the room with your team that you can actually see people's faces.

You can see them in the morning if they come in and they're looking rundown, and you can think about how to tackle their emotional well-being. How do you do that in a remote setting? How do you keep track of how people are doing when you're not seeing their faces all the time?

Yeah, reading the room is impossible. And being a new leader too, I'd say that's been a particular challenge. One thing that has worked well for me is office hours, how we make room for one on one conversations and you don't have to necessarily come and talk about work, but rather, again, me being new, I want to hear about where you live, I want to hear about your pets. What are your challenges? How can I make your job easier?

So that office hour setting has worked really well, as well as just, again, unstructured meetings from time to time where people can come and talk about what they're feeling, what their challenges are. And I'd say just keeping a really close dialogue with my leaders too: "What are you hearing out there?How is the team doing, how's the morale? What can I do?"

As a leader sometimes it just doesn't take much, and I think that was a real realization for me as I have grown in the leadership roles - a little goes a long way. Even if you, first of all, send an email on somebody's birthday. That doesn't seem like a big deal. It takes literally seven seconds but it just sort of makes a difference.

It's interesting, I said in the last job, "Hey, just go take a walk, make sure you just take a minute to take a walk around the block". And I kind of said it off the cuff and didn't give it much thought and just kept going. A few people doubled back and said, "I really appreciate you saying that".

It was nothing at the time, but it went such a long way. So I think it's just important as leaders that we take the time to do little feel-good things, as well as make suggestions of "I hear you, personal lives are hard. It's hard to balance at all". Or "Here's what I'm doing, I'm struggling too". I've found that helps "Hey, I'm human and we're all in this together".

We've seen a bit of a sea change over the last few years where we start thinking more about employee well-being and your co-worker’s mental health in a way that really hasn't been discussed enough in a lot of industries. Particularly when it comes to industries that have major deadlines to hit, crunch is a big part of a lot of the tech and advertizing industries.

Why are we seeing that change now do you think? Why are people more focused on it? Is it just because we've realized we have to do it? Or are people just more compassionate now?

I do think the last 18 to 20 months have helped a lot with that. There's certainly been a surge in mental health awareness, which is fabulous. And by the way, this has been here a long time, it's not a new thing. I think it's just becoming less taboo to talk about it and ask for help.

At Thumbtack, there are resource groups where people come to the table and talk about it. And even as a leader, just showing up and dropping something in the chat of "Thank you for sharing your stories" it's amazing.

I'm seeing those forums pop up, not only where I'm working now but hearing and seeing them in other companies as well. I'd say yes, maybe we are a little bit more compassionate as well as I feel like we all just have a new perspective now as an unintended consequence, maybe the silver lining, of the pandemic.

We've got to take care of each other and this isn't easy and now that personal lives and work lives are sitting right in front of us all the time completely blended there's this realization that we have to take care of our mental health and our team's mental health and our family's mental health. It's got to come first or else you can't be productive.

Yeah, particularly in a remote setting as well, it's got to be real steps when it comes to mental well-being. You can't get away with saying, "Oh, we've got a cool office with beanbag chairs where you can relax. We've got a beer fridge where you can chill out on a Friday". You've got to take real actual steps to take care of your employees.

You can't hide behind the beanbag anymore.

That could be a good title for this piece - "you can't hide behind the beanbag anymore". It's always great talking with marketers because they come out with little nuggets of wisdom.

There you have it.

Compassionate leadership in remote teams

So those are some steps we've talked about, do you have a systematic process? Do you think about each day "I need to check in with such and such and such"? Do you ever plan for this compassionate leadership role?

I would love to say it was on a daily basis. But I probably am a little more systematic about scheduling office hours on my calendar, just making sure I'm keeping an afternoon open, shoot a note out to the team, anyone can come.

But then I also schedule one-on-ones with my leaders, that's very important and I've always done that. So again, just talking to them on the pulse of the team and, gosh, who should I reach out to? Who might be struggling? Again, those simple emails I talked about. Or even just sending a Slack of "How are you doing?" or checking in on a project.

So just trying to be present I'd say less in a systematic way and more organic, of who do I just want to reach out to? And it goes both ways, I hear from the team too. So again, with these collaborative channels, and IM or Slack or whatever it is you use, there's actually more accessibility in a strange way than ever before.

You can hit someone with a one-sentence Slack and they know you're thinking about them. That certainly has not been present in my whole career. We've been hiding behind conference room and office doors and now if anything, remote's opened things up in a strange way, that way.

Yeah, people are always contactable so you can always send those messages of support. Even if they're locked in doing something very focused like writing an article or something, they might have their notifications turned off. As soon as they get back they'll see that message of support waiting right there.

There's no "Oh, sorry we missed you" kind of thing, that message of support is there and it's almost always there. You can reread that message of support when you need it.

