My personal insight after working a year remote as a Designer

Philippe Hong
7 min readAug 22, 2017

Working remote seems to be booming lately. According to the survey of more than 15,000 adults by Gallup, last year 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. Not very surprising to me, people like the freedom to work remotely. I’ve myself experienced the freedom to work anywhere I want as a freelance designer, so it was very hard for me when I had to go back working in an office.

In my previous job, working remotely was not really a thing. I guess companies still believe that you need to be at the same place to be more productive (like Yahoo), or maybe they just don’t trust you enough to let you work remotely. A report commissioned by Microsoft for Anywhere Working Week quoted:

“Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of the UK office workforce did not believe there was complete trust when working outside the office.”

When my current company (KeyPay) proposed me to work for them, and remotely, I have to admit I was very tempted with the “remote” part. I knew how it was to work from home as a freelancer. But to work in a team remotely, was something I haven’t experienced before. So I decided to jump onto this opportunity. After working remotely for about a year and half, here are some insights and feedback I can share:

Decrease in stress

For me, one of the benefits of working remotely is definitely the freedom it allows you to have. Flexible working schedule, freedom of working anywhere you want, and no more commute. This by far is one of the greatest aspects for me. 1h commute every day, that’s 5 hours in a week, imagine how many things you can do in 5 hours! This is game changing if you think about it.

Commute can be quite stressful some times, especially when you’re taking the public transport or driving. You’re arriving at the office already stressed, what a good way to start a day. I found it less stressful working at home, and I’m not the only one. According to PGi Report, 83% of the workers think it reduces stress. 80% says it improves morale, and 70% think it improves productivity.

Image from State of Telecommunicating 2014

One other benefit I mentioned is the freedom to work wherever you want. Sometimes, I really feel like I need to get out of the house and see the outside world. Nothing makes me happier than to start my day with some surfing and then head to a cafe at the beach, be able to work quietly and get things done.

Though, don’t get too greedy on relocating everywhere because it can be a productivity killer. Being productive and constantly travelling are two things that become a toxic mix.

Increase in Productivity

People often think that working from home is chill and less productive as working in the office. Don’t get it wrong, I found myself more productive at home than at the office. And let’s be honest, being at the office doesn’t always mean you are being productive. I like a quote from Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, who said:

“People don’t need to be shackled to their desks to be productive or to collaborate with their colleagues. Work should be a thing you do not a place you go. Flexible working is more about choosing a location that best suits your requirements to get the job done. This can mean working from a variety of locations during the day, be that on the move, a shared knowledge hub, a coffee shop, a remote office or at home if need be.”

With impromptu meetings, loud colleagues, gossip all around the office, it’s hard to be focused and productive. From SurePayroll survey, 86% of those surveyed said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.”

Image from SurePayroll

I’m not saying you need to be alone every time, meeting people is also important, I’m not closing my eyes on it. You still need to meet people and I think it remains the best way to build relationships with colleagues. A real handshake, sharing some jokes or ideas around are still the best way to create bond that you can’t emulate online. This is why my company keeps an office for people to meet up. There is always a few people in there throughout the week.

Increase communication

Communication might be the main downside of working remotely. While it’s quite easy to communicate when working in an office, by checking on them at their desk, walking over quickly to have a quick chat, or even exchanging a few words at lunch. Communication online on the other hand is another story. People tend to disappear or fly under the radar, and I understand why companies are still hesitant on letting employees work remotely, but you have to fight against that.

At KeyPay, we really try to communicate as much as possible. Here’s a couple things we do:

1. Daily Updates:

Like a weekly standup you do at the office, but here it’s everyday. Just a sentence of what you’re going to work on today. Sounds a bit micromanaging, but it helps the team know what you’re doing, and for you to know what everyone is doing.

2. Checking in/out:

Very basic, every time you’re not in front of your computer, your team should know. So they’re not surprised to see you’re not around. Whether it’s to go to lunch, going to the gym or simply grabbing a coffee, letting your teammates know will create a coalition to your group. As people may also be in different time zones, this can be really helpful to track their schedule. Here’s an example of a typical day:

9am: Good morning, I’m here now and start doing X!
2pm: I am out now for a a coffee with a friend - will be back in around 1 hour or so.
3:00pm: I am back.
6pm: Heading out now. I achieved X but didn’t got to Y because Z. Good night everyone!

3. Share things/Ask questions:

Whenever you have something to share or to ask to the team, don’t hesitate to shout out to the chat and often people will help or react to this with jokes or congrats, often with jokes in KeyPay and it’s quite pleasant.

In an overall sense, it’s not because you’re working remote that all the interactions you had in real life has to be set aside. I did struggle a bit at the beginning too. Checking in, checking out, I wasn’t use to announcing what I was doing. But I feel its worth putting in the effort to create interaction in the team.

Have an effective process

When I first started, it was still fresh and we didn’t really establish a process. But as the team grew, we decided to create a real process and project management for every project. Even today, we are still building/refining this process.

Similar to a lot of startups, we are using Slack as our main communication tool. Every tool is seamlessly integrated into Slack, and the search feature allows users to search for past conversations very easily. The only downside to Slack might be the noise of all non-important conversations and sometimes you just need what is related to you.

In terms of project management, we use Trello. We have a board allocated for every project, making it easier to manage throughout the life of a project cycle.

For the design part, we use Sketch, Google Drive, Frontify and InVision for design assets. We found that InVision doesn’t give a complete picture of the design process so we added a Google Doc with each design iteration. Writing things down give you a history of each iteration and suppress every situations of “What did I do already for this?”. And since we’re trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary meetings, it’s a win-win.

We are still refining the process, but I think this process is a good way to start whilst you can always make some changes to fit your needs. I’ve been trying to integrate this into my own startup (Vyte) that I work on the side and it has been working quite well.

Summary

I think working remotely is a win-win for everyone, for the employer and the employee. However, working remote is not for everyone. You’ll need to be self-diligent and motivated. If you need to be surrounded by people while you’re working, then working remote might not be for you.

This is still fresh and new for people, they’re often quite surprised when I say I work from home everyday. But I deeply think this will be the future of work.

Hope you found this article helpful! If you’re also a remote worker, tag along and give some insight on the comments 😉.

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Philippe Hong

Designer & Entrepreneur | Founder of https://raw.studio. Director of Dunno Ventures. Author of “Practical Web Design”. I organise the @SYDdesigners meetup