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Managing a remote creative team

The importance of collaboration and communication in a remote design team.

Portrait photo of Will Pointer with a proud expressionAt Quadmark, I lead a remote team of 16 graphic designers and illustrators based in the UK, Singapore and New York. Prior to joining Quadmark, I worked for various design agencies in the UK, where collaboration was easy, as I was with my team in the studio every day. All I had to do was call over my colleague a few desks away to get them to come and take a look at a design or to brainstorm ideas for a project. 

The pandemic has meant that many of the newest and youngest recruits in my team have never experienced a design studio atmosphere or a large office environment. Quickly integrating them into the wider team environment and organizing regular check-ins has helped to prevent some of the isolation that can come from working remotely. As a manager, projecting positivity and enthusiasm is so important, especially when you’re working with young designers—positive feedback paired with constructive criticism allows them to grow in their confidence and skills. 

Managing a design team across three time zones was certainly a bit of a challenge at first,  but creating a culture of communication and collaboration has made a huge difference to the way that we work as a global team. Simple things like two team calls per day and group chats enable us to exchange ideas and send updates throughout the day. I do sometimes feel like I spend a fair amount of time messaging instead of doing design work! But at the end of the day, we are human beings that are wired to socialize. While communicating online may not be as natural or as spontaneous as it is in the office, it also creates room for fun, non-work chat. 

As the team leader, I’ve spent a lot of time creating, trialing and amending different workflows and processes to ensure that every designer—whether a new recruit, a freelancer or a seasoned member of the team—is set up for success, wherever they are in the world.

To help me explore how we collaborate across the globe, I asked Lewis in the UK, Kit in Singapore and Mark in New York to offer their perspective on working in a remote design team. 

Lewis triumphantly standing on a bridge holding two thumbs up and smiling after long exercise sessionLewis, UK 

I’m thankful to have been onboarded into the team while still being able to go into the office. Having face-to-face interactions helped me grow in confidence very quickly, and the fear of asking a ‘stupid’ question or too many questions was something I soon overcame. I think that remote working can exacerbate those feelings—being in a different part of the country or world can sometimes feel isolating—but not wanting to disturb someone because they might be ‘too busy’ is just not the case at Quadmark. Being able to hop on a quick video call, as well as regular check-ins, really helped reduce the feeling of isolation which can come from remote working.

As a design studio I think we excel in making sure everyone on the team is happy with their workload. We talk via direct messages with other members of the team or within our group chats throughout the day, and I believe this is important to make sure we are all content and not suffering from burn out. 

Having been fortunate enough to experience both working in an office and from the desk in my bedroom, I will say there are definitely benefits to both. Remote working has helped me create a better work/life balance—having more free time before and after work means I get to do more of the stuff I love. I think that setting and achieving your goals outside of work is important in helping you perform better within it. 

As the world slowly re-opens, I hope to see a future where balancing both ways of working becomes the norm.

Kit cheekily smiling at the camera

Kit, Singapore 

When I first joined the global design team last year (having previously worked exclusively for the Singapore office) I sometimes faced the challenge of needing more information from the project lead, who was working in a different time zone. I once found myself having to design blindly because the project lead was not available to answer my questions. I ended up missing my deadline and the design outcome was misaligned with the project brief. 

However, we quickly took steps as a team to understand the issue so we could grow as a global team. We implemented various measures like ensuring ‘early briefs’ so designers have time to digest and ask questions, hiring a Traffic Manager to ensure everything is there for us before a design job starts and setting up virtual briefings to ensure the right context is given. Our QM Masterclasses—virtual workshops—have also helped us to learn from different business areas so that we can collaborate better with other teams. 

Our design process is constantly evolving and changing to suit the remote environment. Design is a complicated process—you cannot draw a character without understanding how it is going to be used in a scene, and you cannot create a scene without understanding the entire project. Due to all the tweaks we’ve made over the years of being remote, we now have better briefs before a design job starts. I am super blessed to work with colleagues who are always listening, empowering us to do what's best for the team.

Mark, New York Mark wearing an NYC jersey and confidently smiling in a relaxed posture

Working from home in NYC surely has its pros and cons. Mostly, I'm still doing the same job and am able to reach the same outcome creatively at home as I would be in an office setting. However, the collaboration and camaraderie associated with everyone being in the same room can make the work day feel a little shorter.

For me, my home office is my bedroom in a tiny apartment on a busy street in the Upper East Side. It is definitely a tight workspace and can sometimes feel cramped. I find it important to make sure I get some fresh air each day, even if the weather isn't so great, because it gets me out of my bedroom and into the outside world. Despite this, the best thing about being remote is no commute. I've had hard commutes for most of my previous roles but now I get about 2 hours of my day back for leisure. 

There are absolutely benefits to working in a global team. I think it is so cool to meet all of these people from all over the world and be discussing the same projects. We all work in completely different environments and live in different parts of the world but are still focused on the same company/clients/projects. I think it has made me feel like design is a lot larger geographically than I once thought it was. Back in my early college days I found describing graphic design to my parents' generation a bit difficult. They could never really understand the process of it, and what it actually takes. Only that it was computers and art mashed together. Throughout the years I've realized how relevant it is in every business and how necessary it is on a global scale.

I am immensely proud of what my team creates on a daily basis as a global remote team. Having the right people around you is key, especially when you’re working remotely. I learn from my team and hopefully they learn from me! Talent is not enough when you’re working as a creative—soft skills like compassion and conscientiousness, an open communication style and a willingness to collaborate are the things I look at when growing the team.


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