Designing remote work (part 2)
The first article was about how to get to know each other and create a shared team vision at the very beginning of your life as a team, in the next paragraphs we will tackle problems and challenges related to daily life and team communication.
How to keep improving and learning from our mistakes?
At Sketchin we practice team retrospectives, a great way to improve interpersonal dynamics, keep track of and learn from our mistakes, and ‘measure’ the mood of each team member. Orion team strives to run a retrospective at least once a month, although as of now we only managed to make one happen.
Our first retrospective was moderated by our coach Gianni following the 4L model. We run the retrospective in full remote mode through Real Time Board, making use of its collaborative canvas and its call conference feature). The activity was aimed at pointing out what each of us had Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed for in the previous period. After generating the post-its individually, we clustered them and voted for the ones we felt more urgent (we had 3 votes per person). We then discussed as a team possible solutions to these topics and noted them down as actionable improvement points.
The retrospective lasted about 2 hours and pointed out several topics that I will outline one by one in the next paragraphs. This practice is very beneficial when running on (at least) a monthly basis as it allows to discuss problems and keep track of progress over time.
How to create closeness despite the distance?
In order to minimize the feeling of isolation that worries many of us, we are testing the following solutions:
- Daily stand-ups: every morning we join our team hangout and have a 10–20 minutes call conference, during which each of us tells the rest what they have done the day before, what they will do in the current day, and express potential needs (to be addressed later in a separate call);
- Daily walk-in practice: on our Slack team channel every morning we write down our individual stand-up topics: what we did, what we will do and what our needs are. This helps to be faster during stand-up and leaves a note in case someone is not able to join stand-up for any reason;
- Daily walk-out practice: when we finish working we write down on Slack what we did, what we will do on the next day and any potential needs we have for the next day. It might seem redundant, but it enhances the feeling of closeness to the rest of the team and leaves a lot fewer things unsaid;
- Every Friday morning we spend about 1 hour on Trello planning the activities of the next iteration (agile term for week): we check the progress of our ongoing tasks (organized in Backlog, Iteration Plan, Execution, Standby, Approval, Done), if they have been accomplished successfully or not and why, and define the new tasks for the coming iteration trying to quantify the necessary effort with a time estimation for every task. The tasks are then pulled by each of us during the iteration, and the team is notified about it during stand-ups;
- During our weekly planning on Friday morning we make sure to schedule an in-person meeting which might be necessary or helpful in the following week(s); If no meetings are considered strictly necessary, we still manage an opt-in calendar where we note down the days we autonomously decide to be present ‘live’ at our office(s). In this way, other team members might decide to join that day instead of another one;
- We try to keep continuous and fluid communication also with the rest of Sketchin (e.g. through the dedicated Slack channels);
- We run dedicated team moments on a regular basis (e.g. retrospectives);
- In case of meetings where a part of the team is physically together and the rest is present remotely, we try our best to moderate the meeting in an inclusive way, making sure those who are not there are equally represented;
- Team building moments: organizing a team lunch every now and then is very beneficial;
- Making sure to be individually proactive in pulling tasks and proposing ideas to the team as well as proper communication of own expectations.
How to make pairing remote-proof?
Pairing — the practice of shaping the project together and improving it step by step through constant review and feedback — is a valuable asset in a design team, definitely something to preserve. To do this, we are trying out the following:
- Making sure to foresee and schedule peer reviews and alignments during our weekly planning;
- Using real-time collaborative tools (e.g. Google Suite, iCloud, Real Time Board) where we can work on the same content at the same time.
How to measure our efficiency as a team?
Measuring the performance of a team is a complex matter. Sketchin as a studio is currently developing its own ‘maturity model’ encompassing also this question. On our side, as Orion team, we have set some KPI’s that should help us measure our performance over time: reached budget, on-time delivery, actual adherence to the task backlog, extra work time.
How to manage a different kind of projects and clients remotely?
This is a big question we have, and it’s still an open point. Managing our presence (whether live or virtual) does not always depend on the team’s organization. It heavily depends on the kind of project and on the client’s expectations or habits.
This is something we will experience project by project, and it is strictly related to the vision that Sketchin will evolve over time.
Key learnings and takeaways
Long story short, here’s a list of the most important things we’ve learned so far that we would like to share with you:
- Start with a working agreement: first things first, create a common ground and make sure to share individual expectations, needs and fears with each other before the start;
- Define (and stick to) your team ceremonies: daily stand-ups, weekly planning, retrospectives, whatever works best for you;
- A coach is a great idea: if your working environment enables this, being followed by a coach/facilitator/scrum master (at least at the beginning) is definitely a plus: it helps to connect team vision and company vision and gives a broader picture to the team;
- Choose the right tools: co-design sessions, brainstormings, retrospectives and other collaborative team moments can be effectively carried out virtually by choosing the right tools (Real Time Board seems a great option so far);
- Organize in-person meetings for team building: this enhances a culture of trust and openness within the team and allows for facing critique in a constructive way.
As always, drop us a line if you would like to share your insights about this topic or get to know more about Sketchin!
Missed something? go back to the first part!
Clizia Welker, Service Designer at Sketchin, is passionate about co-design and group facilitation. She loves to work at the intersection of disciplines and cultures and believes in design as a tool for creating value and empowerment, a tool that is applicable to services, business and society to make things more simple, more accessible, fairer.
Stefano Vetere, Senior Visual Designer at Sketchin, is a detail-obsessed geek who is passionate about too many things to count. He strives to achieve the utmost quality and value in every project and appreciates genuine human relations above all.
Francesca Maina is a dreamer and a passionate Interaction Designer who has managed to turn her passion into work. She loves exploring new innovative concepts and comes up with creative solutions to problems revolving around user’s needs, business goals, technical constraints and, more in general, life.
Serena Tonus, Experience Architect & Senior Service Designer at Sketchin, is a passionate design thinker. She loves to play with service design tools and she is always looking for new creative concepts and solutions to implement innovative processes into her digital and non-digital company transformation projects.
Arianna Salvetti is a senior UX Designer with 8 years of experience in design and implementation of digital products and services. She loves practicing human-centered design and following a decision funnel based on users’ needs and business goals. She is very passionate about her job and likes learning and experimenting with new methodologies and techniques.