Direction at a Distance

June 25, 2020

Direction at a distance

This article is part of an on-going research initiative at VSA to help companies understand the evolving needs of their employees in the remote workplace. To learn more about our findings (and to discover your own work personality), check out “Understanding the Needs of Your Remote Workers” and download our study.

The other day as I finished a Zoom call with a designer, my daughter looked over with eyebrows raised. “That was a short meeting,” she said. I had to explain that the call wasn’t a meeting, at least not in the pre-COVID sense. In the world of working from my living room, that call was my replacement for being able to swivel my chair around to face my co-worker, and quickly suggest we make X, Y, and Z changes.

As managers, we have lost the ability to practice one of the most simultaneously valuable and fraught exercises: The Hover. The Hover is universal. We’ve all done it, and we’ve certainly all been subjected to it. But like any habit, some of us are more dependent on that type of working than others, and anxiety ensues when it’s suddenly pulled away.

How can we hover? How, while we’re all working remotely, can I stand behind a designer, gesturing at their screen and asking them to try this and that? In these past few weeks, managers have been trying to adapt The Hover, having their teams share screens and push pixels on command. If you’re prone to hovering, this tactic might be the best proxy. Even so, it’s no stand-in for the real thing, and could have an unwelcome side effect of piling on the Zoom Gloom. It’s also already facing a phase-out. As we all return to the office after a prolonged period of increased autonomy and independence, I can only imagine that The Hover might be less welcome after months of working without it.

There is value in this kind of collaborative, in-real-time editing. It’s one of the reasons we all love The Hover: it gets things done, exactly how we want it. But because it works, it’s often overused, leading to inefficiency and needless repetition. We’ve been given a chance to hit the reset button, and my hope is that we can find a better way to work—one that is built on trust, learning, and letting go (just a little).

Let’s start with trust. Managers, if you’ve had trouble trusting your team before now, it would be a good time to start developing some faith. If you have notes, share them. Send an email, have a quick Zoom call, do what you need to do to get the message across. And then let your team work. Make it clear you’re giving them the space to try things, even occasionally fail, but that you are looking forward to seeing a product closer to the finish line than it was before you gave the notes.

Teams, you aren’t off the hook—you need to step it up too. If you have been given autonomy and ownership of the work, show your stuff! And be prepared to defend your choices. If you’re not entirely sure what to do, try it all, and then try some more. Reward the trust you’ve been given and take advantage of this new terrain. Understand this: it’s going to make you better at your job.

Get learning! Teams should also be using this time to learn, and their leaders should become more patient in their teaching (which means they might have some stuff to learn as well). For team members, your new-found autonomy might be a crash course in solving problems on your own, or using new tools. If you’re confused, ask questions. Confer with your fellow teammates. Rely on each other’s expertise and experience. Ask the internet. Do what it takes to get up and running.

For managers, it is crucial that you invite those questions, be open to conferring, and share your experiences. In other words, teach. If your usual way of hovering is simply a shortcut to finishing the work and not using it as a teaching moment, learn to be more open with your thinking and your process. Teams who understand why you want it to be blue instead of red are more likely to meet your expectations when you give them all that trust we talked about.

I know it’s hard, but you might have to let go, just a little. It’s time we acknowledge why we hover: we want to control the output to make it the way we want it. And yes, we all want the work to be as perfect as possible. But perfection is subjective. Your perfect is another person’s meh. Part of trusting your team is seeing the value in the choices they make. They’re not the choices you would make? Get over it (or engage in some of that learning/teaching I’m endorsing).

This brings me to my most important point: sometimes hovering can get in the way of understanding what your company or clients value and prioritize. If you like to hover because you’re obsessed with kerning, but your client doesn’t know Comic Sans from Neue Haas Grotesk, set aside your obsession—at least for a little while. Prioritize your team’s efforts for the forest, not the trees. I’m not advocating we entirely abandon the hallmarks of our crafts. I’m simply saying, as belts are tightened globally, efficiency in objective becomes paramount. And as we all struggle to make the best of a bad situation in work as well as life—let’s not make “the perfect” the enemy of “the good.” Afterall, we could all use some good right about now.

Josh Berta

Josh Berta

Creative Director

Josh Berta is a Creative Director at VSA, where he has assisted in leading creative work on numerous accounts since joining the agency in 2014. His work at VSA has served clients including IBM, Google, Kiehl's and Goldman Sachs, among others. Prior to joining VSA, Josh has held roles at Pentagram, Piscatello Design Centre, Sullivan and DBOX, working with a range of clients from architects and luxury real estate to insurance and education. Josh received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has a design certificate from Portfolio Center in Atlanta.