Matt Goddard

Digital product delivery and its impact on businesses, teams and people.

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Is your team ready to work remotely?

More and more people are wanting to remote work. As a manager how can you say yes and be confident that your team will be successful?

My checklist below will help you decided.

Are you Ready for Remote? checklist:

  1. Do you trust your team to complete their work in an unsupervised environment?
  2. Do you already allow for work from home days?
  3. Does your team spend 80%-90% of their time mediating their work through a screen?
  4. Do you use a digital collaboration tool as your primary mechanism for coordinating work?
  5. Does your team have clarity about the work they need to complete on a daily/weekly basis?

Do you trust your team to complete their work in an unsupervised environment?

Without trust remote working doesn’t work. If you don’t trust your team then you’re doomed to failure because you’ll end up interrupting them just to reassure yourself they’re working.

If you do trust your team then you’re one step closer to saying yes and enabling your team to remote work.

Do you already allow for work from home days?

Working from home and remote working aren’t the same thing; the goals are different.

Working from home gives a team member temporary leave of absence from the office. If the setup isn’t right then the risk of an employee missing out on key pieces of information, or being unproductive is limited. Typically they are back in the office in a couple of days and any issues can be resolved relatively quickly.

Remote working gives a team member the ability to work away from the office for weeks or months at a time. Any issues with the setup can cause problems if they aren’t resolved quickly, seriously impacting on productivity and undermining the success of any remote working initiative.

If you are able to support working from home then you should have some of the building blocks in place to enable remote working.

Does your team spend 80%-90% of their time mediating their work through a screen?

This is a no brainer, if your team spends most of their time completing their work digitally, then they are already prime candidates for remote working.

There are two thing likely to stop your team from making a success of remote working, they are:

  • What they spend the rest of their time doing, and if those tasks can be moved to a digital channel.
  • What external access is there to the tools/systems they need to do their job.

Remaining time

If your team spends most of the rest of their time in meetings then you should ask yourself if they can be conducted via a video conference using Skype for Business or Hangouts? 

Most people are used to telephone conference but modern video conference tools can provide a much better remote meeting experience.

If your team spends the rest of their time in design/code reviews, can this be achieved digitally with tools such as Invision, GitHub or Visual Studio online etc.

You’ll be surprised what tools are available to replicate day to day activities digitally. 

With some common-sense guidelines such as ensuring the tool use SAML for integrating with your authentication directory. You can be sure that you’re still in control of your companies data.

Access to tools

If there is no external access to the tools and systems the team needs to do their jobs, then remote working may not be possible without lots of workarounds.

Whilst it’s possible to email yourself all the files you need this is a sure-fire route to becoming unproductive, and can have significant security implications.

At the very least a VPN will be required to allow access to internal file servers and tools. However, given most people’s experience of using a corporate VPN you’ll want to give serious consideration to using a secure file syncing tools such as OneDrive, or DropBox. These tools make it much easier to access documents without annoying colleagues to send you the most recent versions.

Do you use a digital collaboration tool as your primary mechanism for coordinating work?

This is critical, if you’re already using a collaboration tools as the bedrock for coordinating your team’s work then you’re 95% there.

A remote worker needs confidence that when they’re not in the office they are still ‘involved’ in the project, and are not being left out of key conversations.

If you are not using these tools already then this is the first step. It seems strange at first to use a collaboration tool to talk to a colleague you’re sat next too, but it’s essential for creating transparency and clarity which is a fundamental principles of remote working.

At its simplest all you need is a chat client with persistent groups (group chats that don’t expire). Invite your project team and, use that for all future team and project discussions. 

When I first started remote working, I used Skype with a couple of named groups to run a team of 6 UX designers for 6 months.

When setting up your collaboration tool, it’s typical for most conversations to happen in private chat sessions. This should be avoided, all conversations should be in open channels unless privacy is absolutely critical, such as when discussing project financing, team performance etc.

To make this openness bearable everyone should change their notification setting to only notify when they are @mentioned or @channel mentioned. The onus is on the person posting the message to notify the right people when they want to draw their attention to a message.

Using open channels for communications has the secondary benefit of helping everyone become more aware of what’s happening across the whole team. It also ensures that the team is more likely to offer help and support each other which becomes even more import in a remote working environment.

Will email work?

