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All Hail the Distributed Creative Team! Tips for Managing Creative Projects Remotely


Image from Machline

More and more agencies are allowing their staff to work remotely. Having a remote team comes with several advantages - you’re spending less on rent and equipment, and that’s money you can funnel back into the business. If teams are in different countries, you end up with someone working in the agency 24/7, which is great for attracting those big international clients. And, research has shown time and time again that remote workers can be even more productive, so you’ll be gaining a team that’s able to do more in the time they have available.

But managing a remote team carries its own unique set of challenges. There is something about having everyone together in one space where they can talk face to face that fosters a great team psyche. Without this “facetime”, will you be able to continually produce high-performance campaigns?

There’s only one way to find out. It’s time to dive in and learn how to manage a remote team. Here are our top tips:

1. Hire Doers You Can Trust

When hiring, think about the types of people that will fit best into your remote team. Not every person is suited for working remotely. You need people who demonstrate initiative and the ability to knuckle down and get shit done. If you hire a doer, they are going to produce results even if they are in an airport, or at the doctor’s office, or in space.

Look for self-starters who initiate and follow through on their own projects, whether it’s building their own app or teaching kids to fish in their spare time. But above all, look for people who you can trust. The remote relationship is only going to work if you feel safe in the knowledge that your team is working alongside you toward your goals, and not being sidetracked by the latest reality TV show or the inside of their eyelids.

2. Set expectations early

Make sure everyone in your team understands your expectations around deadlines, collaboration and communication as soon as the team is established. The parameters of the remote working relationship should be the very first thing that is set out. Think about how you want your team to function:

  • How much collaboration do you expect on a project?
  • When should your team be “checking in”?
  • What hours will your team be available?
  • Will these hours be flexible? How will you manage childcare / appointments?
  • How will you handle requests for urgent work?
  • Will you schedule weekly or monthly progress meetings?
  • How will you handle communications with the client?
  • What tools will you be using for communication, and what are your expectations around availability on these tools?

Establishing the boundaries and parameters from the onset will help prevent issues further down the track, as everyone understands what is expected.

3. Let go of micro-management

It’s simply impossible to micromanage your team from a distance. Seriously, it’s just not going to work, especially if your team is working across different timezones. What are you going to do, stay up for all hours sending them passive-aggressive messages over Skype?

You have to let go of your desire to be in control of every facet of a project, and instead trust your team to pull through. That’s why you brought on such a trustworthy bunch in the first place, remember? (see #1).

4. Choose the Right Tools

Just like an office-based team needs tools and equipment like meeting rooms, computers, printers, and a coffee machine to function efficiently, you remote team also need a toolbox at their disposal. You’re not going to get much done if you don’t have a set of tools in place to manage.

In order to work successfully across a remote team, you’re going to need some of the following:

  • Communication tools: some way of getting into contact with team members to discuss aspects of the project, inform of urgent changes, or just enjoy some silly banter. You could use Skype or Google Hangouts, and tools like Yammer for creating different discussion groups. I’ve also heard good things about Slack group chatrooms, which can help create a shared office vibe in a remote team.
  • Collaboration tools: You’ll all need a way to view and make notes on the same files and to pass along the different project stages. We love Google Drive and Trello for these functions, but there are tons of other great apps available.
  • Project Management tools: How will you track the time spent on each stage of the project? How will you see at a glance where each stage of a project is at? WorkflowMax is what you need - you can track each stage of a project, from lead to quote to time-tracking and invoicing.

5. Keep Communication Open

Remote or in-house, one thing employees are always asking for is more time for feedback from their managers. Make sure you are available for your remote team just as much - if not more - than you would be if they were all in-house. This might mean:

  • Ensure you participate in group chats and conversations. These tools are great not just for administering projects, but also for getting to know the team. Don’t ignore banter online, participate and get the conversation flowing.
  • It’s a good idea to schedule monthly catch-ups with each person on your team, as well as a weekly or monthly team update to ensure everyone stays in the loop. This gives everyone a built-in monthly platform to raise any issues or concerns.
  • Pair team members with buddies to keep them accountable and foster closer work relationships.
  • Once a week, or once a month, host a quick session where everyone in the team gives an update of what they’ve accomplished. This helps the whole team to see what’s happening across multiple projects, and keeps the team accountable for the work they’re doing.

Are you ready to embrace the remote team? In our upcoming FREE agency success webinar on November 4th, we're talking to agency leader and small busines export John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) about his agency business model. John has a lot to say about effectively running and managing a remote team, so it would definitely be worth your while to check out!

We’ve also written more content about working remotely and what it can mean for your creative agency. Check out these articles:

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