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Remote work

Collaboration workflows for remote design teams

4 min read
Sophie McAulay  •  Feb 7, 2019
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Working from wherever you feel like is one of the biggest perks of being a remote designer. You can work from the beach, or from bed, and your teammates won’t know a thing.

But this location-agnostic lifestyle is also one of the biggest frustrations of being a remote designer—or working with one.

Design is inherently collaborative, conceptual, and complex, and sometimes distance just serves as a barrier.

Hold me closer, remote designer

Remote work sounds like a dream…but have any of these ever happened to you?

  1. You unveil your designs by hitting the ‘Send’ button and anxiously await a response. While waiting, you walk back-and-forth between your desk and the fridge 15 times. You don’t get real-time feedback, and you do lose a few hours to stress eating.
  2. When you do get feedback on your designs, it’ll usually be in the form of a message. That means you miss out on body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and instantaneous emotional reactions. All of this adds 89389 anxiety points to every note.
  3. Typed feedback? A quick route to misinterpretation and misunderstandings. Which just leads to more back-and-forths, delaying progress and leading to frustration. And more snacks.

But does all that mean remote designers inherently bound to a life full of miscommunication and difficulties collaborating? Not at all!

Working remotely is steadily becoming more and more popular.

As the number of remote designers increases, so too do the tools and strategies that can help them collaborate better. From simple communication habits to powerful collaboration tools, here’s how to make things easier when working with a remote design team.

Don’t hold back your words

If you’ve been told to keep communication efficient and straight-to-the-point, throw that out the window when it comes to remote design projects. There’s a time and place for keeping it short, but remote collaboration isn’t one of them.

Many remote workers second-guess typing out every detail and thought, using minimal words to communicate complex thoughts and ideas—but fewer words can mean less clarity, leaving remote team members trying to interpret messages in their own way. This is a straight train to misinterpretation, creating delays and frustration, particularly if you aren’t communicating in real time due to time zone differences.

You can’t afford to not get your message across the first time, so take the time to thoroughly communicate your thoughts. Don’t assume your remote team will get the gist—if anything,you’re better off over-communicating than under-communicating.

“If you’ve been told to keep communication efficient and straight-to-the-point, throw that out the window when it comes to remote design projects. There’s a time and place for keeping it short, but remote collaboration isn’t one of them.”

Sophie McAulay
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Make time for face-to-face

It’s easy to miscommunicate and experience collaborative issues when you don’t have a good feel for your teammates and what they’re like as individuals. Face-to-face conversations, even over video chat, make a world of difference in understanding how your teammates think, work, and share feedback.

It’s not just about getting to know your teammates, though; some conversations are best-had face-to-face and can save all your remote team members a lot of time. Not only do conversations progress more efficiently and quickly, but your team members are more likely to express small bits of information they might not usually bother to type out.

For deeper, more meaningful relationships with remote colleagues, start scheduling video calls.

Briefs, brainstorming, and feedback are all better served IRL. Making the time for regular check-ins will pay off in more effective collaboration.

Make video walkthroughs

One of the most difficult aspects of remote design work is being unable to talk through your designs. You hit the ‘Send’ button and hope things are interpreted the way you intended them to be, but even with lengthy annotations, context can be lost, details can be missed, and important elements can be overlooked.

“Not only do conversations progress more efficiently and quickly over video, but your team members are more likely to express small bits of information they might not usually bother to type out.”

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Video walkthroughs are the next best thing to presenting your designs in person. Whether you’re showing a WIP, concept, or final design, video means you can communicate a lot more in less time. You can mention things you normally wouldn’t type out, like failed concepts, ideas that didn’t work, or problems you tackled along the way.

Writing is a critical skill, but nothing can replace the human voice.

Video walkthroughs could be anything from screen shares via your video conferencing software, narrated InVision user journeys, or just you talking through concepts and sketches via a video call.

“Not only do conversations progress more efficiently and quickly over video, but your team members are more likely to express small bits of information they might not usually bother to type out.”

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A video walkthrough can be super-short and will get your message across infinitely better than text ever would.

Use a WIP document

One of the biggest collaborative issues when working with a remote design team is checking in on works in progress. Files can be confused, team members are unsure where you’re at, and general miscommunication tends to happen. To make things easier when collaborating on a design project, use a WIP document.

When it comes to working remotely: Document, document, document.

This can be a sort of diary-slash-master doc, where you log the work you’ve done on each project as you go. You can make an entry for each time you add, change, or have something to share about your design. Illustrate it with screenshots, commentary, thoughts, and share the document with your teammates.

Your “brain squad” can access this shared brainspace anytime they want to check in on the project and know exactly where you’re up to and what you’ve been doing. WIP docs are a godsend in situations where people can’t remember why certain design decisions were made—and, especially for teams in flux, who made them.

Collaboration tools for designers

If there’s a single ingredient for successful collaboration with a remote design team, it’s a good collaboration tool. These tools exist purely to make working with remote teams a breeze and will help your team work together efficiently.

Embrace the future: remote working

With more than 23% of remote workers working for fully-distributed organizations, this is a trend that’s only going to continue to increase.

“Briefs, brainstorming, and feedback are all better served IRL.”

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While it can cause some communication challenges, there are tons of advantages to working as a remote designer: you can work with talented colleagues from all over the world, or work for your favorite company from your favorite city (even if they aren’t based there).

Getting skilled at communicating well across time zones, borders, and computer screens will open up worlds of opportunity for designers who don’t want to be tied to one place.

Luckily, it’s not rocket science; you just need to develop good habits and fill your belt with a few useful tools.

Want to learn more about working remotely?