Those of us who teamlance are used to the ebb and flow of workflow and projects. Project development can be confusing with the process of introductions  and sometimes disappearance of fellow teamlancers as each project progresses. But one of the more interesting aspects of teamlancing is working with teamlancers who live and work far away.

Virtual meetings around the clock

Last week, I was on a Zoom conference call with a team of professionals from places around the world I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce. It took days of back and forth to pull all details together until we finally gathered to talk business and share status reports. It was a great strategy session despite spotty Wi-Fi connections, but the energy felt somehow off.

None of us shared a time zone, some of us were on the call early in the morning, some of us had popped in after a day of work, while others were still in their pajamas. Pro tip: don’t ever show up to a team meeting from bed and in your jammies. We’ll all just end up talking about you afterward. While we were all eager to connect and update each other, the energy levels differed depending on where we were in our respective workdays.

While we virtually inhabit the same workspace at times, most of us are also working on additional projects with other clients. So how can we efficiently work together and keep projects flowing? Once you’ve done that, how do you determine who’s the slacker or the person always reminding everyone else about deadlines?

Pay attention to your freelancers and their needs

I recently had a conversation on this topic with Sam Neeser who just so happens to be the Lead Talent Manager here at ClearVoice. Of course, when I say here at ClearVoice, I mean this virtual talent collective and teamlancing environment which connected Sam and me. During our conversation, Neeser explained how Clearvoice ostensibly began as a content creation environment, there’s more than simply pulling together great content and content creators. Creating a team is the focus for Neeser, “We’re galvanizing the teams to work together to on creating the best content” Nesser said. Which also means an added layer of support.

Along with client demand for content creators and content creation, came the need for fine-tuning the entire process. Neeser said, before adding that Clearvoice’s freelance network was a major appeal to existing and potential clients.  Neeser felt more could be done so his role was created. “My role came from our need,” he said. “We needed to pay attention to these freelancers and grow the network to match client demand.”

Two ways to create a team (and not just people working on the same project):

  1. Consider a call before the call. One awkward aspect of virtual teamlancing is suddenly facing your team members while you’re simultaneously supposed to be impressing your client. If budget and timing allow for it, consider setting up a pre-game call allowing you to connect with fellow teammates to run through everything the client needs and what might be covered in the call.
  2. Pay attention to client needs. If you only have two writers on staff when your client needs everything from blog posts to ghost-written editorials, you may end up overworking staff or producing sub-par work. Try to meet with your client to understand their future needs for the next quarter and so on. Then build your staff as needed, project-by-project. While everyone may not end up working together, there’s a familiarity created that keeps projects flowing in the future.

Follow the (team) leader

As a long-time freelance writer, I thought I had a clear idea of how the entire content creating process goes, especially when a team is involved. I paid close attention to Neeser’s explanation of how he searches for people who can manage and lead each project or team. “We need great team leaders, great team managers who can help us establish a loyal base and help us create those loyal relationships in a number of ways,” Neeser said. Even more interesting, is how the leader or producer is first paired with a client, and then the search extends to writers. Understanding this reframed what I thought I knew about larger content projects.

Sometimes you’re a team leader and other times you’re part of the team

Something to keep in mind when you are teamlancing a project is getting used to the idea of role shifting. At various times in any project and most especially in long-term engagements, you may find yourself taking on unexpected responsibilities to meet the needs of the client. G.G. Benitez is the CEO of GG Benitez PR. She’s the top banana at a PR firm specializing in gaining top-tier media placements for her clients, many of whom are in the beauty and wellness space. In addition to running an agency, Benitez is also a teamlancer on a new product launch. During the pandemic, she and three colleagues joined forces to create Aloisia Beauty, a skincare line specializing in clean beauty products inspired by Korean beauty principles. But for Benitez, keeping track of work hours or finding time to connect with her fellow team members is imprecise at best.

In some teams, a schedule is more elastic

Over the past year, many of us have stopped being as obsessive about timing or schedules. A good thing when working with multiple global teams, teamlancers seem inclined to be forgiving of anyone late or not on top of their game. “During the pandemic, work has blurred into personal and the boundaries are not as clear as they used to be,” Benitez said. “With challenges, such as parents who are working around their kids’ Zoom classes, and Zoom burnout from daily computer meetings, to people feeling burnt out, in general, it has been a challenge to try to find what works for team members. I believe the best way to try to overcome this challenge is by openly asking what schedules work best for everyone you work with, and being open and willing to realize that this pandemic has thrown everyone off of the 9-5 standard.”

Not every team has the luxury of expanding its definition of deadlines, but if you’re feeling too time-crunched or overwhelmed, try asking for extensions or other ways to help you comfortably meet deadlines.

Ways to work well together with different schedules

  • Realize not everyone can attend every meeting. If you’re able to schedule the entire group for a meeting, that’s great. Keep in mind in-person meetings can have the same scheduling conflicts and you have to adjust accordingly.
  • Create micro-teams. Can you divide your larger team into micro-teams and meet only when necessary? In this way, you can ensure every element of a project is moving along.
  • Can you create rolling deadlines? Just because a client needs a project by a specific date, doesn’t mean all team members need to use it as a drop-dead date. If you’re the one setting deadlines, consider adjusting the deadlines depending on the location or schedule of each team member.

Everyone is on their own timeline and in their own time zone

During our conversation, Neeser said, “everyone is on their own timeline and their own time zone” it made me think. Back in the before time when many of us were crowded in cubicles or hunched over our laptops at coffee shops or shared workspaces, there was an illusion that we were all somehow working together. But that wasn’t the case then either, was it? And if you talk to freelancers now, there’s still the stress treadmill of trying to keep up the illusion of managing well when it’s so easy to become overwhelmed and overworked.

Pay attention to your network

I’ll admit to being a bit shortsighted when it comes to the teams I work with. Sure I have my favorites (looks meaningfully at the ClearVoice logo) but I also understand for all the fun or interesting conversations, a working relationship is about, well, work. While some stories might be more fun to research and others might be more of a challenge to write, they’re all part of my professional workflow. This is why some clients are fun and satisfying to work with, those clients create a better experience for those choosing to work with them.

Create your own valued team

Neeser said in order to create a seamless and strong content plan, you have to assemble a group of talent who knows they’re appreciated and they will create a better product in return. “The main thing is establishing that loyal network,” Neeser said. It’s true. When creating a teamlancing setup loyalty is key. It means people find themselves taking on more complicated assignments or agreeing to deadlines that suit you better than them. If you appreciate the people you’re working with beyond the paycheck, they’ll also find themselves working harder and better to ensure you and the client are happy with the results.

Neeser said he and his team have created almost a “red carpet experience for those getting work through us.” He strongly believes the one-and-done philosophy is a disservice to the agency. By creating an environment where a single project is a goal, you almost create a situation where someone might power through only to get paid.

Make the time differences manageable

  • Find someone in the same time zone. Maybe you don’t have the bandwidth to manage someone four timezones away, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t. Neeser said there’s an editor in Denmark who specifically works with European freelancers.
  • Or create your own universal time zone. A Dublin-based client of mine sets his work hours to the East Coast because that’s where most of his teamlancers are based. Is it awkward for him? Possibly. But it also means that the rest of us can schedule quick conversations without worrying that we’re interrupting his private time.