Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

11 rituals for your distributed design team

Marc Jenkinson
Nov 1, 2019 · 5 min read

Levin Mejia typically takes a break for lunch at home in St. John’s Newfoundland at around 1:00pm local time and heads downstairs to play with his two-year-old son Oliver. At the same time, Tiffany Wang is typically just leaving her home in the Bay Area to start her day, driving into Atlassian’s office with a cup of Earl Grey tea and some music queued up on Spotify.

Levin and Tiffany are both members of Trello’s design team, a team of 15 who all work remotely. Even with the timezone gaps (Levin and Tiffany have four hours between them), the team makes things work. On a good week, I’d even say we’ve made things work very well. Despite the lack of physical proximity, we collaborate, critique each other’s work, and develop our skill sets all while enjoying the freedoms that come along with working remote.

In this post I’ll talk about 11 rituals we use to help us work better together. Hopefully you and your team find them helpful.

Team health and status updates

  1. Quarterly design team retros

Like many others, we believe regularly scheduled retrospective meetings provide a healthy outlet for team members to surface problems. Instead of gathering in a meeting room to run our meetings, we hop on a Zoom video chat and encourage each participant to have a dedicated laptop. (These meetings run best when everyone’s face can be seen clearly.)

Check out Trello PM Jess Barnett’s great write up on how Trello can be used for retros. And we also have a retrospective Trello Template you can use with your team.

2. Weekly manager 1-on-1s

Every week managers and designers meet for an hour to discuss growth profiles, work in progress, challenges, and opportunities. If you want to dig in a bit more, we have a 1:1 Template you can try.

Fun fact: Since many of us work from home, 1:1s (or any meeting for that matter) offer an intimate look into the lives of the people you work with. It’s not uncommon for kids, significant others, or pets to “join in” on the meeting.

3. Weekly Slack stand-ups

At the end of the week, we all post a summary of our work (highlights, lowlights, blockers) in Trello which then get shared in Slack via our Power Up. Designers aren’t typically spending more than five minutes or so putting them together. Bonus points if your update includes Beyoncè.

Design critique

4. Huddles

About a year ago Courtney Drake kicked-off a new critique format called Huddles. Essentially, we set up two huddle groups (five designers each) with a new presenter each week. We run with these groups until everyone has had a chance to share work. One member of the huddle group will be the designated facilitator over the five weeks. This format is also frequently used with cross-functional teams whenever designers are looking for structured feedback. (Courtney shares more on the format here, and you can check out the template here.)

5. Weekly design roundtable

On Mondays, designers meet in Zoom to share what they’re working on. This is an hour-long video chat which includes 10 minutes of informal catching up time and 50 minutes of work review, Q+A, and critique time. The goal here is to keep designers who are working within a similar problem space close to each other’s work.

Fun fact: One of our roundtable groups is called “Gringotts Board of Directors” and Hermione Granger reminds us to ask helpful questions. 🧙🏻‍♂️

Collaborating

6. Design pairing

Wherever possible, the team is encouraged to work closely with their design peers — especially if they’re sharing a similar problem space. What this looks like is completely up to the designers involved, but often happens within a Trello board, Mural board, or a Figma file.

7. Design sprints

We’ve successfully run remote design sprints in the past using the Google Venture model. Beyond the recommended list of activities, we added a few new remote friendly ones, including a break activity where participants are given time to go for a walk in their neighborhood and take a photo along the way. Once back, we share our photos and learn a bit about each other’s neighbourhoods.

Take a look at this design sprint template for more.

Staying informed

8. #designers-readinglist

We have a dedicated Slack channel for sharing, storing, and discussing links, which we call “#designers-readinglist.” This channel acts as a firehose of everything we collectively feel is relevant to our team. It helps dispel the fear of missing out on crucial information and makes catching up after vacation and time away a little easier.

9. Brown bag sessions

Whenever the need arises, team members are encouraged to schedule a “Brown Bag” session over lunch. The session format is completely up to the presenter to define but usually includes a casual presentation and some Q+A.

Team bonding

10. Design offsite

Levin Mejia’s talk on ‘Building Confidence Through Failure’

There is no denying the rapport-building power of face-to-face time. Every year the Trello Design Team flies to NYC to hangout IRL for a few days. During this time we’ll go deep on a specific topic by means of presentation and guided discussion, and spend some quality time getting to know one another a bit better. We often find that the energy generated and connections made during those couple of days will fuel conversations and ideas for months after we all return home.

11. Studio

We’ve experimented with a lot of different bonding activities over the years but one that has really stuck is our optional weekly 30-minute “studio” time. We rotate facilitators each week who are tasked with coming up with something fun for the group to do together. To give you a better idea of some of the things we do during that time you can take a look at this board.

That’s it! If you have any questions or want to share any rituals that are helpful for you and your team, feel free to comment below.

Read on…

Designing Atlassian

Tales from the Atlassian design team

Marc Jenkinson

Written by

Trello Design Manager, Atlassian

Designing Atlassian

Tales from the Atlassian design team

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