“We actually look forward to this meeting”—how to improve virtual collaboration

We have a standing weekly online meeting with a large biotech client. We’ve been working with different groups within that organization for years, and are currently helping them with a major employee career development communications overhaul.

Each week we go over the status of different deliverables: in this case overview maps, a dedicated website, logos, and other visual storytelling tools, as well as ascertain and understand any new needs the client may have. In the past when a new project arose that required significant team collaboration, some of us would get on a plane and head out to their west coast headquarters and we’d run a facilitated discovery session with lots of live sketching.

Today, that’s not possible.

Last week there was one particularly important visual that needed finalized. We knew that getting the right direction on this first part was critical to defining the success of the rest of the materials, and back and forth emails just wouldn’t cut it.

So we set up a virtual collaboration session. Call it whatever you want—an online meeting, remote work, or yet another Zoom call. It doesn’t matter. For us, virtual collaboration is as real as any other meeting whether we’re using Miro or Mural, Skype or Slack, or some other tool. In this case, screen sharing on Zoom did just fine.

Our Director of Illustration Chris Roettger joined the call with Design Strategist Susanne LeBlanc, and even with nearly 2,000 miles separating all of our home offices they ran through a visual jam session that solved the problem.

With Chris drawing and designing live, making adjustments the client could see by reacting to suggestions and inspirations in real time, the group quickly landed on an idea to take the work to the next level, getting us farther… faster. Chris is a master of using key commands in whatever drawing app she’s in. It makes the work fast and fluid, something close to magic. And as their ideas came to life before their eyes, the clients said something along the lines of… 

“These calls are so different from our regular work, we actually look forward to these meetings!”

“Yeah, this is more like a break to me.”

I mean, how much better can a meeting get than not feeling like a meeting? Especially when you actually… Get. Stuff. Done.

While we’re not traveling at all these days, the truth is that the bulk of Tremendousness’ work has been done remotely for years. Not that we were all working from home, instead we learned how to collaborate virtually—and visually—with clients from coast to coast, or on the other side of the world.

Anyone can set up a Zoom call, but it’s the live drawing and visual collaboration that really moves the marker for our clients. It’s what makes ideas real, turning a “what if…” into a “that’s it!” 

In other words, “These meetings are a great way to really collaborate instead of just watching people talk.”

This is part of a series about virtual collaboration in the age of COVID. Illustration by Ted May & Bill Keaggy / Tremendousness.