Who has not imagined themselves working from anywhere besides their office? I remember daydreaming about travelling and working on the go rather than repeatedly sitting at the same desk, and I am convinced I am not alone in imagining work from a sunny palm-fringed beach or the comforts of my home.
There are many reasons for employees to become location independent. A study predicts that 60% of workers in the UK will work outside of their office by 2022 (Virgin Media Business, 2012). This shift is primarily made possible due to the advances in technology which allow people to stay connected despite geographical distances. It has led to a growing trend of people working remotely across different industries, not only in the UK, but worldwide.
The last decade has also increasingly witnessed businesses adopting design-led innovation methods to remain competitive in a global economy. Designers have shown their ability to analyse problems before proposing solutions using a framework known as design thinking. This approach “starts by identifying user needs and goes on working with users throughout the process to co-design and test solutions” (Design Council, 2013). It requires multidisciplinary teamwork which is made effective through direct observation, visualisation and prototyping.
These two rising trends appear to be incompatible due to the nature of their spatial requirements: remote work eliminates the need for a common space to work in, whereas design thinking requires activities to be completed with close physical collaboration. Taking these conflicting aspects into consideration, this study will attempt to answer the following questions:
- How can teams adopt the design thinking process when collaborating remotely?
- How can remote workers carry out research and test their ideas with users if they are not based in the same location?
To understand the implications of remote work, I collaborated with Hanno, a UX agency with a geographically distributed team. The company envisioned implementing design thinking in its work practice. My experience with design thinking while studying at Hyper Island made me realise I could help the agency fulfill its goal while simultaneously learn about how effective remote teams perform when using design thinking.
The conclusions drawn from this research are targeted at well-established and fully functional remote workers in the creative industry who are considering using the design thinking approach in their practice. It is important to note that this project does not provide an explanation on how to set up, organise or operate a dispersed team.
There were three personal expectations that I wanted to fulfill when I started the Industry Research Project:
1. Deliver a project that is valuable for myself and the creative industry
I wanted to ensure that my chosen topic would help me acquire the skills needed to work remotely in future while also being relevant for current remote workers in the digital sector of the creative industry.
2. Apply my learnings from Hyper Island
My project would have to make use of the knowledge I acquired during the Masters program in Digital Media Management. Although Hyper Island promotes a hands-on learning experience throughout all its modules, I was eager to test what I had learnt in the ‘real world’ with a team of professionals that were unfamiliar with my course. Emboldened by one of the school’s philosophies, “Lead the change”, I wanted to initiate a conversation for change in the creative industry.
3. Help people find a better work-life balance
Our time in life is limited. I have always wanted to make the most of my time by engaging in experiences that inspire me, both on a personal and professional level, without feeling restricted due to the location of my job. My impression is that imposing a work-style that clashes with one’s goals and desired lifestyle is damaging to productivity and happiness.
“To be creative you need to be free to choose the life that you want. Because if you are put into these limitations of a traditional office with working hours, you become less efficient, you are able to achieve less in terms of creativity and innovation. If we’re going to live this life, we have to spend time in it as well.” (Johan Frentz, Founder of Lead XD)
The intention of this project is to develop a functional framework for remote teams in the creative industry to help them integrate the design thinking process and tools.
A note on terminology:
The terms remote teams, remote workers, virtual teams, online teams, location independent teams, geographically distributed teams and dispersed teams are all used to imply a group of people who work together from different locations and collaborate primarily with technology.
This study consists of 8 chapters available online. Publishing my work on Medium enables the targeted audience to access and share the information regardless of their location. It also allows people working remotely to start a conversation on the subject in a space that is open to dialogue.
As part of my Industry Research Project, I also created HI Nomad, a blog that follows my journey. It reflects on the different parts of the process and provides observations related to my research.
Design Council (2013) Design for Public Good. [pdf] Design Council. Available at: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/Design%20for%20Public%20Good.pdf [Accessed: 30 April, 2015]
Virgin Media Business (2012) Half empty offices predicted by business leaders. [Online] Available at: http://www.virginmediabusiness.co.uk/News-and-events/News/News-archives/2012/Half-empty-offices-predicted-by-business-leaders/ [Accessed: 30 April, 2015]