“Working from home” is not a new situation for us. For decades, our organization has consisted of independent team members operating in a distributed network. In that time, we have created an incredibly efficient method of doing just this.
It began even before the rise of the Web
30 years ago, I launched a magazine for Fender guitars: Frontline. To do so, I leveraged a nationwide collection of dozens of people and multiple organizations. Utilizing the only technology widely available at the time — phone, fax, and “snail” mail — I was able to manage the process for 8 years.
Segueing into a Web marketing company that existed remotely was natural. And given the rapid pace of technological improvement, much easier.
What are the secrets to our success?
Find the right people
Everyone on our team is not only highly self-motivated, but is also able to “play well” with others. Both of those criteria are key, and without them, no remote-based organization would last for long, let alone be able to produce quality work on a consistent basis.
Employ the appropriate communication tools
Whether we are using text, email, video/screen-sharing conferencing, or shared workflow systems, we all know how to choose the appropriate communication channel for the task at hand.
NOTE: One of the important lessons I learned after working at several large organizations, was the inherent inefficiency of the common “email chain.” We’ve all seen it: one email sent to many people, most of whom are not really involved in that particular task. Yet each person in the chain is forced to open multiple emails as the message bounces back and forth around the organization.
Our shared workflow platform is Google Drive. It is a great application, but wouldn’t do much good unless we constantly refined how we used it.
By combining well-designed spreadsheets with a logical organization of folders and subfolders, we are able to let our entire team access the same user-friendly hub. This didn’t arise immediately, and in fact we are constantly improving it. Because no matter how good your system is now, it is almost a certainty that it could be better.
Foster a sense of community
Of course this is such an obvious benefit, and the term is so overused (especially these days), that it has almost become a cliché. Yet that doesn’t make it any less important. However, every organization needs to find its own methodology for achieving this goal.
One of the advantages that we have is our pre-existing relationships. Before they came to work for the company, I knew our three lead writers pretty well: They consist of my two younger sisters, and my [4 years older than me] aunt!
Some of the other people on the team include my best friend (controller), long-term colleague from a previous client (SEO/PPC guru), associate from a networking group (head programmer), and his sister (killer Project Manager).
Though it took a while to build this team, it wasn’t accidental. I’ve always liked forging friendships with people I worked with, and so it was a natural progression to move to people that I already had a strong connection to.
Finally, and this is something that has to “come down from the top,” you must accept people for who they are and how they like to produce. If you don’t already, learn to revere the old saying “march to one’s own drummer.”
Some of us are night owls; others (like me!) can barely keep their eyes open after 9 p.m. Some of us are inveterate texters; others may prefer email. In my case, I’ll often default to picking up the phone — I like the interaction.
The overriding message is that each person has their own unique style: how and when they like to work, what they prefer as a way to connect, how much guidance or autonomy they require, etc.
Years ago, an ad agency owner I worked for taught me a very valuable lesson. “Michael,” he said, “I don’t care when you work or how you work, as long as you deliver.” And that is how we roll.