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6 Tips to Nail Long Distance Collaboration

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    So hey, you’re an artist. And you know another artist that you’d like to work with; it could be an online friend, a friend in another state or country, or even multiple ones. Maybe you’re working on a website, design project, graphic novel, a large illustration, or even a comic. Take careful note, because we’re going to share the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of working long distance for all types of creatives.

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    1. Find a partner.

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    If you’re interested enough in long-distance collaboration to be reading this, you probably already have someone in mind. But first, you have to ask yourself an uncomfortable question: Can I trust this person? After all, not only are your art and your vision very personal, but if you’re attempting to make this project a monetary success, can you trust your partner not to demand more than your share or claim your work as their own?

    Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing you can only confirm from personal experience, but when selecting a collaborator—whether it’s from your circle of friends or you’re hiring one—make sure to look at their history. This is easier if they’re a friend, since you can find other people that they’ve worked with and just ask them what this person is like. On the other hand, friends can also be tricky because it’s also easier to ignore red flags because you want to trust them.

    The next consideration is time: does your partner have other life obligations that might conflict with their schedule or workload? If so, do they really have the energy to deal with their day job, care for their family, etc. while still putting their best foot forward for the project?

    Once you’ve worked these things out, the next tip is...

    2. Choose a Goal

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    When working by yourself, it’s a lot easier to just mess around and improvise until a piece of art emerges. However, unless you’re lucky enough to have collaborators with a lot of free time who love being around you, chances are you won’t have that luxury when you’re working with others. So it really helps to have a vision, a plan to get there, and a set of goalposts so you and your collaborators know what progress looks like. It might also help everyone stay motivated through a long project if there’s some incentive for reaching certain milestones.

    But in order to speed up this progress you’ll need a schedule.

    3. Make a Schedule

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    Here’s another question you’ve probably thought about already: is this a one-time project or an ongoing one, like a series of articles or a web comic?

    This decision is crucial. Especially in the latter case, you’ll need to separate the workload in a consistent way that you can both agree on, and create a schedule that suits both your needs.

    A lot of this will depend on whether your deadlines are set by the client or self-imposed. If they are defined by the customer, it’s absolutely crucial that you figure out how to meet those deadlines consistently. If you and your partner define the deadlines, make sure to set realistic ones in the first place: although optimism is always a great asset, too much of it when setting due dates can ruin your project.

    4. Keep a Buffer

    No matter who’s setting your deadlines, once you have a client/audience and a schedule, you need to deliver on it. Unhappy clients can ruin your professional reputation, and even if you’re working on an unpaid passion project, unhappy fans can make you just as unhappy too.

    So try to stay a little bit ahead of schedule in your projects whenever possible. If this is a project that calls for regular submissions, that means you need a buffer. On one hand, you can work quicker, so it’s often easier to get more work done on the front end. But on the other, the more people you have working on a thing, the more likely one of them is to come down sick or be put out of commission in some way.

    5. Open a Reliable Communication Channel

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    First of all, it may help to establish contact guidelines. Unless you’re dedicated enough to be on-call 24/7, a Herculean task, you’ll want to have specific times for contact so that you can discuss progress and give feedback.

    So, what are the best ways to communicate? It depends on your needs, and each one comes with pros and cons.

    • Email is good for periodic check-in messages and sending important documents or announcements. However, it’s not very good for short-notice communication, and it can’t be your only method of getting in touch with your co-workers. You’ll need to supplement it with something else, like...

    • Text Chat, which is a happy middle between email and phone or video chat. It’s much less intrusive than the other two, and can be relegated safely to the background, letting you keep your focus on the task at hand. However, miscommunications via text chat will often be much more frequent and severe than either voice or email, due to the fact that it doesn’t have the nuances of voice but is usually composed much faster and more shoddily than email.

    • Audio or Video Chat are the best media to help bridge the gap caused by distance, and a video conference call is a good way to get everyone working simultaneously and on task for an hour or two. Video calls help us communicate effectively when something urgently needs to be done, but it’s only practical if you’re working in real-time. As you schedule your next video call bear two things in mind: that tools like Skype can consume a lot of memory and cause serious lag in other programs, and that long video chat sessions can be exhausting.

    6. Master the Tools of the Trade

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    Image by "Andy"

    We won’t spend much time on this section since, quite obviously, it all depends on what kind of work you’re doing. Most of the time, you’ll be using the same programs that you’d use when working alone. Besides, the cloud technology that you’ll be using to share things has become so ubiquitous that it hardly needs explaining anymore. Google Drive and Dropbox are the go-tos, and not without reason, although there are countless competitors, like Mega, OneDrive, Tresorit, and Box that are worth checking out.

    Similarly, for real-time collaborative writing, Google Docs is still the name of the game, but there are plenty of alternatives that are worth your time, like Buzzword, Zoho, and OpenGoo.

    Any other suggestions for creatives considering working long-distance? Personal experience doing it yourself? Additional apps or tools useful for collaborators? Leave us a comment and let us know.


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