The Closeness of Working Remotely

Mary Allard, Director of Marketing Strategy at Porter Consulting

remotelyIt’s Monday morning and our team shuffles into the virtual conference room. They’re joining from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Mid West, South, Europe and the Far East. Some are probably wearing slippers and sipping from their favorite coffee mug instead of a takeout cup. The first folks to join talk about the weekend, the weather, kids. There are the sounds of life beyond the phone: dogs barking, contractors working on the house, neighbors power washing their siding. Today our French colleague spoke emotionally about the Paris terrorist attacks. Soon everyone is assembled; we settle down and begin the meeting.Such is the norm for many companies and their agencies. Long gone are the days of constant face-to-face meetings as teams are scattered around the world, many working from home. Or perhaps meager travel budgets no longer accommodate F2F.

There’s a different dynamic at work in these meetings. Unlike F2F, many people have never met and don’t know what one another looks like, except maybe from a fuzzy LinkedIn photo. We create images in our minds: I wonder how old he is? I heard he’s very tall. Gee, I pictured her with blonde hair. Assumptions are made: he seems to be having a tough day, or she’s got something else on her mind. In an odd way, we let each other into our lives more intimately than if we were sitting together in a traditional meeting. We all make space for one another’s lives.

It’s actually a very productive way to work. There are tools that can help move things along—like shared screens that let everyone look at the same documents. Often there can be a malfunction and several team members can’t see the screen. It’s a bit disruptive but everyone manages, often resorting to the tried and true – pull up the document and walk through it by saying, “on page 3, paragraph 4…..” It still works. The mute button is a handy tool until one is asked a question and forgets to un-mute. “I’ve been answering for 30 seconds! Sorry!”

Brainstorming can be very effective when done remotely. People seem to feel freer to toss out ideas when sitting alone. Maybe we’re less judgmental when apart.

Then there are the regional differences. One of my favorite colleagues is from Texas. During one meeting, someone asked a question but it was unclear to whom she was directing it. Our Texan asked, “Do you mean y’all or ALL y’all?”. In Texan that means “Are you asking me or all of us?” Our colleague in France mentioned that she was headed out to climb in the Alps. We all sighed.

I would love to meet my clients and colleagues face to face but I also know that probably won’t happen any time soon. Nevertheless I treasure the relationships. Very often the professional grows to include the personal. It’s very rewarding.

If you work remotely – or even if you don’t – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Mary Allard writes about marketing and brand strategy.  She particularly focuses on trending topics and best practices. You can find more blogs and content from Mary  Porter Consulting is a marketing services consulting company who can you help you grow revenue.