As you might imagine, the last few weeks have been all change for the Clearleft folks. BOY have we learned a lot about each other and our new way of working.

Benjamin Parry
Benjamin Parry
30th March 2020

All in all It’s been a fun process. We’ve been taking ‘Through the Keyhole’ tours of each other’s homes. Introduced to pets, children, and our ever-evolving workstations.

Fortunately, we’re no strangers to remote working. While we love meeting face-to-face with our clients and their users, it’s not always convenient or necessary. Daily standups, remote design walkthroughs and research sessions are all part of an average client project. Going fully-remote has only added another string to our bow.

So in the spirit of our values – Learn, share, learn, share – we wanted to share our process and tips for working remotely.

Getting all the important introductions done

Culture and wellbeing

Clearleft HQ is a social, open-plan office. It feels like a home away from home with plenty of interesting watercooler moments. It’s easy to see who’s in and what they’re working on. These were all things we wanted to maintain after going remote.

#CICO Slack channel - Thanks to Sophia we have a dedicated channel for checking in and out of work. Much like the morning ‘hello’, a chat over lunch, and a parting ‘sayonara’ at the end of the day. It feels like the heartbeat of the team and has become one of our most popular channels.

Watercooler hangouts - We thrive on sharing and learning from one another. Tuning in and out of office conversations is something we were keen to continue once distributed. To encourage these moments, we’ve created dedicated Google Hangout links so anyone can drop in and out during the day. We have specific Hangouts for project teams but also for people who just want to hang out in the ‘kitchen’.

Support network - We’re an already tightly-knit team both on and off projects. It was important to keep the banter going, now more than ever. There’s been a noticeable increase of gifs, emojis and Photoshopped-images being added to Slack. A blooper reel of the recent BERT test Tiny Lesson emerged. Sophia has been running virtual sourdough baking lessons. We’ve also kept our Friday afternoon social shindig. These things have kept spirits high and brought us together in new ways.

Ways of remote working

There’s been a deluge of remote working resources, blog posts, and tools shared over the past week. We’ve been adding the best ones to the Clearleft knowledge bank. Here are some of the more useful and surprising ones we’ve come across.

Luis’s in-depth resource for remote work introduction and guide is well worth your time. Ashley’s tips on virtual workshops resonated with us, as did this remote workshop guide by the good people at #designandclimate. We also really enjoyed Dr John Curran’s article about reducing anxiety of virtual meetings. Rob Whiting has a growing resource of remote research. Cate and Nicole have a great webinar on remote management.

The remote collaboration tools we’re using most at Clearleft are:

  • Miro - We’ve been using the virtual whiteboard app since back when it was called RealtimeBoard. It’s been particularly useful for maintaining a consistent working space and when working between our own and client’s offices. It’s also been a gamechanger for clients that don’t have the privilege of wallspace. Now remote is the new-norm it’s our go-to space for collaboration.

  • Figma - We’ve been using Figma far more recently for walking clients through the design process. Where previously we have wrapped up progress in a polished presentation deck, we’re now seeing value showing the process in all its iterative glory. View-only logins allow clients to have ongoing oversight.

  • Whereby - There are so many telepresence solutions to choose from nowadays. Sometimes the solution with the lowest barrier to entry is the most useful. Remote user testing and in-depth interviews are a good example of such scenarios.

  • Dovetail - We’ve used Dovetail a few times now and our fondness for it grows each time. What we love about Dovetail is its present feature. This is particularly useful for presenting back to internal teams and clients.

  • Google Hangouts & Zoom - We use the suite of Google products at Clearleft so Hangouts are our go-to internal telepresence tool. For everything else, we use a separate tool. Usually governed by our client’s current practice, we adapt to their ways of working as soon as we can. Personally, I prefer Zoom for research activities. Offering breakout rooms, a wide range of integration options, local and cloud recording features.

remote workshop using a Miro board of post its
The Miro board used during our Zoom workshop on remote workshops

Tips for better outcomes

Here are some of our tried and tested tips for better remote working outcomes.

Katie says: “Be one step ahead of the tech. Consider using other methods of presenting with less risk. We’ve recorded presentations using Quicktime and layered over audio. It’s easy to stitch multiple videos and audio files together from different presenters. Then upload it to a video hosting service and share the link.”

Trys says: “Keeping people actively focused during a remote workshop is crucial for better outcomes. That’s why I built a web version of the Design Sprint countdown timer.”

Chris says: “Preparation is key for better research sessions. Send tech setup instructions as early as possible to avoid wasting time during the session. Have a plan B ready if everything goes to pot e.g. a list of questions ready to post into a chat window. If time is working against you, be ready to ditch a task or two rather than rush your participant. Have your camera on if you can to help build rapport with your participant.”

Benjamin says: “Harness the biophilia effect for a more positive working environment. Research studies show that ‘environments rich with nature views and imagery reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration’. If you can, position your workstation to face a window, introduce a plant or some flowers to your desk. Even images of nature can help, so consider replacing your desktop or screensaver with images of nature.”

How we can help

We’re continuing to help our clients during this challenging time. Helping them adapt to a new way of working, and understand and address emerging audience needs.

If you are looking for help, please get in touch below.