Mark Emond of Demand Spring: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Virtual technology makes it so easy to communicate effortlessly (and visually) today. We use Zoom and Slack for professional communication and for social communication as well, including virtual yoga, virtual coffee, virtual cooking, etc. The one thing I miss personally is the ability to sit in front of a whiteboard. There are great technologies that can help, like Mural, but I do miss spontaneous face-to-face meetings to brainstorm something on a physical whiteboard. That said, there are so many benefits to virtual that outweigh the missed whiteboard.

Weare living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Emond, Founder and President of Demand Spring.

As Demand Spring’s Founder and President, Mark has a tremendous passion for helping marketing leaders transform their Revenue Marketing practices, enabling them to be strategic leaders in their organization. Mark loves to advise and teach clients how to develop advanced, yet pragmatic, Revenue Marketing strategies and enable them with integrated marketing technology platforms to deliver personalized, multi-channel engagement at scale.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Earlier in my career, I worked in marketing for a number of larger organizations, including IBM, Cognos and Corel. But throughout that time, I always had an entrepreneurial drive and a belief that I could create a firm focused on the demand side of marketing. While there are many brand agencies, I always struggled to find a great demand-focused one when I was on the client side. I thought I could help address that gap and help marketers operate from a more strategic position in their organization. And so, 9 years ago, I took the leap and founded Demand Spring.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Nothing tops starting and growing your own business. It’s been an incredible journey of growth, learning, highs and lows. Crafting something in your vision, working on our first client, hiring and growing a team, establishing health and 401K plans to help take care of the families of our employees — these have all been very rewarding experiences. I feel very blessed to have made it to almost 10 years and to have an amazing team around me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are two. The first is from Barack Obama — ” “I try never to get too high when things are going well. I try never to get too low when things are going poorly. I try to keep an even keel.” It’s a great lesson for keeping the big wins and the bumps in the road in perspective as an entrepreneur.

The second is from my favorite leader of all time, the great UCLA basketball coach and teacher John Wooden — ” it’s amazing what a team can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit”. It really speaks to the spirit of teamwork and selflessness.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without question it’s my wife Sue. She supported me 100% without hesitation when I wanted to leave the security of my role at IBM for the great uncertainty of starting my own business. She has always supported my efforts, helped lift me up when I needed it, and is a great life partner.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

To be honest, Demand Spring has always been primarily a ‘work from home’ organization. I personally started working from home in 2008 while I was working at IBM. At the time, Big Blue made all of their marketing and sales employees home-office workers.

I left IBM in 2012 to found Demand Spring, and while we do have small offices in Boston and Ottawa, as a boutique firm with employees located across North America, we have always encouraged work from anywhere. Our employees can live and work for Demand Spring from any location that best suits your lifestyle. We have had employees move to London and Lyon. We have had a skier pursue her passion of moving near the famed Whistler ski resort. And we have had a Boston-based employee move with her fiancé to live in a tiny house in Asheville, N.C. All of these individuals have continued on in their roles with us. They were inspired, and we retained great talent.

Before the pandemic, our employees in Boston and Ottawa could choose to work from our office or from home (or elsewhere) whenever they wanted. However, work from home was the clear preference.

Has it hurt our productivity? Not in the least. Our firm has grown fast and in a profitable manner (thanks in part to low fixed costs like office space). We work with some of the world’s biggest B2B brands. Our client net promoter score is a very high 94/100. And our employee promoter score is 90/100. Enabling people to work from a place of their choosing has consistently enabled us to hire, inspire, and retain great talent.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Most people in a work environment inherently need to feel connected to their colleagues. It’s one of the primary places in our life that we find social affiliation. You can get that in a virtual environment, but it’s also essential, in my experience, that you regularly meet face-to-face as well. In non-pandemic times we get our entire team together every six months for a semi-annual business review. It’s helpful in discussing business issues and opportunities, but more so it’s a chance to really forge tighter relationships across our team. While people really love working from anywhere, these face-to-face opportunities help us really come together and boost a sense of purpose and connection across our team.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Personally, I think there is no better time than now for organizations and individuals to rethink the way we work. COVID-19 has forced most organizations to adapt their workplace practices and processes in an instant, and while the discussion is slowly turning to going back to work, the chorus is getting louder for going forward to work.

