A creative agency relies on collaboration and innovation. So how does a firm like PaperplaneCo flourish with a fully remote workforce spread across multiple countries and time zones?
PaperplaneCo was founded in Singapore in 2011, and quickly grew into a team spanning three continents. Ten years on, the agency works with global clients on a variety of storytelling-driven projects.
Today, we’re welcoming you into our virtual office for a tour. You’ll meet some of the team, see a snapshot of their schedules, and hear their insights on all things remote working.
So fasten your seatbelts, because we’re off to Brisbane, Australia where it’s 9am — the start of the PaperplaneCo day.
And who better to introduce first than PaperplaneCo founder and CEO, Chrissy Lim?
Hi, Chrissy. How is your morning shaping up?
“Good morning! Today I woke up at about 6, like I do most days. I generally check Slack, email, and Notion straight away, just so I can catch up with anything that happened out of my hours.
“It means that then I have time for breakfast, yoga, tidying up, and hanging out with my partner and puppy. Then I jump on my e-scooter and head to the co-working space where I spend most days.
“I spend the first two hours at my desk doing focused, creative work. That could be writing briefs, art directing, or just some uninterrupted thinking.
“At the moment my working days are dominated by a marketing course we’re working on with our long-standing client Adobe. So right now I’m going over a video script that was filed overnight — well, over my night — by our copywriter, Jess, who’s based in Spain.”
What is your golden rule for providing leadership to a team that you’re not seeing in person every day?
“For me, it starts with hiring. I hire self-sufficient people. That doesn’t mean lone wolves, but people who are entrepreneurial thinkers and like to take ownership over their work. That could be someone straight out of school, or someone 20 years into a career.
“I also need to provide clear communication, support people with constructive reviews of their work, and foster a good company culture.
“But culture is also something that comes about organically with the people I hire. Everyone on our team is different and brings their own personality and skills.
“All I need to do is encourage people to be themselves. Since we’re a creative agency, we need to make sure people know they can have a bit of fun, whether that’s in their work or in how we collaborate as a team.”
Nicely put. While we’re Down Under, we must have a quick catch up with Tim Marsh, PaperplaneCo’s Content Strategist and all-round problem solver, who today is working on developing a panel discussion for an event in New Zealand.
Hi Tim. Can you tell us about a few of the tools you use to brainstorm and refine creative projects?
“Hi there. We use a range of different digital tools to replicate the type of collaboration you’d get from office-based work.
“Things generally start with a Zoom meeting. We use Calendly to fit into each other’s schedules, which helps manage time zones.
“When a project needs a lot of ideas noted down and we want these to be dynamic, Freehand by InVision is a great tool. It can be better than some in-person meetings, because everyone can share their thoughts and quieter people don’t get talked over.
“Google Docs is our document editor of choice, since it’s so handy for sharing, tracking changes, and making suggestions.”
You’re also PaperplaneCo’s resident ‘Notioneer’. The productivity app Notion forms the backbone of a lot of the agency’s organisational processes. Why Notion?
“Since we’ve been remote working for many years — before the rest of the world was forced to jump on the bandwagon — we’ve had time to trial and replace systems that weren’t working for us.
“Part of that has meant switching all our project tracking, task allocation, and creative notes onto Notion. It offers a lot of flexibility and gives everyone a clear way to see which tasks require attention immediately, which are upcoming, and which are on the backburner.
“It’s a detailed system that would take a whole article to explain to you properly!”
Okay, we’ll save that for next time. Let’s head to the central part of the Philippines, where by now it’s 11am and the PaperplaneCo working day is in full swing.
We’re here to see Monna Munoz, PaperplaneCo’s Project and Operations Manager. That job involves… actually, let’s ask her.
Monna, what does your job involve?
“Welcome to sunny Philippines! My days alway vary as I’m involved with various aspects of the business, but the consistent thing is a lot of calls and meetings to make sure things are running smoothly.
“My overarching job is to check everyone at PaperplaneCo is happy, knows what they’re doing and is on track with their work. I’ll answer questions, put people in touch with each other, do company housekeeping, plan for the future, and record where things are at and what needs to be done.
“Essentially, if PaperplaneCo’s doing it, I’m keeping an eye on it.”
That’s a big task. Where do you get your energy and motivation from?
“Well, there’s the fact that I have a job to get done. But beyond that, I feed off all the colourful personalities in the office. Some are serious, some are silly, and it all works together.”
What are you doing this morning?
“We’re hiring! PaperplaneCo is expanding, and we have several roles open, including Account Director, Art Director, Visual Designer and many more. So this morning I’ve been scouting out some potential candidates on LinkedIn, and starting to prepare for interviews.”
Exciting times. We’ll leave you to it, so we can head for lunch in Singapore.
We are met with Account Manager Demi Plettenburg, who’s responsible for creating strong lines of communication between the agency and its clients, and ensuring project goals are met to a high standard. And of course, a key member of the PaperplaneCo team is Demi’s dog Louis.
Demi, what’s on your plate today?
