There’s a lot of talk about remote working at the moment as a result of the you-know-which-pandemic-outbreak situation.
Aside from the obvious bad things about this whole situation (public health and economic impact) I’m not worried about our team’s productivity or ability to do great work, despite having to work from home for the coming weeks or months.
As an independent digital agency that doesn’t have a physical presence in every major city of the world, we simply have to deliver value to our global clients by adapting and continually evolving our processes, workflows, and day-to-day tools.
We serve brands across CET, GMT, EST, and PT daily, and the way we work with our clients is almost identical, regardless if we see them face-to-face, are a few blocks away or are a 13-hour flight apart.
I asked some of our people to share their best tips and tricks on how to successfully make the most out of remote client/agency relationships.
Building, and managing, client relationships
by Florian Root and Jennifer Pereira, Producers
Cultivating any client relationship requires a few different things — paying attention to needs, the right tools to work together, but most of all, effective communication, especially when in-person accessibility is limited.
When working across different time zones, it’s key to get the message across in one go, as there’s less possibility to jump on a “quick call” to iron out any misunderstandings immediately. The main challenge is then to make sure that what you communicate is clear, understood correctly, and actioned as expected.
Most of our client communication is performed in writing or over video calls. For daily interactions between our teams and clients, our go-to tools are Slack and Gmail.
When hosting remote meetings, Zoom has proven to push all the right buttons — stability, recording, virtual backgrounds, multiple participants, screen sharing, etc.
Pro Tip: You can involve clients more closely in day-to-day processes, by inviting them to shared workspaces like Smartsheets for project planning, Trello, and JIRA for task management, and shared Google drives for file-sharing and live documentation.
Since language can be a barrier when working with people across the globe, we’ve found that using simple but straightforward language makes it easier for everyone and minimizes confusion.
After each client meeting, we always send a written recap of the discussion to confirm agreements, action points, and accountable persons. This presents an opportunity to document progress and correct any misunderstandings.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to clutter your inbox with lengthy email threads of meeting notes, we recommend using a shared Google document as a “Running notes” that is shared with all relevant team members. It gives everyone a single destination for notes, and it offers nifty features such as the ability to respond in-line to any notes made and assign actions directly in the document.
Click here for an example of how we set them up.
Time is precious for everyone, and people’s calendars fill up quickly. So, at the start of every project, we set expectations on everyone’s availability. By setting up recurring meetings and check-ins at the outset of the project, we can ensure that everyone knows when to be available and what to prepare in advance.
Pro tip: You have to be more mindful of schedules and check-ins when there are multiple time zones and countries involved in a project, as there can be differences in holidays. Always check the calendar for all parties’ special days, such as daylight savings, national holidays, company events, etc.
Conducting remote jam sessions
By Viet Hoang, Strategy Director
While war-rooms and in-person workshops always are a great way to get valuable insights, it is becoming essential to replicate similar results in virtual environments today. We have had many successful experiences collaborating virtually with our clients through our beloved Virtual Jams.
Virtual Jam is a strategy jam session designed by Your Majesty to get the most of our clients virtually. It follows similar guardrails as in-person sessions but is better suited for virtual participation.
Click here to read the full post on how we conduct Virtual Jams with our clients.
It is essential to have workshop material prepared and accessible by all participants from different locations. Without the benefit of pinned up research material in a room that can be used as a stimulus for exciting discussions, you need to get creative on how you can facilitate conversations to gain deeper insights. We usually avoid presenting research in a scripted deck structure and invite clients straight to our mood board to let conversations spark there.
Pro tip: Google Slides is an excellent resource for virtual jam sessions, where you can guide the workshop flow and also set up personal slides for everyone to jot their thoughts down during discussions. This enables thorough documentation of thoughts and ideas to discuss in between exercises. Once the workshop is over, you can easily compile and synthesize all the highlights captured in the deck and share it as a recap for further conversations and real-time comments from participants.
When you are not in the same room, you can miss out on small cues from people in the room, especially the less vocal participants. What we usually do is match up jam duos or trios upfront, to make sure that executives and employees are equally distributed as opposed to being concentrated based on decision-making power. We also ask clients to come with pens and papers to sketch out ideas that are hard to describe and paste a photo of it in the shared deck. This allows everyone to contribute in a way that they feel comfortable.
