Remote work can be a huge advantage to companies with the technological capability to let go of traditional location-based models of doing business—but with these advantages come inherent challenges. Here’s how one remote team embraced both.
InVision has always been a fully remote company—CEO and co-founder Clark Valberg wants employees to work wherever they want, whenever they want, and he believes giving people that freedom can increase employee happiness and foster communication that’s better than that of many co-located companies.
For the team behind InVision Studio, working remotely has helped them do more than just communicate and collaborate better—it’s allowed them to spot gaps in their own workflow and then apply those solutions to Studio as they build it. What better way to know whether your platform’s features are intuitive, accessible, powerful, or complete unless you were thrust into the exact scenario in which they’d be most needed?
Some of the InVision—and Studio—team at a recent San Francisco event
“Designing Studio is awesome because we’re designing a tool for ourselves. I use the tool every day, and it’s easy to see when something is wrong,” explained InVision Product Designer Steven Fabre.
Added Lead Designer Scott Savarie, “We’re our own customers in a sense, so we know when something is wack.”
New around here? Check out InVision Studio, the world’s most powerful screen design tool—for public release in early 2018.
The advantages of remote teams
With designers in particular, remote work opens up the possibility of drawing from the broadest, most diverse talent pool available instead of just what’s in reach of a particular ZIP code. It also allows that talent to create a better work-life balance and find other uses for the significant chunk of their lives that would otherwise be eaten up by a commute.
“Clark from InVision” chats with an attendee at a recent NYC event
“Just because we didn’t all choose the same cities to live in shouldn’t limit our ability to come together and create a great product,” said Billy Kiely, InVision’s Vice President of Product Design.
Another advantage? The ability to work in a distraction-free environment, or a place that inspires creativity—as in, not an open office where you can get a tap on the shoulder that takes you right out of focus mode. “Working remotely lets me manage my own atmosphere for maximum focus and productivity. I get way more done than I would in a traditional office environment,” said Billy. “It’s all about developing your own hacks to get into focus mode, which might mean closing down Slack for an afternoon.”
Biggest challenges of remote work
The Studio team is spread across multiple countries and time zones, making real-time feedback and collaboration difficult. But they try to achieve at least a 4-hour overlap with InVision’s core team hours, 10am–6pm Eastern Standard Time, to keep everyone on the same page and feeling connected with the rest of the company.
Scott Savarie, Lead Product Design on InVision Studio, presenting in Amsterdam
Another challenge is that of shifting mentalities from working synchronously to asynchronously. “We really got into recording videos and posting them for others to see, and that helped add a little more continuity to those shifts,” said Scott.
“Remote teams can’t work without top-notch communication.”
Because Studio is a cross-disciplinary project with lots of decisions being made in parallel at all levels—between design and engineering, product and leadership, marketing and customer success, etc.—it’s important that stakeholders always have insight and access to everything as the product moves forward. “Teams hold regular standups, reviews, and retrospectives, and we typically record any video call where key decisions are being made so that anyone can catch up on the conversation later,” said Billy.
Remote teams should be constantly evolving
The most successful remote teams are willing to experiment and open to new ways of working and improving their process. One of the easiest and fastest ways to better productivity is finding the right tools. For the Studio team, Freehand has been a game-changer.
“Freehand has brought a lot more conversation to early ideation, user flows, and more. What used to be presented to other designers and stakeholders in more of a review setting now lives in a medium that encourages participation. Unlike a physical whiteboard, Freehands don’t expire or get erased, so wireframing, mapping, and concepts are being iterated on 5 times more than before,” explained Billy.
A year ago, the Studio team was small enough to where they could easily stay in sync about the product’s styles and visual language. But now that they’ve grown the team exponentially, they maintain a unified design language to ensure consistency in their designs.
How will InVision Studio change the way product teams work?
“Studio takes the pain—and the time—out of digital product design interaction and animation. Designers will be able to iterate on the experience of their product much more collaboratively and with much less investment. Less investment in early ideas means more iteration cycles, more collaborative thinking, and more feedback,” said Billy. “And that results in much stronger results and experiences.”
Would Studio be as powerful if it hadn’t been built by a fully remote team? In many ways, this circumstance led the team to ensure the features were intuitive, accessible, powerful, and complete.
Do you work remote? What tools, practices, and habits work best for you? Let us know on Twitter.
Rachel Starnes is the author of The War at Home: A Wife's Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible) (Penguin Books, 2016). She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from California State University, Fresno and her BA from the University of Texas. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Review, Front Porch Journal, and O Magazine. Born in Austin, Texas, she has lived in Scotland, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Florida, California, and Nevada, and is currently at work on a novel. More at rachelstarnes.com