Remote working has been a hot topic in recent weeks due to the unexpected and dramatic crisis facing us around the world.
As many of you know, brandbuch was born to disrupt the traditional brand consultancy. We decided from the very beginning to create an international network of professionals who would work and collaborate remotely.
To be honest – when we started working together, we had no idea if we could successfully operate a company in full ‘remote mode’. We knew there would be challenges ahead and we asked ourselves:
– Can the process be as creative and collaborative?
– Will it be more or less efficient?
– How can we feel like a team, while being apart?
Today we want to share our experience at brandbuch, the benefits & challenges that we faced.
1. Can the process be as creative and collaborative?
In recent years, companies have encouraged open spaces and collaborative physical environments to empower team-work. The reason being that open spaces promote spontaneity and easy access to other team members, eventually increasing collaboration and empathy among employees of all levels. With a remote-only team, spontaneity is not an option. This is probably the biggest barrier to collaboration we had to overcome.
To many this may come as a surprise, but we found that after almost a year we are actually more creative and collaborative by working remotely.
Why is that? It’s because time between independent and collaborative work is split and planned. In a physical environment, meetings are often sporadic and feedback can be given by anyone at any time, while passing your desk and making a comment. Many think that this is actually positive for creativity but we believe that permanent feedback kills creativity.
At brandbuch, we all have a set amount of time to think, create, analyze and prepare before sharing with each other. When the moment to share our work comes, it’s not only about sharing but, above all, it’s about giving constructive, organized and professional feedback. When we review the project brief, we together decide on the parameters for feedback, to help ensure it’s not based on personal opinions but on project demands and market insights.
When project needs precede personal opinions or egos, that is when real collaboration starts to happen.
Something else we’ve found at brandbuch is that when working independently, we feel free and not influenced by our environment. This freedom of thought allows us to come up with ideas that don’t conform to ‘group thinking’, that push boundaries and don’t need to be ‘agreeable’ simply to please others. We are free to create ideas that may not otherwise see the light of day in a ‘supervised’ environment, where we may feel less confident or not in a position to create freely. Working alone allows more time to be guided by our own instincts, ultimately benefiting and enriching group conversations and collaboration.
2. Are we going to be more or less efficient?
We can all agree that having a physical space dedicated to work sharpens concentration. It is definitely a challenge to focus in an environment that is not properly set up for working. For this reason, many people still prefer going to an office than working from home, even when given the choice. They would argue that it is easier for them to concentrate and have less distractions there.
At brandbuch we see this challenge from a different perspective. We believe that planned distractions are fuel for work.
When you plan your distraction, you can only be more efficient. In simple terms, that means you only schedule meetings for when they are needed. You decide when you want time to be creative or time to collaborate with others. It allows you to tailor your day to ensure that you can be at your most productive, and not unwillingly distracted by a supervisor or coworker in the office.
Planning your distractions also means making time to do the things you love outside of work, at a time that suits you. Whether that be going to a gallery during the week, working fewer hours each day to allow time to study, or simply making more time to have lunch with your family or friends. A varied schedule allows for more creativity and efficiency.
We have found a phenomenon that occurs in our team when working remotely: respect for other people's time. In a physical environment we often know too much about what other team members are doing or where they are going. What happens if I don’t want to attend a meeting at 10:30am because it’s the time I normally use to finish other things on my to-do list? When working remotely, you are the owner and sole decision maker of your time. Each one of us is in charge of our working environment, leading to more responsible team members and a greater respect that helps us all to be more efficient.
Being physically present is not a proof of efficiency or realisation of actual useful work. Managers can easily get a “false” sense of efficiency by having their teams in the office. We found that there’s only one tool that can overcome this challenge: trust.
At brandbuch, trust has proven to be an accelerator for group efficiency. It’s the key ingredient to working together, and it works both ways. When you put trust in your colleagues and teammates it empowers them. They are handed trust as a responsibility and will therefore engage themselves fully in the project. In return, the group as a whole is more positive, more respectful of one another and more open to collaboration. We’ve found that this circle of trust continually feeds itself.
3. How do we create a team culture while being apart?
This was an interesting challenge to overcome. The team and culture are the heart and soul of any traditional company, so keeping this alive while being apart was something we needed to think hard about. We can’t do the normal team building activities, share lunch together or grab a drink after work. All those things that usually contribute to getting to know each other better and building empathy among one another. So where would this company culture, camaraderie and team bonding come from?
Well, we immediately set about the obvious solutions: organizing live events & talks via YouTube, having group Hangout sessions, discussing things that are relevant for all members of the team – not necessarily project related. But in order to make all of that work, remotely, we needed to carefully choose the right team members to help make it happen. Independent freelancers who in many ways had already bought into our values & vision.
For most of the team, the opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded people, the ability to share ideas and knowledge on a daily basis is far more important than having to sit alongside each other in the same space.
Even though we are not connected geographically, we are capable of connecting through something that taps into our human side: a shared purpose of both living & working meaningfully every day.
In the future, we envisage that the ideal company will be able to combine both remote & physical work in a clever and organized way. We encourage more companies to have a flexible approach to this working culture, and embrace the benefits that - for us at least - far outweigh the challenges.
This article was written collaboratively from the homes of Melissa Buch in Zurich & Josh Nathanson in Barcelona.