Remote work at Envoy: How we design for collaboration
For the past few months at Envoy we’ve been interviewing designers to help grow our team. Through my discussions with these candidates, there’s one question I’ve been asked by almost every single one:
Sooo, what’s it like being the remote designer at Envoy?
While I’ve always been a remote employee at Envoy, I’ve also been a remote designer for much of my design career. A few years ago, I founded a small mobile design agency. We decided it was easier and less overhead to base ourselves from home instead of a physical office.
Working remote has both pros and cons. There are many great articles that offer practical tips on how to optimize your work environment to help increase productivity and connect with your co-workers in a meaningful way. In this post, I’m going to specifically focus on working remotely as a designer and the ways we keep the design team connected at Envoy.
Being remote creates unique challenges
As a product designer, my role is to be involved with as many aspects of a project as possible. Keeping communication lines open and being able to check the status of a project when you aren’t within shoulder tapping range is extremely important. Throw timezones into the mix and you’ve got a whole new dimension of complexity to deal with! We’ve found that constant conversation in Slack and managing projects through tools such as Asana, Trello, and/or Jira is crucial for overcoming these hurdles. While in-office teams face similar challenges, as a remote designer you don’t have the same instant access to your co-workers and must rely more heavily on these tools.
But how about design itself? Isn’t design extremely collaborative?
This is one of the more challenging aspects of being remote. Here at Envoy there are a few ways we manage this:
To start, we have daily video standup meetings. This is common practice across all our teams at Envoy and is a simple way of seeing your co-workers on a daily basis.
A technique we’ve found effective for remote video calls is for each member of the meeting to join the call with their camera on, even when sitting together in the same room. This makes it easier for remotes to read facial cues and feel more emotionally connected to the person speaking.
Additionally, I have weekly one-on-one check-ins with a few people I work with more regularly. This allows us to sync up with each other on what we’re working on, challenges we’re facing, and how we can keep work consistent across our own projects.
As a design team, we value constant feedback and critique cycles at Envoy and we try to get our work in front of each other as frequently as possible. We do most of this asynchronous by sharing our work through Abstract. We use the collection and conversation views in Abstract to post work and get feedback from each other. We have this connected to a Slack channel dedicated entirely to critiquing, which allows each member of the design team to see what’s happening and provide feedback.
We make it a point to try to give each other feedback every single day, usually multiple times a day. This asynchronous feedback is great because you can do it in the time between meetings or when you’re shifting gears between projects. Even spending a quick 5 minutes to provide some feedback benefits the designer who posted it immensely.
While these types of feedback cycles are great, it’s also easy to lose some of the intention behind a project when you can’t talk through it in person. This is why we supplement this feedback with a weekly one hour critique meeting. In this meeting we’re able to go into more detail and provide the rest of the team with the proper context to help them better understand the type of feedback we need to keep the project moving.
I look forward to these meetings each week as I don’t always get this kind of real-time feedback at other times of the day.
Design team hangs
In the past couple months we’ve started a weekly hangout session. We all join a video call and leave it running in the background while we keep working independently. This isn’t a typical meeting call as there’s no specific agenda. This passive background call makes it very easy for us to receive input and suggestions from the rest of the team on the individual projects we are working on.
For me, it provides the illusion that I’m sitting right next to the rest of the team. It’s the equivalent of being able to tap someone on the shoulder to quickly get thoughts on a problem I’m trying to solve or a design I’m trying to tszuj. Not only is it a valuable way for me to connect to the rest of the team but it also provides us with dedicated time outside of other meetings to work together. I would highly recommend trying something like this in your own design team, even if the entire team works in-office.
There can be challenges to working remotely but I believe the best way to overcome is to recreate the in-person experience as much as possible. Are there any processes that your team has in place that help with a distributed team? Let me know! I’d love to hear how we can continue to improve our team connectivity.