Mike Furukawa // September 28 2017
The Office is where …
Being embedded as a design resource into a large company changes how you might act or react to the client. It also changes how one addresses who you are in a company that you don’t have daily contact with. That’s the situation I was working in as a resource for our client on site, for about two plus years, and then returning back into the fold of our company. The daily work requests did not go thru a chain of command that might be in place within the confines of a typical design agency world. The filters between client and agency were not in place, nor would the pace of the environment allow for any blockers. You bent with the wind, creaking perhaps in the wind, but always trying to keep rooted in what you are and more importantly who you actually worked for. It was not always an easy road. Weeks might go by before something from the home office would tie you back into the flow of the main company and not being absorbed by the client’s environment, and boy did the client want to absorb you into their mentality. But how do you keep rooted? What tools are there that work? And how will the client react to these deliberate defenses that make you a Digitalist rather than “them”.
It’s not actually all that dramatic nor was there drama involved. But I did need to know who and what limits I was willing to keep up, and inform the client of my standing points early on in the relationship. One thing that happens as being a deeply embedded resource is that the client conveniently forgets that you are not really part of the company and so they assume all those boundaries that might exist in a typical design and client relationship are void. You need to reset those boundaries and occasionally they need to run into them. Not harshly, but they do need to know that there are boundaries. It’s easy to let it slide by and agree with them to do one thing more, beyond the framework of a client / resource relationship, but it’s when they then expect that all the time cause as an “employee” that is what they expect to be done is where the danger lies. It’s only when you react back with language you’d use as a service provider, that they are then reminded you are not a hire of their company. It’s not a harsh rebuke to their request, but it’s a marker for them to know that they have reached a limitation to the relationship. No matter how friendly it might be, as a professional you need to know your own limitations and present them in a professional manner at all times.
Houston? Come in Houston …
So that’s all well and good “in the office” but where do you find the time to feel apart of the “actual office” and company you are apart of? That is really hard but is a very individual experience. If you are more like the person who just wants to listen and hear what is going on back in the office, then there is #Slack or company newsletters, generally any of the social media sources for your company. If they are public accessed channels or internal devices there is an involvement that needs to be done. Notification pop-ups of something going on in the channels helps you through the day to get into the flow of talking points. Perhaps they do most of the commenting in the mornings, then pay attention to the notifications in the mornings, or read them all up after-hours at home. I did a mix of just listening in, reading, or if I just wanted to put in something to start a conversation to get to know my fellow peers. But all of these are a lot more convenient than just email, and especially if you don’t know anyone in particular to begin with in any size of a company. I knew maybe three people at first; the person who interviewed me, a person who just got hired on at the same time, and my one contact at the location site that introduced me to the staff on my first week as a member of the team. Talk about a thin list of names, that was me. Alone mostly in the jungle. Luckily the people already there had questions for me and I had plenty to ask them, and the client too had their list of questions to get to know who and what I could do, so just swimming hard was the first four months.
Once all that was settled in you just need to know that the client site is not the entire world. You need to build in the time to go outside the norm and find a way to connect to your actual peers. Easily said but hard to do. What with client demands, just getting the nerve to break the ice, and sometimes the physical distance to get to the office is a difficult transition. I made it one of my tools to cope with differentiating myself from the work with the client, and my existence as a Digitalist. It physically reminds the client you need to keep the channels of communications going in spite of the absence that day. So that means keeping email up, IMing, or video chats going if needed. But it subtly suggest some planning on both ends need to occur. Planning for yourself to get to the actual office, and planning for them so that they don’t just waste the time on the call, chat, or email that needs to be crafted and sent. It was much further for myself to come into our offices but it gave me a tool to remind the client to plan a little each week if they knew I was going to be not on-site all the time.
So where is the office?
The office is where I sit down and I have my tools to work. That means it can be at the site, at home, in a coffee house with wifi, in the actual office sitting at the desk, or at the floating work areas in our office on wifi. It doesn’t matter where, I just need to keep in my head that I am working for the company that actually hired me. The physical location, helpful at times to remind you of the work to do, is not so important as just being able to cope with the best tools you have on hand. Since my workstation always travelled with me, I never left it at the client site, it was another reminder that I am not tethered to that location. I am “the office” wherever I start setting up. Honestly, I do like a spot that I can call home, but it doesn’t stop me from moving around. I just have to make sure I have what I need, and that I can reach everything needed.
This mentality also helps when your team is off in a different time zone or country. You make allowances for the time differences, you shuffle around and somehow connect with your teammates on chat, email, #Slack, or whatever needed to get the point across. If you are nutty, you wake up at their normal business hours and have a few days talking over the project with them. Maybe set up an early call or evening call. If you make the effort to just try, they’ll typically make an effort to be there for you too cause they know you are in a tough spot. Human beings can generally be disappointing, but I do assume my co-workers are extraordinary individuals so they’ll be better than normal. I haven’t been disappointed with the “try” from anyone I’ve worked with, so I’ll just blithely keep doing it this way. There is a “trust issue” of course, and a lot of that trust is built up. If you try, you could fail. But if you don’t try something, you can never know if you would fail. Optimistic perhaps, naive, or too simple a choice, that can all be true, but where is the adventure in curling up in a safe ball? Try.