Pro tip: To ensure that we capture everyone’s opinions for fair decision-making, we have a couple of tricks that keep things moving smoothly. First, we have the icebox slide, which is a dedicated slide in the deck to brain-dump that may not be directly relevant to the discussion at hand but gives you a place to add your thoughts. Secondly, we have everyone create a set of circles tagged with their initials, so at the end of each discussion, they can put these next to ideas that resonate most with them.
We love jam sessions. They are opportunities where we get to spar with our clients candidly, ask difficult questions, and freely challenge any status quo. It is usually through these jams that our clients get to see us on our goofier—arguably, more human—side.
Pro tip: At the start of each jam session, do some chemistry exercises. This usually gives you a good insight into each others’ personalities and improves the productivity of what’s to follow. Our favorite one is getting people to sketch themselves. Since most of us aren’t artists, it’s a fun icebreaker, and occasionally you discover some hidden talent.
Our “virtual jams” get the most of our clients virtually.
Making and sharing creative work
By Sheldon Lotter, Creative Director
Creative and design work needs careful involvement in the designer’s thought process. Collaboration varies from low to high touch, depending on the client’s desired level of involvement and type of team that you will be interfacing with. We tailor our approach based on these factors, though some universal principles remain; provide transparency and communicate with clarity.
Our design tool of choice is Figma, a cloud-based design tool with collaboration at its core. We share links to the files that we work in so that clients have a real-time view of the work. This tightens the feedback loop and allows us to catch things early and course correct. We also organize the work according to its progress status, leaving space for the team to explore freely, put items in review, and collect items that have been approved. Organizing work this way helps to set the viewers’ expectations before reviewing the work.
We annotate our design files thoroughly, ensuring both our internal teams and clients can understand the work they are seeing, and easily grasp why we choose one solution over another or what the expected behaviors are to effectively share the work with any other stakeholders. This is especially helpful when working across timezones.
Pro tip: We like to share design updates and progress via a daily call when we’re iterating on the work. This is an opportunity to debrief, show and talk through the day’s progress, answer any immediate questions, and sync on anything else that may be relevant to the project.
Developing robust technology infrastructures
By Kasper Kuijpers, CTO
Our development workflow is inherently set up to work across time zones and locations — the fact that (in normal conditions) most of us are sitting in the same office is a luxury.
Due to the nature of our work, some of our team members are a few time zones ahead or behind, but we continue to work without interruption. We have set up processes that allow us to collaborate and continue, while also allowing for focus time based on individual working styles.
Since 2016, we’ve also had a digital nomad (Hey Rickard!) among our developer ranks. He surprises us in every weekly check-in with views from his current location — such as a forest yurt, the backseat of a road trip car, or a Canadian mountain top.
Our collaboration strategy can be likened to many other tech startups and might not be considered as anything novel or sexy, but it’s what’s proven to work.
So at the core are some of our usual suspects: We use GitHub for sharing and reviewing code. Our best practice is to have clear readmes and self-documenting code. We also enable project development environments that are easy to set up (we aim to have set up times to be below 30 minutes). As a priority, we ensure secure access to mission-critical infrastructure.
Pro tip: Using Kanban boards such as JIRA is a great way to know what you are working on next. It also helps to share work frequently — email or slack is an excellent way to share progress updates and requests to review code.
Even the best tools don’t work without the people. We practice good communication hygiene and standards informed by scrum best practices. We have lovely producers and product owners who know what to prioritize and keep the productivity going, especially when teams are asynchronous. We share the responsibility to get a precise alignment as to what work needs to be completed and by when. Our developers have excellent critical-thinking skills and are given the ownership to diagnose and communicate any impediments they foresee in the work process. Since we are collaborating with designers on most projects, they take on the responsibility to provide systematic designs and helpful annotations for implementation intention and details.
Pro tip: Communication through asynchronous may not be seen as desirable when escalations are needed. We always make sure to account for redundancy in teams across time zones and when they overlap, so troubleshooting and rubber ducking can be facilitated via Slack or Zoom calls.
Remote is great, but we still dig face-to-face interaction
We love interacting with our clients in person when we have the opportunity to do so. The random chances to get to know each other on a personal level is easier when you banter over something irrelevant at the workshop snack-break.
That’s why we try to meet up with our clients, wherever they are located, at least once per project, usually at the beginning or the very end, and then handle the majority of the projects from separate locations.
Do you have more questions about how we manage our work with remote clients? Let us know by tweeting us at @yourmajestyco.