I think there are three common factors that have influenced my ability to lead distributed teams successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully). I’ll call them the three A’s:
For us, collaboration tools aren’t about micromanagement – they’re about helping us do our jobs and maintain our culture from afar on the go, while still making us accountable to one another. Here are some of my favorites:
The Basecamp to-do list is my favorite way to track work from concept to completion. We use a phased set of to-do lists, where each task moves from one list to the next.
We use the Google Drive spreadsheet tool for budget tracking and project pacing, and during project ideation, we use collaborative docs to iron out proposed features, timelines, cost estimates, etc. I especially like the comment/resolve feature, which emails anyone on the team you tag.
In addition to serving as our main “culture-keeper,” Campfire makes it easy to disseminate important info quickly and efficiently.
Several of us have set up personal office numbers using Skype, which will forward calls to our cells if we’re offline. Skype is also a great option for overseas calls.
Shared Google Calendars
Shared calendars give me a holistic view of the day’s docket, including who’s in the office and who’s on vacation, and it’s a great help in scheduling calls.
Google+ Hangouts Video Calls
Video calls are a simple, free way for us to talk face-to-face as a team. When you’re using Google Calendars, it’s very easy to drop a video call link into meeting invites.
When you’re not in the same office, it’s critical to have an easy way to share what you’re looking at or working on. I like Awesome Screenshot because I can quickly crop, highlight, and circle a screen shot, all within my browser.
Sometimes screenshots aren’t enough, and you need a streaming view of someone else’s screen. I like the record feature on GoToMeeting, which lets me record demos when not all stakeholders can attend. The tool easily converts your session into an .mov file, ready to share. JoinMe is a great tool as well, and requires less setup.
Working with a team that spans multiple continents comes with its own special challenges, but we’ve developed a specific set of routines and habits that keep everything running smoothly.
Hold a Weekly Internal Call
We keep a standing agenda to review new and old business, upcoming development work, upcoming events, reporting needs, team member paid time off, pending projects, etc. This helps the team keep its foot on the gas, moving all the parts of the account forward.
Designate a Lead for Each Time Zone
This person is responsible for managing the team members in his or her office. Those team leads then report up to the overall account manager to keep a good flow for escalating issues or concerns.
Nothing can substitute for this. The team members must feel comfortable with each other so they can reach out to anyone else for help. Have multiple lines of communication open and ask questions, no matter how simple or seemingly obvious.
Have Lots of Empathy
When team members are in the same office, they naturally build camaraderie. This is harder to do across great distances, though it’s still entirely possible. It’s essential that the manager make camaraderie a priority. Set up biannual team gatherings and reinforce that the team is one unit even with many miles of physical separation.
What role do you play at Porter Novelli?
I’m a social media strategist and a content and community manager in our office in Munich. My aim is to find new ways of interpreting social media trends and embedding them in popular science context.
What developments on the Web are you most excited about right now?
The extension of a sharing economy and capability of people creating their own social space on the Web. In recent years, social media has opened up a huge landscape. But most people have tagged along with existing networks, without realizing they could create their own social space. With all the discussions of privacy around the big networks, people are getting very creative right now, rethinking ways to communicate. They’re putting open source data to work and sharing it with a big community. I really enjoy that because to me, this is a key element of social media: scrutinize the media we’re living with, and if you don’t like what you see, do something about it.
What one thing would you change about the digital landscape today?
In Germany, we have a very strict copyright law, which is quite old fashioned. Sharing content, still referring to the original source, is actually forbidden unless you have the written agreement of the person who has the rights to that content. Some agencies now specialize in buying content just to sue anyone who uses it. You have to keep in mind that one letter could force you to pay several thousand dollars to prevent an indictment. I would change that rule and rethink copyright law when it comes to social media.
What are the toughest challenges you and your clients are facing?
The euphoria of social media is finally waning for some clients. They’re shocked to realize that social media isn’t the answer to all their challenges. Now we see magazines and blogs claiming social media is pointless when it comes to ROI, which leads some clients to doubt the possibilities of social media in general. Since we have always challenged ourselves with these questions and regarded our digital campaigns in a broad context, we can prove that our campaigns have a real impact on ROI. But I admit that when I look at what some brands and agencies are doing right now, I doubt whether the campaign has anything to do with the brand, and therefore whether they’re seeing any real benefit.
In recent years, Lebanon’s architectural legacy has faced the continual threat of rapid construction. Builders have been razing historic buildings to make room for bigger high-rises. To reignite the Lebanese people’s interest in their heritage, Bacardi launched the “Dewar’s Worth Doing Campaign.”
Impact Porter Novelli’s challenge was to create a movement strong enough to bring out the campaigner in every Lebanese national, raising social awareness and reinforcing passion for the Dewar’s brand. After kicking off the campaign with a short film about Lebanese heritage, the team invited fans to join the campaign’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages and share their pictures of historic architecture.
With the help of influencer outreach, the campaign was a key driver in reinforcing protective laws for historic buildings, mobilizing more than 100,000 activists. The Facebook page attracted more than 9,380 fans, with a weekly total reach of 13,064. On Instagram, the campaign attracted 907 followers and 2,950 likes.
Each month we select a client’s “Burning Question” and solicit answers from other clients and our senior staff. Something on your mind? Drop us a line at email@example.com and tell us about it.
Fatal Frame III reemerges today on PSN: http://t.co/N5MYlD6C59 Series director reveals his real-life, haunting inspirations
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) October 1, 2013
Gasp! It's the attack of the 50-foot ancient Kryptonian robot! Read Justice League Beyond 2.0 (2013-) #4 here: http://t.co/l44t6gBi7o
— DC Comics (@DCComics) September 30, 2013
Do you know how much elephants eat in one day? Learn the answer and more in this week’s Wildlife Wednesday story: http://t.co/YciVPCykxZ
— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) September 26, 2013
— NetApp (@NetApp) September 26, 2013
But don’t overdo it. For many readers, it wears thin fast.
Busy week on PlayStation.Blog! Catch up on all the news with this week's Recap: http://t.co/ia7qaCLMiB What were your highlights?
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) September 29, 2013
For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.
Our distributed team best practices came from Rebeca Mueller and Jennifer Laker in Winter Haven and Mike Manuel in Sunnyvale. Nadine Abdel Khalek in Dubai contributed our case study on the Dewar’s Worth Doing campaign, and Mary Gaulke in Winter Haven brought us pointers for effective tweets. Chad Hyett in New York, Chris Thilk in Chicago, and Helen Nowicka in Washington, D.C., contributed stories and insights for the Social Networking Stats, Advertising Trends, and Noteworthy News sections, and Amanda Wu provided the latest stats. Fabian Schütze took the Spotlight hot seat, and Josh Hallett provided the photos for our cover and welcome page.
Thanks to Jennifer Laker, John Ciacia, Peter Schiebel, Jeremy Harrington, and Sean O’Shaughnessy from the Platforms team for providing design and development support, and to Mary Gaulke, Josh Hallett, Dave Coustan, and Tom Harris for editorial oversight and proofing.
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