To the uninitiated, remote working often conjures images of lazy, out of touch workers, surrounded by empty pizza boxes, sitting in front of a dimly lit screen donned in dirty sweat pants while Jeremy Kyle and the horrors of daytime television play out somewhere in the background.
In truth, remote working has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 15 years and the aforementioned pizza images are largely a thing of the past. The rise of remote working has been enabled by web based technologies including e-mail, Skype, GoToMeeting, WhatsApp and their myriad of counterparts, coupled with ubiquitous WiFi and high speed internet.
To tell my own story, in 2014, whilst working as a freelancer, I was fortunate enough to win the pitch to re-design IKEA’s global intranet. I would become part of a small but effective team consisting of:
- Project Manager - based in Leamington Spa, UK
- User Experience Designer - based in Banbury, UK
- User Interface Designer (myself) - based in London, UK
- Front End Developer - based in the Peak District, UK
On the client side were two decision makers based at IKEA’s headquarters in Älmhult, Sweden, and their internal development team (also Älmhult).
The project scope was significant, seeing that the newly designed Intranet would be applied globally to all IKEA employees. From winning the pitch to designing the pages and delivering the HTML and CSS, the process took approximately 6 months. At the end of the final sprint was a finely crafted solution that was praised by IKEA's board and duly implemented.
Now, what may surprise you is that during the entire time working on the project I never met anyone from my team or from IKEA. To this day I’ve still never met anybody involved in person.
So how were we able to create a successful product without the traditional face-to-face?
This is the most crucial element to remote working regardless of the size of the team. Being clear and concise through e-mail, project management software (Basecamp, Trello, etc), or on the phone is key to success. When sending e-mails also consider the tone of your communication - before you send anything take a moment to re-read it and make sure it’s understandable to its recipient.
Organisation, organisation, organisation! Time is your most valuable asset and you should protect it wherever possible.
If working from home set clear boundaries to avoid the distraction of family and friends. If this isn’t possible then look at renting a remote office space. There are many co-working spaces available in larger towns and cities, ranging from those which offer desk space by the hour to more established venues providing fixed desks per month. Providers in London include WeWork, Work Life and The Collective. When working on IKEA, my desk space would alternate between Eat Work Art at Hackney Downs and my home.
If a client or colleague requests a meeting look at their reasons why and consider whether it is actually necessary. As Jason Fried (Founder, Basecamp) suggests in REWORK, “meetings are toxic”. The goal is to avoid meetings which disrupt productivity. If something is unclear try to simplify the problem and discuss it quickly via e-mail or instant messenger. This is doubly important if the client requests a face-to-face at a different location which will not only drain time spent in the meeting but time and cost for commuting. Set clear goals and timeframes for work and agree to check in at those intervals. Not only will this aid your own productivity but your clients too.
"There are too many meetings. Push back on meetings that do not make sense or are unproductive. Only book a meeting when you have an important business issue to discuss and you want or need input, approval, or agreement. Even then, resist the urge to invite everyone and their brother — don't waste people's time unnecessarily."
—Lisa Haneberg, author (from Don't Let Meetings Rule!)
With a distributed team also comes distributed time zones. While the IKEA project only had a 2 hour difference at most, we've worked with clients from all across the world including some with a +13 hour time zone shift.
While you may be working, be aware your colleagues will likely have different working hours so they may be sleeping. Be considerate so no decisions are made at the last minute when other team members are unavailable.
Tech is your friend… so embrace it!
Software such as Skype and GoToMeeting facilitate video conferencing and screencasting, thus negating the need for the traditional face-to-face meeting and (aforementioned) long hours spent commuting. Skype offers group chats that allow screencasting and video simultaneously, meaning you can show your work on screen and also scribbles on your desk in a live environment. For design work that requires more detailed feedback consider software such as UXPin and InVision (our personal choice) as they allow both e-mail feedback and real time collaboration. While it’s always good to check in with clients in person, the vast majority of meetings can be conducted online.
This article was written at our new co-working space in Kuala Lumpur
Remote working can be a very cost effective and efficient way to conduct business, allowing for dynamic teams operating across multiple time zones, but don’t let distraction and time wasting sully the water as this is the devil incarnate when it comes to self discipline. If you follow the three basic principles above, there’s no reason why you cannot work remotely, whether it be at home, in a shared office space or in another country altogether.
Do you have experience working with remote colleagues? Share our tips on Twitter and tell us about your experiences and best practices you’ve learned in the comments below.
This post was written and published in Kuala Lumpur. Jeremy Kyle was not involved in the creation of this article.