The Subtle Art of Collaborating Remotely

Slowly accepting the reality of living with the current public health situation, our work set-up has changed drastically towards an era of digital cloud-based meetings and team discussions. Sure, we’re removing the stressful traffic and commute, consequences of the uncertain weather, and maybe that annoying colleague who steals your food in the office. But let’s face it, is this new set-up really for the best?

While some industries have been used to digital communication (and honestly, some of them are killing it), not all industries are faring well with this transition. The film production industry without a miss is one of the industries that are struggling with the switch. From conceptualizing a project to the execution itself, there are a lot of stumbles that teams have to go through in each scenario. From a collective perspective of several independent creatives during this pandemic, here are the Six Biggest Hurdles encountered during remote meetings and collaborations for the advertising and creative industries (and some tips on how to overcome them).

Getting the Feedback Across

The main problem most creatives face is knowing how to make cloud-based conversations conducive for team meetings. Sometimes, other team members do not know how to give way for others to speak. While some people find it easier to comment on other’s output because of less awkwardness and the nature of the task itself, it can’t be denied that it’s not easy to tell the other line about how exactly you want a certain project to come out.

My write-ups have always been under constant revisions after receiving feedback and suggestion from my readers. For this task, it’s not too difficult since the feedback is always about text and the tone of my piece. But when it’s about graphic design or film concept, this is where the hard part comes in. Sometimes an idea is not relayed properly through video conferencing or calls, and the message does not get through at all.

While these may be frustrating and time-costly, find a workaround on how to give constructive criticism to your teammate’s work. You can produce a list of changes that you want them to make, or if it’s a document, you can insert some comments on specific lines and paragraphs. There’s also something that we do at VONAS where we record each other’s screens with a voice recording using a Chrome Browser Extension called Loom. In this way, our team can go re-watch and listen to the comments again. To get across clearly, learn how to give way when others are speaking on a call. Remember that no matter how many you are in a conference call, you have to set boundaries and keep the conversation a dialogue. Know when you should let others speak, and when they do, listen and don’t just wait for your turn.

Technical Hiccups

Most individuals on a work-from-home setup across all industries suffer technical difficulties. It may be due to the internet service provider, the device, or the peripherals used. Either way, this is also a big hindrance to effective remote collaboration.

While we cannot always prepare for most case scenarios, it’s also good if you, as a supervisor, would be considerate towards employees who are experiencing this problem especially if you were not able to provide the necessary equipment. However, if you are an employee who can afford to adjust and meet the device or ISP requirements, consider making the upgrade. It’s also going to help your organization since most businesses are also suffering due to the current situation. Just make sure that both parties of the conversation are aware of probable technical difficulties, and learn how to compromise smartly by re-scheduling as soon as things are running smoothly again (unless there are no urgent deadlines). It’s also wise to invest in back-up devices like power banks and a pocket WiFi.

Distinguishing the Fine Line Between Work and Home

Not having a specific work and break schedule results in employees working more, becoming more exhausted, or spending long hours without necessarily being productive. There are also duties at home that cross the line. It’s hard to define that fine boundary between “work” and “home” given that where you live is literally where you work now. Several working professionals report being overworking themselves since they do not have a pre-determined schedule to follow. Even though they spend long hours at work, productivity levels aren’t exactly catching up. Sometimes there are also tasks at home that you need to tend to, especially if you are a grown-up with kids.

The finer the line between these two, the more they seem to co-exist. How do you build boundaries between your career and your duties at home? Well, make sure you define your schedule. Following a schedule and sticking to it will help you boost your productivity in this set-up. Schedule when you should respond to messages, tend to your chores, and even your small breaks. It’s also not bad to ask around for help. If you put your mind into a schedule that seems similar to your usual office work, it will be more likely that you accomplish more tasks. Even those small breaks matter, so don’t forget to squeeze them into your schedule.

Random Interruptions

Have you ever been in a call, then you suddenly hear some random sound of a crying child on the background, or a sibling of yours accidentally walked in on you? What about that dog who kept on barking while you were talking with your colleague? Well, welcome to the club of work-from-home professionals.

While some of the mentioned are also, to a degree, unpredictable, you can do a bit of a remedy for this. Make sure to communicate with your family about your situation. Again, while it is difficult for people with smaller living spaces, cooperating with your family members is sure prevention to these accidental work interruptions. If you can, designate an area primarily for workspace and tell them not to approach this space during work hours. It’s also good if you can learn how to mute. After all, it’s not all of the time that we’re required to speak. This way, you can avoid unnecessary sounds on the other end.

Feeling Lonely and Demotivated

Working from home has also disconnected a lot of us from our colleagues and friends. I know some people (including me!), who live alone during this pandemic. This takes a heavy toll on our mental health. Not being able to reach out to anyone can eventually make us feel demotivated and alone, and this isn’t too good for people who require creative juices churning 24/7. It feels more like being confined in a box filled with anxiety and negativity. Addressing this issue should be a top priority as well in this situation.

Have a steady set of people you can reach out to when you can. They may be family members, friends, old classmates, and even your neighbors could be a good support system. Having at least a few people to talk to or see every once in a while can bring a positive impact to your life. While discipline is a key ingredient, motivation will be that drive that will make you do your work better. Remember that you are not alone in these trying times. People may not be experiencing the same feeling as you are, but we are not alone. Find something to do that breaks the monotony. Take a piece of your time every week to recalibrate and relax.

Health-Deprecating Habits

Are you still slouching while reading this? Still forgetting to eat because you have “so much work to do”? Still getting fewer hours of sleep because of “one more episode”? Hey, no judgment here. But a work-from-home setup can bring out the worst habits that lay heavy effects on your health. Reduced movement due to lockdowns means less physical exercise. Yes, even that short walk towards the office counts. Missing meals and getting less sleep can also make you groggy, and even worse, ill.

Staying at home while working doesn’t have to be damaging. Take shorts walks around the house, do some stretching, eat healthy (and on time), and more importantly, get as much rest as you can. We need to take care of ourselves as much as we can. Who knows, you might be back on track with your creative spirit in no time?

While it is truly difficult to live in this time, we should try to be courageous and look at our challenges in the eye. There will be more problems along the way, trust me. It’s also not likely that things will go back to normal any time soon, but we’re hoping for it. The best thing we can do is to own this set-up and grow from it. Don’t work hard, work smart. Focus your energy on the things that are relevant, and if you find that what you’re doing isn’t, try to reconsider.

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