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WFH Guide: How Design Teams Can Work Remotely

Want to know how to successfully work from home? Explore the top tips and tools for design teams to work remotely.

Posted 17 Jun 2021
How Design Teams Can Work Remotely

Over the last year, many businesses have introduced work-from-home policies. Employers of all shapes and sizes, from small agencies to big corporations have adopted a working from home culture as a means to enable their people to work safely and effectively whatever the local lockdown conditions. 

However, the majority of jobs and work tasks require at least some element of collaboration, and are best executed with a degree of personal interaction, particularly in the design world. So, how can design teams work remotely while maintaining the value of face-to-face communication?

Read on to explore the top tips and tools for developing a healthy remote work culture.

What Does Working Remotely Mean?

Working remotely means to work from a location that is not a traditional office environment. Designers as a group, particularly those who have freelanced or contracted may have had some experience of remote working. There are many benefits of working remotely, from covid safety and flexibility, to saving time and money, as well as maintaining a healthy work life balance.  

The Challenges of Remote Working

The most common challenge faced by design teams is building and maintaining a collaborative culture in a remote environment. The biggest issue that can arise from a lack of communication is misalignment particularly due to poorly timed feedback. A designer working remotely might assume they know what they need to do, and continue to design based on these assumptions even if the outcome doesn’t meet the expectations either of their client or their stakeholders. 

Design team members can also feel isolated, which  impacts the effectiveness  of communication, leading to misunderstandings and chaos in projects. This is further aggravated when tasks lack context or details. 

Last but not least, some designers struggle to adapt to using remote collaboration tools. 

Prepare For Remote Design Work

Just because there are some major challenges involved, doesn’t mean that remote work is a lost cause for designers. You can still get your design team working together effectively wherever they are based! However, you’ll first need to know the basics of remote work and take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success.

1. Create Space

Look into creating a dedicated space in their homes for work. Having a dedicated desk or better, a room, can seriously help ‘program’ your brain with the right signals for ‘work mode’. 

2. Infrastructure in Place

Each member of your team will need to have a strong and reliable internet connection. Therefore, everybody’s home network needs to be set up with the right devices in place. Having a laptop or a desktop is a must, and any other relevant hardware and software that will help facilitate your creative design work. Get some support from your IT function to help facilitate both the equipment and guidelines your team needs, as it will differ from non-designers.

3. Mentally Prepare

Although you’ll be working from home and you won’t need to commute to work, it is still best for remote designers to mentally prepare for work each and every morning. This is to encourage a creative mindset, stay productive and ready yourself for work. 

4. Keep Regular Hours

All team members should keep consistent hours to be more effective and reduce confusion. Unless some team members work in different time zones, then adjustments should be made accordingly. Also be aware not to schedule important meetings in overlapping areas of the workday (give everyone time for lunch and a walk!).

Remote Working Tools

In order to ensure remote work is effective and efficient, you need to have the relevant digital collaboration and communication tools in place to work as a team. You’ll soon realize how much easier collaborating with your fellow designers becomes with the right tech assistance.

1. Communication Tools

You’ll need a reliable messenger tool to help your team stay connected each day. Choose one primary communication channel and stick with it. There’s Telegram, Slack, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and so on. Remember, the success of anything depends on having accurate and effective communication and you’ll need to find ways to encourage your team to adopt your chosen tool, whether it’s async standups or morning greetings.

2. Virtual Meeting Tools

Video conferencing tools to replace ‘face-to-face’ team meetings are essential. You can look into Zoom, Slack and Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts. Overall, they all do a great job in facilitating video calls.

Perhaps the most popular tool nowadays is Zoom. It’s secure, fast, and reliable, and includes features such as polling, breakout rooms, screen share, and many more. 

3. Tools for Real-time Collaboration & Brainstorming

When the work that you do is mostly visual in nature, it’s crucial to be able to share what you’re doing in real-time. The objective is to ensure everyone’s on the same page and has the same understanding as the project progresses. 

There are many real-time collaboration tools that can help make your meetings more effective and productive. One of them being Stormboard, a browser-based tool that provides a digital workspace where teams can have meetings, discuss projects, and collaborate on certain tasks. 

You can do conference calls, collaborate on whiteboards, and project management, all via this easy-to-use tool. It helps simulate a more realistic and personal way of working together with everyone being able to make edits simultaneously while presenting their ideas to the team.

Figma is another handy tool for designers. It’s arguably the industry’s leading interface design tool, with robust features to support teams working on every phase of the design process.

4. Progress Tracking Tools

To ensure all team members are always on the same page, you’ll need to have a tool in place to track the progress of your key briefs, projects and initiatives. You can use tools like Trello or Asana, which are two of the top work management tools on the market. There are many built-in ways to organize and visualize work better via Asana, which allows you to have a bird’s eye view on all projects, as well as drill into the detail of each individual task too.

