How to adapt to the new normal as a product designer?

Patryk Szaflarski
Docplanner Tech
Published in
5 min readJun 10, 2020

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Remote work — a dream job environment for every independent nomad designer. We all heard and read stories about designers traveling the world, waking up in a different city and meeting diverse and inspiring people while managing their full time job. But what happens if the one of the most important benefits is no longer relevant and you are forced to stay in quarantine 24/7 behind the four walls? How to adapt to the brand new reality without having the possibility to explore an exciting and undiscovered world and to socialize with your friends and colleagues while still developing your skills and taking care of your users and a business? Personally, I am still trying to figure it out but in Docplanner we already managed to make our work environment even more efficient than before the lockdown happened, keeping in mind few unwritten rules.

  1. Communicate

From the day one we were very transparent about our approach to remote work during a pandemic. Our company defined a three level process based on the governments’ recommendations. Each level (green, yellow and red) represented specific rules on how we should adapt to the new reality. For example, in Poland we moved from the green level to the red one in a week. The transition was fast but we were all aware in advance what are specific rules of each level so it wasn’t surprising that at one point we will have to work 100% remotely.

When it actually happened, most people in our design team were feeling okay about working from home. Our pre-covid remote work policy was pretty flexible. I was actually working remotely on Mondays and Fridays and I really enjoyed it.

What was very overwhelming for me (and probably for others as well) wasn’t the remote work itself — it was the fear of the unknown. How can we avoid getting infected? How can I protect my family? How should I behave to take care of my mental and physical health and at the same time be working on the product with a vision that changed drastically because of the surging market’s needs?

The answer is communication and transparency.

We took certain steps to make sure that the team is aligned with the product goals and at the same time we got the support from our people experience team.

How we did it?

1:1 — Ideally we have 1:1s with our manager every week or two to not only talk about work but to share our informal, general thoughts about the situation. Managers are very open to listen to our concerns and always try to give good bits of advice. It is very important to find compassion and detach from work for a moment to discuss the general well being of your peers and to remind each other that this situation is not normal and the feelings that you experiment right now — being less motivated, productive or creative don’t define who you are as a designer.

Slack — An amazing tool (unfortunately full of traps). After the first week of working from home, I noticed that people felt overwhelmed with the amount of messages. Feeling of the constant meeting happening in the background is demotivating and not conducive to the focus and the creativity. It turned out that we enjoy slack only if we are using it asynchronously with longer written content. Thanks to that, everyone can share their thoughts at the specific moment, without taking a break from the creative work.

Meetings reduction — I believe that no one likes wasting their time on a meeting that could have been an email (or a longer slack message), especially designers. I agreed with my product manager that we will have meetings until lunch break to leave some space for the creative work during the second part of the day.

Design critique — as a product designer, receiving constant feedback about my work is crucial — especially when we are deprived of the spontaneous interactions with next desk neighbors. In Docplanner we put into practice two types of the design critique: Slack channel called Design feedback and a Thursday “Salami Review” meeting (don’t ask about the name — it’s a long story!). Both tools allow us not only to improve our skills but also to build relationships between us designers.

Additionally, we also switched to Figma a few months prior to the pandemic and the tool is just amazing for collaboration not only among designers but also with other product people. I believe the transition from Sketch to Figma is another topic that I want to write about in the nearest future.

2. Plan

Some time ago I heard a very inspiring sentence — “Plan your time or others will do it for you”. I took it very seriously and since then I plan every minute of my working hours. I start every week with gathering insight from my team about our goals to plan my week well. I use a combination of Notion, Airtable and Google Calendar as my main tools to keep track of every task’s progress and to prioritize my work as well.

3. Get inspired

In Docplanner we have the opportunity to use 20% of our working time for skill improvement during Creative Fridays. We have the possibility to work on projects not related with our product teams — we can let our imagination run wild, prepare the design concept of the futuristic AR healthcare experience, play with our UI Kit styles or write this article :) It was always important for me and the company to have a space to go crazy with ideas because many ideas that arose during the Creative Fridays were actually brilliant and came into reality as a final product. We noticed that during a pandemic it’s essential to keep your head open for incoming amazing ideas and to have space to make them tangible.

Also, big companies finally decided to go online to share their knowledge. The location of the event is not an issue anymore. For example, our team participated in the remote design week and the amount of the juicy content shared by other designers and product people was remarkable.

4. Rest

Last but not least, have the time for yourself and remember that this situation is not normal and will end sooner or later. You can feel less productive, helpless or overwhelmed and it’s okay. Give yourself a chance to clear your mind. I highly recommend working out at least 30 minutes a day, tracking your mood (I am a hard user of Youper) and of course — have a good sleep.

We all have been affected by the pandemic — some of us more than others. I believe that the most important thing is that we are all in this together and we should support each other as much as possible. As product designers in Docplanner (and in general) we have a lot of impact and the power on how we can make the lives of our users better — for example, we introduced video consultations that helped connect doctors and patients all around the world. It shows that even while staying home we can help many people — all you have to do is just look around.

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