Early in my career I moved to the Netherlands to establish a regional product creation team. Working in a regional or remote office was one of the most valuable experiences in my professional career. It taught me lessons about creative process, team development and communications. Here’s how working at a regional office can change your perspective, boost your skills and offer experiences beyond headquarters.
What we’ll cover:
- Establish new working methods and processes
- Develop communication and relationship-building skills
- Widen your business understanding
- Let’s summarise
For this discussion, we should first define regional or remote offices versus remote teams. Why is this important? Brands and businesses have different expectations and motivations for a regional or remote office versus a remote team.
Regional offices have team members that meet daily or weekly in a shared office. While remote teams include team members in different locations, where face-to-face contact is optional or infrequent. Regional or remote offices are usually created to serve a specific market and contribute market-specific insights to the greater organisation. In a sense, they are in-company companies, or even start-ups if newer to the organisation.
Understanding of regional or remote offices varies within an organisation. Some assume a regional office is a smaller, mini clone of their headquarters (HQ) - just in a different time zone or location. This is never the case. It is way more subtle and complex than that. If a brand, business or stakeholder never worked with or in a remote team, they probably don’t understand the joys, nuances and challenges of working in a regional or remote office.
Establish new working methods and processes
Regional offices create their own working culture and processes - it’s normal. This stems from three conditions. First, regional offices usually consist of smaller teams, or limited functionalities. Second, the business needs in that region differ from HQ. Thirdly, they are away from HQ’s day-to-day interactions. This means their working culture will inevitably evolve.
Before starting a remote European product team for Converse, I worked at HQ for years. My knowledge of the usual HQ process was ingrained, yet it did not work within our regional office. A smaller team meant more responsibility and self-reliance. As we did not have specialty functionalities, each team member had to pick-up new skills to work effectively. I became a customer expert, while our developers became materials know-it-alls. Additionally, with the limited team members, we had to create tools to do our work more efficiently.
In HQ, this would be unnecessary. Most functions would stay within their ‘swim lines’ than expanding into other disciplines. Developing new methods and tools because you have to versus because you want to is a tremendous opportunity. In my case, it led to pivoting my career from designer to strategist.
Develop communication and relationship-building skills
The most difficult and underrated issue about working for a regional or remote office is establishing trust with HQ. This is misunderstood from both sides, as most stakeholders deny this out of wishful thinking and professional politeness. Assuming HQ team members will understand your perspective immediately will only create frustration. It is necessary to establish an underlying foundation of trust with HQ team members and stakeholders. This takes lots and lots of time, and should be treated as your second job.
When working in a remote office, a breadth of relationships is necessary. As an introvert by nature, this was hard at first, but well worth the long-term benefits of trust and professional companionship. Whenever I visited HQ for work, 90% of time was dedicated to both informal and formal meetings with anyone who was up for it. This is because having a horizontal network alleviates the feeling that you are forgotten, and helps to decipher how the organization is feeling about your office or team. I had catch-up calls with my superior and/or team function, as well as team members worldwide.
Widen your business understanding
When working at a regional office, you are much more aware of business growth and development. This is because you are responsible for a certain target, and considering the smaller team, a good chunk of that success is on your shoulders. If you are interested in better understanding your impact on a company’s growth, then a regional office is a good place to be.
When starting off as a designer, creativity and execution were my primary concerns. While working in a regional office, my perspective widened. I had more access to weekly and monthly business numbers versus quarter reports. With the office being much smaller and everyone more familiar with each other, I could learn from sales and merchandising from casual conversations. From this access and awareness, I became a more strategic designer, backing up my design decisions with business data.
- Regional and remote office differ from remote teams
- Regional offices create their own working culture and processes due to circumstance
- Developing new methods and tools because you have to is a tremendous opportunity
- When working in a remote office, a breadth of relationships is necessary
- You are much more aware of business growth and your individual impact