Yes, but…..

One of the key drawbacks of using email is that conversations happen in private channels. Unless you included everyone which as everyone knows from bitter experience can get very frustrating.

It’s also very difficult to ensure you have the most up-to-date view of a project, as conversation tend to go off at tangents and sub-conversation are created without all participants knowing they exist.

Does your team have clarity about the work they need to complete on a daily/weekly basis?

When people work remotely they need absolute clarity on what you want them to achieve, and by when.

Make use of project management tools, such as Trello, to detail the ‘in progress’ work and ensure that the team keeps the board up to date. That way you’ll all have a clear idea about whats being worked on and what’s up next.

If you can answer yes to all points above then you should feel confident that you can run a successful remote working experiment.

If not then hopefully you’ve been able to take away some tips to help you create an environment for remote working to flourish.

Are you ready for remote working?

So, here are a few thoughts on the Remote working.

Culture, attitudes etc.

The hardest part of remote working is adapting to the cultural attitudes of people not being in the office. 

The only way to change this is to build a culture of visibility, through digital tools, which benefits office based and remote workers.

People have to be trusted to get their tasks done, but a remote worker has to be able to show evidence of having done the work, as I tell my daughter about her maths homework, “you’ve got to show your working out”.

Tools like Microsoft Teams (trust me on this, Microsoft have done a good job with Teams. We’ve been using it since its beta launch, December 2016, and have seen nice adoption figures in non-technical users. Also, it’s free in Office 365 so it’s a good bet for large companies who already have a licence arraignment with Microsoft) or Slack, Invision, Basecamp etc. create a digital workspace where people can post status updates, ask for help and upload their work to a central location for review. This replicates most of the things a person does in a physical office, making it much easier for the team to get their work done.

The point is when someone is working remotely you lose the ability to observe what they’re doing on a day to day basis. Instead they have to be measured on their output. 

Team spirit and values

This was my biggest area of concern for the team, will remote working fracture a good team culture?

The answer is no, you combat this issue by having an open ‘water cooler’ channel for the whole team to chat and/or daily video chats, as if they are in the office together.

You must also arrange regular get togethers so the team can meet, discuss their work and to blow off steam.

Tools, connectivity etc.

Remote teams need reliable access to digital tools, that they can connect to from wherever they are, whenever they want.

This means that as an organisation you must decided what’s accessible from outside the corporate network via VPN, and what’s hosted externally.

In my experience things hosted behind a VPN are more unreliable. When the VPN goes down so does the remote workers ability to work, just as when the network goes down in the office.

There are now hundreds of cloud based tools that can be secured by an companies internal authentication system. Tools such as Office 365, Invision, Slack, Github, Visual Studio Online etc. can all be secured by Azure AD, and are available on the open internet, making it so much easier for a remote teams to get their work done.

Internet connectivity is a big problem when you’re out and about. Mobile broadband is essential, and home broadband must be fast and reliable, especially if you want to do daily video chats.

Roles and tasks

I firmly believe that anyone 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. It’s important to ensure you provide the right tools to your team to enable them to be effective. 

Typically you’ll need to shift from desktop to laptop machine, and for some people perhaps tablets are best.

A bit of background.

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

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 replicate 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 additional 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 think should be at the front of every remote team.

Team Principles

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

The 2 week IPad challenge

2 week iPad challenge

On the 22nd August the unthinkable happened my MacBook Air’s (MBA) battery failed, turning my £1500 laptop into an expensive paperweight

My laptop is my world, I use it constantly for work and leisure and as a vocal evangelist for remote working I certainly understand the need to have the right tools, to enable me to work where ever and when ever I need to; To say I was a little put out is an understatement.

Thankfully the laptop was still under warranty, so the cost of repair wasn’t a worry, but the lack of a working machine was. I had visions of having to spend another £1500 just to keep me working for the 10 days it would take to repair. As my friends who received text messages from me will tell you I wasn’t relishing that prospect.

Then I hit upon an idea, why not run an experiment. I have an iPad Air and for the sake of £80(ish) I could buy a keyboard and use it as my primary work machine. So that is exactly what I did.

interlude

I wrote some time ago in ‘How are tablets used?’ that until the iPad grows up and goes to work, it’s nothing but a glorified leisure device. However, with the avaliablily of good enterprise apps like: MS Office, Google Docs the possibility for using the iPad as a laptop replacement is fast becoming a reality.

