Designing remote work: our six secrets to level up team bonding
The journey of Wizeline’s Design Team in times of COVID-19, part 2.
We will be covering different topics around how our designers are adapting to remote work, our team dynamics, and best practices you can borrow for your workflow!
In part one, we covered the lessons learned (so far!) from our experience while working remotely. The Wizeline team has grown in extension and number, so has our design team. You might as well wonder how we are managing our culture — now that in-person interaction is limited.
Since the beginning, Wizeline has pushed for a culture of open communication, recognition, and mentoring. Not to forget, transparency is critical.
Take our weekly design team meeting, for instance — where the forty of us join for a dose of inspiration and motivation! This meeting is a challenge that we have been especially keen on tackling. Some of our members are in Vietnam, others in Mexico City, and others in Guadalajara. Two different time zones — with a rather considerable difference (+12 hours!)
It is true our lives as designers face constant change. Be it scope of the project, timeline, teams. Yet, our skills for collaboration are a constant permanence. Citing Fabricio Teixeira, on the importance of collaboration amidst uncertain times, “how you collaborate with your peers might change. Why you collaborate won’t.”
The following are some actions we have been testing to bring down the distance barrier and to level up our bonding.
Work-related meetings tend to draw all our attention now. Our case is no exception. Seeking ways to lessen their impact, we have come up with casual hangouts.
1. Drink’ n’ draw
Charlie, one of our talented Visual Designers and a crazy skilled baker, leads a Drink’ n’ draw session every last Wednesday of the month. Previous to quarantine times, she liked discovering new places to enjoy a cup of coffee or a well-deserved glass of wine while doodling with peers.
I’m mostly doing this for self-improvement, to keep learning casually and for practice. Everyone is welcome, especially those wishing to share an online afternoon of drinking… and drawing!
Charlie Sandoval, Visual Designer
As of today, she hosts the sessions in Jitsi — an alternative to Zoom, which facilitates sessions with infinite duration and participants — and invites all the team to join.
The doodling sessions have a defined theme so everyone can start with some inspiration. The last session was intended for us to draw a tattoo flash. And each one of us got their favorite drink at hand!
2. Dedicated server
We do miss hall chats. Quick catch-ups in our coffee bar. Energetic strolls in our terrace while chatting in a 1:1. Company-wide, we use Discord for casual chit-chats and jump in random conversations. For our design team, Poncho Maldonado, one of our UX designers and passionate gamer — set up our own server. We try to recreate some of the environments where we usually hang out back in the office.
This server has been of great help — no need to set up meetings through Zoom to make a quick chat happen. There’s a video restriction, but what’s life without constraints? We have been learning to adapt.
There’s a welcome section — as most of us were new to Discord — with quick tutorials. Team-bonding channels which mimic our environments as the terrace, our coffee bar in the office, and our dessert time on Wednesdays. Additional channels are dedicated to our weekly meeting, for some of our committees, and our client projects.
3. Classic Apéros
Apéro is an acquired french term. It means a time of the day to have an aperitif, and can be taken at midday before lunch or at the end of the afternoon, before dinner. This one is a keeper. Almost at the beginning of our design team times, we established this informal gathering outside the office and after a hard-working Thursday. Mainly the last Thursday of each month. We would roam the city, browsing for craft beers, hunting savory snacks, trying out comfy ambiances. We would then gather and talk about diverse topics — we even keep a record of questions we have heartfully discussed!
Subjects range from a design perspective to the edges of life. Here’s a hand-pick of questions:
- If you could time travel, would you prefer to visit the past or future and why?
- Tell us a weird story that happened to you recently.
- From your current skills, which one do you think qualifies as a superpower?
- Where would you NOT recommend UX work for the definition of a product or service?
- Where should our UX team be in 3 years?
We would do a roundtable and discuss the answers, with drinks in hand, of course!
Slowly, the dynamics needed adaptation as the team grew. We traded our usual city spots for our magnificent terrace in our Guadalajara office.
Our hypothesis was people would be more keen on joining if the gathering spot was closer, without the need to commute. The team would bring their favorite side dishes or snacks to share. And we could also have a couple of beers from the office. Easy peasy.
Now, as we remain in our houses, we recently experimented with a fully-remote apéro.
The team was divided into Zoom’s breakout rooms after participants chose the game of their choice. Ranging from The Jackbox Party Pack to Cards Against Humanity to joining a room for casual chats, the team had a blast. Mission accomplished!
