Remote Working for Creative Teams: Top 3 Solutions to 3 Top Problems

New to remote work? Experiencing challenges with work structure and team collaboration? Found yourself isolated and overworked? Don’t let COVID-19 make you quit just yet – this article provides all you need to know about working from home and might just reinvigorate your #remotework and #remotelife.

Companies worldwide are taking new measures to diminish as much as possible the impact of Coronavirus on their business and their employees. Such measures include remote working which for some might be business as usual, with months or even years experience working remotely, but for many others it is a big transition. What follows are the 3 top challenges encountered when working remotely, and (more than) 3 suggested solutions.

Challenge #1: Lack of Structure & Strained Culture

A good number of businesses are exceptionally accustomed to interactions in real life (IRL) and it would not come as a surprise if their work system and culture got flustered when the event of COVID-19 made it a requirement to switch to working remotely. Suddenly employees were not under the direct eye of the manager or director and a project update was not a stroll to the neighbouring desk anymore. This is one of the great things about remote working: it exposes the weaknesses in your company structure, pushing you to find alternative ways to make it bulletproof.

Solution: Scheduled Check-ins, Constant Communication & Empathy 

One of the essential ingredients required to build a strong foundation for a company is trust. When remote working sounds like a nightmare to managers and directors, it could mean two things: a weak process and/or strained emotional connection and communication with the members of the team, which all add up to a strong feeling of mistrust. This would have been slowly chipping away at the strength of the company even in normal office conditions, however remote work exposes it to its full extent. Here are some pointers to help establish great communication, collaboration workflow and ultimately, trust:

Schedule regular face-to-face check-ins (with flexible agendas): Regular check-in calls make sure that everyone has started the day on the right foot and if there are any issues they are dealt with on time. However, this is not just about work; make time to have interesting – if short – conversations, and empower empathy: even though your colleagues are not next to you, it does not mean that you cannot be there for them during the good and the bad. By building and maintaining those relationships through empathy, you would have taken the biggest step towards establishing trust and better collaboration.

Remote working exposes the weaknesses in your company structure, pushing you to find alternative ways to make it bulletproof.

Use a full-access Work-In-Progress  (WIP) document: all team members and management can know your OKRs for the week for each project and see the documentation regarding the projects’ progress and challenges. Notion is a good content management system for this sort of thing.

In this day and age, there is a digital tool for everything: for time and project management there is Asana and Trello, Dashlane and LastPass are great for safe password storing of personal and shared accounts, and Airtable is recommended for the organisation and compilation of data. Zapier is renowned for the ability to link all the systems used by the company to hold the infrastructure together in one place through the push and pull of data. These of course are just a few tools to keep your company on track; there are many more apps which might fit your needs and budgets better – so start searching!

When it comes to presenting deliverables, explain yourself better and show off your work in the process: organise video walkthroughs or share your screen during a video call to describe what you have achieved, outline the failed concepts and ideas and also the challenges faced and why your method is the go-to solution.

Challenge #2: Team Creativity & Collaboration

There are many things to love about working in a (great) team: the brainstorming sessions, the Aha! Moments, the collective meetings with clients, the random chats and jokes… the list could go on forever. Not to mention that all co-workers are in the same time zone and place, together. What if there is a way to recreate these moments in a remote setting and your teamwork routine continues without a hitch?

Solution: Clear Process & Consistent Feedback

Set up (and keep) clear rules of communication and schedule regular video calls: this is important to follow, especially if a number of people are working on the same task at once. Decide together with your team which are the core working hours where everybody needs to be available. This is monumental in ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Establish defined phases for your design process:
A. Research and Discover: Identify goals, understand your audience, and list the assumptions of the project at hand. Focus both on quantity and quality: the more data you collect and the more trusted the sources, the stronger the foundations of the product.
B. Create the user story map: brainstorm features and define scope for the first testable product (MVP). Miro is a fun and useful virtual whiteboarding tool for brainstorming sessions, and ideal to use for both the Research and Discover phase and this one. InVision’s Freehand is also great for remote idea generation and feedback.
C.  Wireframe and prototype: this phase should create a clear roadmap for the client’s product as the first iteration; always remember to refer to the whiteboarding sessions that took place in the previous phases and, needless to say, iterate and re-iterate!

