I enjoy working as a team when there’s a project that needs all hands on deck, but I function best when I’m independently knocking items off the to-do list.
The majority of my job involves overseeing web content, social media and digital advertising for ParentSavvy and Methodist, so working from an off-site location was not an uncomfortable transition. I can stare at a computer screen just as well in LA as I can in Omaha.
For 13 months I lived and worked from Los Angeles and 4 months afterwards I worked from the road before I traveled back to Omaha. It was a fantastic experience, and with a few adjustments the process was successful for the entire C3Design Team.
In any relationship, work or otherwise, I’ve learned that communication is the biggest variable to success, but it’s one of those muscles that needs constant exercise to be effective. There were a few learning curves the first months, but as the team found our rhythm, the main forms of communication developed.
1. Video Calls
While I was in California, the C3Design team held weekly production meetings at 8:30am CST using the video feature of Google Hangouts.
One of the team members in the Omaha office would call me via Google Hangouts, and we would hold the meeting by video. I didn’t always look or feel awake at 6:30am PST, but the benefit of seeing each other outweighed the inconvenience. I was able to learn what everyone else was working on, and I could verbally convey details of the projects I was working on.
A consistent time where we were all together helped to maintain and support our team dynamics.
As most of us do, I relied on emails for passing along the details of projects. I could lay out the goals and to-dos for the project in an easy to follow format and the designers could use it as their checklist to complete the job. We would use the email to reference the original specs as we progressed through the project.
Communication is a two way street. You can write a well crafted email, but if it isn’t read on the other side, communication fails. Sometimes I would need to be relentless and follow up through other means. A second email, a G-chat, phone call, text, tweet, or hiring a skywriter are all appropriate options.
3. In Person
I made it a point to come back to the office for a week or two almost every quarter. Even though I like working independently, relationships are maintained and grow best face-to-face.
I’m thankful to say I enjoy the people I work with, so I always looked forward to seeing them. I would plan the trips around those projects that required all hands-on-deck. When we were developing our video marketing process, when we were filming exercise videos for ParentSavvy and when we were working on the client gifts, I made sure I was there to help.
Because I actually like them, I would send them postcards from the places I traveled to. When I went to Disneyland, I sent a postcard with the whole Mickey Mouse gang on the front, and when I took a road trip through Oregon, I sent a postcard of the Oregon sand dunes. In a small way, part of me showed up to the office.
I work best individually, and I also communicate best one-on-one. Most of us in the office have chat open all day, so even before I moved to LA, we would message back and forth using the chat feature of Google Hangouts.
I like to think I’m wittier in written form than verbally (you’d have to ask my coworkers if that’s true) so the jokes back and forth helped to continue the communication and friendship. When friendships are maintained, you trust each other to get the work done.
Chat is a great tool for getting a quick answer on a project, but for those of my coworkers, who don’t communicate best via chat, the reliable phone call is where I’d go. I’m a product of my generation, so I have a phone call aversion, but whatever is the best form of communication for the other person or team is what I’d use.
As a side note, we’re working on integrating Slack into our communication channels, but I’ve been slow on the uptake.
Another way of saying “food” would be “time.” Our office has a sincere appreciation for all kinds of food, so when I was in town visiting, we made a point of scheduling lunch together typically at a local restaurant we hadn’t been to before.
The bakers in the office would also bring in food, and we’d gather around the work table in the morning or afternoon chatting over whatever the delectable of the day was. When I was in LA and they had a Lunch-and-Learn style meetings, they would order something and have it sent to my apartment so I could be a part too.
Food brings people together in a common spot to appreciate the creativity of what you’re tasting. Those purely relational interactions grow a team who will work as a unit to execute killer creative for the clients.
Obviously communication isn’t unique to design studios with a team member who works remotely.
Don’t be afraid of having a staff member work off-site, but be intentional with how your team will communicate and keep in touch with one another. Build relationships that foster a healthy, productive work environment. In some cases, that off-site team member may be the catalyst to stronger communication within your organization.
Communication—speaking, writing, listening—is not a skill set that you can master completely, but one that I would argue should be exercised regularly by every team, business, organization, family, relationship.
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