How to Work Well Off-Site

Face-time is becoming less frequent due to advances in technology. While the mobile office used to be limited primarily to CEOs and salespeople, today it might include anyone from an administrative assistant to a creative director. With this "democratization of mobility" comes new business demands. Whether you’re a freelance copyeditor working from home or a full-time art director who spends three days a week on the road, it’s important to find the most effective methods for communicating clearly with those at the office. Following are some of the most common mistakes people make when working off-site and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: No Backup. You’re on a tight deadline for a regular client who’s expecting a logo design by 3 p.m. By 2:50 p.m., you’ve tried to e-mail the file twice, and each time it’s bounced back. Your client doesn’t answer her phone, and you’re worried it will delay the next phase of this project—or worse, taint your spotless record of punctuality. What should you do? This is a situation where it’s key to have a backup contact in the office. Whether it’s a junior designer or an administrative assistant, make sure you have a person other than your client who can alert you if the company is experiencing e-mail troubles or suggest alternate means of submitting the file.

Mistake #2: A Sloppy System. You may have had a messy desk when you were working full-time in an office, but it’s not an option when working from home. This logic may seem counterintuitive—after all, you’re the only one who will see your cluttered workspace. However, when it comes to meeting deadlines and locating documents, the bar is actually set higher for those who work virtually. You have to be able to keep each client’s projects separate and deliver results at a moment’s notice. If you’re disorganized, take a day or two to establish a system for tracking projects, related paperwork and bills. Buy a filing cabinet or organization software that includes a calendar feature and address/phone system for listing all of your contacts. And back up everything; you can’t afford to lose any of your hard work—or your clients’ comments on those assignments.

Mistake #3: An Erratic Schedule. No one likes working with someone who is difficult to find. Establish regular hours so clients know the best time to contact you with questions or project inquiries. Even if you’re under a tight deadline, avoid going "MIA" completely. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to contact a designer about a critical change to a project only to find that person unreachable. Send out a quarterly e-mail to remind regular clients of your office hours and contact information.

In addition, always keep time zones in mind when organizing meetings: If your client is on the East Coast and you’re on the West, avoid planning a brainstorm session for 5 p.m. your time. Instead, put your client’s schedule first.

Mistake #4: The Wrong Stuff. Know client preferences when it comes to sending files and editing projects. Do they work on PCs while you’re on a Mac? Make sure your files will translate so there are no last-minute problems. Consider individual preferences, as well: One client may enjoy making onscreen edits to a document, while another may prefer to reference a hard copy. It’s also wise to explore subscribing to a file-sharing service; that way you and your client can make edits without e-mailing heavy files back and forth. Subscriptions typically aren’t expensive and can be a worthwhile investment—no one wants to work with a creative who crashes the system each time a file arrives.

Conducting business in a virtual age doesn’t have to be complicated. The key is thoughtfulness, availability and organization. By considering the preferences of others and making sure you’re prepared to meet them, you’ll establish reliable, fruitful relationships with clients and coworkers, whether working in different towns or time zones.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms. 

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