Remember the days in the not-so-distant past when all employees worked under one roof? This arrangement seems to be fading fast. Today, it’s not uncommon for telecommuter team members to be spread out across the country—or even the globe.
With continued advancements in technology, creative departments and agencies are becoming more geographically dispersed. In fact, according to research conducted for The Creative Team of the Future project, more than eight in 10 industry practitioners said they expect the number of creative professionals who work remotely to increase in the next three to five years.
The bottom line: If you’re not already collaborating with colleagues in different time zones (or working remotely yourself), you probably will be. As such, consider these tips for effectively managing remote working relationships:
Keep in close contact
From virtual meeting tools like Skype and GoToMeeting to phone, e-mail and IM, there’s no shortage of ways to stay in touch. Identify the communication preferences of your co-workers to keep the information flowing. If you’re a manager, periodically assemble the entire staff for an in-person meeting, even if it’s only once or twice a year. In terms of building team morale and maintaining productive work relationships, there’s still no substitute for face time.
Spark (virtual) water cooler conversations
In traditional office settings, the informal discussions that take place in the break room or at departmental happy hours help to build team morale and establish camaraderie. Try to simulate this dynamic by sending occasional e-mails to your team with links to stories that will foster interesting design discussions or elicit a few laughs. A little levity can go a long way toward building rapport. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Comic Sans joke?
Avoid problems by taking conversations of a highly sensitive or complicated nature offline. Rather than shooting off an email or IM (where it’s hard to read tone), it’s better to pick up the phone or save the discussion for the next time you see your colleague in person, if the subject matter can wait.
Squash squabbles quickly
Despite your best efforts, interpersonal issues may arise from time to time. Whether you find yourself in a heated disagreement or simply don’t see eye to eye with a colleague, don’t let tension fester. Instead, schedule a call to talk things through and clear the air. If multiple people are involved, get everyone on the call to ensure all parties are on the same page.
Be respectful of time
When scheduling virtual meetings or conference calls, keep everyone’s local time in mind. Sites like timeanddate.com and Time Zone Converter exist to help you figure out what time would be most convenient for participants. Also, eliminate confusion by providing specific time zone information in the invitation (e.g., “The brainstorming meeting is set for April 27, 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PST.”).
Aim to accommodate
If you’re new to a remote working situation, realize that you may need to be extra flexible, especially in the beginning. If few people share your arrangement, you might be under more scrutiny from your boss and peers. As such, provide frequent status updates and be easily reachable. Keep in mind that you might need to field phone calls or respond to e-mail outside of core business hours, at least until everyone gets to know your schedule.
In addition, make sure you’re fully engaged whenever you interact with colleagues from your remote location. If you are participating in a virtual meeting via video chat, for instance, you’ll want to dress appropriately and tidy up your workspace. Show colleagues that you take these discussions seriously by closing yourself off to potential disruptions. The sound of honking horns, clanking dishes or barking dogs in the background won’t endear you to anyone.
Regardless of how hard you’re working, you won’t help your cause if you present an unpolished image. After all, despite the rise in remote working, the myth of the distracted pajama-clad telecommuter is alive and well.