Anne's Office

Workflow Behind The Scenes

Workflow Behind The Scenes

For some of us the remote working landscape is our comfort zone and we’ve been here for some time now. At Suits&Sneakers, we’re a vast network of remote workers who sometimes come and sit in a client’s or agency’s office too. The thing we’ve learned is how to make the best of both. I thought I’d share some of our tools and techniques to help others in this transition. I’m known for being one of these people who gets a lot done and the workspace and technology is key to this.

Real Time Virtual Working Sessions

Truthfully, these real time virtual working sessions are some of my favourite parts of my job. This is one of the most effective ways of getting things done and to retain a collaborative spirit in a virtual world. Not only that – we get stuff done. Good stuff.

This works for longer sessions of 1 to 3 hours where a certain set of outcomes is the ultimate goal. It could be to produce a strategy presentation, a creative outcome like a website build or multiple creative assets. It can be working with clients or working with other creative people too.

We sit on a video conference for the entire time together. There are moments of decision making, idea generation, reviewing reference materials, and implementing that into the creation of assets before your eyes – just as if we were sitting next to each other in an office on two computers side by side.

To make this work you need to be okay with being vulnerable most of all. To fumble for the right file, the right idea, to try something that fails in front of someone else, to be rejected too. We also need to be very comfortable with our collaborator enough that silence is okay too.

These sessions work best when you are not trying to emulate a real life working session but really embrace the technology and the fact you can keep doing your own work throughout and ask for ideas or input only when it is needed. Both working in a non-linear fashion is fluid and effective.

Multi-tasking and working with two computer screens also allows for faster workflow with one rendering while the other initiates the next step in the process to get started too. Here’s my little set up (a bit of a cockpit!). You can see I have the long term vision on one side but the immediate ideas that come up for the mid term start to form a strategy with physical sticky notes in the space too. In another corner I have a white board for planning out keynotes or blogs – the old fashioned kind with removable markers too.

Technology At The Centre:

Video conferencing – I don’t think it matters too much which platform you use but the art is in getting really savvy with the one you have. Zoom is the most common platform I see people using and the simplest to get around (despite the weekly updates that change something about the way we work as the company grows into the market demands at warp speed). I tend to begin with using the whiteboard feature to flesh out a framework and to come to a roll out plan of some sort (but it can be a bit fussy and doesn’t work as easily as PowerPoint sometimes). We then share this through the chat function for each of us to reference and to file away. We upload and share documents, designs, photographs/images and video content through the chat box and find it faster and less confusing than email. Don’t be afraid of being a bit messy! If you set your preferences to save a copy of the Chat at the end of the session all the assets and the text will save in its own folder at the end of the session too.

(Special thanks to Cullaborate for sharing our last whiteboard session!)

Project Management:

I use Monday.com as I love the way it combines the work in progress in a linear fashion, grouped by categories, and with the ability to brief people, send messages, track feedback, attach key working documents, assign people, set dates and flag status. Each client has their own board and we share the status of the projects with them in full transparency too. The system is customisable – my favourite layout is bring the classic ad agency Work In Progress document style of working with a vertical list of projects and horizontal reference of status – the classic way. Other boards are too fluid and you can’t easily keep track of the overall project in my experience.

Collaboration Boards:

Planning and pulling a strategy together might begin on a basic whiteboard but once it starts to get more fluid and needing to be rubbed out and moved around, switching to a collaborative system like Miro is more appropriate. Here the combination of mindmaps, sketches, sticky notes and reference images can be placed, moved and rejected easily with an open scale for the workspace.

If you need to pull together a list of things to do and to shuffle the tasks around together to prioritise some of my network prefer a Trello board and so I go with the flow there. Trello is good for the smaller tasks and drilling into minute detail. For me it is a bit of a double up to my main project management system Monday.com but it is one I don’t fight too hard to resist if that’s their comfort zone. The way we are working defines how the boards are set up and it is flexible enough to shuffle around and create new ones in an agile way (Monday.com does all this too). Colour coding is a quick way to see the status or flag the urgent things. Images and assets can be loaded and the thumbnail visual makes it easy to see which is which task too. Working with multiple browser tabs open and even two separate windows, one on each screen keeps things moving fast too.

Multiple devices:

Working on multiple devices allows workflow and references to keep coming without having to stop the flow on the main workspace. I take photos with my mobile or source web pages on my iPad and airdrop to the main computer – really often (even as I type this).

I take notes on an iPad pro alongside the main workspace if both screens are being used, or I use TextEdit to keep meeting notes as I think of things and then move the content later on or file the note in a project folder (on the server in neatly organised folders of course! When you multi-task this much you need a very tidy system to find things fast).

Offline Meets Online:

My world is not all virtual and to be effective I also run other paper based systems too. I have a paper ‘To Do’ list that I pick out the crucial things for the day that need to be done. I might replace this through the day if it gets messy (and it does) or if I get through everything and need to plan the next day.

One of my favourite things is the Full Focus Planner (thanks to @Leah Akoka – HR guru who introduced me to this). This planner is great for setting the longer term goals and fully immersing in them and getting things done for the long term with full accountability to yourself. There is something really lovely about a quality book, to feel the pages under your hand and to sit in peace and plan the future. This book is pretty clever and does allow for daily tasks and meeting notes which I used for the first 6 months but my task list is far too big for this and meeting notes never fit, so those couple of things now happen online. I also felt that the daily top things to do needed to be more fluid and disposable rather than in a fancy book so I use the tear sheet format of my own custom daily task planner which keeps me the most effective of everything I use. Feel free to download this for your own use!

Know Your Downfalls:

So, yes, I get a lot done and can be very efficient but there are a few things I have to watch out for an put systems in place to stop these little bugs of mine that get in the way of my own efficiency. If we know our limits and problems then we’re better able to manage them. Firstly my computer has a big bug from @Adobe with Creative Cloud hijacking the computer and slowing it down. No amount of support help is currently working and the best way to keep working is to get rid of Creative Cloud any chance I can. Painful to say the least given it is one of my key tools of working. Until they fix a bug in the code Creative Cloud will not be my friend.

Secondly the funny little habit that gets on top of me at times is the information and ideas that don’t yet have a home if they come up when I’m in the middle of intense things. I have to pile them up and spend an hour at times to put them in the right home. It sort of works but the mess can bother me – not a fan of too much clutter. Yes, I do have sticky note tech online but this is a super-user in overflow. I do the same with screen grabs collecting up on my desktop too and the rubbish can get mixed in with the good stuff. I have a folder for desktop rubbish now so I can split them out…gets a bit messy sometimes! There’s method in it – I still capture ideas and also good people to add to my roster so I don’t lose them later on. I capture screen grabs of great software and subscriptions for me, clients or friends too this way.

I realise this is a warts and all under the hood look at how I work. Thanks to @Hao Nugyen for inspiring the deeper dive after his interview on @Balance The Grind I’ve had a lot of feedback talking about my funny little world organizing people in creative and strategic roles across the globe – and remaining sane (just ;).

Anne Miles is Managing Director of Suits&Sneakers, a collective of some of the world’s best marketing and advertising talent (the suits and the sneakers). Anne has been a project manager and creative buyer for decades and disrupting the way the marketing industry works.