Need to Refresh Creativity? Swap Your Shop

Ever wish you could take a break from your own creative life and walk in someone else’s footsteps? In the March 2011 issue of HOW, the Creativity Column features New Yorker Andrew Zarick and Spaniard Jose Poyatos (who hails from sunny Valencia), two creatives who traded spaces for seven weeks in the summer of 2010. The two met through, an online community for creatives who want to exchange homes, offices and studios for extended work sabbaticals. The idea is that you can change your location without quitting your job or taking vacation time off. Zarick and Poyatos share a few insights about the experience:

What’s your day job?
Andrew Zarick (left) As a digital strategist for The JAR Group, I assist in business development and manage client services such as digital media buys, search engine optimization, paid search management, e-mail and social media strategies. Outside my agency, I organize a monthly event and online community called Digital DUMBO for digital marketers, creatives and entrepreneurs.

Jose Poyatos (right) Our brand is Comuniqualis, a global advertising agency I co-founded in Valencia in 1999. We offer a range of marketing and advertising services, including print brochures, logos, branding, website design and TV broadcast. I oversee the global vision of our current projects.

Was it difficult to work remotely and internationally?
Zarick With tools such as e-mail, VoIP, mobile USB dongles, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and remote document access, communication was never really an issue. The difference in time zones proved to be the biggest challenge. Valencia is six hours ahead of New York, and since we’re a services company, it’s tough to get much work done when your clients aren’t even in the office yet. So my solution was to start working at 4 p.m. and keep going until about 10 p.m. People in Spain eat dinner much later in the evening so this schedule worked great.

Poyatos Not at all. With e-mail, phone conferences, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, I was able to stay in touch with my office and my clients.

Did you actually work from your swapper’s office space?
Zarick I went to Jose’s offices once or twice, but they were pretty much empty since everyone in Spain goes on vacation for the month of August. So I mostly worked from his house.

Poyatos Yes, I occupied Andrew’s desk, shared lunch with his co-workers, and went out with them to a Digital DUMBO meeting. We also sometimes went out for drinks or dinner at night. Andrew’s boss, A.J. Lawrence, helped explain the ins and outs of how their company does business.

How did you prepare yourself for the exchange?
Poyatos After we met through, we became connected on Skype. I asked questions about everything—the house, the city, the office, getting around the city on the subway.

Zarick In addition to Skype, I created a detailed guide for Jose with everything from how to use the small appliances in my apartment to which local restaurants were good. Jose was in Valencia for my first two days so he was able to show me a lot of things. He also introduced me to about 10 people in two days.

Did you tap into other social networks beyond your counterpart’s circle of friends?
Zarick I received an invitation to join, a private social network for people who are well traveled. They have an extremely active group in Valencia that meets in person every Thursday.

Poyatos I got in touch with some Spanish-speaking people I already knew in New York, including a designer from Cuba and an advertising businessman from Spain.

Do you think nomadic work habits are destined to become more mainstream?

Zarick I believe it’s just a matter of time before we see a change in professional philosophy and the practice becomes more widespread. However, I will say that I also believe in the power of personal contact and collaboration. Everyone needs a balance.

Poyatos I hope so. Working remotely is a new challenge for companies, and a splendid chance to grow.

How does Valencia compare to New York?

Zarick Spain is definitely behind the digital curve in many ways. When I discussed things like search engine optimization, affiliate marketing, and social media strategies, people openly admitted that they were relatively fresh ideas. I used Foursquare in Valencia and many people were unfamiliar with the concept of location-based applications and the potential benefit for local businesses.

Poyatos I like the way people are able to generate new business in New York—so fast and direct. It’s a place where things happen. It’s also an extremely energetic place with tons of things to do—live concerts, theaters, rooftops, open air sports, parks, museums, markets.

What does Spain do better?
Zarick I came to admire the focus on friends, family and hospitality. People who I had never met before embraced me with open arms. New York is based on the pursuit of capital and is focused on getting everything done today. Spanish culture puts the priority on appreciating life and relationships. Money comes second.

??Poyatos In Spain, there are more collective decisions. People like to discuss options with each other before do something in business. You spend more time, but also you build a group commitment.

What’s your big takeaway?
Zarick The value of the swap is not in the ability to travel and work abroad, but in the intimate cultural experience that swapping creates. What I thought was going to be a highly professional experience ended up being a highly personal experience. As you travel, you open up to different mindsets, different ways of living, doing things, different value sets.

Poyatos I am very grateful to have met interesting people in my field and very nice new friends. I proved to myself that I could work from a distance in a new culture and still do a good job.  I had a real experience in one of the most creative places in the world.

Would you swap shops again?
Poyatos Sure!  Maybe I’ll try the West Coast next time. Any graphic designers from San Francisco interested in traveling to Spain?

Jenny Sullivan is a writer in Washington, DC.



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