At Made by Many we believe in working extremely closely with our clients. So closely that our NYC studio regularly sends teams to work from within our client’s offices. The last few months I’ve worked from two different client offices. For the past two projects my morning commute involved skipping my normal subway stop and the Made By Many office to head straight to the client’s office. With my changing routine I found it was a slippery slope to being completely disconnected from our studio culture.
These are some tips I’ve found over the last 2 months to maintain a connection with HQ while working embedded.
Slack is your lifeline
There are tons of pro Slack articles out there right now, so I’ll save the details. The key take away is having a direct link to your co-workers and company keeps you in-sync with day to day studio life. You remain on the inside of inside jokes, you chime in with your weekend plans, and you know what new projects are in the works. All of this stuff is important and always changing. The mundane details are as vital as the big announcements. In MxM NYC alot can change in a week or two. Not being physically present shouldn’t mean you’re out of the loop.
Find a routine you can maintain
Culture is born out of routines. If something happens regularly you grow to expect it and slowly it becomes a part of a culture. I missed key points in my regular work routine after being away at a clients. Things like the team walk to lunch where we talk about everything but work. But I learned to replicate that routine with my embedded co-workers and introduce it to my clients. Even the clients I didn’t work directly with were as curious about who we were are as we where about them. Ask them what the best food is nearby and invite them to come with. You’ll build up a better relationship with them and reduce the new person barrier.
Find a routine that doesn’t include the client
Sometimes you need to escape. I missed our studios semi-regular late afternoon coffee runs. Our embedded team made a point that every day around 3 we’d go out for a cappuccino. Of course we’d offer to pick up something for our clients, but we made a point to go out alone. This let us vent about the day, review the day’s progress, and plan process changes to adapt to a client’s changing needs. Had we been working at HQ this would be a small break out meeting at our desks. Working embedded means we need to get away sometimes.
Don’t filter yourself because the client is around
This takes some getting used to. We work super close without clients which means we treat them just like another member of the team. However there is still a certain level respect because they are the client, meaning we need to maintain a professional opinion within vicinity. Working embedded means this attitude needs to change a little. We discover, iterate, and stumble through problems along side them everyday. There are fewer moments to form a polished point of view. Making the client an equal part of the team becomes even more important. Whiteboard along side them, make mistakes in-front of them, disagree with them, just like you would a teammate. An important relationship shift for me came when I started assigning our client tasks. The same way I’d ask a teammate to pull together something or get back to me with an idea, I did the same with the client. Even more than before the problems and solutions were something we were tackling together.
Go home once a week
Going back to the home studio once a week to stay connected to everyone I like working with was vital for me. Most of my co-workers would wait until I was around to ask non-time sensitive questions. I can’t underestimate the value of being physically available. Sitting at my desk and hearing the conversations happening around the studio syncs me back in with what’s been happening since I was gone. It’s fastest way to upload to everyone about my projects and get up to speed with what the entire studio had been doing.
Working embedded brings you closer to your client. It gives you a direct feed to the problems they have hired you to help solve, and reduces the lag time for answers or approvals to almost zero. It’s a great way to move through problems at a staggeringly fast pace. Being embedded offers the opportunity to reflect on your own company culture while being exposed to new ways of working as a team. These tips helped me remain connected to the larger company while benefiting from working embedded. It’s a delicate balance to remain connected while remote, and to stay motivated and productive away from the rest of the studio.