Before you email me, I know I’ve been able to use the online apps for a longtime but working exclusivly in the browser is a hack, and relies on a permanent internet connection due to the way safari marshals its connections. In my mind working in the browser was the iPad getting a paper round, it’s work but not really.

The experiment.

So my mind was made up, from the 26th August 2014 until my MBA was repaired I’d work exclusively on my iPad.

I expected the following to be a problem:

  • Battery life
  • Internet connection
  • lack of mouse support

Battery Life

I was concerned that the iPad Air couldn’t manage the demands of being used 8 hours a day.

Internet connection

I have a WiFi only iPad, I chose this because I use a 4g dongle to access the internet. Now that I was using an iPad I would have to make sure that I charge my dongle at night, rather than keeping it plugged in to my MBA.

I was concerned that the dongle wouldn’t last the day making it at the very least difficult for me to access the internet for work, and at worse making it impossible for me to work at all.

lack of mouse support

There are somethings, such as wireframe production, which is made much easier (for me) with the use of a mouse. It’s all about how easy it is to finely manipulating objects, adjusting alignment etc. in the past when i’ve used to my iPad to create wireframes i gave up in frustration.

I’m convinced MSFT have the right strategy for tablets by allowing mouse and pen input; Despite what Steve Jobs said about value of fingers as ‘pointers’.

For people of my generation who have grown up using a keyboard and mouse, it’s just too clunky to use your fingers to adjust boxes in wireframes. If nothing else your fingers obscure the object you’re trying to maniplate. Tbh. this could have been made easier if Apple allowed decent (i.e. Non capacitive) styluses to be paired with the device, but alas no, So now all we have are thick ended capacitive stylised which are just as frustrating as using your fingers.

Conclusions after week 1

Problems

Power

Battery life (or power) is a problem, but not in the way I expected. The iPad Air performed admirably. I had two days of use out of it without recharging, so no complaints there. However, the biggest problem for me was the lack of charging options for my other devices.

I hadn’t really give it much thought but I charging my iPhone and Dongle via the USB on my laptop, the iPad obviously doesn’t have any USB ports so can’t perform that job for me. This meant that for the first week I had to carry several USB plugs with me, which I used to charge my phone and dongle. This revealed a second problem, standard USB cables are no good for charging devices from a socket if you’re actually going to need to use the thing charging. Obviosuly, there are never enough plugs near to where you’re working, meaning my phone was quite a distance from where I was working requiring me to leap out of my seat if the phone rung.

To resolve this problem I’d need to buy an external power pack (in Mobile working toolkit – Hardware I had idenifited this problem, but hadn’t got round to buying one yet).

Connectivity

Due to the lack of charging options for my dongle and a shit battery life, consistent internet connectivity was a problem. I think that if I were to continue to work on the iPad exclusively it would make sense to have bought the 3G+WiFi model.

To solve the problem I connected to the ‘open’ work wifi and everything worked a treat. In fact I didn’t notice any of the internet restrictions or slow downs that I usually get on my laptop (which is why I always prefer to use my own internet at work) I imagine that’s because I was accessing internet services through apps which i assume manage their connection to the internet better than using the browers on my laptop. This was especially true when using the Google ‘docs’ and Basecamp apps, on a laptop you’re still working in the browser, on the iPad there are dedicated apps which make for a much more resilient user experience.

(Notice how I used working in the browser as sign that the iPad wasn’t ready for work, but i use Google Docs and Basecamp on my Laptop in the browser.. I wish Google and 37 Signals would release OSX apps for these too… It’s still a hack on the laptop and tablet)

Lack of decent stylus input

As you’ll read in the successes section I carried my iPad and ultrathin keyboard everywhere with me, which made me wish I could use my iPad as a complete note taking system.

I like to scribble notes by hand when I’m thinking, so the addition of a fine, non-capacative stylus, would be ideal but alas unachievable which meant I needed to carry my iPad and notepad and pen.

(You may wonder why I make the distinction between capacative and non-capacitive styluses?

