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Ask a B2B agency, Part 1: Leadership in a pandemic

Motum B2B’s President and CEO discusses the challenges and triumphs of leading a B2B marketing agency in 2020 By Kevin Goodger Feb 16, 2021

When Canada’s first case of COVID-19 was detected in January 2020, most people and businesses were unprepared for the changes that followed. Case numbers throughout the country quickly rose to more than 7,000 by the end of March, prompting the swift implementation of multiple safety measures.

In that month, workers were encouraged to work from home if able. On March 16, the Motum B2B team joined what has been called the largest work-from-home (WFH) experiment of all time.

As Motum B2B approaches a year of working from home, we asked Lisa Kemerer, our CEO and President, about the agency’s pandemic response under her leadership.

Q: At what point did you make the decision for everyone in the office to work from home?

Lisa Kemerer: I was following the news at the time and I knew something was brewing. I wanted to get us out of the office before we were forced out, but it was definitely hard to make the call.

I don't think any of us could have predicted the amount of time we would be out of the office, but I wanted to get ahead of it so we could iron out any potential issues with the technology.

Q: How did the agency help facilitate the shift to working from home?

Lisa: It’s important to remember that we all have different situations at home. Some people own a place, some rent and some have roommates. A lot of my focus was making sure we, as a business, were able to help get people set up at home as best we could. It was our responsibility to do that.

Then there was the mental health perspective. This isn't a situation where people choose to work from home – they have to work from home. It's a change of life for everyone, and it impacts family and friends and everyone's way of being.

Culture is a big part of what makes our team great, so it was important for me to make sure the team was okay in the transition phase.

Q: What were some unexpected challenges in the transition of working from home?

Lisa: Probably the most unexpected challenge was not having the luxury of being involved in people's conversations. You really are on your own. A lot of office conversations people would usually overhear and have a chance to contribute to aren’t there anymore. It illustrates a need to make sure communication is flowing.

The other thing is the loss of opportunities to simply chat with people in the office. I had a conversation with another CEO the other day, and he was saying positive gossip is an important piece of a team. Those conversations are important elements of communication and human connection, and that is being missed now.

Q: What’s been easier than expected with the transition to WFH?

Lisa: What's been relatively seamless is the ability for people to adapt. On our team especially, it's been wonderful to see how everyone has stepped up and adapted to the change.

Q: Has your role as President and CEO changed?

Lisa: It's definitely changed. There are a lot more things to evaluate and more planning for the unknown. We've been very fortunate in that we're in the B2B space. That means there is less unpredictability than if we were in a different marketing arena.

I also find that I'm focusing more on our culture. Before the pandemic, you could see people were enthused about coming to the office and working on their projects. Now there's a disconnect because you can't see it.

Finally, there's the need to communicate more about what's happening. There's an additional layer to making certain decisions as a president that likely wouldn’t be there before the pandemic.

Q: What new habits or strategies have you introduced to maintain employee satisfaction and happiness?

Lisa: We've tried to inject some connection time that isn’t a meeting to keep people happy, like coffee chats and Thirsty Thursdays – events that are scheduled but don’t follow a strict format. Communication and clarity are more of a focus: make sure people know what they're working on and know how it fits into the bigger picture of what we're doing as an agency.

We also try to add a bit of joy and surprise to the team. Sending people something on their birthday, sending out cookies, doing these other small things go a long way when everyone is stuck at home.

Q: Have the needs of our clients changed during the pandemic?

Lisa: A lot of our clients have sales teams that are on the road all the time, and for them, it was a huge shift to move everything to a work-from-home scenario. It was definitely a big change for them in terms of how they stay connected with customers.

There have also been changes in terms of what we're recommending because technology and marketing technology infrastructure has changed. For clients that were a bit slower to embrace things like email marketing, the pandemic has been a catalyst to get those strategies in place.

Q: What is some advice you have for other leaders who may be struggling right now?

Lisa: Just stay connected with your team and take it day by day. You can only do so much, but if you're surrounded by a good team, you'll work together and things will be okay.

Another tool for me is to avoid becoming consumed by the 24/7 news pandemic news cycle, but still being aware and educated enough to make decisions that impact the business and our clients.

Q: What are you looking forward to most when things go “back to normal”?

Lisa: It would be really nice to see everyone in person and share some laughs over some drinks or a meal. That seems kind of simple, but it's the connectedness that I'm missing the most.

Looking for new ways to connect with your customers? Get in touch, we can help.