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Life As a Travelling Design Studio

As MELEWI is a location-independent business, the world is our office. We work with a team and clients across different continents and multiple timezones. That may seem incredibly challenging and complicated, but trust us, it’s not as impossible as you might imagine!

Through trial and error (heaps of research, hard work and coffee), we’ve discovered five secrets to what makes a successful distributed team:

1. Working with the right people

Having the right people is the most important thing to consider if you want a distributed team to work.

Melewi Team - 2014
Melewi Team in Singapore – Feb 2014

Not everyone is cut out for a remote working lifestyle. For some, they might need a bustling and busy environment to be productive themselves. But in order to work remotely, the person must be independent, reliable, constantly improving, frequently communicating and always GSD-ing (getting shit done).

We make sure to only hire people who find our values resonate with their personal values!

2. Using the right tools

Just because a remote team is without a physical office doesn’t mean we’re lacking. I mean, who here doesn’t agree this is one of the many reasons why the internet is awesome?!

There’s been a boom of incredible SAAS and digital tools that enable us to run a tight ship remotely – allowing our team to get things done while communicate tightly and staying organized.

Some tools we use everyday are:

SlackChannels set for specific topics allows all communication to be context-specific. API integrations with tools like Hangouts, FTTT, and Github give everyone easy access to collaboration. Slack is our virtual office – allowing everyone to communicate and work together regardless of location or time zones.

Google Hangouts: Without being able to have face-to-face interactions, Google Hangouts is the next best thing. The ability to hop on a quick video-chat allows us to work well as a team while reducing the amount of distracting “shoulder-taps”. Meeting via Hangouts is our new default – and this means we’re never restricted to where our awesome team members or clients can be from.

Google Drive: We believe working collaboratively (specifically – agile) means having everything accessible to everyone. With Google Docs, Sheets and Draw, no one is ever tied to a physical document that can’t be easily shared or modified at any time.

Invision: Collaborating on design work can be tricky enough on its own, but throw in distance, close client collaboration and suddenly too much communication isn’t enough. Invision gives you the ability to put up sketches and mockups, hotspot the designs to demo to everyone, as well as give feedback and discuss comments specific to the design.

Other tools integral to our working life include Dropbox, Trello, Harvest, Flow, Github amongst others!

3. Coordinating the right working times

Out of all the obstacles, this was by far the trickiest. How could a team work together when separated by hours of time difference?

This is where we coincidentally stumbled upon 37Signal’s awesome book ‘Remote’ (also, check out ‘Rework’ by the same guys). Their magic number was ‘four’. Apparently, a 4-hour overlap was the minimum needed to keep a team apart working cohesively together.

And it works surprisingly well! Introducing the 4-hour overlap resulted in a slight deviation off the standard 9-to-5 hours, but it also gave back more flexibility to everyone’s day – why be a zombie downing coffee at 9am when you’re more chipper at 9pm?

Melewi’s Working Hours

Working off separate time zones also meant reducing the amount of distractions and “hey-quick-question” shoulder taps (protip: it’s never quick). It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you aren’t frequently interrupted.

4. Prioritizing the right things

The ‘right things’ are different for everyone, but having a team united on what the priorities are drives everyone in the same direction. Add in constant communication and hard-work to the equation, and you’ve got a workforce that can conquer any obstacle.

Our daily 30-min standup meetings start off with us catching up and bonding. To some this might seem trivial, but above all, we prioritise an awesome team – which means we also make sure to spend time with each other.

Funny Hat Friday Standup!

The standups end off with us discussing progress and ways to overcome obstacles. As a distributed team, it’s too easy to lack camaraderie and to sweep problems under the rug. Being aware of this, we take extra care to share every person’s successes and obstacles – celebrating the good together, and tackling the bad together.

Constant constructive feedback is another thing we prioritize having. To be part of the team, you must be constantly learning and improving. This means being open to constructive feedback. It’s no longer a matter of egos being hurt but a matter of improving in every way possible.

5. Working and living by the same values towards the same goals

Everyone at MELEWI lives by the same values toward one unified goal: living to make users, product and business make sense together. Maybe that’s why our remote team, well, makes sense.

With the right setup and values, trust and collaboration becomes the default. We make sure to work with awesome people, use lightweight processes and tools that help us get stuff done (effectively and efficiently; no thank you to heavy documentation).

And most importantly, we work together for the same purpose – to build amazing products and user experiences that speak to everyone, everywhere.

Product design success stories and remote work goodness

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