Written by: Tony DiPaolo
Remote design work has developed into a viable solution for many creatives, as more companies seek to expand their hiring range outside of their region. Where communication used to be a challenge for remote workers, technology changed that. So, how do we use advances in communication technology to improve team building?
Before I go too far, it’s important to know who I am and my experience with working remotely. My name is Anthony DiPaolo, but everyone knows me as Tony. I started working with Four Winds Interactive (FWI) four years ago through a company called Holland Square Group. Two years ago I moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico to help and be around my family. So I have essentially been always “remote” from the main FWI main office, and as such, have learned how to communicate with others in my team without being there. I also have the pleasure of being in a unique role as one of the few map designers or “cartographers” in the company. It lets me combine my passions for cartography, art and digital mediums.
I used to be the guy who would recognize faces before I recognized and remembered a person’s name. I got to know people by chatting at the coffee machine, or joining in a conversation with people on break, at lunch or at an event. Now I remember a person’s name and role in the company, and not much else. Identifying people this way dehumanizes them in a sort of way you can’t predict. It’s a two-way street—if you can’t identify with people, how can they identify with you? This adds a layer of complexity for remote designers, as collaboration is often key for creative projects. As a team, you need to be able to trust and talk to one another.
It’s easy to get into a position where you only speak about work with others and that’s the opposite of what should be happening. REACH OUT. Join in the conversations about more than just work. We utilize Slack and Zoom as our main means of communication between remote employees and the home team. The key is to not shut yourself out but to reach out and START UP THE CONVERSATION. You are in charge of building your relationship with your team. Join a few channels that interest you but are about more than just work. Get into more conversations with people on your team that you do not know. Share a picture or two of your accomplishments, your family, your interests. Look at the pictures that are being shared and identify your teammates. ASK about that goofy smile on someone’s face. The picture is already telling a story—learn its characters so you can identify them; their personalities and ultimately help build a team relationship. LEARN about your team and teach them about you. Be more than the guy in the chair!
This is essentially what team building is and does and can still be effective with remote workers, it just takes a bit more effort. There are going to be events you miss, and pictures of the fun time everyone had. But remember, these events are to help the team be more unified and not meant to exclude or push the remote person away. Missing these events doesn’t mean you have to miss the lessons learned from them. It is very helpful when pictures are taken or video is shared, as you can still learn the little quirks of people, matching PERSONALITIES to faces and voices. You have to initiate conversations and help people get to know you. Share stories and pictures of you and events in your life. That HELPS PEOPLE IDENTIFY WITH YOU. That’s what team building is all about. So, don’t let it distance you, get as many stories as possible.
- Reach out
- Start up the conversation
- Ask and learn
- Identify personalities
- Help people identify with you
The team that can talk to one another can better identify needs, priorities and any potential obstacles in a given project. But they can also begin to identify motivations, distractions and necessary feedback without feeling disconnected. We as a team seek to learn and adapt to new technology, making connecting to a team hundreds of miles away more possible than ever. Team meetings move from phone conferencing to individual cameras on each participant of the meeting allowing for a more connected feeling for those far away. In my opinion, this ability to adapt and help the remote worker feel more integrated and involved is another great aspect of being a member of THIS team.