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What It’s Like Joining a Remote Design Team

We take a look at the move to working at remote design company Melewi. From the challenges of managing time zones to the day to day of working remotely.

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If you’ve been following the Melewi blog for a while or if you’re just a passerby curious about design sprints and wondering how a remote design agency works, I am here to help. Having just finished my first month as a product manager for the team, here’s my inside view of what it’s like to work in a remote design studio.

Right, let’s dive in.

1:1 Chats with Everyone

In my first week, I had a 1:1 with everyone, allowing me to get to know them all a bit better personally and understand their role within the company. I got an insight into what my co-workers are like and how they worked, as well as how I’d fit in overall as part of the team.

It also gave me a refreshing taste of how life at Melewi is not all work, but that the team is more of a family. The 1:1’s continue with Mel every few months and allow each team member to stay connected with what’s happening in the business.

Standup

jon-munson-product-manager-melewi

To work remotely with a team and to work remotely well, you need to establish a routine. One that’s flexible, but one that keeps everyone on the same page. At Melewi, this method takes the form of a daily standup. And if you aren’t familiar with the agile methodology, a standup is a meeting where we go over progress on all projects, which includes:

  • What has been happening on each project
  • What each person did yesterday
  • What each person will be working on next
  • Any obstacles in your way

That last point is crucial, as it allows the whole team to be available to ensure no one gets held up with progressing on their tasks. Regular standups keep the projects moving, and clients happy.

Learning Curve

One of the main parts of working at Melewi is using the Design Sprint process. Coming from a development background, I’ve adapted quickly to this, as this is how I am used to running web projects.

What I’ve found different with Melewi is how much the client is involved in the process. Refreshingly, the client becomes part of the team, with input welcomed at every stage!

Of course, any agile team wouldn’t be complete without using Trello (I have an unhealthy obsession with this tool), as well as a variety of other web-based services including Google Apps, InVision, Harvest, etc.

Cutting Teeth

After first working on an internal product (watch this space!), I started on my first client project, initially shadowing one of the PMs, and then picking up the next sprint solo.

The client had already been working with Melewi and loved the design-sprint methodology we use. This particular project required a quick turn-around, so we were using one-week sprints to ensure deliverables every week that could be handed over to the client’s dev team.

melewi-one-week-sprints

One-week sprints not only keep the designers focused on the workshop defined requirements, but they also make sure that the customer is happy with all of the work before it goes into development.

Adjustments + Challenges

There have been a few adjustments I’ve had to make to my workflow while working with a distributed remote team. Firstly, I’ve shifted my working hours so that I start earlier in the morning. Doing this has been perfect for me, as I am definitely a morning person. I get to have all of my meetings at the beginning of the day and spend my afternoons getting any other work done with the occasional bit of downtime.

Probably the biggest challenge has been managing time zones. With clients and a distributed team of designers all working in different time zones, scheduling can be very tricky. I have configured my Google Calendar to show Singapore time (the primary time zone we work to internally), as well as my local time (currently Greenwich Mean Time). Doing this lets me quickly see what time it is where each team member is based when we are talking about our meetings.

melewi-team-time-zones

I still need to keep in mind everyone’s working hours, as if I schedule a meeting for 2 pm SGT on a Friday, it’s 7 am GMT (depending on if we are in BST) and 11 pm Pacific Time on Thursday!?!? Safe to say that I try and arrange meetings over email where possible, so I have a chance to work out the time differences!

What I’ve Learned

All the magic happens remotely, using web-based tools and services. Instead of having to walk across the office, or drive to the client’s headquarters, we just jump on a Google Hangout or Skype call.

If there’s something internal we need to resolve, it’s just a quick Slack IM away from the whole team, no matter what time it is in their part of the world.

I even managed to participate in meetings while attending a motorcycle track day at the Silverstone motor racing circuit!

jon-munson-melewi-product-manager

The team are really like a family. Everyone works together so well and are always willing to lend a hand when needed. We carry out internal reviews, where the designers can get some great feedback on their work, and the team can share their insights to help deliver the best product for the client.

All of these processes work well across multiple disciplines including development, content creation, visual design and user experience. We get a LOT of design done in a relatively small amount of time and stay agile enough to pivot quickly using sprints. This is something that our clients appreciate, as we can be super reactive to changes as the project progresses.

In Conclusion

Working with the Melewi team has been a breath of fresh air! A remote working team that achieves so much on each project, while simultaneously enjoying themselves and striving to do better every time. All of this without any egos and everyone working together to deliver the best for their clients.

The whole team has been incredibly welcoming, and I can’t wait to meet them all in person at our annual meetup!

Like the sound of Melewi? Why not become one of the team? It doesn’t matter where you’re based, if you are awesome at Business Development, we may just have the job for you!

Product design success stories and remote work goodness

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