A Chicago Perspective on Branch Offices: How We Make Them Work
When teams try to function across a country or continent, they are bound to face their fair share of challenges. But, in the end, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons. It’s no surprise that regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed, has increased 103 percent since 2005, or that about 3 percent of the workforce now teleworks at least half the time.
Highwire is a perfect example of this trend. Our agency originally broke ground in San Francisco in 2008, and its fast success led to the opening of a Chicago office in 2012, a New York City office in 2015 and, most recently, a presence in Boston in December. We also have senior level employees who work full-time from Seattle and L.A.
Different Coasts for Different Folks
I’ve been able to experience and witness first-hand how our branch offices operate—both as their own entities and in the larger Highwire ecosystem—given my recent opportunity to spend a week in the Highwire New York office through our Red Rover program, a client meeting that landed me in the Boston office last week, and the fact that I operate permanently out of our Chicago space.
The New York office is as fast-paced as the city itself, with everyone hard at work at their desks if not scrambling to get into a conference room for an important meeting or jetting off to an industry event.
On the other coast, the San Francisco headquarters embodies the laid-back vibe of California while possessing the constant drive of Silicon Valley. Schedules are flexible while client expectations are not, and the office executes accordingly.
Chicago (my home base) lies between the two—both geographically and culturally. Our smaller size lends itself to a more casual and carefree atmosphere, but the quieter environment is also conducive to high-level productivity.
And Boston, our newest and smallest office to-date, possesses the scrappiness that’s only found in up-and-comers. The Boston crew is all about balance: exceeding client expectations while continually seeking out new opportunities for growth, relying upon one another along the way.
Communication Barriers Breed Collaboration
Ultimately, how these different offices come together and collaborate for the success of our clients is key — And given the fact that account teams often have members from more than one office, effective communication practices are crucial.
It’s true that internal communication can be sub-optimal when co-workers operate in separate offices. For instance, when water cooler chat turns into an important work discussion, that information is at risk of not being disseminated to the entire team. However, this is a problem even companies housed in one building may face, and Highwire uses multiple methods of inter-office communication to negate common obstacles.
For example, in addition to the obvious phone calls and emails that circulate internally in every company, everyone at Highwire is constantly available on Skype regardless of location. We take advantage of both the instant messaging and video chat functions on a regular basis (read: all day) in order to check in with colleagues across the country or across the office.
Additionally, almost every week there is a company-wide meeting over video—whether it’s an opportunity for professional development training or an all-hands announcement. These meetings give us the opportunity to come together virtually, from coast to coast and everywhere in-between.
The other obvious issue we run into when working with teammates across the country is the time difference, which can cause a bit of a wrinkle when it comes to scheduling these aforementioned meetings. After all, there are only five consecutive hours in the work day when all employees everywhere are at their desks, despite the eight hours of work we all put in.
But this apparent obstacle also affords certain benefits. The three-hour time difference from New York to San Francisco means that, as a whole, our company is officially operating 12 hours every day. This allows us to shift responsibilities strategically and rely on teamwork; i.e. East coast workers can get a jump on early announcements or breaking news while those on the West coast can help handle any requests that come in late in the day.
In the end, working for and managing a company with coast-to-coast offices that are intertwined in everyday work comes with its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh any setbacks—especially at Highwire.