Let’s face it. It’s convenient to work with people in person—many companies like working with web design agencies in their local region for this reason. The two companies could meet face to face, the agency would frequently meet potential clients at their offices, and collaborative meetings would be sitting in a workspace all in one room. Additionally, clients also like the idea of “if I don’t like how things are going, I know where to go,” meaning they’d walk down to an agency’s office if there were ever an issue. (I’ve never actually seen this happen).
Now that the world has forced us to work from home for long periods and everyone is wholly used to video conferencing technology, things are different. Attitudes are changing, and while being remote will not work for every company or circumstance, it is far more common to have a hybrid or entirely virtual office. It’s changed the way we are all doing business.
In this blog post, I’d like to describe some of our observations about taking our agency virtual and what we have learned along the way. It’s by no means an all-inclusive list of considerations, but it’s a great start.
How to prepare to take your web agency virtual
It’s easy to decide one day to take your company virtual. But, if you haven’t done the work ahead of time, it could be a considerable challenge. At Solid Digital, we had a real opportunity to practice being remote and in-person at the same time. Our agency had multiple regional offices for years, and our teams would commonly use virtual collaboration tools even though we were in an office. We just weren’t in the same office. If we just decided to go virtual one day without practicing first, I’m pretty sure things would have imploded.
Here are some key details to work on before deciding to go 100% virtual:
- Practice First: Decide on working remotely for a day or two every week before doing it 100% of the time. Ensure that you have the right tools in place and that people can effectively do their work at home.
- Your Process: Establish the use of productivity tools in your process. Being virtual will be challenging if your work relies on someone walking to your desk and asking for something. If your operation uses a ticketing system and people are used to asking for what they want in writing, you are closer to working remotely successfully.
- Tool Usage: Does your team have good habits? What I mean is, do they update their tickets in the ticketing system? Good practices ensure that the work is getting done, and more importantly, someone can obtain the status of work getting done without personal intervention. Good tool usage will help you succeed going virtual.
- Equipment: Do you need equipment at the office to do your job? It won’t be easy to do your job at home if you need to be on a corporate network and there isn’t a way to access it remotely, or you rely on a desktop PC chained to your desk at the office. It would be best to have the equipment and access available to do your work effectively.
Habits to practice in a remote organization
When you are ready and decide to take your organization virtual, some key activities will ensure your success after the basics are covered.
- Setting Boundaries: Calendar invites, Slack messages, Zoom, Teams, kids, school, and partners all get in the way of dedicated productivity time. At work, your team should set boundaries around communication so people can have dedicated time to do their job and that all of the time-wasters at the office don’t become time-wasters at home. For your home life, make sure to create a good working environment for yourself to do your best work.
- Intentional Culture: There is no water cooler time when you work from home. Your company should create purposeful activities to build relationships with your team and engage isolated people.
- Get together in real life: Just because you are virtual doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get together. Hopefully, you have activities baked into your culture but if not, try to advocate to get people that live near each other to get together. For example, try to have company events that bring the team to the same place and spend time building those relationships in real life.
- Training and Mentoring: I like to train and mentor people in real-time. I would observe a situation and look for education opportunities. Unfortunately, if we are all working in different locations, the option for this kind of observation is not possible. Instead, you will need to ensure defined mentorship programs and growth plans for each role in your organization. Since you won’t be able to wing it and observe, you will need to build out your training and growth programs in your organization.
- Alternative Sharing Methods: In an office, the best way to share information is to say, “Hey, did you know about xxx?” and give the knowledge directly to people. You can imagine how distracting it is if now all of your teammates are randomly sending you instant messages sharing information. It won’t be long until your workday feels like Twitter. Instead, we recommend sharing knowledge in different ways. For example, you can use services like Loom to share small videos or messages with your team. You could also create space to share ideas and incorporate dedicated time to give Lightning Talks to share information with groups of people quickly. Practicing new ways of sharing knowledge is an excellent opportunity to be creative and think outside the box.