There are five key questions that I think business leaders need to consider:

  1. Location: Given what we have observed over the past few months, can our organization improve productivity and employee retention with a more flexible work from office and work from anywhere model?
  2. Leadership Style: Are we displaying the type of compassionate, positive leadership that we aspire to on a consistent basis?
  3. Wellness: Do we need to recalibrate our employee wellness programs for a more virtual organization, and in light of the stress many employees have experienced?
  4. Travel: We have been running our business without travel for a few months. How do we rethink our relationship with business travel and reduce our carbon footprint?
  5. Work Hours: The 5 day/ 9-to-5 work week was invented by labor unions in the 1800’s and popularized by Henry Ford in the 1920’s. Are we running a modern organization on an outdated employment model?

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Virtual technology makes it so easy to communicate effortlessly (and visually) today. We use Zoom and Slack for professional communication and for social communication as well, including virtual yoga, virtual coffee, virtual cooking, etc. The one thing I miss personally is the ability to sit in front of a whiteboard. There are great technologies that can help, like Mural, but I do miss spontaneous face-to-face meetings to brainstorm something on a physical whiteboard. That said, there are so many benefits to virtual that outweigh the missed whiteboard.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

The two I just mentioned — Zoom and Slack — are the two that have been most impactful for us. I cannot imagine virtual in a pre-Zoom era. The ability to see each other in HD on a screen enables that tight connection to one another. Not to mention all the social things that we do on it. Slack makes synchronous communication effortless.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

Teleporting technology. Save the commute and getting face-to-face in an instant would be amazing!

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

It’s not something that we use yet.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

In a way AI does. It has amazing potential to dramatically alter our personal and professional lives and reshape how organizations think about accomplishing tasks. Most organizations still staff using a Roman Empire type model — hiring full-time employees for most roles. We are at a point with both flex roles (the gig economy brought to professional roles) and AI that we should consider which of the three is best suited to fill the role.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

Yes, I said “in a way AI does”, because while I generally embrace technology, I think we really need to be careful about balancing the ecosystem of human needs and social welfare with what technology can do. Just because we can do something with technology doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

So far, we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

As with employee interactions, our interactions with clients have obviously gone virtual as well, with Zoom playing a dominant role in our customer interactions. While we did interact with our clients virtually for the most part in the past, we certainly did have many face-to-face and onsite interactions. But because we as a team were already so well versed with interacting online amongst ourselves, we were able to easily transition to working with our clients this way, and were at ease in doing so from the beginning. And I think because our team was at ease with it, it put our clients at ease as well.

But perhaps this change gives us an opportunity in the future. Business travel will remain important post-COVID-19. In many cases, there is no replacement for meeting face-to-face to close business deals, strengthen partnerships, and enable geographically dispersed employees to build connections and develop strategic and operational plans. But all that said, because we have been doing without travel for over a year now, can we, for example, all set a goal of reducing travel by 20%?

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review has shown that business travel has a detrimental impact on our physical and emotional well-being. It is associated with increased levels of obesity, anxiety, depression, and increased consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Reducing business travel by 20% would also really help us fight the other crisis in front of us — climate change. For essential travel, we should also consider how encouraging transportation by train, electric car rentals, and tracking our corporate carbon footprint can help our planet.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

Again, I think video conferencing makes it much easier. It’s not perfect and not as ideal as face-to-face in these situations but I haven’t seen any examples in our business where tough situations were compromised by virtual technology. I think the traits of great leadership still apply in a virtual situation — teaching, coaching, leading with empathy (especially during a pandemic), servant leadership, and creating a mission and vision that people can align behind.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Corporate wellness programs are good for both employees and business performance, and are a great way to bring the team together. A 2017 study found that employees who exercise 150 minutes per week only missed 5 hours per week on average over a 24-week period. By contrast, those that exercised less than 70 minutes per week missed 19 hours.

But what do corporate wellness programs look like in a work from anywhere model and in light of the heightened stress we are going through? To me it can involve a combination of virtual fitness classes, a comprehensive health benefits plan, social and team building activities, compassionate leadership that values the holistic health of employees, virtual guest speakers on health and wellness, and virtual fitness challenges.

The Demand Spring team has really embraced this, and it has helped to bring the team together. We have been running virtual yoga classes for years over Zoom, and it is one of the highlights of the week for many of our employees.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m passionate about a lot of things — physically active children, mental health, gender equality, diversity. But right now, I think we have a great opportunity to rethink the impact on the planet that choosing a work from anywhere or hybrid model can have. I have been extremely pleased with the number of companies that have announced they will not return (at least full-time) to an office model after the pandemic. Our next crisis is the planet and the pandemic has been a wake-up call for many business leaders to realize that you can run a company virtually and at the same time address climate change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow Demand Spring on Twitter (@demandspring) and LinkedIn ( And be sure to listen to our podcast Marketing Unplugged ( — where we talk to the people behind great marketing.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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