Finally, Basecamp is a place where teams can chat, check-in, organize files, schedule meetings or tasks, and even generate to-do lists. It’s another way to ensure everyone is in sync. 

5. Shared Calendar Tools

Look into using calendars, such as Google Calendar or Clickup, so that each member of your team can have visibility of everybody else’s workload and availability.

6. File Sharing Tools

You’ll need a central repository to store and share files with your team. Tools like Dropbox and Google Drive, are great to help centralize all your documents and also track how your information is being shared and who consumes it.

7. Design Subscription: Creative Stock, Templates & More

Having a subscription to a creative library like Envato Elements will certainly help with your design work. Elements is a good source for many things that can help your team create projects faster, from images, fonts, and graphic design templates to PowerPoint templates, mockups and more. You can even create and share collections – or mood boards – to help inspire your team and align on a direction or the assets you’re going to use.

8. Security Measures

One of the main concerns of working from home is security. After all, you are handling sensitive project information which must be managed securely at all times. Therefore, it is highly crucial to ensure that you and your team check that your home networks are correctly and properly secured.

You need to find a way to organize all your passwords used to access your project data and keep them securely in a single place. NordPass password manager remembers your passwords so you don’t need to, and protects your accounts by using encryption.

Devices are often connected via a wireless router which acts as a gateway to the Internet. As such, you need to secure any device that you’re using for work as hackers exploit the vulnerabilities present in wireless routers. 

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is used to improve privacy and security on the internet. By installing a VPN on your router, you’ll not only be adding extra protection, but your true IP is also hidden, which ensures your privacy online.

VPNs encrypt the data traffic from and to your devices. Installing a reputable and trusted VPN on your router effectively protects all connections on your home network. 

Improve Team Trust & Bonding

Everyone knows that the success of any team or project comes from the people involved. Bonding with coworkers can help increase trust which leads to higher engagement and productivity. That said, it takes work to build personal connections via the screen. Aside from interacting to discuss projects via the tools mentioned above, making time for relationship-building conversations that are not project-related is also important.

1. Organize Remote Design Workshops

Alongside the relationships that you build with your design colleagues, as a design team, you need  to touch base with your clients or stakeholders pretty regularly too. You also need to convince them that shifting to working remotely won’t hinder the quality of the work that your team delivers.

Setting up meetings to discuss the project’s progress is one thing, but it would be great to run remote workshops, not only among your team, but also with clients or other internal teams to ensure seamless business continuity.

Running or hosting internal remote workshops are also great ways of ensuring your team members’ professional growth and development.

2. Find Inspiration

As a designer, the usual methods of sourcing inspiration or learning new skills transpire from  personal interaction with other designers and creatives. So, you may find it difficult to get inspired when working remotely. But don’t give up!

Look for ways to develop yourself and feed your brain. There are many online courses that you can undertake on the creative learning platform Envato Tuts+. Also, take time during the day to browse design websites and apps that can serve as great sources of inspiration.

3. Keep Communicating 

You have your tools. Now learn how to use them. Design is typically collaborative, so the key to efficient remote working is communication. Use video conferencing along with real-time collaboration efforts, instead of relying on written messages when you have a question or something to discuss with the team. This is the best way to avoid any misunderstanding.

4. Host Virtual Brainstorms

You can have virtual brainstorm meetings as and when you need to, even when you work remotely. Invite designers, co-workers, and clients together in the same virtual room and use plenty of prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

5. Stay Healthy and Exercise

Unfortunately, remote working can have an adverse impact on your physical and mental health. Working in a home office for weeks at a time can mean a lack of exercise, as it is so easy and convenient to comfortably sit working non-stop at your desk.

Make it a point to organize your working time in the home office to facilitate a regular exercise routine and take time to switch off from work.

Final Thoughts on Remote Working for Designers

Design is  an intrinsic and elaborate dance of inputs and opinions, trial and error and wins and losses. All this seamlessly falls into place with natural day-to-day conversation, sharing the same physical space as our colleagues and lots of personal interaction. 

However, when you work remotely, it becomes challenging for each individual designer to curate and deliver and contribute to the team. Obtaining the necessary knowledge, feedback, support, and the approval of others requires a collaborative effort via the many tools available that help improve workflows, productivity, and collaboration.

Simply put, the success of remote design work depends primarily on the human relationships we develop, and making accurate sense and optimum use of the available tools. With the right set up and planning in place, teams can successfully and continuously cultivate the fundamentals of a collaborative and inclusive culture. 

Guest Author: Jason Chow

Currently associated with WebRevenue.io, Jason Chow is a self-professed Internet Marketer. He has spent the last half-decade actively connecting a formidable network of companies, website owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs.

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