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Writing Collaboratively: IRL and Virtually

Summer and I have now worked together more than a decade — every bit of it with me in Nashville and her in Austin. To us, and to Megan and Lesley and many of our clients, sitting side by side is a wonderful luxury that we take advantage of as often as we can. But we’ve found very little work in our field that requires being in the same place with each other, day in and day out.

When we work with clients, we plan carefully to be in the same time and place when it counts, and to allow both our clients and the Creek Content staff personal flexibility the rest of the time.

All that means that we end up working as a team but from a distance a significant amount of the time. For many of us trained in some creative discipline, this requires learning new ways to work. I learned to write in the newsroom of the student paper at Vanderbilt, with the editor standing over my shoulder, or my standing over his, as we wrote and edited together. [OK, as he slashed my copy to bits. But oh, how I learned — so I do not complain.]

When I began a career in publishing, I can’t count how many hours I must have spent sitting at a designer’s side as he or she laid out a magazine page, talking through all the little decisions together, step by step.

Today, as we work together, we use several tools to stay in touch. I have to confess that email is first and foremost among them. As much as we all know it’s not always the most effective way to collaborate, it has the benefit of being the default platform for most people with whom we interact, including each other.

Summer and Megan and I are also huge on IM. Most of our conversations happen that way. I have actually been sad to see the fragmentation that Facebook, Twitter, texting and other platforms have created here; 6 or 7 years ago, IM was a viable platform for my connections in any realm of my life. Now, it is an intentional communication choice I make with my team. It is a great platform [in whatever application you like — AOL, Google, MS Communicator, Skype, Yammer, many others] for a team to use. I also really like group chat platforms like Campfire from 37 Signals. If you have a team that needs to communicate regularly with a group, these can be valuable.

One of the most important considerations is keeping track of work, files and progress in a mutual way. We use both Basecamp [primarily for task management and calendaring of tasks] and Google Drive [for file management and collaborative work spaces]. We’ve tried lots — LOTS — of other tools, but this is where we’ve landed for the moment.

How do you work collaboratively across a distance? What tools are essential for your team?

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