Once I tested ‘pen’ input with Microsoft OneNote on a Samsung Series 7 slate, which is non-capacitive, and the iPad, which is capacative. The slate only had ‘ink’ where I worte but the iPad had smudges everywhere the heel of my hand touched the screen as well as where I wrote. Requiring me to do work to remove the ‘smudges’ – I would be just as annoyed if I had a leaky pen on my notepad too.

note If anyone can recommend a stylus or app which is equitable to what MSFT have achieved with the surface and Samsung tablets please let me know.)

Using a monitor

There were multiple times I wanted to shown my screen on a monitor, this isn’t possible out of the box and requires one of the following solutions:

  • An app with a helper app installed on a computer attached to the monitor.
  • Apple TV attached to the monitor so I could use AirPlay to share my screen.
  • Firewire to VGA/DVI adaptor

Okay so this isn’t a problem with using the iPad per say, but I highlight it here as a consideration for anyone else who want to work exclusively on an iPad.

To solve this I’m torn between getting an Adaptor, or a ‘work’ AppleTv. The AppleTv is excessive of course but I push video and screen share all the time at home, and love the AirPlay feature (to give you an idea I NEVER use the Netflix app on my AppleTv, I always push from my phone or iPad, the same is true for BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and so on) plus it will free me up from having cables connected to my iPad.

On the other hand the adaptor cost less and will achieve the same outcome, so I’ll probably opt for that and be done with it.

Successes

lack of mouse support

The first day was hell, switching between using the keyboard and pawing at the screen was frustrating, but as soon as I become accustomed to the change in input mechanism it wasn’t a bad experience at all.

That said, during the first week I hadn’t had cause to create any wireframes or do anything that requires fine motor skills, so I’m still reserving judgment on this.

Bluetooth keyboard

I’m impressed. I used a Logitech ultrathin keyboard on my old iPad so knew what to expect but the Logitech ultrathin keyboard for the iPad Air is a delight to use.

It folds down nicely, and is extremely light even in when carrying the iPad + Keyboard.

Also, the function keys are well selected. With the press of a button I can access my open apps to make app switching easy, or to load up spotlight. This makes a lot of difference in day to day use and am thankful to Logitech and/or apple for the nice bluetooth keyboard integration.

App switching

I was expecting this to be annoying, and at first it was but when my fingers got used to hitting the correct function key it was easy and intuitive. Not as easy as hitting cmd+tab (or alt+tab) but after a day or so, i didn’t even notice the difference.

Screen size

All I can say is, i didn’t notice the display size at all, no head aches or anything after work. So i’d say that was pretty successful.

Wrapping it up

Work wise I had no issues at all using the iPad exclusivly in the first week. I’m almost prepared to eat my words, but instead will make it look like i’m always right 😉

The recent creation of enterprise apps such as the Google Docs apps and Microsoft office has made it possible to use and iPad as a laptop replacement. Where your primary job function is to create and update documents you shouldn’t have any problems at all using an iPad.

I still don’t believe it’s possible to successfully create wireframes with the Omnigraffle app as smoothly as i can on my MBA, Or write HTML, CSS and JavaScript documents but that’s next weeks test, so i’ll let you know how it goes.

Driving towards autonomy – A UXer’s perspective

Over the past 15+ years I’ve noticed a dissatisfaction with the day-to-day of working as UXer in corporate environments in essence the problem boils down into two main complaints.

  • Some people don’t know exactly what’s expected from them in the execution of their role, quite often people understand what they’re being asked to do but can’t understand how that fits into the high level company objectives.
  • Some people are frustrated their deliverables are mandated, and don’t have any control over then way they complete their task.

My view is that the wider system we’re participating is at fault i.e. UX isn’t being engaged early enough to help define the solution from the high level business objects. Obviously the long term goal must be to move UX higher up the delivery chain so we can help to shape the solution before they are handed down to be designed.

Here I’m choosing to accept the reality (that at the moment there is a mismatch between what the designer believes they should be designing to achieve what the business wants, and what they are being asked to ‘design’) rather than fall into a position of learned helplessness and frustration that I’m not doing the job I expect to be doing.

So I have been considering the impact that this mismatch has on the team and individual morale, as I worry that this mismatch erodes motivation, and limits a persons ability to become autonomous; causing frustration and dissatisfaction. After all how many times can an individual be told no, before they give up offering suggestions all together? While we can’t, at the moment, alter the nature of the tasks being handed down. We can create an environment of personal and team autonomy, where we can select the tools, approach and environment we complete our tasks in.

