Last year, when Marrisa Mayer told her Yahoo! employees working remotely was verboten, some thought the end was nye for telecommuters. As others began singing Mayer’s tune, fear of losing remote work began to creep into smaller consultancies and the user experience talent that wasn’t located in Silicon Valley or on Madison Avenue.
The UX Guys weren’t too concerned. We’ve worked remotely with dozens of clients the past seven years, clients spread across Canada, United States and Europe. We’ve experienced the good. We’ve been challenged and worked through the bad. However, being a UX consultancy located in three cities itself, working remotely is just part of our DNA.
There’s no magic bullet that can make remote work smooth sailing; however, being aware of the benefits and challenges, and being open to the tools and what’s worked/what hasn’t will go along way.
Having a remote group of UX professionals might not always be ideal for some clients. Here are some of the issues we’ve either encountered or heard about.
Less “Swivel-chair” Brainstorming
When you’re co-located, the opportunity for impromptu collaboration increases; a quick turn of the chair, or stroll down the hallway to ask “what do you think?”
The Forgotten Team Member
Regardless of the tools, or the processes put in place to avoid it, the remote UX resource can be left behind. The onsite team has an impromptu meeting, or a session at the whiteboard, forgetting the lone team member a time zone or two away.
Antsy “Helicopter” PMs
Just a caveat: I know project managers. I like PMs. Heck, I married a PM. However, remote resourcing just doesn’t jive with the raison d’être of some project managers obsessed with Gantt charts and burn-down rates. I think it gives them a tic not seeing every team member at their assigned seat.
Coast to Coast to Coast Talent Pool
There are a lot of great user experience professionals out there. Being receptive to remote UX exposes a client to more talent, new ideas, new processes and more. It also may prove less costly than trying to recruit, interview, hire, relocate and train a new employee.
User experience is a creative industry. And creativity doesn’t begin when you punch the clock every morning. At the UX Guys, we really don’t care when and how a resource gets their work done; however, as long as it’s done on time, on (or under) budget and they are available when the client needs them.
A focused resource is a happy and productive resource. Working remotely – whether at home or even at the UX Guys office – means limited interruptions and an intense focus on my work. Even the remote meetings are more focused and less tangential.
TOOLS & TIPS
Since the UX Guys began in 2007, we have lived the virtual model. Traveling and working onsite just hasn’t been an option for us, as many UX Guys are parents and spouses that cannot afford, nor wish, to be absent. So,
There have been challenges working in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto for Canadian, American and European clients. However, we’ve also gained some valuable insight on how to make remote UX as successful as possible.
Ideally, we like to meet clients or the production team face-to-face at project initiation. Working remotely is made less so when you can put a face to the person on the other end of the conference line.
When budgets allow, it’s great being able to traveling to the client for in-person brainstorming or deliverable presentations. Having a tight agenda for your visit is essential, so time spent at the whiteboard is fruitful and you can head home with what you need.
We recently had a New York-based client that required some onsite time. Together we developed a schedule that included three-week sprint cycles: we were onsite for one week and then two weeks remote. While onsite, the UX Guy would brainstorm with the production team, and then come home and develop wireframes.
If our client is in town, we definitely like to spend time at their office. Same rules apply: focused, intensive meetings rather than being another butt in a seat at their office.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
As discussed above, one of the drawbacks of working remotely is being left behind or forgotten by onsite team members. There is an onus on the remote resources to be available for impromptu meetings. And there are so many great tools (and many free) out there that can remote collaboration painless (e.g., screen sharing, Skype, instant messenger, text).
Also schedule frequent meetings to keep everyone in the loop. We’re not suggesting 60-minute time sucks everyday, but rather a quick, focused 15-minute standup.
Sharing is Caring
We also encourage our team to share their work often. Co-design, or collaborative design, has become the predominant way we work with clients. The “big reveal” is old school and creates too much churn. Co-design gets issues out early and keeps the dialogue flowing – whether onsite or remote.
How Old is this Dude?
Working remotely isn’t for every UX resource or client. There is an element of maturity that cannot be understated to make off-site work. The UX Guys are senior-level talent that understand the power of being able to work remotely, as well as the trust our clients have that we can deliver regardless of where we’re located.