Designing in remote teams

Recently, I started working in a company that is distributed in three time zones. It is not the first time I am working within distributed teams but the problems arising from people not being in a single location shows more when it is a startup in an early stage.


Critical decisions need to be made a brisk space and with the stakeholders sitting apart, it is usually difficult to make those decisions over a short conference call. A couple of weeks back we were trying to nail down the backend architecture for our product. It proved to be a never ending process where system engineers, api team, UI team product managers and UX designers are not collocated. I miss the ease of huddling around in a conference room and getting to a decision quickly or walking to a colleague and clearing my questions with the backend.

Although these situations are tricky, I have seen design play a crucial role in bringing everyone together on an issue and move format. We have the right skills to align people to what is important in the whole process - users. Here are few things that have helped me working with my team members :

Build camaraderie between teams
First and foremost, it’s important to build trust within people you are working with. Being designers, we work closely with a lot of teams, taking their requirements for the product. Every positive interaction builds trust. As a designer you need to hear every team and understand their perspective. You can step back and take a design decision but acknowledging other team’s input goes a long way in creating a good working relationship.

Be quick and dirty
It is needless to say that one needs to be quick while working in startups. When the teams are apart, it is even more necessary for someone to put the thoughts on paper that everyone can see. It could be a rough diagram, a sketch or a presentation that you can share and get feedback from. I have started using invision to put my ideas and get feedback on them. This tool allows people to comment on different portion of the screen. I use them even for rough screens. Do not spend a lot time making the design perfect. Feel free to share smaller portions and talk about it.

Document design decisions
Design becomes subjective very soon unless you clearly state your reasoning for your design choices. In a collocated team, it is easy to communicate these reasonings in hallway chat or a meeting. But when you are working in a global team, it is important to note down your reasonings and process that led to a design and communicate it with the distributed team. Now, the input you get would be more logical and to the point. It also helps to get team together to focus on the KPIs and product value. Once you have decided these, the discussions become more focused.

Keep it flexible
Last but not the least, keep a flexible schedule. Your office will not be 9 to 5 anymore. Getting work done and communicating would require some untimely meetings. Be open and it is sure to pay you back.