Remote working: How we do it effectively
On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic.
This isn’t the first global pandemic (and it certainly won’t be the last), but it’s the first serious outbreak to occur in a world that’s more connected than ever before. Unlike SARS and MERS, coronavirus has come along in 2019/2020 – when global connectedness makes it easier than ever to work together effectively without ever being in the same room.
That said, remote working is a skill. As anyone who’s done it for long periods of time understands, it can be difficult to get used to the idea that you can perform your job without needing to hop on a train or board an aircraft.
That’s where we come in. To aid all of the UX designers, interactive designers and researchers needing to collaborate online and struggling to schedule user interviews, we’ve put together this article to share how we work (and research) remotely here at Optimal Workshop.
How to run a remote meeting
The first thing to note with remote meetings (especially when those meetings are made up entirely of remote workers) is that they’re almost certainly going to be slightly less productive than in-person meetings. That’s just how it goes. But, there are things you can do to smooth the process.
Firstly, ensure your technology is all set up and working correctly. This process starts with a good set of tools (we like Zoom and Google Hangouts), and ends with everyone knowing how to dial into a meeting and having their microphones and cameras working correctly. For important meetings, allow some time to get over those technical hurdles.
Next up, plan your agenda before you have everyone get on the call. It’s not easy getting everyone together for a remote call, so ensure you have a list of items that you need to work through. Better yet, share this before the meeting and have people make comments and suggestions.
It’s also a good idea to think through who actually needs to be in the meeting with you. It’s tempting to go broad, but smaller remote meetings can help to avoid people talking over each other.
In terms of actually running the meeting, brief everyone at the start and explain how you’re going to run things. Then, remind everyone why you’re there and have them introduce themselves and/or clarify what they’re there for. This is really only pertinent for meetings where you’re not especially familiar with each other.
Take advantage of remote collaboration tools
We’ve mentioned Zoom and Google Hangouts already, but what about the other remote tools for facilitating remote work? There’s now a huge range of tools available for everything from product design to visual design and marketing. Here are just a few of our favorites.
- MURAL: This is essentially an online whiteboard, but the real benefit is that you can see your colleagues working in real-time. This means there’s no need to refresh the screen to see the latest version of the board. We use MURAL constantly for brainstorming, co-designs and in every case where a whiteboard is required.
- Trello: As the Trello website says, the tool “keeps track of everything”. It’s certainly true. As a project management tool, Trello is invaluable for both providing a high-level overview of how a project is tracking and allowing people to work together on various parts of a project. It’s also great for remote work. Instead of needing to manage various email chains and project folders, you can keep everything (and everyone) in one place.
- InVision: Here at Optimal Workshop, we use InVision on a daily basis to build prototypes collaboratively and then share them with our team, whether they’re based in our Wellington office or elsewhere.
- Google Drive: You can also use Dropbox, but the end result is the same. These cloud storage platforms allow you to store everything securely online. Making them even more valuable is the multitude of sharing and permission options.
Ways to include remote team members
It’s all too easy for remote workers to feel isolated, especially when the office culture they’re missing out on is particularly inclusive and familial. At Optimal Workshop, we’ve come up with a number of ways to ensure those not in the office still feel like they’re part of the family.
- Send them some love in the form of treats and care packages. This is particularly important around the holidays.
- Make sure they have the ability to actively participate in meetings and get-togethers. For us, this means we’ll dial in remote workers on a laptop so they can virtually attend meetings and parties.
- Get remote workers to share more about what they’re up to in their personal lives. One of the things remote staff miss out on is the informal chats around the watercooler or at the local coffee shop. Foster a more open sharing environment by having them share what’s going on at home or where they’re traveling.
How to run user research over the internet
User interviews and usability tests are often 2 of the hardest types of testing to run with your user groups when external factors come into play – like coronavirus. But, they’re also difficult when you’re unable to travel in general.
That’s where unmoderated user research comes into play. Instead of needing to sit down face-to-face with participants, you simply use an online tool and run your research over the internet. You set up the study, participants complete it and then you analyze the data. Many popular tools also include the ability to generate analysis for you.
When quantitative analysis isn’t enough, and you need to understand why your participants made certain decisions, you can pair certain unmoderated tools (like ours) with a platform like UserTesting. If we use our card sorting tool OptimalSort as an example, you could run your card sort to see how people sort information, and then UserTesting to understand why certain things were confusing (or not).
Of course, you can also just run video interviews with participants too. Even if the dynamic is slightly different when you’re not in the same room, you’ll still be able to get valuable qualitative insights from those conversations.
Tips for working from home
We’re remote friendly here at Optimal Workshop, which basically means everyone is able to work from home as and when it suits them. Some of us may need to work from home on occasion while looking after a sick child, while others may want to get some work done from an airport lounge before boarding a flight. As a result of this experience, we have a few questions that you can ask yourself.
- When working from home for more than a few hours, consider if your environment is conducive to productivity. Do you have the right space, software tools and equipment to get your job done?
- How many meetings really need to be meetings? Can you discuss the same topic over Slack or email?
- What’s your strategy if everyone in your household needs to be at home? Can you remain focused and productive with partners and children also in the house?
As is the case with most other global outbreaks, coronavirus will eventually subside. But, the practices we can put in place and the learnings we can pull from it now will prove invaluable in the face of the next event (whether local or global) that impacts our ability to work together effectively.
Take the time now to grow your understanding of remote work. Learn how to work with your team even when you’re not in the same physical location and discover the broad range of user research tools available.