Yeah, no, it's true. It is a double-edged sword, though in that some people feel that now they're contactable all the time. And you can't run out and pick your kid up from school because what if you do get a Slack from your leader?

So we've got to be really careful too that people don't feel like they have to be contactable all the time. That goes for emails, too, and sending emails after hours. I've seen people be really good about "You don't have to respond to this right now. I just happen to be working because it works for my schedule. But feel free to respond to this in the morning".

I see that on Slack and email, that people are conscious of that. So there's more accessibility now in a strange way but we also need to make sure we're drawing those barriers so people feel like they can mentally check out from work.

Yeah, there are some countries where they've actually made it a legal thing where you can't contact your employees outside of work hours.

Is that right?

France at least has had it for a few years, even before the pandemic and people working from home. You can't send emails after work hours, which is maybe a bit too much?

I don't know that you can legislate that. Well, apparently, you can.

Especially when you're in an international company where it's like "what are work hours"?

Yeah, I think that's impressive and perhaps one end of the spectrum, but just as leaders enforcing that culture where, yeah, if it happens to work for you, where you can send an email after hours, okay ,but just be really cognizant of other people's work hours, and also spreading this culture too where you can put that you're off for the night on your Slack or you're with your kids and I've seen a lot of those sorts of things pop up as well.

But then what about when you do have deadlines to hit that might require overtime? How do you balance that compassion? How do you still make sure you're getting everything done while giving people the flexibility?

Yeah, I mean, that's inevitable. You are going to have deadlines, you're going to have certain days where you push. The whole thing is managing that and I think when you build up this goodwill with your employees that this is flexible, we're all adults here, go manage your job, hit your targets, I trust you. There's this whole environment of trust now with remote working more than ever before.

But look, I mean, with deadlines, the best thing we can do as leaders is give our teams the right heads up that they're coming and we all need to manage our time in order to hit those deadlines. And every once in a while, yes, you are going to have a little bit later of a day or earlier of a day.

But that's not different from... we've had that our whole careers, right? So I'd say that's almost agnostic to the pandemic and remote working. And that's as a leader of just managing deadlines, managing your teams, trying to give them, again, appropriate lead time. Look 5% of the time, that's not going to happen and it's just part of life.

I've been on 7:30pm calls with staff, not that often but you just acknowledge, "Hey, I know this is tough, let's make this quick", people are putting kids down and making dinner and I think just acknowledging too "Hey, I'm in this boat with you, let's get this done so you can go back to what you need to be doing" but acknowledging sometimes "Hey, I know this is late night, let's get through it and it's not every day".

Trusted, happy marketers are loyal, more creative marketers

It's interesting you mentioned trust because one of the things the last 18 months has really proved is that people can be trusted to manage their own workloads. People were incensed to start with: "how are people going to get it done? How do we trust employees to actually do their work without a manager staring down their back?"

Do you think we're seeing the end of the managerial role? Are people going to be more self-managed? We'll still have heads of departments steering the boat, but in terms of having that managerial role sitting in between leader and employees are we going to see the end of that, do you think?

I feel like we've already seen the end of it, the end of the managerial role was, I don't know, years ago.

Maybe in the UK, we're a bit behind.

Maybe. But I sort of imagine these assembly lines, I don't know that that's the world we live in. And if there's a manager that's staring down their employees back, I bet you that employee's not at that company anymore. Everyone wants to be trusted and everyone wants to be valued.

So, yes, I think the pandemic and working at home has probably accelerated those trends a little bit. Even working from home before it was like, "Okay, I got to make sure I'm in a quiet place, I'm not putting my video on, and I'm on the phone today on a Friday because I had a dentist appointment", that is gone.

I would say, yes, the old manager persona is sort of dead. And if it wasn't dead already, it certainly is now. A manager’s role in my mind is all about, again, setting that vision and what does success look like? And empowering your employees to get there, however they see fit.

Now, it's almost magnified in that you're physically figuring out how to get there however you see fit too from home. You're not face-to-face and if anything, it accelerates that trend or at least the type of manager I think people want to work for "I trust you, get it done, and my job is to be here to clear the brush for you virtually or non virtually".

As long as we agree together on what success looks like, and we're aligned on the vision, empower your team to get there however they need to in their professional lives, and however they need to work personally, I trust you and you'll get it done.

Is there any measurability that you take into account with employee wellbeing? Do you have any scales that you look at in terms of how people are performing based in terms of their emotional well-being?

There's so much subjectivity in that so I don't say there are scales necessarily. But what I've seen done well is employee NPS scores and surveys of that promoter detractor scale. That can be built a lot on, overall, how do you feel about your job and your goals, but it also speaks to the compassionate environment.

