Remote Creativity
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Remote Creativity

How To Collaborate While Working From Home

Is home office driving you 🥜? We’ll tell you how our creative project teams face remote work challenges and find new routines and opportunities.

by MING Labs

Due to globalization and digitalization, working with remote tools is nothing new to us. But with the global spread of Covid-19, we now have to shift all communication and collaboration activities to our home offices. In this article, we let you take a look at how MING Labs’ creatives tackle this new normal around the world.

Tips On Remote Interaction 👨‍💻

“Taking care of each other as a team, and checking in with each other is important,” says Senior Experience Designer Henrike from Berlin. “Sometimes you get lost in a problem or detail, and forget that you have your team just a call away. Just talking it through with someone sometimes solves it already.” Time together with the team on calls where you align become crucial touch points, so it’s important that everyone is really focused and present. Communication skills have never been more important.

Quick exchanges via phone or video call are crucial to get feedback on designs and connect with colleagues. Across Germany, China and Singapore we’ve implemented virtual coffee breaks, remote lunches and Show & Tells to keep up the communication.

“Not everyone is always there, but it’s nice if you need human interaction,” UX Designer Lena adds. And Slack works best for us if we need short reviews.

As team collaboration on a virtual whiteboard can end up messy and cluttered with notes, scribbles and visuals, UX Designer Siying from Berlin suggests to keep your virtual workspace tidy and organized, just as you would tidy up meeting rooms or workspaces before leaving the office. “In order to avoid overwhelming your clients with information, it’s useful to keep a separate board for internal work and another one for external presentations.”

Virtual whiteboards for internal (left) and external (right) presentations

Thinkey, our CTO from Shanghai, also makes sure team members are clear on their targets and on the right track. “Asking them to talk to each other, checking issues and dependency” and sticking to more video calls to “feel the mood” within the team.

“Flexibility is the key” highlights Jason.

As a Project Lead in Singapore, he needs to accommodate to make sure everything happens as normal, to be organized and implement proper time management to keep up efficiency and speed. “I used Skype for Business to call a client. They could hear me, but couldn’t see my screen. So I changed to my personal Skype for talking and sharing my screen, and was calling one of the designers on WhatsApp — you make it work.”

Home office setup from our Project Lead Jason

Adapting Daily Routines 📞

When we’re missing out on our daily office routines, we need to come up with adaptations to fit our remote setup. “We are doing a short internal alignment every morning and in the afternoon to ensure the scope and goal for the day is set clear,” says UX Designer Verena from Munich. “This also happened before more ad hoc. But now it’s on a regular basis as we cannot grab each other quickly to address questions.”

Daily stand-ups and video calls at regular set time slots to exchange on the progress have become important parts for all designers.

Time Boxing Vs Losing Track Of Time ⏱️

Finding yourself easily distracted at home? Or completely in a flow? We’ve all been there. “I find it the weirdest to have zero distraction or routine that breaks up the day, so once I’m done with all calls for the day, I just lose track of time — and boom it’s 1am,” Henrike shares. “These days have been really productive, but I’m sure that will flip, so I’m taking it all in while it lasts. It’s also really easy to get lost in details or just circle a design challenge forever. It’s important to remember that your colleagues are still there to talk things through with you when you get stuck or lost.”

Make sure to spend time aligning with the team, planning things and time boxing so you don’t lose focus.

A dedicated work space at home helps to focus

What Challenges Have Come Up?

When you just want a quick opinion on your work it’s a lot more effort to create a meeting. Whereas chatting via text loses important information like the facial expression or the tone of your voice. As a host of a remote meeting, it’s important to test everything before and make sure all participants have the correct links to dial in to make it as seamless as possible.

“Make sure you encourage the team to participate, make it a collaborative discussion and ask if they have questions,” advises Jason.

Our designers now have to get used to new ways of sharing their work. “When exchanging internally on early stages of new features you need to get ‘comfy’ to show for example paper scribbles into the camera. And in a video chat you need to figure out where to sit so that there are no distracting pictures in the background,” highlights Verena. “I also miss the quick exchanges and human interaction like drinking a coffee in the kitchen or discussing a problem,” adds Lena.

While communication in a team is always important during workshops, this makes it particularly challenging to align internally in your team in an online setting as all participants (including clients) are present in the same space. “Zoom’s ‘Breakout Rooms’ are especially intended for this purpose — they allow for you to create sessions that are split off from the main Zoom meeting and are useful for participants to meet in smaller groups.

This is especially useful for teams to collaborate and discuss on-the-go, while staying present in a workshop,” shares Siying.

Personal Changes In The Lives Of MING 🏠

Plus, we wanted to know how people at MING are spending their time at home. Here is what we found out:

Henrike:I spend a lot of time preparing great meals and pop out my head on the balcony during lunch to catch some sun. And I opened a home gym! Free towel service and a much better playlist, so can’t complain :) I also do staircase sprints when I check my postbox, and my neighbors probably think I lost my mind already.”

Lena in MING’s office space in Berlin vs. her personal home office

Lena:I learned more about myself these days. I am much more social than I thought, I really miss seeing my team everyday. I wake up even later, which is great, and I sometimes work with my roommate in the kitchen. He is from marketing and showed me the tools he’s using — quite interesting, as you can see other fields now and learn about it. Too much pyjama these days… You really have to find hobbies you can do at home, like reading, making makramee, drawing, building stuff etc, more calls with family and friends, cooking with your flatmates — have more soul food!”

Verena: “I start pretty early as I do not have the traveling time and try to finish earlier which actually does not work out a lot yet. I enjoy sitting outside in the garden or the terrace while working when the sun is shining, and I’m running around a lot when I have calls where I don’t have to show anything.

Thinkey: “I had more time to spend with my family, especially my daughter, so I can help her to get used to online classes. Cooking with my wife also gives us a feeling of working together.”

Jason: “In Singapore we are not heavily locked down like in Germany or China. We can still go out, embrace at home exercises, going to the pool, cooking, reading more for work and making the most out of being at home. I also did these things before and try to keep a balanced life. Don’t get too absorbed in the news, you need to make simple small changes to make sure life is not too impacted — and stay positive.”

From post-it sessions to remote chats: Jason in the Singapore office vs. his home

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

Liked this story, and curious to know more? Start a conversation with us on Twitter, check our latest updates on LinkedIn, or drop us a note at hello@minglabs.com.

Related Reading: The Guide To Great Remote Workshops — 5 Tools To Help You Succeed

How can we set team workshops in an online setting up for success, and make the experience less frustrating? Take note of these tools.

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