I might have chosen semi-rural upstate New York as my home base, but I’ve never expected the biggest minds in marketing to follow me, which is why Sailshaker crew members hail from all over. One calls New York City home. One’s in Calgary. Another keeps threatening to move west—far, far west.
We’ve spent years understanding each other’s unique work habits and honing the way we communicate and collaborate. Why does that matter?
First, because the process is as important to the success of a project as the people involved. That’s especially true when those people work independently from one another—either as part of your own team or through your agency or consultant of record. No matter how smart and self-directed your team members may be, if they’re not properly informed, engaged and rewarded, they won’t be able to deliver their best work.
Second, because keeping a solid team together for a long time is the key to professional success and personal enjoyment of the work at hand. I don’t subscribe to the concept that everyone is expendable. Quite the opposite, in fact. For me, ongoing creative collaboration with people I respect is what work—and life—is all about. Jason Fried, author of Remote, says it best:
Doing great work with great people is one of the most durable sources of happiness we humans can tap into.
Of course, it takes focus and intention to create a stellar remote culture that persists. Here are a few of the ways I’ve learned to keep distant collaborators close and my clients’ projects on course:
- Communicate early and often. I usually engage several specialists over the course of a project under the Sailshaker umbrella. Some are involved from end to end. Others contribute at discrete points. To keep everyone on the same page, I like to share regular, even daily, updates with the whole crew. This way, everyone feels well-informed and ready to throw down when their time comes.
- Get friendly with the cloud. Talk about a silver lining. We rely heavily on collaboration and sharing tools to coordinate across time zones. These include Google Docs, Dropbox and Slack—and sometimes Basecamp, Asana and Notejoy. We’re able to message one another, post multimedia files, conduct conference calls, even share screens in real time. You’d never notice that we’re not in the same physical space.
- Be responsive to team needs and requests. I’m fortunate to work with people who are proactive communicators, supremely well organized and dedicated to our shared work. But they’re also each business owners in their own right, so it’s imperative that I respect their time because it doesn’t all belong to me. If I know a teammate in California comes online three hours after I do, I make sure he has what he needs waiting for him in an email. He shouldn’t have to hunt me down when he’s ready to start working. The same thing applies for payments. I make sure to set up my client billing so that I can pay my team’s invoices promptly. It’s a small sign of my respect for their time.
- Cultivate trust. If you let them, humans have an amazing ability to live up to your high expectations of reasonableness and responsibility. Agree on a deadline up front, then set your remote folks free to do what they do, whenever they’re best prepared to do it. This allows the collective intellect of the team to shine through. I’ve seen people from seven different cities add their insights to a Google doc at all hours of the day and night. It’s a great indication to me that they’re engaged. And it’s beyond energizing to see all those brains ablaze.
- Don’t be strangers. Building friendships with remote colleagues helps bridge some of the distance. Recently, one of my favorite clients held a get-together so those of us who collaborate remotely could meet in person. It was brilliant. Two of us even discovered we share the same alma mater. Shy of in-person meet-ups, you can always build time into your phone calls or message streams to share photos of a new baby, a tune for Funky Friday or whatever else will keep the mojo intact.
There you have it—my top five tips for building a remote team that works. As you might have noticed, many of them are difficult enough for people working in the same room, let across continents. In fact, that’s why it’s so important that you avoid out of sight becoming out of mind.
Given Intuit’s prediction that by 2020, 40 percent of Americans will be independent contractors, I’m curious: How many of you are already working with remote teammates or employees? What are the daily challenges you face in collaborating from afar?