If you’d told me a year ago, I’d be running all my workshops online and regularly working with people I’d never actually met face to face, I’d probably have laughed and said, “yeah right…!”

This week I’ve been reflecting on how normal these virtual collaborations seem and how they have become part of my day-to-day work.

For me this goes further than virtual video meetings with clients and delivering training online. There are several freelancers with whom I’m working virtually that I’m yet to meet in person. One person in particular, Sarah McCaffrey of Solas Mind and I have started quite a formidable collaboration.

Collaborating virtuallyIn the early stages of the first lockdown this felt very strange. And if someone asked us “how long have you both been working together?” We’d reply slightly sheepishly that we’d only connected because of the pandemic and we were yet to meet face to face. We’d say to each other it wouldn’t be long before things would go back to how they used to be, and we’d be able to meet up properly and really get to know each other. The reality being we live about 100 miles apart so getting together is somewhat of an effort and pre-pandemic we’d probably said, well it’s been nice to meet you, I like the cut of your jib, hopefully we can work together some day.

It all started with us being introduced by a mutual sponsor, Emma Turner at ScreenSkills, with a view to Sarah being a speaker on a webinar I was running for Emma. That webinar led to a follow up conversation and from there we started to find areas of collaboration which we began to explore.

Now in the depths of a third lockdown and over half a dozen projects of varying scale co-delivered virtually, that question of have we met face to face is becoming more moot for me. The stigma has gone for me that we haven’t met IRL. Would it be nice? Of course, it would. Is it holding us back? Absolutely not. The mutual trust has built up through the projects that we’ve co-delivered and the friendship and support we’ve offered each other through the lockdowns.

I’m loving the projects we are working on together – they are challenging me and are having positive impacts on freelancers’ lives. They aren’t projects I could deliver solo. They work because we deliver them together. Because when we work together 1 + 1 = 3.

And it’s not the just content of the work we do that fits together. It’s also the way we both work, and the excessive pace we both work at! Sarah commented to me a few months into our collaborations that she’d not found anyone that works at the same speed as her before now, but that I did. And that was an important part of any collaboration for her – that we are both bearing equal weight and driving together in the same direction, and not waiting for the lights to change!

Ultimately, I’ve found a collaborator who I share values with and whose work complements mine. When we work together the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We both still have our own individual projects, and we find regular points to act as each other’s sponsors and make recommendations to our clients.

Was I on the lookout for a virtual collaborator? No. But, as the consummate freelancer I keep my mind open to new opportunities and I’ll leave my pre-conceptions at the door as to how this collaboration should work (in the old world order) and seize the opportunity that has come my way.