Fostering remote design collaboration

Matt Whetsell
Jul 15 · 4 min read

How the Design Team at Ro builds stronger bonds, apart. (Templates are included 😄)

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Covid-19 has reshaped the way we work together. No longer are there casual chit-chats by the coffee machine or in-person whiteboard brainstorms; the squeaking of markers and their effaced residue on the side of your palm now wistfully missed. You’re at home, hunched over a surface you never thought would be used as your full-time workspace, and squinting at your fifth video call of the day. Nobody expected this, but we make the best of it.

At Ro, we have many employees that work remotely and were able to use their best practices to adapt quickly to working from home. This provided the opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to design workflows that connect great ideas over digital space.

Although there are many great examples, I want to focus on what the design team has done to foster collaboration. We’ve even included a couple of templates at the end to get you started.

Team brainstorms 👯‍♀️

It’s important to us at Ro that all members of the team are included in the early phases of product discovery. With some in our team thousands of miles apart, and others local — though confined to their homes — we need ways of facilitating brainstorms while not allowing it to feel awkward. It’s human nature to desire that in-person presence where we can collaborate while following social queues.

But here’s the thing, it’s wrong to assume we need to force that exact experience over a video call. It’s important that you don’t try to create a literal representation of a physical brainstorm, but understand how we, as users, interact in a digital space and expand on that.

How?

#1 — Own the process & space 👑

As a designer, learn to own the process. For many designers, this may come easy. For others, it involves coming out of your shell and bringing people together. Trust me, when everyone’s in the same room (or hangout/Zoom), and you lead them to share their ideas, organizing them, and establishing a consensus, you make the design process your company’s process.

What’s one way you can make this happen remotely?

At Ro, we had always used Figma, which has unlocked transparent cross-team collaboration. There are similar tools, but finding one like Figma opens up the opportunity for a designer to be the central pin in a map of stakeholders, squads, and leadership. When everyone can access space, like Figma, as they do a physical space, you break down some of those digital barriers.

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#2 — Build your toolbox 🔨

Whiteboards, stickies, and markers have made participation in workshops easy for anyone. Without them, you need to provide the right tools so anyone — non-designers and all — can contribute equally. Face it, no matter what tool you use, no one will be as savvy as you. Some won’t even know how to click or drag or enter text. Hurdles like this punish creativity and motivation. It’s up to you to ensure everyone has equity in this space. We’ve worked on frameworks and elements in Figma to reduce as much friction while keeping things familiar.

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#3 — Everyone speaks 🙋🏽‍♀️

Sounds simple enough, but without sitting in the same physical space, you can feel disconnected from everyone. On a side note, this might actually be a plus for introverts who are hesitant to raise their voice in a brainstorm. Regardless, our rule is that if someone contributes an idea on a digital sticky note or a typed-out-comment, that person reads it out.

When everyone speaks to their ideas, you open up the conversation to everyone. They feel heard. You push forward discussions.

#4 — Brainstorm often ⏰

Good habits deliver great outcomes. In my squad, we brainstorm once a sprint at a minimum. It’s essential that everyone introduces ideas early and often before finalizing product specs or conceptualizing wireframes. But every squad works differently, even at Ro, and you should do what works for you.

Getting started 💅🏽

As a design community, we’re in this together. We’d like to share some of our templates that we’ve used as a way for you to kick off your processes. There are a ton of other examples at Figma Community, and I highly encourage you to check that out as well.

Our templates:

👉 https://www.figma.com/community/file/864963170094349234

Ro-Design

The Ro Design Team Blog

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