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Successful standups in a remote world

I’m going to be honest with you — I hate daily standups. More broadly, I’m not that big a fan of routine, but I’m working on it 🙏

With this in mind, imagine what my face looked like when switching to remote and having the idea of standups…on Zoom…with all the distractions of notifications and, in life I guess over the past couple of years.

This means that the ritual of standups doesn’t necessarily translate very well to the standard online world we’re now living in, which means that things need to change.

Change is good!

Alright then, what makes a good standup? And why should we care about them?

Paying attention

Have you ever been in an online meeting and known that the person you’re talking to is doing something else? Maybe it’s the tip-tapping of a keyboard, or the light on their face changing as they cmd-tab between screens, or maybe it’s the off-centre gaze?

This may sound familiar, and may be painful for you.

The only way a standup — or to be honest any meeting — will work is if people are engaged and paying attention during it. My general thoughts on this are: if there are more important things to be doing than this meeting, maybe it either:

  1. doesn’t need to exist
  2. you need to be somewhere else

And that’s fine! We’re all busy, so let’s be honest with ourselves and address the attention deficit.

This is a wider cultural issue, but we should also all feel comfortable talking about the distraction in the room — “hey, I noticed you’re not fully engaged in our session, do you need to dip out to something else?”.

This isn’t a problem, it’s something that can ironically build even closer relationships with our team.

Side note: my team currently have a daily session (the word meeting sounds a bit too formal) where we are all online at the same time in a Zoom call, but there’s no expectations. This is more like a hangout, where we are aware that the three of us are probably checking Slack, reading emails, or something else.

The shared open space is important for us to build a bond, but we don’t set expectations on there being certain information or rituals we need to share. This works for us, because we’re not sat in a traditional delivery team, but need that time together a few times a week to create a safe environment for sharing.

Me and my great team as part of our (remote) standup

Due dates

The only successful daily standups I had in my career as a designer were when the entire product and engineering teams were focussing on a singular delivery, together. We were all sprinting towards a big company release, and meant that the knowledge was shared between us all, in a way that enabled everyone to do their best jobs at that moment.

The worst ones I’ve been a part of are where people are sharing information with other team members that have no context about the problems they are trying to solve. This can naturally lead you to a situation where you spend more time describing what you’re working on, rather than relying on the “I’m blocked by X” benefit of a shared space in your standup.

Clearing the room so that the people involved in your standup are those you need to help do your job best is key to ensuring that you can all maximise the time.

Speaking of which, when you’re faced with a deadline, you are pushed into the frame of mind that tries to strip out complexity. With a date looming, you want to ensure that the thing you’re working on will be in a state that the team is happy with, this in itself allows you to prioritise what you need to do, but also enables you to collectively optimise the feedback shared in a standup.

Let’s talk it out

This is the biggest one for me in a digital-first culture — sometimes we need to slow down to move faster. If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know that I’m a sprinter. I try to move as fast as possible in an attempt to deliver. It’s not healthy, I know, I know. Luckily, my team catch me and try to help us all move in the same direction together.

In particular, it’s about building trusted relationships with your peers to ensure that should you actually need to tell someone that the work they have produced is excellent, or needs a lot of improvements, it’s

  1. not a surprise
  2. comes from a place of positive intent

We should feel comfortable with our colleagues, and that really does only truly arise through collective intention to “get to know each other”.

I’m not suggesting that we need to know the intricacies of our colleague’s childhoods, but knowing how someone prefers to work, their schedule, and the way they prefer to receive feedback is the best action we can all take to ensure a standup is successful.

Tick, tock…routines are here

I know I said before that I hate routines, but sometimes we need to feel discomfort to feel alive.

As we roll out of bed and open our laptops to start work, we can very easily find ourselves sitting curled up like a prawn in bed until mid day still wearing our pyjamas. Sure, this is one of the benefits of working remotely, but work is unfortunately work, and the less energy we put into making it feel like that, the faster we run towards a world lacking in motivation.

This is why the routine of a standup can help us get into the “work” frame of mind. Not only that, we’re all doing it together! This links directly back to the previous point, and when we’re turning up together, we introduce that shared responsibility and can feel movement in our projects as a unit, and not a curled up prawn sitting in bed.

The one thing I haven’t quite cracked here is how routine works internationally. More specifically, when you’re working with colleagues regularly at a timezone larger than 4 hours — this is honestly tough, and I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about cracking this nut.

See you all next time ✌️

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Life, by designers.

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Luis Ouriach

Luis Ouriach

Design and community @FigmaDesign, newsletter writer, co-host @thenoisepod, creator of @8pxmag. Sarcastic.

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