As part of our ongoing series “A Better Way to Work,” we’ve interviewed Lauren Abel, Owner & CEO of Abel Associates.
Abel Associates, Inc. specializes in public relations, media relations, crisis media management and training and social media public relations. The company was founded by Lauren in 1993. The company’s clients range from small businesses to international corporations and government agencies to non-profits. For more information, visit the company’s site here.
Can you share your approach to working remotely?
Abel PR has been virtual since the day it was born!
As a PR firm, our clients need other services in combination with ours, and that may be web design or hosting, graphic design, logos or branding, for example. They need a plethora of services that I do not do as well as others who specialize in those areas. I would not design a logo or collateral, for example, but I work with other companies to do extraordinary work in those areas. This all lends itself to working virtually, where we all do our part. The setup is much more efficient working this way.
We rarely meet with a client face-to-face. If it were a graphics project, for example, we would meet once as a group with the client at the beginning of the project. But after that, it is all virtual! So the designer might send me graphics of the logo, and then I say, “Love them! Let’s send it to the client,” or if we need to change something I’d say “Let’s change the color of this component and the font.”, We don’t waste the client’s time with meetings that are really, frankly, absolutely unnecessary!
So you are saying that you are cutting out the inefficient parts in the process this way, and it sounds like you are really better able to serve clients as a result?
A significant number of meetings are not productive, so our company, our team, only meets when it’s necessary and advantageous and in the best interest of the client.
Right now, a lot of communication happens by email. Working this way is very seamless, and we’re all a lot more productive, which means the client pays a whole lot less! We save the client and our company a lot of time and money because we aren’t paying for a bunch of overhead, and we aren’t driving or sitting in traffic…we are getting our work done!
I think our quality of work is much better, and productivity is increased significantly, because of that.
Any advice for communicating in the virtual world, specifically through email since it is so relied upon for many companies, as you mentioned?
One of the things that clients love about me is I am obsessed with detail! And detail is key to everything I do for a living. I am constantly checking and double checking, and proofreading text, and making sure everything is laid out correctly.
Our team uses the technology that our clients prefer and use most, and in our case that is email. So one of the things I would say to people is that when you communicate via email, make sure you spell check and re-read things before you hit send! My fingers can really fly on the keyboard, but I will go back, two or three times, before I hit “send” to re-read and clarify. I want it to be grammatically correct, of course, but I want to give clients all the information I can. Emailing the right way, and almost over-communicating details, increases our efficiency and helps eliminate confusion.
Also, I would not just give a client a bunch of options in an email and leave it at that. My job is to advise them and counsel them on the best way to go, and why. So when I send an email it has options and what I think are the best strategies to implement. Then, it is then up to them to decide, and we take it from there. The key is that they are fully informed every step of the way.
Anything else in terms of emailing or managing your email in a remote setting?
The other thing is documentation.
I cannot tell you how often a client comes to me and says, “I know we talked about this four or five years ago…and we want to revisit that idea now, but we can’t exactly remember the idea.” They don’t have to remember. I have every email and every electronic document for every client for the last 21 years I’ve been in business.
Just because it is virtual, doesn’t mean you have an excuse not to keep meticulous records! You have to keep meticulous records! It is detail, detail, detail, and that’s any business, whether you are virtual or not. What’s nice about it being virtual, is you can have the documentation and you aren’t relying on memory!
Sometimes people unfamiliar with working remotely worry about the inability to walk over to someone’s desk or to pop their head into someone’s office for face-face-communication. Do you have anything to say about this perception?
[Laughs.} That’s why God created the phone!
If you want to have that quick conversation, pick up the phone! I’m not convinced that the quality of communication, or the connection, is any different face-to-face versus on the phone. You don’t have to be virtual 100 percent of the time., The whole idea of being virtual is about being flexible!
And what are some tips for those who are starting to incorporate a more flexible workplace and they are going virtual?
There can be one mentality of: I can’t seem to make myself leave the office. That would be me. Or, on the other side I have seen people get distracted when they work virtually. That would be the only downside: you spend too much time in the office or you get distracted too easily. Those can be downsides, but if you recognize these issues, you can correct them and then they’re no longer downsides.
It is about time management! If you’re going to be successful in virtual, you’ve got to manage your time. If you are not a good time manager, this will be hard. You have to set parameters with the ones you love: if they are distractions when you work–maybe the kids or the dogs are a distraction. You must set it up so that although you are home, you are at work to them.
Gently remind them that, ”You wouldn’t just show up at my office, unannounced! The bottom line is you need to respect that I’m at work, and when I leave work, just like if I left my office in the suburbs or downtown, then I am back at home.” There should be an understanding in place. So that is important for people who are virtual.
Also, some businesses lend themselves better to be more virtual than others. If you are a CPA or an attorney, you can be virtual, but may need to have an office, too. If you do what we do, PR and marketing communications services, we can do most of our work virtually and have no need for our own office because we always go to our clients’ offices if meetings are necessary. It is about being flexible in the way you operate and the way you think. It doesn’t mean you have to be virtual all the time.
Any other benefits we might have missed in terms of the quality of life when working virtually?
There are little perks to being virtual, too. I got into my office at 4 a.m. yesterday, and I had been in my office about 12 hours. The weather was beautiful that day, so I was able to have that flexibility of going out for an hour run in the afternoon. It was a brain breather, a mental health break! I couldn’t do that in the [traditional] office!
In addition to public relations services, Abel Associates offers a full complement of marketing communications services through its strategic alliance partners. Those services include advertising, marketing, graphic design, market research and web services. Find Abel Associates, Inc. here.