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Ask The Expert: Managing UX & Design Teams Remotely

It is always our aim to showcase and share the remarkable expertise and industry knowledge of those around us. Now more than ever teams are having to adapt to new ways of working and one of the challenges facing many is the sudden change to remote working 24/7.

For some teams it’s familiar ground; the infrastructure is in place, teams are used to collaborating remotely and conducting their day to day activities on the cloud, for others, it’s entirely new.

With the series on ‘Managing UX and Design Teams Remotely’ we wanted to share the insight of a number of industry leaders on how they’re tackling this challenge.

First up, we caught up with Laura Wilson, Principal Researcher at the Office for National Statistics to gather the most effective ways of running user experience and design activities remotely. Here, our chat with Laura as part of our Ask the Expert series.

ADLIB: Firstly, is remote working new to the team?

Laura: At ONS we do what’s called ‘smart working’ so we have the opportunity to work remotely if we want to. Most people tend to still come into the office for most of the week. I do one day a week at home (and encourage my team to) but will look to increase this in the future. Being a team of researchers, we’re used to working remotely all around the country. This usually happens between testing sessions, for example, picking up emails and keeping other projects moving. So, overall, remote working is not new but the extent of it is based on the current circumstances.

ADLIB: In a nutshell, what character trait do you think is most important when getting the most out of UX and design projects remotely?

Laura: I generally operate on trust, but remote working calls on this even more. Thankfully, organisations are moving away from the belief that you must actually be seen doing your work to prove that you are working. This is such an old school vibe, and, in my view, it doesn’t get the most out of people.

From experience, trust empowers people which leads to higher morale and increased productivity. Yes, remote working means you miss out on the assurances gained by overhearing at desk conversations. However, trust in the training your team has had, their experience and knowledge of the collective goal in order to make good decisions. Trust will help you to get the most of out of remote working.

ADLIB: If you had to pick one, what tool enables your team to work at its best when remote?

Laura: Across ONS we have access to a variety of tools, and everyone has a preference. I tend to advise my team to choose what works best for them (and their sub-teams), be that Slack, Trello, Miro or other. However, the one thing that we all heavily use is Skype for Business. The multi-caller, screen sharing, and virtual whiteboard features are particularly useful to help us collaborate remotely and feel like we’re in the room together.

ADLIB: What process, approach or methodology have you found to be most beneficial to remote working?

Laura: Establishing a working pattern that works for me and being strict with it. By that I mean, defining my working day to avoid burnout. Needing to do this is something that I’ve learned about myself over the last three weeks of remote working. In week one I was starting work at 7:30 am as I was at home.

Upon reflection, I put pressure on myself to start earlier than normal as I didn’t have my usual hour’s commute. However, I found myself still working late into the evening. Granted, we’ve had a lot to do over the last three weeks to support government decision making during this time. But it also wasn’t helped by not having the normal cue of others leaving to go home or being prompted by my car sharer. I quickly realised that working without any parameters wasn’t sustainable. I have now put start times in my calendar and informed colleagues about my working pattern. This is helping me to better manage my time and wellbeing.

ADLIB: And finally, what would your one key piece of advice be for those looking to help remote teams function to their optimum?

Laura: Keep communicating – don’t expect it to get remote working ‘right’ or for it to run smoothly straight away. It may take a bit of getting used to, so allow yourself (and others) to take that time to adapt. Keep in mind that within your team there will be different personality types, each with different preferences when it comes to ways of working.

Being an introvert, I quite enjoy remote working, but I am aware that the extroverts in the team find it less enjoyable. Working remotely doesn’t and shouldn’t mean working in isolation. Have conversations with your team to find out what works for you and them then try it. If it doesn’t work then try something new, flexibility and communication are key. And remember that there is no (nor needs to be) ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Thanks so much for sharing Laura!

You can follow Laura on Twitter here.

The Government have also posted their guidelines on conducting user research during lockdown here.