Working Remotely on a Product Design Team

How to effectively navigate the world of remote work

Working remotely can be challenging. This is especially true on a team that is spread out across the country. I learned this first-hand when I moved away from Chicago for my wife’s job back in June. Mike is still in our office in Chicago, Jenny is working from Denver, and now I am working up in Minneapolis. We don’t see each other much, but we are still effective as a team because of three major things.

Open Communications

When working remotely, Slack is the lifeline to your company. If you need a quick response from someone on a design just slack them over a screenshot. You can alert a team of engineers about a problem that you encountered on their service. The platform is even a great way to stay in touch with your coworkers that you rarely get a chance to see in person. Sending a gif over to Jenny and Mike may seem like something well outside of job responsibilities, but staying in touch is important. Gifs and memes can be some of the most human ways that we can communicate and build that sense of community.

Slack is perhaps the most important tool that we use outside of Sketch. In fact in am not sure what we would do without it. We have different channels for different parts for the platform. This helps keep communications organized. It also ensures people aren’t being distracted by messages that don’t apply to them.

Consistent Meetings

Consistency is one of the most important things when it comes to working remotely. You don’t have the routine of commuting to the office everyday, so you need to create routines of your own.

Personally I like to start off every day the same way. Brew up some coffee, read through my emails and slack messages from the night before, and write down my bullet points on my objectives for the day. This helps create a starting point for my updates for our daily Product Design Scrum.

Every morning we have our Product Design Scrum scheduled on GoToMeeting. While this isn’t as good as an in person meeting, it’s better than nothing! It’s a great way to catch up on projects, get feedback, and to socialize with team members. If one of us ran into a roadblock, this is a good time to discuss it. It’s great to get another set of eyes on something, and these meetings are a great opportunity to do that. Sometimes it’s just a good time to vent as well. Who doesn’t need a good vent session every once in a while?

Reaching Out for Feedback

The Product Design Scrum is a great time to get feedback. It is important though that we are not limiting ourselves when it comes to feedback. When you are in an office, it’s easy to walk over to a coworker’s desk to get some quick feedback. When are you are working remotely, it takes a little more effort. That effort is worth it in the long run.

Two heads are better than one. It’s an old adage but it’s true. It’s especially true when you are working remotely. There are times when you can get caught up in your own little world. You can get stuck in the habit of working on mockups on your own all day. It’s important to take a step back. When you do this, get someone else to take a look at your work. This is a good way to make sure that you are taking it in the right direction. Often they will point out something that you overlooked. Your designs will only improve with the more constructive feedback you get.

There are plenty of ways to reach out for feedback. You can slack your teammate a screenshot and ask for their thoughts. Another way is to start a group discussion by slacking an entire channel with a few different mockups. You can then ask them all to vote on which direction they prefer. This can start some valuable discussions, with ideas being iterated and expanded upon.

Getting some direct feedback on calls by sharing your screen is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page, and makes it easier for everyone to bounce ideas off of eachother. Comments on InVision or on a Google Doc can go a long way too.

Overall working remotely on a design team can be a great experience! You just have to make sure that you are approaching it in the right way as a team, so that you can be just as effective as if you were in the same office together.