Why is autonomy important?

Autonomy, being able to choose how (and where) you achieve a task, is important as it is an innate precondition of psychological wellbeing and should be something every organisation supports. It is also a clear signifier of a teams maturity and that an individual’s skills and experiences are valued.

My view is that autonomy, in an environment where a persons’s ability to influence a solution is constrained, creates job satisfaction leading to higher quality output, loyalty and deeper engagement in their role.

Note: I appreciate that some individuals are already highly motivated, and we can all point to examples where they are autonomous but i’m considering a framework but which we create a environment to make all staff regardless of their skill level achieve the same level of autonomy and empowerment.

How then can we create and reinforce an autonomous environment to counteract the mismatch?

To achieve autonomy a person needs:

  • Purpose – to define, or understand an outcome and the ‘value’ of the outcome to which an individual can dedicate themselves to achieving.
  • Mastery – the continual pursuit to build the skills and capabilities to deploy in order to achieve a purpose.
  • To be Trusted – to utilise theirs skills and expertise in the best way that they can to achieve the tasks they are being asked to do.

The role of a responsible organisation is to:

  • Clarify purpose
  • Support the mastery of skills and tools
  • Trust the individual to execute their role to the best of their ability.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum and an organisation has to have a mature attitude to exercising their responsibility.

Clarify purpose

Organisation base purpose

UXers move into the profession to do good, they want to use psychology, insights and design to make the world a better place. They want to adapt the world of business and technology to meet the needs of the individual.

Some UXers are lucky, they will work for a startup or research organisation who are designing novel, purely user focused systems, but most aren’t.

Most UXers are hired by businesses who wants to make sure that the product or service they’re offering is able to extract the most amount of value from the customer.

We need to honest about this, a lot of the time the work itself isn’t sexy, but as long as the work is valued by the organisation, and helps to relieve the pain of the customer somewhat then most people are happy to work hard to deliver these projects.

This is usually enough to give someone a sense of purpose about their work within the context of their role but the key is to be honest about the situation. You’re not going to get anywhere by enticing people in with all the wonders of the world, if the reality is quite different.

Career base purpose

However, In order to get the a person or team fully engage, we need to engender a culture of career base purpose. Career based purpose extends beyond a person’s employment. By fostering a culture of career based, purpose will have a massive impact on morale, and the value a person brings to their role. It’s my view that everyone regardless of their role or position wants to become the best they can be, so we need to ensure that we enable people to get on a path to mastery.

Mastery of tools and skills

So if the work isn’t living up to expectations then what will motivate the UXer to give their best your business?

Mastery

If you create an environment where a UXer is supported in learning and using new tools and skills then you can help them towards a sense of mastery. This is essential for retaining senior members of the team but is mandatory for junior members of the team.

Most organisation have a self-development initiatives that will introduce them to the tools and activities they can use in their jobs but a mature organisation will provide a mentoring program that allows an individual to evaluate and select the tools they want use, in a supportive environment where mistakes are welcomed as a learning outcome.

It is the responsibility of senior members of the team to discuss the pros and cons and to create a base for learning. Their job is not to provide a dot to dot execution plan but to provide a framework by which the junior member of the team can self discover and master the requisite skills.

This approach has the added benefit of creating a team culture where self discovery is a default behaviour, and the team will gel in a way that prescription doesn’t allow.

When an individual has a sense of purpose and is on the road to mastery it then that the organisation has to trust them to do their best without the need to micromanage them

Trust

It should be a given that if someone is good enough to get through their interview and probation period then they should be trusted to conduct their role as a thinking, trustworthy human being. It’s the mark of a mature organisation that people are treated like adults to discuss, disagree and find approaches to deliver without the need for a rigid delivery methodology.

There is, without question, the need to coordinate activities that overlap, and are delivered through a single mechanism but to require an individual to produce wireframes before designs, or to produce a specification document in a rigid format just to achieve a delivery checkpoint is senseless. it prevents the team from using intellegence and individual skills within the team in the most appropriate way and puts people in an ‘volume rather than value’ mentality.

