Connecting remote teams
The number of teams working remotely has been increasing for many years, and after the pandemic hit, the shift was definite.
While most teams rely on Google Workspace, Slack, and Zoom to manage their remote collaboration, new apps aiming to facilitate remote work are mushrooming.
Planner is an app that allows you to manage all work meetings in one place. Instead of inviting colleagues by email, scheduling it in your calendar, making notes on Notion, sharing a Zoom link, and then sending materials, you can just enter Planner and add all the info there.
Web App design
We started by asking ourselves "What are the main challenges of remote work?"
After the desk research, we went on to study the competitors.
Our team has been working remotely for over 2 years now. We ourselves know well the challenges of remote collaboration and how to deal with them. Yet, we did not want to rely solely on our experience and risk falling into bias.
We dived into further investigation to find out what other people say about their experience and needs related to remote work.
There are a bunch of products addressing the needs of in-team collaboration. We have divided them into groups: direct competitors, indirect, and potential.
Detailed information about each of these products was listed, including competitive advantage and information on what users like and dislike about them, based on the reviews.
All those comments that people leave on the App Store were the basis of our analysis. As a result, we came up with a few ideas for Planner that we thought could solve users' problems.
When communicating through digital means, coworkers don’t see each other's emotions and lack feedback.
Low levels of psychological safety, when team members don’t know what reaction to expect from others, and thus trust each other less.
The lack of informal water-cooler conversations results in missing those little personal connections that make in-team communication smoother
After studying some research and articles written on this topic, we defined a few challenges to address:
After an initial brainstorming and creating hypotheses, we wanted to get feedback from our target audience. With an online questionnaire, we asked people:
Based on the answers, we ranged the features from the most important to the least:
Exchanging feedback inside the team
A possibility of answering general, not work-related questions to get to know each other better (we’ll get back to that later)
Seeing the goals set by colleagues themselves and which goals they have reached
Sharing their mood with co-workers through emojis and reactions
What is most important for you in remote work?
Run effective meetings
Review past notes and encourage everyone to add talking points to the meeting agenda. Ensure that your team has clear objectives by recording action items in one spot
Feedback as work happens
Incorporate opportunities for feedback into your team’s day-to-day experience. It all starts with asking for feedback about yourself and the meetings you organize.
Keep remote team members in the loop When working remote, it can be easy to feel left out of important conversations – particularly those that happen in the office.
“Too many meetings” is the main complaint of people who have shifted to remote work.
We have no power to change that, but we came up with a tool that helps you navigate the ocean of meetings that has flooded our agendas.
Creating a meeting takes a couple of minutes. First of all, you have to choose between group and one-on-one meetings. After that, you choose the participants, time, add links, and set meetings repeatedly, if needed.
Integration with Google Calendar adds meetings to the daily schedule automatically. Apart from that, the list of upcoming meetings can be found under the calendar icon.
Each meeting contains key information: description, talking points, notes, and next steps – all the actions that you want to take after. A space on the side is reserved for private notes that only users can see. Without Planner, a user would need a separate document if they wanted to write down something just for themselves.
The lack of personal informal communication between remote coworkers is one of the most intangible issues. At the same time, it is very hard to solve with digital tools.
Daily or weekly stand-ups are part of the boring routine for many remote teams. When listening to all the colleagues talking about their tasks for a few minutes, we can't memorize all the information no matter how hard we try.
Search is available throughout all the meetings and notes. Users can easily recall what they have been talking about last week and find all the links. Remember all the pain when you had to double send links after they got lost in Zoom chat? Planner solves that.
In order to avoid long drop-down menus and lists, we opted for an icon sidebar. A sub-menu opens next to the icon after click. It may contain the list of meetings or the options for leaving feedback.
To-Do lists help team members stay on track
What was next?
If the meeting is held regularly, on the last tab users can see the list of past meetings to get a quick reminder of what had been discussed previously.
To streamline the process even better, a user can choose from the list of templates instead of entering all the meeting agenda manually.
Planner has a page where each of the team members can add their to-do lists and see the lists of their colleagues. Seeing what others are working on helps coordinate the work and make more sense of regular stand-ups.
To-do lists are presented as simple checkpoints, they don’t have advanced features such as assignments, grouping, and so on. We didn’t want to overload the app with functions trying to make it an all-in-one tool. Instead, we added integrations with Asana and GitHub to make the collaboration tools work together seamlessly.
We are not saying that Planner can replace that personal communication, but we came up with some features that help team members to understand and feel others’ emotions.
1. Emojis to mark “current mood”.
If a user is having hard times with a specific task, they can signal it to their colleagues with just one click. On the Employee’s lists page, users can see the overall mood of the team members. So, when they see that too many colleagues are in red, they take action before they burn out.
Team members are encouraged to give each other feedback. They can rate their coworkers' performance and say a few words about their work. There is an option of anonymous feedback ― a great way of letting people express themselves freely. A user can send a request for feedback to colleagues when they feel shy to do it themselves.
3. Social feed for team members.
The objective of this feature is to foster informal communication and create personal connections. Team members are asked questions like “What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?” or “Which 3 things would you take to a desert island?”. Users can see the answers of their colleagues in their feed, give their reactions, and comment.
To fit the standards of modern teams that are not subject to a strict hierarchy, the software has to be designed with modern systems of collaboration in mind.
In the first versions of the visual interface, Poppins font and multicolor pastel palette were used. However, in later iterations, we decided to go with Gilroy font and leave just one accent color. Other colors are only present to show info about emotions and feedback.
By avoiding trendy visual solutions we let the app evolve naturally throughout the years. “Cool” design gets outdated fast, and it means that the app would need a revamp when the trends move on. Our objective is to make a functional product, not just trendy.
So, we ended up with a classic color scheme, shades of green. We don’t mind using “boring” visual solutions, but when there is a possibility of adding some style to the design, we are all in.
Opting for timeless rather than trendy
That is why Planner looks the same to every user. The team lead has the same power over the meetings as any other team member. Each of them can schedule meetings and one-on-ones.
The only difference is that the admin can invite new members or delete the accounts of those that are no longer in the team.
Design that fosters horizontal collaboration
The devil is in the details
Have you noticed the icons? They are glyphs, two-toned with different shades of grey. These tiny details are what give the product its unique style.
Our designer has been working on these designs for two months. This is the kind of challenging task that gives space for creative solutions.
Do you have any ideas on how to make remote collaboration even easier and more comfortable? Contact us!