Staying connected while remote. 4 tips for success with a distributed team from local creative agency, Cosmic
Local creative agency, Cosmic, successfully transitioned from working in person to growing into a continent-spanning distributed team. They share four guiding principles aimed at helping other companies navigate the change.
Founded in 2010, Cosmic is a Santa Cruz-based social impact creative agency. They help nonprofits, charitable foundations, and social enterprises raise their digital game through design and messaging that cuts through the noise.
A team of nine people who used to work around a single large ‘floating’ table in their downtown Santa Cruz studio, Cosmic transitioned from working in person to working remotely early in the pandemic. Because they have long had clients both within Santa Cruz County and across the US, they were already familiar with virtual meetings and other technology that supports a distributed team.
People want to be part of a team that values more than just bodies in seats. And although there are elements of working in person we miss, there are also many benefits to a distributed team that have allowed us to grow as a firm and individuals.
— Eric Ressler, Founder & Creative Director, Cosmic
Since going remote, Cosmic has fully embraced the distributed team model. They added employees in Connecticut, New York, and Texas, and one team member relocated to Washington state. Through it all they delivered a variety of successful projects, landed new clients across the nation, and built camaraderie - even though many of them have never met in person.
If you’re a company that’s new to having remote employees, the tips below might help you navigate these unfamiliar waters and re-think your approach to operating in today’s digital-first era.
1. Celebrate wins together often – and do it with bells on.
Cosmic has a tradition of gathering and ringing an old-fashioned hotel desk bell whenever a new client website or brand launches. They gather to highlight good work and also to share the project with team members who weren’t involved.
That tradition still continues, and they’re able to include their clients in the celebration. The Cosmic team feels it’s important for everyone to take part, because it helps the studio remain cohesive — even working across multiple time zones.
2. Make meetings short, sweet, but frequent.
Whether they’re meeting via Zoom in their daily morning team sync-ups or pushing their creative limits in their weekly sprints with clients, regular meetings give them the chance to transcend time zones and have “face time” with colleagues and partners.
They also use audio only on Discord to collaborate. This approach lets them work more organically without the added stress of being on camera all the time, or being glued to the same seat all day. It’s kind of like looking over someone’s shoulder at their screen.
Keeping meetings short, light-hearted, and off-camera helps prevent Zoom fatigue while still making important connections with each other and producing their best work.
3. Set norms for digital collaboration.
The Cosmic team comes together in regular check-ins throughout the week. These are pre-scheduled, but as a creative agency, they know that things can change due to client feedback or when new elements get added unexpectedly. The schedule allows for flexibility and having digital communication tools handy helps everyone adjust as needed.
While it can be challenging to navigate a suite of new tools and project management structures, the Cosmic team has found that a short, clear onboarding session with clients helps set expectations for how they’ll be working together throughout a project.
Internally, the entire Cosmic team sits down for a retrospective of the work at the close of each project. It’s a chance for everyone to bond around the agency’s mission to help social impact organizations move humanity forward.
4. Reevaluate your audience — it’s bigger than it used to be.
Along with the local climate justice activists and indigenous rights advocates they work with, Cosmic’s audience beyond Santa Cruz has continued to grow since going distributed. While they’ve long had clients and followers across the US, this shift has set them up to practice what they preach — extending their reach through the power of digital media.
As a result, Cosmic doubled down on the brand awareness tactics they use to win in the attention economy. They publish thoughtful and insightful articles and whitepapers, discuss their insights and experiences on podcasts, and use targeted digital advertising across the country. You may have even heard their name due to their ongoing sponsorship of local NPR station KAZU.
This approach is the same strategy that they teach their clients to use to find new donors and supporters outside of their geographic constraints, and to move their mission forward.
Whether you’ve already adopted a distributed model or are weighing the pros and cons, these guiding principles can help you maintain a strong culture and create a bigger impact for the issues you care about most.
Cosmic is a Santa Cruz-based social impact creative agency. We empower social impact organizations to catalyze real world change by helping them nail their impact story, build brand awareness, and inspire action. We believe that thoughtfully designed brand experiences can help create a more just and equitable world.
We believe that social impact organizations must learn to think and act like digital media companies rather than pre-information-era charities. The world has changed and the social impact sector needs to keep up in order to remain relevant and effective. We work with leaders at nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprises who understand that capturing and sustaining attention in our complex, global culture is necessary to accomplishing their mission.
Visit the Cosmic website or experience our manifesto to learn more.