Collaborating & Building Websites RemotelyWhen I started building websites as a full-time pursuit, I was a partner in a small firm with office space and employees – the traditional office structure. We had some nice loft-style, open plan space where everyone could easily interact with each other. It was a pleasant and efficient arrangement but one that had it’s downsides too.
The space wasn’t cheap – and ultimately such costs got passed along to our client – and the standard 9-to-5 workday format is something that never felt in sync with me. I’ve always found really great creative work isn’t easy to pigeonhole into such a format. I’ve always felt discipline is important but so is flexibility.
For those reasons – and others – I eventually transformed my business to one where my partners I work with now live and work in different parts of Canada – and each are their own independent suppliers. When I made this shift about 10 years ago, it felt a bit uncertain both for the practicalities involved of keeping a team working productively and in terms of how to present such a structure to some of our more conservative clients.
Fast forward 10 years and the client perception issues are non-existent. The Internet’s impact has been felt resoundingly across most working environments. As for the team issues, those 10 years have let me learn the skills of fostering a team that can work well remotely – and the results have shown that it is a great way to work in this digital economy.
So what are the key points and indicators that demonstrate this success and how to foster it?
- As alluded to earlier, this model results in much lower infrastructure costs and that has meant more competitive rates for our clients.
- The ability to not be bound to one geographic area has meant access to more diverse – and sometimes better – talent.
- That, in turn, has made it easier to tailor our teams we use on certain projects and pull in skills that might not otherwise be available to us in a traditional model.
- I’ve also seen better productivity. I’m one that always used to hit a wall mid-way through the afternoon – energy dropped off and the resulting work suffered. Now, taking off mid-afternoon for a run (or even a nap) brings me back to the office invigorated and ready to produce stellar work. I’ve found that these rhythms change from person to person – and having that kind of flexibility in a work schedule can provide huge benefits to the quality and efficiency of work.
- Find the right people. Collaborating remotely doesn’t free you from the need to thoroughly vet whom you work with but it does shift the focus of what to look for. One of the key indicators for me has been finding suppliers who love working this way and have been doing so for some time already. In my experience, that usually means they have found that personal balance between discipline and flexibility.
- Good communication. This is one of the biggest keys and can’t be emphasized enough. There is no better way to communicate than face-to-face so when that’s not an option, it’s important to put extra effort into other methods and tools.
- Find the right tools. To foster effective communication and good work habits and processes, it’s critical to support those with the appropriate tools. This usually means online services that the whole team can effectively interact with – things like versioning control systems (we use Git), online documentation services (Basecamp, Unfuddle, Google Docs), ticketing systems, time-tracking and other project planning tools.
- Respect and trust each other’s capabilities. Many people will point to how a manager in this context needs to be extra vigilant to keep team members on task and in sync. However, I think it’s equally important to have a team whom you can rely on to take care of their responsibilities without over-managing. If you need to manage more than you used to in a traditional model, I’d argue you don’t have the right team or haven’t fine-tuned the tools and process enough. It’s important to give your team members the room to breathe and allow them some of that beneficial flexibility that comes with working this way.