11 Musts for working with a remote team

Kevin Mullins

Have you ever stumbled into a dark corner of the internet and wondered “what did I just read?” Apparently, a debate is raging on whether our earth is flat or round. Shocked? Me too…well, kind of. We can leave that argument to the basement brigade and agree on something that is no longer debatable: the digital world is flat. Technology has gone global.

Which brings me to the subject of working with remote teams. Once an organization reaches a certain level, working with remote teams should be on your radar. I still remember when outsourcing was a dirty word in America and in certain legacy circles, it still is. Fast-forward to 2019. Today, most modern, agile brands agree that niche skills can be found anywhere. While not for every organization, outsourcing design or other digital work to an external agency is a great addition to (or alternative for) doing the work in-house.

Digital agencies are everywhere with some outsource design and digital marketing agencies performing better than local rivals. And therein lies the trap. Outsourced projects fail, all the time, but branding, web design, and digital marketing projects rarely fail for lack of skill. If/when projects do fail, the failure was often predictable and avoidable.

If you’re considering working with a remote design agency in 2019 here are a few “musts” to increase your chances of success (in no particular order):

1. Keep multiple lines of communication.

Talking, texting, video calls and emailing regularly keeps a digital project healthy. Lack of or erratic, difficult communication is a red flag.

2. Define project contributors and project scope.

Roles, responsibilities, and expectations should be well documented. Results should be detailed and discussed not only before but during the project, along with milestones and expected outcomes.

3. Manage well.

Demand suitable PM tools like Asana, ClickUp, Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Git, Confluence, Redbooth, etc. to be used. If not, walk away. Notepads and Post-it notes are no longer sufficient for today’s complex projects.

4. Create a red line.

Just like the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War, you should delegate project owners on both the delivery and receiver side. These two individuals should have some decision-making authority while acting as a conduit for communication. This reduces noise and confusion and increases efficiency.

5. Make feedback compulsory.

Short feedback loops and regular, mandatory project stand-ups (in person or via a good video platform) detect confusion and problems before they mutate into project killers. Ideally, progress reviews should happen every two weeks and no more than every four.

6. Sign on the bottom line.

Contracts, project scopes and NDA’s, etc. protect everyone’s vital interests. When disagreements arise, having signed terms helps resolve any dispute. Do it properly, get everything in writing before you go any further.

7. Wear name tags.

Know who’s who. Everyone should know who’s involved, if there are contributing 3rd parties and what falls within each’s sphere of responsibility. No one should ever be surprised by the sudden appearance of a contractor, freelancer or middleman, especially if they weren’t aware of that party’s involvement at the outset.

8. Language and culture.

Never assume that because a remote agency speaks your language, they understand you. Language fluency does not equal cultural fluency. Where possible, you should work with partners who understand where you’re coming from, what you’re saying and the cultural context in which you’re saying it.

9. All-singing, all dancing, all the time.

No one person, agency or partner can be an expert at everything. Seek qualified niche partners where specific skills are needed and be cautious of anyone who claims they can do it all, perfectly.

10. Start with the end in mind.

A positive shift is happening in the digital marketing world. Agency managers are realizing that outcomes are more important than outputs. It is extremely difficult for an agency to measure success if the objectives are fuzzy. Choose a qualified agency partner to help you define realistic goals tied to business needs then work towards achieving them.

11. Term limits.

Make sure the terms of engagement for your project are clear for all parties involved. Is the project fixed price, fixed term? Time and materials? Tied to outputs (deliverables) or to outcomes (our favorite)? If you’re working with multiple partners or specialists, make sure the terms match the engagement for each party.

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Working with a remote team or agency can bring incredible advantages, provided you stay vigilant. The pitfalls are real and the graveyard of failed projects is vast. If however, you engage the right niche partners, clearly articulate the objectives and work on strengthening the fundamentals, big rewards are in store.

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