Building a Distributed Team

I reflect on the past year of working on a distributed team and getting to know each other.
December 12, 2019

I don't really know what I'm doing but I'm going to give it a shot. This is the first attempt at many posts that I anticipate writing on my experience of being on a team where no one works within 1000 miles of each other.

In fact, only two of us have ever met in person.

I guess it helps that we started as a remote team rather than a team that went their own ways. About a year ago, I was managing the marketing of a small men's hair growth e-commerce business.  I'm still pretty sure it was a scam, but it paid the bills and was one of my very first freelance clients. Eventually, the conversation shifted to "rebrand" - something I had only heard about in articles and seen from my favorite agencies' social accounts. Let me say that this was already a remote contract.

I set out to find a designer to lead the creative direction. After hunting on Upwork I found a young designer based in New Zealand named Iga. I was really excited about her design style. One that heavily focused on clean, minimalist design with aspects of illustration incorporated throughout her projects.

I brought Iga onto the project and we got started with the rebrand. I later found out that Iga is Polish, living the remote worker's dream: traveling, living in a new place every month, earning a living, pursuing her passions, and doing it all with her partner. I mean, how could I not want to work with her?But, I quickly learned that working with clients over Google Meets is very different than being a project manager with someone who you've never met and lives on the other side of the world. I had a lot to learn. I dug into articles, books, and other resources on how to manage a remote team. I asked myself, how can I be a project manager and be friends with the contractor? How do I even manage a project like this? How do I keep both the client and contractor happy? How do I establish limits on my time while being respectful of hers?

All of this was new to me. I realized, that in order to do this right, I had to reflect on my first job. I was working remotely for a tech startup where I balanced school and work. I reveled in the all-hands meetings that we would have at the start and end of the week, where I could see my team. I thought it was so cool to be able to hop on a link and see everyone, hear about their week, and form a team bond. It was great!

I quickly realized that being remote didn't really connect me with anyone. Or at least, the way management was going about leading a remote team didn't encourage collaboration. Meetings were reduced to exclusively work and conversations that were about anything other than work were actively discouraged. I realized that even though I had met my teammates in person (the company held a mini-retreat for everyone to meet) I didn't know them, nor did they know me. I didn't know their passions, about their families, anything. All those conversations would have to happen without the managers knowing. And this was only a team of ten people.

Around the time I brought on Iga to help with the rebrand, I noticed Andreas was posting some of his designs on Instagram. I was really impressed by Andreas' courage and confidence because I never had the courage to post any of my projects on Instagram or Linkedin. I had no idea that Andreas was pursuing being a designer. I figured he was working at a consulting firm. But, after talking with him, he told me he had gone back to school to pursue what he really wanted to do, design. After talking a bit, we decided that we should collaborate and I asked him if he'd be willing to help me out with the rebrand project and help develop the brand. He said yes, and the three of us were working together.

After realizing that we all work really well together, we decided to come together to start the agency. Nothing too radical, just a creative agency built by three people who only communicate through the internet. But, it did turn into so much more than that. As cheesy as this is, we're friends now and a team that supports each other through our work, passions, and values.

There has definitely been a good amount of challenges from working on a distributed team that has made us all go through some rough times, but the good times always outweigh the bad. Every one of our meetings are full of laughter, random stories, photos of animals, and exchanging of cool and interesting links. Our team dynamic is what drives our designs to be unique, beautiful, accessible, responsive, and loved by our clients. We work with clients that are determined to grow their business and are driven by their passions.

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Contributed by:
Stephen Davis Hernandez
Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business
A guy who loves dogs, travel, cooking, and so much more. You'll always see me at a pride parade and supporting my queer brothers, sisters, and everyone in between! I was a Haverford College student.
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