“Literally, it’s a Thai green curry. I work from home most of the time, so I have the flexibility to prepare good food and spend time with Louis.
“Work-wise, I’ve just finished our team planning sprint. This is an important part of every Monday. We all get up to speed and coordinate priorities for the week. I’ve also been doing some planning with Monna and Chrissy for the third quarter.
“This afternoon I need to dry-run an upcoming webinar, and I have a couple of client meetings.”
Sounds busy. What are the skills that are important for your job?
“Definitely people skills. When you’re meeting people for the first time, they need to feel comfortable talking to you. Good planning and organisation skills, since I’m always juggling multiple projects.
“And finally, the ability to inject a bit of humour into the work you do. That’s what can set your agency apart. For example, for today’s webinar, we’ve made sure to include an icebreaker and a game, as well as cheeky things for people to look out for on presentation slides.”
What do you enjoy about your job?
“I meet a lot of interesting people who work in different industries, so I’m always learning.
“Within the team, it’s great to work with people all over the world. We make time for things like Friday Happy Hour’s and informal chats to replace what we’d normally get from catching up in the office kitchen.
“Because we’re so global, the company works 24 hours but we don’t have to. People respect that you sign off at the end of the day. If I have an early meeting with a team member in Argentina, I can sign off earlier to get to a yoga class at the end of the day.”
Thanks, Demi. As the APAC team hits the afternoon, let’s head over to Europe, where we’ll be jumping back to the start of the day.
Now we’re in Seville, Spain with Jess Mizerak. She is a content writer who has been a part of the team for a couple of years.
Hey there, Jess. It’s morning, your time, and everyone else is finishing up their day. What’s it like having most of the team in a different region?
“Well, there are a few of us in the Western Hemisphere and it’s actually kind of cool that way, because I get to do some work “overnight” when the rest of the team is sleeping. So, if you ask me, it’s a bit of an advantage when it comes to meeting tight deadlines.
Though I’m definitely not going to wake up at 3am for team yoga anytime soon, we’re not afraid to connect virtually and have video call interactions, so I never feel left out.”
What do you enjoy most about remote content writing?
“I love the variety of my work most. The fact that I’ve been able to work for several PaperplaneCo clients has kept projects fresh and fun. I think learning is the best part of any job. I’ve also been able to do so many different types of writing, which keeps me on my toes.
“Plus there’s my schedule. I have meetings in the morning with the team (my hair is always a mess, ask anyone), but I generally do the bulk of my work at night, which gives me the daytime to go to school, run errands, and enjoy the Spanish sunshine. That’s another major plus about being in my time zone!”
Let’s fly north to interview the interviewer, Jenni Reid. Jenni is our PaperplaneCo freelance journalist, based in London.
Hi Jenni, you had a tour of our working process and have worked with many of our team. How did you find working with such a remote group?
“Remote working is quite new to me, so it’s been good to do it with a team that has really honed its system.
“After my initial meetings on Zoom, I was introduced to the PaperplaneCo project management system, Notion. There’s so much information on there, but it’s structured so that you can really get to grips with what you need to know before starting.
“In fact, it’s much easier to work out things like people’s names, job titles and what they actually do than when you start in a new office and have those awkward first weeks where you’ve got no idea what’s going on.
“I was also added to the team Slack, where I was sent nice welcome messages and could DM people with any questions. And I met some more team members on the virtual meeting site Mibo. It comes closer to making you feel like you’re in the room with people than any other service!”
By lunchtime in London, most of the APAC team have logged off. How will you let them know what you’ve done this morning?
“I’ll work on my current project in a shared Google Doc and update the project page in Notion. I’ll add a Slack message in any relevant chats if I need to.
“Today I’m working on a virtual tour of the PaperplaneCo office, so I’ll be…”
Whoops, let’s cut that off before it gets too meta, and head to Canada to stop off at the final desk on our tour — that of Office Executive Grace Liang.
Grace, you’re an Office Executive without an office. What does your job involve?
“Since our time zones are different, I’m in a good position to support Monna with operations and make sure deadlines are being met and things stay organised. I help with taking meeting notes, proofreading, researching, and other jobs as needed.
“I’m also here to help maintain a team atmosphere. When people join the company or have birthdays, I’ll design e-cards for them. I throw out weekly questions on Slack, like what’s your favourite weird food combination, so everyone can get to know each other. I also run monthly competitions, like photography or Masterchef.”
What has surprised you about working at PaperplaneCo?
“I’m early in my career, and the team has been really supportive. Everyone really encourages me to try new things and grow my skills.
“And it genuinely feels like everyone is friends with each other. I joined the company during the pandemic, and going to work is something I look forward to every day.”
What a nice note to end on. Thanks very much, Grace.
And thank you — that’s you out there — for coming on this tour. Of course, there are many more people who make PaperplaneCo run smoothly who we didn’t get a chance to meet. That includes our accounts team, artists and designers, as well as a whole video-production unit based in Argentina.
If you’re interested in working digitally with a great team, you can find out more about current job openings with PaperplaneCo here.