How much do I feel trusted and valued and the soft skills? I've seen those anonymous surveys work well, and then you can look at verbatims and try and look at trends. But those are hard too because people can be reluctant to share.

I don't know that there is necessarily a survey or a scale that can measure compassion, to be honest, other than are my employees staying with me and hitting their goals and seem to be connecting on a personal level or telling you what you don't want to know? That's to me how I measure it but I guess that's subjective and if you have any tips, I am all ears.

Just because, as mentioned above, the UK government is pushing hard to get people back into offices, and it's likely to be happening in other countries. A lot of CMOs and heads of marketing are under pressure to get their teams back into office situations.

Maybe you do need these measurability scales to show the advantage of it and maybe that's something we need to come up with at CMO Alliance so we can spread the word that respect.

And surveys are helpful, like, how many days would you go back in the office? Do you feel safe? That's the thing, there's sort of this safety and health risk on top of it, and everyone's tolerance is so different. It's really hard to put that on a measurable scale.

Especially if you uprooted your life because you thought remote working was gonna last forever and now suddenly, you're being told that you need to move back to a very expensive city, you need to move back into an environment that you weren't necessarily happy with. Are you going to stay with a company?

No, you probably look for a company that's going to allow you to continue the lifestyle that you're happy with. You don't want to live to work, you want to work to live at the end of the day and that's something we've all recognized in the last year.

People are more aware of how they're being treated by their employers, and people are more willing to speak up and look elsewhere if needs be. They've had to change their lives completely because of the pandemic, because of circumstances beyond their control. Why not start taking control of things in their lives? And that's something that leaders need to recognize.

I think that's right and people need to be or are being more proactive about what makes them happy. That brings us back to that mental health conversation too - how, as leaders, can we be proactive about the real issues facing our employees?

I think over time, frankly, the market will dictate how companies manage the remote working because you're right, people aren't gonna stand for it. Frankly, a lot of people are leaving jobs now with no other job to go to because it's that important to them to figure out where they land.

That's been unheard of in the past, you have another job when you quit your job. But people are putting mental health and personal lives first and the job will come second. That's just such an interesting shift I think we have to pay attention to.

It goes back to what you were saying when talking about your professional background about how you love the brands that you've worked for.

As a marketer, if you love the company you work for, you love the brand you work for, you're going to do better work. You're going to produce more creative ideas, you're going to have better ideas about how to advance the brand, because you care about it. You want to see it advance, you're not just sitting there plugging away in the machine, you want to be better, you want to do better.

I think that's absolutely right. It truly does get you out of bed in the morning. And if you don't have that affinity or relationship with that company or that brand, it'd be a lot harder to do your work, it would feel colder.

There's measurability right there. If we can find some way of scoring employee performance with employee happiness then that is a measurable stat we can share with people.

I like it. All right.

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Compassionate leadership golden rules

As one last thing, is there a golden rule that you follow that sums up remote compassionate leadership for our readers?

Relationships fuel me. Someone said once, I think it was a salesperson at Yahoo or something. He said, "Relationships are your currency". He was sort of talking to salespeople...

That does sound like a Sales thing to say.

Right? He also said something about, "I would run through a wall for my team" and I'm like, "That's awesome. I'm so fired up. I want to try and run through a wall". But there was something about that, to me, relationships are everything in being able to push the business forward, push agenda forward. Forming those relationships, really it's the long game.

And I've been at companies six, eight years, when I take a job I'm in it to win it. But I go deep on the brand and deep on the job and you've got to have relationships where people want to work with you, work for you.

That doesn't come easy, and it doesn't come quick. So I think focusing on that, and the people and what fuels the people around you is just so important to understand. And when you can't read the room it makes it even harder so you have to go about it in different ways. But that guiding principle, albeit from a salesperson, they sold me on it, that relationships are your currency.

Another thing, a guiding principle too, and I guess this is a little less soft than compassion, but you could draw that connection is a really good manager manages himself out of a job in a year. That means that you're empowering your people. And it's scary don't get me wrong, it's like no net, right? Sort of the antithesis of job safety or job security.

But I feel like it really empowers your team, how do you just think thoughtfully about what can I empower people around me to do that may be on my desk but makes them feel like they've got broader scope? It will ultimately, I think, give overall job satisfaction and retention.

And if anything helps with mental health, too, all these worlds are blurring. If you feel like you have accountability, and your sphere of influence is growing, and that you're trusted, and you're valued to take on more, it all works together.

It's great advice for leaders but also life in general, how you treat your relationships with friends, family, everything.

That's right. It's all one. It's the people we surround ourselves with work and life. Those principles aren't necessarily in just the work box or the life box. I don't know if I have it perfect but those are the things that guide me.

What steps have you made to show compassion to your team during tough times? Let us know on the CMO Alliance Community!