Give valuable, positive and consistent feedback online and remember that remote communication relies a lot on soft skills: micro-responses during conversations are very important since the body language element is missing. Also make sure that the internal conversation with the team and the ongoing direct conversation with the client are set apart: one of the most common work chat tools is Slack, where you can dedicate separate channels for different convos.

Schedule weekly video calls with your clients. Go over with them what has been delivered, the timeline, the framework in context of the project goals and get their feedback. If you’re the go-to person for that client, make sure to check in directly with them before officially locking down the product phase: they might have some feedback which they felt uncomfortable mentioning during the video call, or which simply slipped their minds.

Any feedback specific to the designs in discussion should ideally be inputted directly into the relevant shared prototyping file; tools such as Figma and InVision are widely known for the flexibility they offer when it comes to collaboration when prototyping.

Share more of yourself, and carry the remote working connections and skills to your social life. 

Challenge #3: Isolation & Burnout

Everyone is aware that certain individuals are not great at socialising or might not even feel the need to, and some roles have more individual work responsibilities and a lot less teamwork. This might not have made much of a difference in an open office environment where almost everyone is continuously surrounded by co-workers, with the usual hum of keyboard taps, mouse clicks and chatter. However, when circumstances require working remotely, those roles in particular might be less resistant to self-isolation than others, not to mention that inevitably, with no arriving or leaving from an office, the length of work hours suddenly becomes a lot more flexible, leading to the rise of overwork or even burnout.

Solution: Work-Life Balance & the Right Communication Channels for the Right Situation.

Find a quiet spot in your home where you can work in peace: clean up a good-sized table, get a comfortable chair and set up an alarm for mid-day break and end of work day. This will help avoid forgetting to take a break to stretch your legs and eat lunch or working to the point when you suddenly realise that it’s 9pm and you just clocked in 12 hours of work in one go. Keeping your workspace uncluttered also helps keep a focused mind.

female worker having a remote work video call with the team

While it might be true that the strongest relationships are built on face-to-face real life interactions, that should not imply that meaningful ones can’t be started (or made stronger through video calls and chats. Maintaining a great connection with your team will also make it easier to remain motivated and efficient in the long run.

Be really deliberate with the communication channels you use and the meaning placed on them. Slack is great when there is something that can be resolved quickly, especially when a team decision is required. Creating a certain culture through Slack is also something which has been seen; you can open separate channels where random convos take place with the people you feel closest to in your team. For sensitive issues and need of details Zoom is the best tool. Keep in mind that video calling is literally peering into people’s lives everyday, and whether it is a cluttered room or an adorable pet of theirs, you are getting to know intimate parts of them with each call, therefore respect for privacy should be mutual.

You can also see remote work as an opportunity to connect with other work mates, which might be something you hadn’t had a chance to do in the past. Take time to talk about important relationships, activities or events in your life which have nothing to do with your work, but are an important part of you. Share more of yourself, and carry the remote working connections and skills to your social life. 

Find time for self-care and exercise, be more creative in the kitchen, halt work after work hours, and you will find satisfaction in remote working.

Some other tips to stay happy and motivated:

  • Arrange a random employee pair-up and engage in non-work related conversations and comments before starting work to replace the water-cooler experience.
  • Organise a weekly happy hour with work friends and your personal friends online – who said a glass of wine or a shot of scotch can’t be enjoyed with others using virtual means?
  • Get up and walk. Even a 15-minute walk around the block does wonders, warming you up and helping you clear up your mind for the rest of the day. 
  • Going through a creative block? Set up a quick call with your go-to creative person/s in the team and go through other blogs and portfolios, putting your ideas on the virtual board and commenting or drawing your thoughts until you come up with a couple of great ideas.
  • Don’t get caught up in the on-demand mentality: avoid sending messages after work hours, and turn off notifications after the work day is over to help set a non-stressful work culture
  • Overworking – or even worse, burnout – is a very sensitive issue especially when you don’t manage to find time to spend with your loved ones. Find time for self-care and exercise, be more creative in the kitchen, halt work after work hours and you will find satisfaction in remote working.

There is one thing that applies to all instances: never worry about over-communicating; it is always better than under-communicating and constant contact is what will keep the team aligned and your motivation high. While is very true that working remotely might still not work for you even after you try it, certain circumstances like the current Coronavirus #COVID-19 pandemic could unfortunately force you to adapt to this methodology. Thus, successfully adapting to and managing remote work will not just look great on your CV, but will also make other work challenges much easier to overcome and set your company on the right communication path.

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