How to Become Extremely Successful in Designing With Remote Teams

Eleken UI/UX agency has been designing remotely since 2015. What is more, Eleken is annoyingly successful in a remote mode. So if you are wondering how to make remote design teams work, we have a few ideas.

Dana Yatsenko

Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company, surveyed employees who worked remotely during pandemics and figured out that only 9% of respondents want to return to offices. 54% say they would ideally split their time between working from home and in the office; 37% want to stay fully remote.

Oh, concludes Gallup, people seem to love remote work!

How average Americans prefer to work

But if you want to see people who really love remote work, you need to look at Eleken UI/UX agency

We’ve been working with our clients remotely for seven years already. Two years ago, as the pandemic started, we got rid of the office and went fully remote. And recently we ran a survey similar to Gallup’s, to figure out how the team feels about the current working conditions. What a surprise the result was.

  • 0% of Eleken people need to work in the office;
  • 1 little poor content writer (me) wants back to the office and work in a hybrid fashion;
  • 99% of workers want to work from their couches forever.
How Eleken design team prefers to work meme
How Eleken employees prefer to work

Many surveys show that bosses want workers back in the office after the pandemic. For instance, a global study released by the Future Forum shows that executives,  who work remotely, prefer returning to the office three times more than employees.

But it’s not Eleken’s scenario. It was a good year for the agency, so our boss doesn’t mind if we continue working from our couches if we want.

designng with remote teams meme

In this article, one little poor content writer figures out what’s wrong with all the Eleken people. So keep reading if you want to know: 

  • How to build your remote design studio that will be 99% happy with its way of working;
  • How to make this team communicate and work 100% effectively.

Building a remote design team

As obvious as it sounds, the number one benefit of building a remote team is that you can expand your search beyond the boundaries of a metro area. Hiring people from overseas comes with some communication complexities, but they are all solvable. And they are worth getting the best design talent to your team.

remote hiring pool meme

Running design remotely allows you not only to find the best talent but to hire it through the most suitable engagement models.

When you are all sitting under one roof, hiring remote contractors is complicated. They drop out of your watercooler team culture and over-the-shoulder design review processes. But when the core of the design team collaborates remotely, outsourcing some tasks to freelancers or design agencies feels more natural. And more convenient for some tasks.

For instance, TextMagic messaging service once hired Eleken to help them with scaling their product up. But even after the project was completed, TextMagic continued working with us. It’s rumored that Eleken designers integrated into their team so well, TextMagic couldn't tell the difference between in-house designers and outsourced ones. 

Managing remote design work

When co-located, the crucial moments of the design process emerge organically. This can be as simple as sharing a new idea in an elevator or discussing user personas over lunch.

The shift to remote work inevitably reveals some holes in your workflow that you need to fix to make everything work smoothly. Big SaaS buddies with distributed teams generously share their experience in remote teams management. InVision, for instance, advises putting more structure around the design process to enhance it. 

Adding structure means coming up with standard algorithms of how designers investigate, brainstorm, collaborate in teams, or work apart. It’s like putting more columns so your design process doesn't fall over.

Managing remote design work

That was the piece of advice from big teams with design processes so heavy, that they risk collapsing under their own weight. But if you are starting to design with remote teams, you probably start small. So, here's some other advice for you from a small design team: remove the irrelevant structure.

If you zoom in to look more closely at the structural columns you already have or are going to have, you’ll notice that some of them are irrelevant in a remote mode. You can get rid of them painlessly for the sake of flexibility.

Managing remote design work in a good way meme

For instance, we at Eleken revised our design requirement gathering process and cut some elements out of it.

Classical requirement gathering demands agencies’ clients to fill in a standard brief that causes suffering for everyone involved. Clients have to devote time and effort to write down answers to abstract questions. Designers then have to find the grain of truth in those abstract answers. 

A client brief is not the shortest way towards finding some common ground between a client and an agency. The shortest way is a conversation, so we abandoned briefs in favor of in-depth client interviews. Interviews that we have all saved thanks to Zoom’s beautiful recording function. 