If a UXer and a designer or developer can get an understanding of what needs to be achieved through sketching and a collaborative design sessions, then so be it. We have to remember that the purpose of any delivery activity is to achieve an outcome for the business, not to produce the largest volume of documentation.

There should be guidelines which model ‘best’ behaviour but any kind of dictatorial process beyond that will slow down delivery, dilute autonomy and kill motivation.

It’s an organisation’s role to create team principles and culture that supports and expects trust. It’s an individual’s responsibility to deliver against those principles in the best way they can. Checks and balances should and will exist through regular review session with mentors, and through measuring business value from the task delivery.

We should allow people to be free to deliver, to make mistakes and to take responsibility for those, to time shift their work if a personal commitment occurs in working hours. We should trust that people do things to the best of their abilities and in the best way they know how. We should trust that people won’t take the piss if you give them freedom over their time, or working practices.

If we create clarity of purpose, enable people to walk the path to mastery and trust them to be the best that they can be, then we will create an autonomous environment, where the people and business will move towards creating value and contentment.

After thoughts – for the UXer

Treating workers as adults, allowing them to be autonomous is a big step for a lot of organisations, but i believe it to be step well worth taking.

The other side of the coin, is that those of us who seek greater autonomy has to embrace the principles too. We have to want to become masters in our field, and sometimes the only way to do this is by doing those mundane tasks. Those task you don’t want to do, or don’t see any value in.

I was listening to an audio book the other day and was reminded that world class sports professionals become world class by purposeful practice. They kick hundreds of corners, or penalty kick. They shoot hundreds of hoops. They take responsibility for their careers and understand the path to mastery isn’t achieve in months.. it’s a continuum over a lifetime.

If we want to be treated like adults, and be offered autonomy then we must keep learning, keep practicing. We must treat every task as a learning opportunity to hone our skills to create value for the businesses we work for.

We must also be honest, and trustworthy. We can do this by being open about what we’re doing and why, we must not being afraid to show the steps to delivery and to make our work visible to our team; We must above all demonstrate value.

Remote working – Our environment (Update 3)

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. You don’t need to tell me:

  • if you’ve got to pop out for an hour,
  • if you want to go away.

Simply put the dates in the team calendar.

Before you go away, ask yourself question: Given what i’ve committed to delivering, is now is the right time to go? If it is, go ahead. You deserve it!

If you want to travel and work, i positively encourage it. Over the past year. I’ve worked from Amsterdam, Italy, Switzerland and Gran Canaria, other members of the team have worked from France and America.

To enable this flexible working arrangement, we need to trust each other, and be visible. Therefor we use the following tools to support that.

Basecamp

Is the place where we discuss the projects we’re working on and tasks we’re doing. It’s also the dumping ground for links to project assets etc.

  • Friday pm or Monday am – we should update the ‘overviews’ to-do list with a project status.
  • Task creation – All new task should be added to the backlog, when creating the task and overview of what’s being achieve should be added, and any other relevant details.
  • Working on a task – The task will be moved from backlog, to in progress. All discussion about the task will happen in the task comments.
  • Task completion complete task should be moved from in progress to done.
  • adhoc meeting should be summarised in a discussion.
  • general discussions should be created as a discussion.

Invision

If you need to collaborate on design Upload your sketches/screenshots/wireframes/designs here. Share your project with our stakeholders and collect feedback. **Make sure you password protect your share link. I regularly remove any unsecured share links.

Slack

Everyone should be logged in to Slack between 11am – 3pm, there is a client for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and an app extension for the PC.

There’s several discussion groups 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.

If you need to video chat someone or a group of people then type /hangouts and it will create a google hangout that you can use for video chatting and collaboration.

Remote working – beyond work.

Remote working allows people to be free of location and set work schedules but can cause isolation if the remote worker doesn’t create a framework for connectedness.

Find time to disconnect from your tools, and find people. Take a walk, join a club, go to your children’s school activities and be disconnect digitally.

Email, IM, smartphones, tablets and laptops are tool that can empower you to create freedom from the ‘industrial complex’ but only when we adjust our mindsets to be free of distractions and to soak up the wonders of the world and people around us.

Getting some perspective

For when the technology we use is a little too much I recommend the following:

Books
Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz
Alone together by Sherry Turkle
Things that make us smart by Don Norman.

Films
Plug and Pray by Jens Schanze

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.

——

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.
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