How We Use a Shared Learning Practice to Bring Remote Teams Together

Recently, we’ve started a collective learning initiative for the US Design Team. The effort was initially inspired by a similar practice in place with the Marketing team, and has brought much value to our sessions and thought process. Essentially, the exercise is to select a thought-piece or educational subject, typically either a reading or podcasts, that we all digest independently and then review together during weekly calls. We alternate who selects the subject material which allows for a diverse selection and expands learning opportunities into topics and sources which may not typically have our attention.

For the first collective learning assignment, we just finished the eBook Remote Work for Design Teams which is part of InVision’s Design Better series. While the book primarily focuses on a collaborative design process, there are many takeaways that apply to many scenarios distributed teams face on a daily or weekly basis.


Remote Work is an Amplifier

Remote work doesn’t change the fundamentals of work or collaboration, but it does more quickly amplify flaws in culture, process, or leadership that already exist. In other words, if you’re not already doing the right thing or committing “organizational sins,” working remotely is going to bring these to the surface more quickly than otherwise. Perhaps the most important of these fundamentals is good, fluid communication. Furthermore, here are a few suggestions for improving your communication processes as it relates to meetings:

Facilitation

Every meeting should have an appointed facilitator/chair/leader. This doesn’t necessarily need to be the same person who organized the meeting, however, whoever is designated as the facilitator should be the one setting the agenda and undertaking the responsibilities for conducting a successful meeting.

Video

Turn video on. This is something that up until recently we hadn’t been doing, but since utilizing video for standing calls and meetings we have found that we feel more engaged and connected with each other.

RACI

RACI is an acronym that stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, but basically it just boils down to evaluating who needs to be in the meeting vs who can be consulted before/after the meeting. Doing so ensures more efficient use of resources, better meetings, and just is generally more respectful of people’s time.

Preparation

Success boils down to preparation. Before meetings all audio/video/platform tools should be tested. Each participant should have notes and questions prepared. And the meeting facilitator should have an agenda set along with clear expectations for the meeting as well as each attendee.

Beyond meetings, best communication practices critical to remote work success include:

Make No Assumptions

Never make assumptions about what someone knows or doesn’t know, understands or doesn’t understand. Nothing should be left to interpretation.

Over-Communicate

Be more forward in your requests, ie; ask for exactly what you need and clarify when you need it. Be specific in regard to the desired outcome. Set your team up for success by communicating expectations. Don’t worry about being redundant or repeating yourself, as it’s better to over-communicate than not. Be ready and willing to clarify as necessary and take steps to ensure your requests are understood.


Establish Intentional Processes

As noted above, remote work tends to highlight process flaws. As such, we must be more deliberate in defining such processes from start to finish as opposed to letting them occur through happenstance. Saying, “This is the way we’re going to work,” is a hallmark of high maturity teams.

The first step to becoming more deliberate in your process is to establish principles or guidelines for your team. This helps to both set expectations and provide autonomy. These principles should be a set of high-level statements that teammates can use to guide their work. In other words, they should not tell someone “what,” but instead “how.”

Additionally, utilizing ‘Playbooks,’ which are documented frameworks for repeatable processes & practices are essential. Such playbooks may account for common workflows such as onboarding of new hires, daily/monthly tasks (such as OKR’s), client kickoff meetings, and so forth. Playbooks should be intuitive, leave little to question or interpretation, and easily accessible in order to ensure their adoption as the status quo.


Increase Collaboration Among Distributed Teams

Two exercises we’ve recently implemented to increase collaboration at the suggestion of the Remote Handbook are weekly design critiques and a “design show & tell.” While these examples reflect a design-oriented process and environment, they could easily be adapted as necessary for your team or department.

Design Critique

We set aside an hour each week for a design critique. The time within that hour is divided equally depending on the number of ongoing projects, but we limit each project review to 20 minutes maximum. All work reviewed has a uniform outline to provide constraints for feedback which is shared prior to the critique. The outline is as follows:

– What I am sharing (with the actual problem you are seeking to solve)
– The work is at X stage of (eg: discovery)
– The constraints (eg: time, data, etc…)
– Looking for feedback in regards to:

Of importance to note is that the presenter must ask for specific feedback and critics are only allowed to offer feedback as it relates to their request. Sessions are recorded and then shared afterwards which allows attendees to focus on the interaction instead of documenting feedback.

This could be adapted from a design critique to code review, progress report, or address other ongoing goal-oriented efforts.

Design Show & Tell

As part of our weekly stand-up meeting, we devote time to sharing one inspirational thing that we read/saw/heard in the past week. This doesn’t have to be directly related to design, but can be anything that we derive inspiration from, such as a short animation, portfolio, new tool, or artist. We then present to the team based on the following outline:

– Who/what the work is
– Intended audience
– Why it inspires us

As with the shared learning, the more diverse and variety of materials we bring into our purview, the more well-rounded our perspective becomes.


Remote Working is Here to Stay

While remote working has surged in the past month due to obvious reasons, the truth is it already had established a foothold in mainstream business culture before COVID-19 and will outlast the current global lockdown. The Remote Handbook referenced the following studies and identified some interesting data points:

  • Remote workers were 13% more productive according to research from Stanford University
  • Workers with a 45 minute or longer daily commute were 40% more likely to get divorced according to a study from Sweden
  • 70% of knowledge workers already reported to work remotely on at least a part-time basis according to a study by Zurich based IWG

With that said, I’d encourage everyone to initiate a continual shared learning program internally with their team, and if you’re looking for some material to start with, InVision’s Remote Work for Design Teams is available for free and a great place to begin.


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