Working for a global company, I've had the privilege to work with colleagues across our offices around the world on multiple projects and initiatives. Through these opportunities I have been able to build my network within my company and establish diversity in the project work I was involved in. However, working across offices is not without its challenges, and those experiences proved incredibly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic when most of us in the AEC industry moved to one-person offices during quarantine.
Reflecting back, there are a few strategies that I've found to be most useful for cross-office work, and though they’re by no means groundbreaking ideas, they've helped me as check-in points and priorities to guide my work most efficiently.
Consider cultural differences
Obviously this is key to working with global colleagues, but even across regional offices, the culture can be quite different because offices often adopt the personalities of the cities where they're located. I've seen this manifest in the types of clothing people wear, the volume and bustle of the office, the tools and programs that are used for technical solutions, and the ways people are trained. Thinking about these differences and communicating effectively (spoiler alert for point two) from bottom up and top down can ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction.
- Communicate if a situation is confusing or you think you're misunderstanding a teammate because of your different working styles.
- Make sure everyone's on the same page for the programs and tools being used on the project and that the team is comfortable with the resources.
- Read the (virtual) room. Personality is a great thing in this industry and an important part of being on a team, but sometimes you have to consider everyone's position, relationships, and the task at hand.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
In my experience, this is both the most obvious and most underrated checkpoint for working with people outside of your own office. When most AEC organizations were forced to work from home during the pandemic, the level of communication skyrocketed to fill the gap of informal office run-ins, and the lessons learned from this heightened communication level should be kept in mind moving back into the workplace and working across offices. It's challenging to balance working across time zones, different schedules, and office cultures. Setting clear expectations with all the members of your teams can help.
- Just like you set up a communication plan for the overall OAC and design team, set one up for your internal team. Are calendars up to date? Are you talking on Slack, Teams, Trello, email, etc.? Have you determined if it’s the discipline lead or the project manager who is responsible for technical coordination?
- Quality over quantity. Just because you don't physically see each other frequently doesn't mean you should fill up someone's entire schedule with meetings to check in. Meetings, emails, calls, and pings should have a purpose.
- Make sure the right people are in the room for resourcing. Connecting back to both communication and office cultures, different offices may approach and disseminate resourcing differently. Clarify any questions you have as well as the process for conveying needed hours at the start of a project to help avoid overcooking staff.
Getting to know people virtually is hard, and often when working across offices, you may not have a preexisting relationship with someone before you're suddenly on the same team. When this is the case, I find it's worth taking the time to get to know those new people. It doesn't need to be a person's life story, but taking a few minutes to discuss something other than work can often go a long way to build trust. Also, you never know when that developed relationship may be helpful on another project or in your career.
- Video call > call > quick message > email. This is a personal hierarchy, but if I'm trying to connect with someone, I find it easier to build a relationship and keep the common goal in mind when I can see the person’s facial expressions and hear the inflections in their voice.
- Talk beyond the project. It doesn't need to be personal; even finding out how the other projects someone has on their plate are going can help remind us that this job is almost always a juggling act.
Taygra Longstaff is a Structural Engineer in Arup’s Boston office where she serves as an engineer and multi-disciplinary deputy project manager for a diverse range of projects across industry markets. Over her four and a half years with the firm she has worked on new construction and structural renovation projects and is experienced in steel, reinforced concrete, and timber design. Taygra leverages understanding of the project process and AEC disciplines to provide multi-disciplinary project management support on jobs of varying size and scope to provide quality project deliverables.
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