Remote working – Working Environment (Update)

We’re constantly tweaking our working environment partly due to finding better tools and partly due to the existing toolset improving.

What’s out

Skype – for IM

We found Skype to be particularly laggy when working cross platform, and we were hitting a issue when posting message. Several of the team were having a ‘pending’ status showing constantly for team messages.

We still use Skype for video chats and screen sharing.

Join.me

This looked perfect, light weight and reliable, but when InvisionApp introduced its LiveSharing feature, join.me feel out of use. We now use a mixture of Skype, and Invision to for screen based collaboration.

What’s in

Slack

Slack is a ‘It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams’ and it work really well. You have different channels for different projects, as well as generic channels for team discussions etc. There’s an app for the Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android and a Chrome app for windows PCs (let’s hope a native app arrives soon).

The pricing seems pretty reasonable too; for a team of 5 people it’s around $40 / month.

Mobile working toolkit – Hardware

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Since I’ve been working remotely I’ve tried lots of different hardware tools and have settled on the following.

  1. 13″ MacBook Air (mid 2013) 8GB RAM, 500 GB SDD – I bought this because it’s light and has a big HDD and a long battery life, although any light and powerful computer will do. The MBA is used primarily to get real work done.. when I’m reviewing and drafting things I use the iPad.
  2. iPad 4 Retina 32gb WIFI with Logitech ultra thin keyboard and Wacom Bamboo stylus – This is my go to device when I’m reviewing things on Basecamp or InvisionApp and spending my day reading/responding to emails or drafting specs. The keyboard is essential to make the iPad more efficient. (I’m thinking of upgrading to iPad Air to reduce the weight)
  3. 4G Mobile Dongle – keeps me connected. I have had very little problems getting online with this HUAWEI dongle (except when I’m abroad.. I’ll address this at a later date.)
  4. Spare cables – I keep 2 x micro USB and 1 x Lightning cable to charge my devices through my MBA
  5. Notepad – for a when a computer just isn’t needed.
  6. Sennheiser MM 400 headphones – Great for keeping the noise out when working on the road, plus has a built in microphone which makes moving from music/podcasts to Skype really easy.
  7. iPhone 5s (not pictured). Keeps me intouch and can be used as Hotspot when my broadband dongle is out of juice.

Thoughts on remote working

A few thoughts on the Remote working.

1) Culture, attitudes etc.

The hardest part of remote working is the cultural attitudes to people not being in the office. The only way to alleviate this is to build a culture of visibility. People have to be trusted to get their tasks done, and have to show evidence of that. If someone is working remotely you lose the ability to observe what someone is doing on a day to day basis, and instead they have to be measured on their output. The only way to show output is through a culture of visibility.

Team spirit and values – This was my biggest area of concern for the team, will remote working fracture a good team culture? We combat this issue by having an open ‘water cooler’ channel for the whole team to chat, as if they are in the office together. We also arrange regular (bimonthly) get togethers so the team can meet, discuss big problems, process problems and task based problems etc. and to blow off steam.

2) Tools, connectivity etc.

Remote teams need reliable access to the tools and resources to show their outputs and to be able to connect from wherever they are. This means that as an organisation a decision needs to be made on what is hosted behind the VPN, and what is hosted externally. Things hosted behind the VPN will be inherently more unreliable because you have to connect through something in order to access the services. If this goes down the remote workers ability to get their work done is compromised (as it is when internal resources go down for office based colleagues)

Internet connectivity is a big problem when you’re out and about. Mobile broadband is essential, and home broadband must be fast and reliable.

3) Roles and tasks

I firmly believe that any employee who spends most of their time communicating through their computer is a candidate for remote working, but the tools they’ll need to support their tasks will be different. Developers will need something different from Designers or BAs etc.

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A bit of background

Before Oct 2013 I didn’t believe it possible to maintain a well gelled team and facilitate remote working, but given that at the time my team of 6 were going to be made homeless i had to come up with a strategy to keep the team functioning and productive.

I spent two weeks analysing the team to see how they worked and discovered that 90% of the time they were working primarily through their computers. When they did work together on a problem, the team would gather round someones screen to discuss things. I was certain that there were screen sharing tools and collaboration tools which could replicated the same thing. so we tried a few out and found some that worked for us and our stakeholders.

We spent a month using the tools in a traditional office based environments, so that the correct behaviours could be embedded. After that was successful we experimented with a week of complete remote working to see what additional problems there were.

After that we moved to complete remote working and the team is as gelled as it was before. An addition bonus has been that when we do meet up there is greater camaraderie than there was before.

I use the following principles with the team, which i though should be considered in this initiative.

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.

Remote working – Working Environment

Our working environment

Our working environment is as flexible as you need it to be, I don’t care how we complete our work, only that we do, and we do it well.

From now on you don’t need to tell me if you’ve got to pop out for an hour, or if you want to take holiday. Simply put the dates in the team ‘where abouts’ calendar.

Before you book holiday ask yourself question: Given what i’ve committed to delivering, is now is the right time to have off?

If it is, go ahead and take your holiday. You deserve it!

To enable a flexible working arrangement, we need to do the following things to ensure there is visibility across the whole team.

Basecamp

Is the place where we discuss the journeys and tasks we’re working on, and as a group dump for project and design assets.

If you have a meeting about your tasks, this is where you summarise the outcome.

Invision

Upload your sketches/wireframes/designs here. Share your project with our stakeholders and collected feedback. This is where we validate our solutions and ensure that everyone has a say in the end solution.

Skype

Everyone should be logged into Skype between 11am – 3pm.

There’s the team discussion group (Experience Design) which is where we can chew the fat, keep the fun going or ask general questions about our projects/tasks.

Use your status to let people know if you’re free or don’t want to be disturbed, people may not reply straight away, and we should be considerate about everyone else’s time

Don’t forget to use the video conferencing facility if you need to.

Join.me

Sometime we’ll need to collaborate on the same things, for this we use join.me

Best practice

Be inclusive – there is nothing worse when working remotely then when decision being made and you don’t know how/why. Fire up Skype and/or join.me and video conference the relevant people in. Summarise on Basecamp.

Remote working – Team Principles

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • Ask stupid questions, create smart solutions.
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.

Project principles

  • People don’t know what they want until you show them
  • People prefer movement
  • focus on outcomes, not assets
  • Clarify requirements as you give shape to the outcomes
  • Good design is people focused but UI lead.
  • Complexity always exists. It’s either in the User interface or in the underlying system. Decided where it belongs
  • We are not #wireframemonkeys. we solve business problems through user centred design.
  • You are an expert, do not be afraid to give and defend your expertise.

Experience Design Process

  • Define the outcome – Ignoring the UI, what is the client trying to achieve? What are the contexts and constraints that might apply to the person trying to use the product or services (a person’s time is expensive, technology isn’t). Questions to ask: What’s happening now? What do they want to happen? What’s the difference.
  • Understand the problem space – Model the experience as a user journey. Do this before anything else and you won’t regret it!
  • Design solutions not assets. Assets are a communication tool, not the end state of a project.