The question “can you do good UX design remotely?” is for many not an option now. I started working remotely 2 years ago. Jumping from an office with around 200 people to a 100% online and distributed team wasn’t as smooth as I imagined.
Since then, I’ve become more aware of the traits necessary to run a design process and collaborate remotely. Hopefully these tips can help you designers who now have no option but to go remote.
Move your design process online
As designers, we have a process or a direction for what to do throughout a project. Now is the time to review it and think how to move that process to the online world. Meetings with the team or clients are now 100% online; daily stand-ups are now a written message on Slack; user interviews need to be done and recorded using video-conference; and you might also need to run usability tests online. You’ll need to present your findings to your team remotely. You’ll need to share your designs online. You’ll have design critique sessions online. You see where I’m going here.
A good exercise is to go through your and your team’s processes (or if you don’t have one now is a good time to start a simple one) and decide how your are going to do it online. Ask your team for their feedback and pick the tools that work for you and your team.
These are some options to document your design work:
- Slack/Mattermost/Discourse/FunRetro: for written communication (updates, notifications, messages, discussions, retrospectives, etc)
- Zoom/Whereby/Hangouts: for video-calls, recording sessions and setting up your online “personal office”.
- Notion/Slite: To document your work and share it with your team.
- Abstract/Figma/InVision/Zeplin: To host your design work and prototypes.
- Trello/Asana: For project management.
- Miro/Mural: Virtual whiteboards.
Communication itself is hard, now imagine written communication as the main way of connecting with your team. Specially for asynchronous teams, communication is about 80% written text while the other 20% might be video-calls (a.k.a. meetings).
In times where stress is high and deadlines are tight, miscommunication is the easiest way to go downhill with a team’s morale and motivation. To mitigate this, communicate often:
- What’s your goal for the week?
- What are you working on today?
- What’s blocking you from achieving your goal today?
- When do you plan to deliver X?
- Who do you need to meet with and when?
If you plan on creating a video-call for a meeting, be very clear about the agenda. Don’t block a whole hour just because that’s the default option on your calendar (start with 30 mins). Don’t let people guess what’s you are working on.
Is easy to loose focus when you are alone in your house with so many distractions. Being pro-active is like a muscle, it needs exercise. Procrastination is nothing but the avoidance of a negative emotion when facing a task or activity. One thing that works for me is to make a to-do list for the day, granular enough so the tasks don’t seem like an ordeal. Yes, include those tasks that you wish you could avoid forever and ever. Break them into smaller chunks, so you feel like they are getting done quickly, like a Band-Aid. One motion. Right off!
For example, my task today is to “create the usability test plan and share it with the team for feedback”. That seems like a big task, so I might break it down into:
1- “Create skeleton for usability test plan (just titles)”
2- “Fill plan with basic information (nothing fancy)”
3- “Review content (ready to share)”
4- “Share it with team for feedback”
5- “Review team’s feedback”,
and so on…
Then allocate only the mini-tasks you think you can do today. And try to differentiate what’s urgent from what’s important. With time, you’ll start to identify how much you can achieve in a “remote day”.
This is related in some way with the previous topic, but what I mean here with transparency is to be clear enough with your team in order to reduce anxiety. How many times you though your boss was disappointed after that bad usability test session? Without physical language or interaction, it’s near impossible to tell, but can weigh heavily on your mind.
People with anxiety (like me) tend to jump to the worst scenario. If your boss is not being clear enough, ask for clarification. Assume good intention by default, but let people know that their lack of transparency makes you feel anxious.
Ask what good work looks like to your boss. Ask for feedback from your team. Set expectations early and often.
Be patient, and be nice to other people
Lots of factors can play a role in this new situation: different cultures, different personalities, different timezones, lack of remote experience, need for better communication skills, etc. Decisions made remotely can take more time. So be patient, we are all learning together. And embrace talking about feelings because–at the end of the day–we are all humans.
Thanks to Sam Brinson for helping edit the article.