Last time, as part of our ‘Why do we have staff around the world?’ post (spoiler: it’s to access the best people), I said I’d divulge a little more about how our collective successfully works when everyone is in a different location.
I should say that we have no official headquarters. For a while, we had desk space at one of our main client’s offices. But we gave that up three years ago and haven’t looked back.
I should also say that there’s a big difference between our core team – on the payroll, full-time and with IT support from the company – and the freelancers who make up the wider collective, some of whom are solo, some moonlighting with a day job, and some at partner agencies.
So here are some tips on the how:
Think about your people
Be really careful – really care – about how everyone works. We’ve touched before on terms such as ‘remote working’, ‘working from home / WFH’, and ‘distributed working’. We prefer the latter. The way you speak about people has an impact.
Stay in touch and informed
The last point is particularly the case if some people are distributed around the world while others aren’t. Corinne Purtill at Quartz talks about FOMO – the fear of missing out that some distributed staff can have when they know a large part of a company is all together at a head office. In our case, there isn’t that risk, but keeping everyone aware of projects, updates, client wins, etc. is still important, whether through infrequent in-person meetings or online updates or regular calls.
Know what works best for you
How do we do that? Let’s talk tools (although they’re too often the focus for articles like this). Whatever your teleconferencing choice, and whether you use Slack, MS Teams or something else – in fact those platforms and voice conferencing are increasingly merging – be warned that there’s a big difference between what you want to use and what clients insist you use. So be open to their choices but also know what works best for you internally. While we use tools like Trello and Google Sheets for project management, for messaging we’ve settled on WhatsApp, given its simplicity and new hires’ familiarity.
Meet face-to-face occasionally
While you might work from different locations most of the time, make sure you still see each other in the flesh. For the Collective Content team who are in the UK, that’s often when we’re meeting to see clients or going to events. More widely, we have offsites that are a chance for everyone to spend time together and take a more strategic look at what’s going on. These are also an opportunity to get in other (paid) advisors.
Provide a range of support services
As well as IT support, don’t forget other key functions you’d tend to expect in offices. These can be around helping individuals with their working set-up, or around HR issues such as tax advice, insurance and training. We tend to try to combine training with in-person meet-ups, and use services such as LinkedIn’s Lynda.com.
The last thing I’d mention is to realise that no one has all the answers. You have to figure out what works for individuals and the organisation they work for. (Must be both.) There is no right way to do this. Don’t let someone tell you a platform isn’t right if it’s right for you. Don’t think that someone who lives in the middle of nowhere might not be a key member of your team.
This trend is global and it’s only going to continue. Changes in technology and attitudes have made it possible. The results show it means happier clients and happier workers.
At a content agency, maybe my number-one job is to give the team time and space to be creative. For us, distributed working means we can do that, without limiting our talent pool. I can’t imagine us working any other way.
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