When we got rid of excessive bureaucracy it turned out that project management is another unnecessary structural pillar. So now we don’t have project managers anymore — designers communicate directly with clients and their product teams. 

Communicating with a remote design team

In its purest sense, UI/UX design is about visual problem-solving. It means that communicating design boils down mostly to sharing pictures. 

Sharing pictures is convenient in a chat, where you can attach a screenshot. It works perfectly in a video call, where you can show your screen. Even people who work in different time zones can discuss designs pretty well by recording screencasts with comments.

Sharing pictures when working on-site is not so easy. Aleksandra, the UI/UX designer at Eleken, summarizes it like this: “Even if we were sitting in the office next to each other, we’d discuss designs on Zoom instead of staring all together at a single screen.” 

The remote working boom, along with the consequent rapid growth of collaboration tools, actually worked to the advantage of design communication. One single point that changed for the worse is that working remotely requires you to read minds

Imagine, you are a designer waiting for feedback, and you see that “typing…” bubble on your screen. Your client or your boss writes something and it feels like eternity. It takes only a few seconds in reality, but still enough to start thinking about mistakes you possibly made or requirements you probably missed. 

Communicating with a remote design team meme

Our designer Kseniya says that during online communication she can’t rely on facial expressions, or body language, or tone of voice to tell her which way a conversation is about to go. Even when she gets some feedback in Slack, it can be hard to interpret it, since you can’t read the person’s intonation. Did this “OK” mean everything is fine or was she mad at me? Did this “thank you” mean they are not impressed or everything is fine?

Kseniya recommends using emojis to compensate for emotional misunderstandings in written feedback: “Our design director does a good job explaining in detail what we’ve done wrong or right. And he always adds smiley faces that clarify his attitude.” 

Designing with remote team

Just like Zoom made design communication irreversibly remote, Figma and other remote design collaboration tools made the same for the design process itself.

You can’t really appreciate what Figma did for interface designers unless a decade ago you tried to send numerous .psd files by email. 

Oops, impossible to attach, your file is too big.

Designing with remote team figma vs photoshop

Figma makes remote designers’ collaboration a piece of cake. It’s a cloud-based tool, so all the files are held on the web, they don’t take up space on your computer and allow you to work on them collectively. All your team members can edit a single file simultaneously, and the changes will autosave.

Remote designer-developer collaboration also became easier. Figma works on all devices, in all browsers, so developers don’t need to install anything when they have to check the design out. Moreover, they can extract code snippets from any design element. 

Figma code snippets for developers

Sticky notes sessions and other fancy design-ish on-site stuff got replaced by online whiteboard tools like Miro and Figjam.

User testing that several years ago included tons of hassle like creating prototypes, finding respondents, and finally running a testing session is now possible with minimal designer involvement. 

Figma has a tool that makes you clickable prototypes. Next, you can use Maze, for instance. Maze drags your prototypes directly from Figma, tests on real people automatically, and sends you results.

How can design teams work remotely?

Designing with remote teams, in-house or contracted, sounds like a good idea. We at Eleken actually believe that small design teams and remote work are meant for each other:

  • The SaaS market has finally developed an exceptional toolkit for remote UI/UX teams.
  • Some remote communication disadvantages turn out to be advantages for design teams. Designers seamlessly share and discuss pictures, and Zoom is more suitable for this task than a physical conference room.
  • You can get the best design talent from anywhere, and you can painlessly try any engagement model, from hiring freelancers to partnering with a design agency.
  • If you remove some irrelevant rules instead of adding more rules for remote teams, your best talents would get power over their lives working processes in a way people can't have with a traditional desk job.
  • Thus, your design team would get greater flexibility to deliver the best results.

Want the Eleken design team to become your design team? It's easy to do, you know. Just drop us a line. If you feel like doing some great SaaS stuff with us but are still unsure if we’re a perfect match, we can give you a free three-day trial.

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