With remote work and distributed teams becoming commonplace it only stands to reason that businesses and agencies could pursue remote clients. Typically a good client relationship is built around spending time together in the same room. Proximity to your clients has also meant you’ve never had to be particularly concerned about culture or language differences. However, now that remote work has become the norm, it has opened more businesses up to the idea of working with agency partners from different areas, countries and in some cases across continents.
While technology has facilitated this way of working, there are still some critical parts of the in-contact client relationship model that you need to bring into the virtual world to ensure nothing gets lost in the internet ether.
Rules of engagement
First and foremost, when you begin working with a client remotely it’s essential to have a full plan on how and where communication happens. Set up regular calls to discuss the progress of work and determine how information is shared and reviewed. Whichever communication channel you choose, it should be one that your client is happy using to avoid any potential complications or frustration. It is important for companies to listen to their clients and learn about their expectations so that you can then be responsive and create value for them. Streamlining communication is the most critical part of your remote relationship.
Human beings are intuitive creatures and rightly or wrongly we often make decisions about the people we meet within a few minutes of seeing them in the flesh. With remote work, you may never be in the same room as your new client and in some cases see them very intermittently over video call so you need to go about establishing trust in a completely different way. We recommend you implement the same methodology as you would with planning a project. Aside from ensuring communication rules and guidelines are clear, you also need to stipulate when your client can expect work from you and when they need to get back to you with their feedback. Importantly you also need to ensure that you ‘spend time together’ working out any kinks. Face time is important so make sure you try to ‘see’ your client at least once a week over a video call. Finally, get things done on time. This will make your clients feel like you’re reliable and if for any reason you’re going to miss a deadline communicate this as early as possible.
In some cases, you may be working across multiple time zones so it’s important to agree on times that both teams will be available to each other. Reasonably speaking you don’t need to be working the exact same 8 hours a day but it is important to ensure that your clients feel like you are available to them. This is why it’s important to agree on what your mutual in-office hours are upfront. There are two reasons for this. The first is that your clients will never feel like you’re unavailable, and the second allows you to set boundaries. No one wants to be working until 10 pm every evening because your clients are 8 hours away from you and you’ve never established proper working hours with them.
Adapt and be flexible
While it is important to establish ground rules, it’s equally as important to be willing to adapt if the ground rules aren’t working. How you work with in-person clients or even other remote clients may not work for your new client. So it’s important to be adaptable (within reason). Sometimes a remote relationship simply doesn’t make sense, it’s important to realise that you’re not a good fit as early as possible. You don’t want to establish 10 different ways of working with 10 different clients, it’ll just cause mayhem. However, you should be willing to work on your client’s preferred method of communication for example to make them feel more comfortable. Having said that you also need to be able to recognise limitations.
Access and security
Oftentimes a remote working relationship requires that your business may have unprecedented access to your client’s files and information, so it’s important to have proper security protocols in place. So prior to pursuing remote clients, have the right security infrastructure in place. This could include password-protected drives or using platforms like Last Pass so that sensitive information is protected and you don’t have your client’s passwords easily available for anyone to see and use.
Measures of success
In any business relationship or partnership there needs to be an agreement on KPIs, however, within the context of a remote work relationship it is important to set additional measures of success and they’re not necessarily about the success of your projects. In fact, these are more related to how successful you’ve been at developing a cohesive working relationship. KPIs you can include:
- How many times you had cameras-on meetings
- How frequently you communicated around a project
- How team members went about building relationships with each other
- How well everyone stuck to the ‘rules of engagement’
Measuring these kinds of elements will help you determine the health of your working relationship.
Remote client working relationships are different and do require a bit more care. You need to remain alert to how your clients are not only responding to your work output but also to your team in general. The biggest thing you want to avoid in a remote work relationship is an us vs them mentality. Even though you’re not seeing each other in person regularly you still need to function as a team. When you create clear and understandable guidelines for your working relationship you take out 90% of the frustration that can be created by not having an in-person relationship.