Our friends at Miro — a visual collaboration platform — are experts when it comes to managing distributed teams. Today the Miro team shares five high-impact processes to improve design collaboration and communication when it comes to distributed or remote UX designers.
Leading tech companies are the first to test out innovative methods of work, so it’s no surprise that they’re also beginning to be more distributed. This approach allows them to attract the best talent worldwide while reducing costs.
However, being distributed can create new challenges, especially for UX design and research teams who often rely on rituals and methods that are hard to replicate online — i.e. customer journey mapping and clustering research findings on a whiteboard to syncing with product and development teams.
To help UX designers overcome communication barriers that arise from working within a distributed team, we’re digging deep into how other leading tech companies are solving these problems and making it work.
1. Empathize with your teammates to build trust
A big part of achieving alignment on a remote team is thinking about how different cultures work, and encouraging teammates to ask questions and be proactive communicators. Supporting your team and understanding their communication style will help keep everyone on the same page.
A good way to find out what works best for each individual is to ask the team to create personal manifestos. Each person outlines their preferred communication tools, ways to give and receive feedback, and even pet peeves. This simple exercise can encourage everyone to be more open and vulnerable, and gives teammates some context for understanding each other.
Erin Casali, Design Principal at Automattic:
“Certain country cultures create different expectations, and certain languages, when translated to English, might subtly change the tone. In some cultures, discussions tend to be very dry and factual; short sentences, sharp language, no acknowledgment of context beyond the specific answer. For someone who comes from a different culture, this can be read as very distant, detached, even rude or impolite; but it’s just a cultural difference.”
2. Create rituals & establish a source of truth
Distributed teams don’t have the opportunity to share quick updates by a watercooler or during lunch. And if they work in different timezones, it’s generally harder to sync and react quickly if there are any blockers. Distributed teams are more prone to working in silos and struggling with miscommunication because some real-life conversations can naturally happen in different hubs. However, it’s hard to communicate the outcomes of these conversations to people in different locations. Establish regular rituals for the whole team to share updates, insights, and concerns and document anything that happens at the meeting or even outside of it when it affects the whole team.
Prianka Rayamajhi, Lead Product Designer at Pinterest:
“We have our regular rituals like grooming sessions and retros. Also, having a source of truth or a living history of its accomplishments is vital for a team. Having some sort of outline of your team’s process is really going to give your team purpose. I think it’s important to start mapping out those sorts of processes.”
3. Protect your time from empty, actionless meetings
It’s okay to leave a meeting if you don’t know why you’re there within the first five minutes. Another best practice is agreeing that all the meeting hosts must have an agenda when they are sending invites — that way, everyone has a chance to prepare for the meeting and spend time efficiently. Some meetings are hard or impossible to eliminate, so another good tactic is to block time on your calendar for focused work — alone or together with your team.
Ben Holland-Arlen, Senior UX Designer at BOLD:
“I’m sure many people have this calendar problem where their life is in 30-minute chunks all day long, with a 30-minute lunch. If me and my team are all working on the same problem, wherever we are – we’ll turn on the camera, have a quick discussion for 20-30 minutes, then keep the camera on for a few hours while we’re working. It’s been amazing because it feels a lot more like when you’re working side by side. It’s so powerful and so simple.”
4. Mimic the in-person collaborative experience
A lot of people working within distributed teams experience a fear of missing out. They wish they had a mentor or a friendly chat with a teammate who is remote or located in another hub. It’s harder for distributed teams to bond, cheer each other on, or learn from each other, so setting some time for mentorship calls, ‘Friday wins’ meetings, our even virtual happy hours can be a good idea.
Summer Kim, Head of Research at WhatsApp:
“It is important to have local leadership for your team in the remote office. And also encourage and help people to find great mentors (it could be more than one or two) in the local office as well as the headquarters. I’ve had many mentors, coaches, and advisors throughout my career, and I think it is particularly important for those who are working from remote offices.”
5. Share your insights in a central source of truth
Exchanging tools, techniques, and insights is critical for improving any team’s productivity, but it’s especially important to be proactive about it in distributed teams. In general, it’s hard for information to travel across several hubs and timezones.
When you’re having one of your team rituals, make sure key insights are recorded in a central hub that every team member can refer to synchronously or asynchronously. Encourage comments and questions. Capturing the conversations that happen in remote meetings is key to keeping everyone aligned and moving forward as one team.
Jessica Drizin, Senior UX Researcher at Upwork:
“A lot of our job is empowering the design and product teams to conduct their research. We started implementing a weekly research review, which is open to researchers and non-researchers, so designers and product managers that want to take more ownership of their research can join in. We listen to what problems they’re working on, any methodology that they propose, and we offer advice around the best methodology, or even if research is warranted at that stage.”
At the end of the day, you can’t avoid the challenges that arise from working within a distributed team. However, you can lean on the tactics that other successful companies use regularly to make collaboration work effectively for them. Of course, don’t shy away from tweaking these processes as needed, and make an effort to customize them so they work for your specific team. Good luck and happy collaborating!