- Make Changes as you Go: Even a perfect plan changes over time. No matter how you initially go virtual, most likely, something you thought was going to work doesn’t. Or ideas that sounded wonderful weren’t. That’s okay. It’s just data to help you keep iterating on a system that does work. Remember that consistency compounds, so keep up the good habits, and get rid of what doesn’t serve your team, and over time you will have a great system going. Dividends always pay off in the end.
Benefits of working with a remote digital web agency
So far, we have covered how to succeed in working remotely. Now assuming the agency you are working with is skilled at the practice, I’d like to cover the benefits to the client when working with a virtual web design agency.
- Hiring: Agencies that are virtual now have access to top talent across the country. If an agency built its organization around recruiting and working effectively with people remotely, it would likely produce better work. It takes organizational commitment to comply with each state’s laws and tax structure, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
- Collaboration: If you hire a digital web agency that has proven to work well remotely, then you will get the added benefit of knowing that they can collaborate with you and each other even when you are apart.
- Time: Travel takes time, traffic is a pain, parking can be expensive. Allowing yourself to work remotely can quickly reduce the time and cost of working on a project. And if you are like us and have to get on a plane, there is a lot of wasted time just getting from one place to another.
- Communication: The great thing about an agency that proves to work well remotely is that their communication will be excellent. You can’t succeed as a well-reviewed, respected agency and communicate poorly. Communication, clarity, alignment, quality, and process earn those 5-star reviews.
- Value: Our web design agency doesn’t use virtual to be the low-cost leader in our space. In all honesty, it’s quite the opposite. We used going virtual to add more touchpoints, collaboration, and working sessions into our process so that our overall product is a higher quality and more enjoyable experience. There are plenty of remote agencies because they are low-cost and low value. So do your diligence, get some referrals, and check reviews.
How to be a good client with a remote digital web agency
Just because your web design agency is working virtual doesn’t mean that your company is an expert at it. Therefore, it will be essential to learn from your agency and follow their lead. Our agency has worked with hundreds of clients, and there are observable differences between successful and unsuccessful engagements. Below are some key areas to focus on when you are a client working with a remote digital agency.
- Avoid Distractions: When you are on a video conference call, no one knows if you are distracted or not. Exercise discipline to stay engaged with your team. We have seen so many decisions and later forgotten due to individuals being distracted during essential conversations.
- Read the Meeting Minutes: Most good web design agencies communicate the meeting notes after a session. Take the time to read them and ensure that both teams are on the same page.
- Creative Briefs / Written Communication: When a team prefers to work in person, sometimes their written communication is not the best. Some clients prefer to give guidance verbally, and it makes sense. Verbal communication is easy, fast, and the least amount of work for a client. However, there is a big problem. Verbal communication is easy to misinterpret, hard to record, and simple to forget. Clients should spend time getting used to putting their needs down on paper. I know that it will open the door to possible changes down the line, but honestly, it’s the right thing to do. I wish creating briefs and other written communication was generally adopted. It helps build clarity and alignment.
- Attitude: When you are not in person, little things matter more. Social cues, body language, tone all play into our perception of working with someone. Video conferencing make each of those characteristics more challenging to perceive. If you work on your attitude to be patient and clear, ultimately, you will get what you want.
- Ghosting: Don’t do it! Withholding communication has never worked in my experience, like ever. If there are issues, taking a proactive, collaborative approach is always the best if you care about relationships and creating the best result.
In conclusion, going virtual will not be for everybody. Suppose you are an organization that can’t do the work to prepare to take your organization remote or have cultural/organizational barriers. In that case, it’s probably a good idea to hold off and practice first. At Solid Digital, we operate primarily remotely with team members nationally and internationally. We put tremendous effort into doing it well and creating a company and culture that we designed intentionally. The only thing we know for sure is that we will continue to perfect our methods to deliver the best work and create the best experience we can.