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As More Companies Embrace Remote Work, Structuring Productive SEO Teams Poses Unique Challenges

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The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the trend of companies embracing remote work. What was once seen as a perk or exception has now become commonplace, even expected at many organizations. However, this rapid shift has posed unique management and collaboration challenges, especially for specialized teams like those focused on search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO teams have always needed to collaborate closely and iterate quickly, making remote coordination inherently difficult. Additionally, the shift to remote work has been accompanied by greater competition in SERPs and more sophisticated Google algorithms. As a result, structuring a productive SEO team able to adeptly respond to these industry changes is more vital than ever but also more complicated.

Communication Barriers Present Collaboration Hurdles

Clear, efficient communication has always served as the lifeblood of successful SEO teams. Strategies often require input from various stakeholders – content teams, developers, UX designers. Campaigns also frequently cross-collaborate with social, paid search, and Google Analytics 4 experts.

Remote work environments disrupt these essential pathways for alignment and ideation. No longer can SEO managers simply tap a coworker on the shoulder to discuss initiative prioritization or new keyword opportunities. Meetings must be more formally scheduled, documented, and structured. Spontaneous conversations and quick questions become difficult. This lack of fluid interaction applies both amongst the core SEO team and between SEOs and critical partners.

Managers can overcome these hurdles by implementing the following tactics:

  • Schedule 15-30 minute weekly 1:1s with every core team member, as well as key cross-functional partners
  • Document all key meetings, campaigns, and learnings in shared cloud folders accessible by the full team
  • Encourage team members to overcommunicate blocking issues or uncertainties via Slack or email
  • Invest in premium videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and require cameras on for all meetings

Cassandra Gucwa, the founder and CEO of Menerva Digital, said, “Communication is the real work of leadership. Navigating the shift to remote collaboration has been challenging, but embracing overcommunication through more meetings and documentation has helped. We miss the tap on the shoulder, but scheduling meaningful check-ins provides needed fluidity.”

Monitoring Productivity Poses New Challenges

In a traditional office setting, SEO managers can visually monitor the activity and engagement of their teams. They can simply glance at their reports’ and analysts’ computer screens to infer if they are actively working or just browsing the web. The office environment also provides visual cues if morale and energy levels are high or low.

However, with fully remote teams, assessing productivity levels poses a massive challenge. Are employees actually working the full eight hours? Are they invested and energized by current campaigns? Or are they burnt out or disengaged? These vital questions become much harder for managers to answer.

Once again, the onus falls on SEO leaders to implement tactics and systems to visibility into team productivity:

  • Require time tracking against specific tasks and projects
  • Conduct randomized screenshare spot checks (with notice)
  • Set clearly defined key performance indicators and goals for each analyst
  • Send out pulse surveys bi-weekly to assess employee engagement
  • Encourage using emojis in emails and chat to convey energy and tone

Company Culture is Tougher to Instill Remotely

Every organizational leader understands the outsized impact a healthy, engaged company culture can have. Beyond just productivity, culture also greatly influences motivation, morale, and employee retention. However, instilling and nurturing company culture remotely introduces daunting challenges.

Watercooler conversations disappear while impromptu team lunches fade away. New hires struggle to fully assimilate values, and veterans feel detached from the mothership. Holidays pass without shared celebrations, and employee recognition no longer receives public praise. Over time, the cultural fabric starts to fray.

Thankfully, SEO managers once again can actively implement tactics to counteract the disintegration of culture:

  • Launch monthly virtual happy hours or trivia nights
  • Send care packages to employees’ homes before the holidays
  • Create online forums or Slack channels for non-work conversations
  • Send new hires welcome baskets with company swag
  • Publicly highlight employee accomplishments in the #general Slack channel

By staying proactive, SEO leaders can mitigate the inherent culture challenges introduced by operating as a fully remote team. But it does require hustle, strategy and intent.

“Remote management requires new muscles. You have to rethink instilling culture when you lose the daily visual connectivity. But through care packages, trivia nights, and public digital praise, we’ve seen boosted morale. Leadership today requires creativity, empathy, and digital sensibilities,” Gucwa said.

The Rapid Pivot to Remote Teams Created Inherent Challenges

The dramatic shift to remote work produced by the COVID-19 pandemic introduced daunting challenges for managers of all departments across nearly every industry. However, the Unique, collaborative nature of SEO teams exacerbated these hurdles even further. Communication channels degraded just as strategy alignment needs to be heightened.

Thankfully, SEO leaders can implement a variety of tactics and systems to overcome these obstacles. By leaning into videoconferencing, implementing more regimented processes, and getting creative with team-building activities, productive and engaged remote SEO teams can become a reality.

About the author


Cassandra Gucwa

Cassandra Gucwa is the founder and CEO of Menerva Digital.