We are even thinking about increasing the cadence of these types of gatherings: twice a month instead of once. This is our opportunity to keep experimenting.
4. Our second office
And what about the new spaces that are hosting us? Our second office, if you may. Well, Rodrigo Partida, our Senior UX Manager, and synth enthusiast, came up with the idea of having a dedicated channel in Slack.
The purpose of this channel is to get to know each other better by sharing our home working spaces and any other rooms we’d like to showcase. Now and then, he prompts us with new queries on how our working spaces — and living spaces! — look.
The first take was getting to know our adaptations for the working environment. We not only learned about each member’s creativity but also how each one of us establishes new dynamics with their roommates or family members or even furry coworkers!
Just recently, we have been sharing ‘Flat lay your life’, which consists of capturing, in one shot, the expression of yourself. With these snapshots, we have been able to grasp each team members’ inner passions, which were otherwise invisible! Discovering shared tastes and even promoting personal stories have been our newest icebreakers.
5. Loud recognition
Inside Wizeline, recognition practices are a permanent pillar of our culture. Be it through giving Kudos or Awesome Awards ™. Kudos are appreciation messages we grant as a way to say thanks beyond the word thanks. When a teammate is going above and beyond, you can and should nominate them for an Awesome Award. When the month is over, the company receives an email with the top nominated teammates and the reasons for nomination. Awesome, right?
This practice has risen these days. Now that physical distancing is in place, giving kudos has been a critical practice among teams. Doing so, the whole company gains visibility on how people are helping each other out — be it answering doubts or just reaching out to give a hand when needed. Here is where recognition transcends. Here is where gratitude fosters an inspiring workplace.
To manage kudos and recognition, Pol Díaz, our UI designer, and gifted drummer, is the Product Owner of an internal tool called Patio. The vision is to leverage the practice of recognition in our company. The mission is to encourage this practice in every Wizeliner. We will be covering this particular story soon!
6. Our inner mentor
Lastly, mentoring. We like growing our company by growing ourselves. In the design team, we have a mentorship program, which covers precisely our inner career growth.
Now that social distancing became the norm, how are we boosting growth?
Given the framework we follow for this mentorship program, designers must comply with specific treats to become a ‘formal’ mentor. However, we entice ‘informal’ mentorship too! The difference between them is simple. For the former, you have an assigned mentee. For the latter, you get to give advice or coaching to anyone in the team, regardless of your level. We believe each one of us has got something to teach.
Currently, in our team, there is no easy way to know the design skills or soft skills or experience towards specific activities. Knowing who to approach to ask for advice on anything in particular, especially for new hires in the team, becomes a complex task. It is more challenging to casually contact others when you have a small team in your city or now that we are all working remotely.
To keep this sense of help and guidance in the team, Senior UX designers based in Mexico city Raúl, coffee enthusiast and Nora, german learner, turned on the switch in our slack channel. They created the Design-chit-chat initiative. The essence relies on our culture of reaching out for help and connecting with counterparts in the team willing to help, in exchange for a cup of coffee (or preferred beverage!).
Design-chit-chat is our virtual coffee buddy for designers. Based on impromptu skills or experience that anyone wants to learn about. We get to know our teammates better and exchange coffee for knowledge. The interaction looks like this:
- Designers to ask other designers for coaching through the channel, e.g., anyone here has performed a heuristic evaluation?
- People volunteer to help and schedule a few minutes to talk.
- The person who asked for help invites a coffee to the other person.
- Kudos fest after coffee sessions (remember our recognition practices?)
Our well-being is the top priority, beyond productivity, and our leadership team is taking special care of that. By performing more regular check-ins, managers get the pulse of how each one of us in the group is doing.
We are also preparing a whole post about this, so stay tuned!
This new normal has tested our culture, and we are still afloat.
We have adapted our tools to serve our new purpose, and we cherish those times when social distancing was not a thing.
Open communication, avid recognition, and persistent mentoring still figure as our culture’s pillars. In the design team, we couldn’t be more close (figuratively speaking, of course!).
Elba Ornelas is a Senior UX Designer and Product Owner of Foodie — the internal tool helping Wizeline get rid of food waste. Elba has designed digital experiences within diverse industries, such as digital marketing and media entertainment. Out of the office, she finds peace practicing yoga and cooking.