Remote Work for Design Teams

Tips, tools, and tricks for working remotely

Advice on the essentials of remote design teams

by Abby Sinnott

We often hear from other design teams that building and maintaining a collaborative culture in a remote environment is one of their biggest challenges. The good news is that creating highly productive teams is all about the people, not the space they inhabit. As Julia Elman, director of design at the distributed company Zapier, said: “To do great design, your team doesn’t have to be in the same room.

Design is a process of solving real problems for users, which can be achieved remotely while still preserving the spirit of collaboration. To do so, distributed teams must continuously cultivate the fundamentals of a collaborative culture: psychological safety, trust, communication, and inclusivity.

This chapter will show you how to build the core characteristics of high-performing collaborative teams, despite the physical distance.

The Basics

By now, much of the basics of remote work are well known. But it’s worth revisiting some of the fundamentals for those who may be new to it.

Pablo Stanley, Lead Product Designer at InVision, talks about balancing work and life while working from home.

Working remotely is a big change to your typical work environment. Take the time to solve for some of the basics in order to best set yourself up for success. Some of the most common tips:

  • Create space
    It takes time to rewire the brain to work in a new environment. One way to help is to create a dedicated space in your home for work. Small cues like a dedicated desk or room can go a long way to sending your brain the right signals for “work.” And once you’ve established a comfortable home work setup, try venturing outside the home to a local coffee shop or library. The ability to work from anywhere is one of the great joys of remote work, and a change of scenery can be invaluable for reenergizing.
  • Get ready
    Even if your commute is now a few steps, prepare as though you were going into the office. Take time in the morning to eat breakfast, get dressed, and do other morning rituals before sitting down to work.
  • Keep consistent hours
    Teams should try to keep consistent hours to reduce confusion. For teams that work in different timezones, be cognizant to schedule big or important meetings in overlapping areas of the workday.
  • Block time away from the desk
    One of the central benefits of remote work is that one can step away for a doctor’s appointment, to grab lunch, or run an errand. We encourage remote teams to take advantage of this flexibility. But block these moments on your calendar or set a status in Slack so colleagues can expect when you’re away from the desk.
  • Stay healthy
    Go for a walk. Get a chair with healthy back support, or a standing desk. Get up from your desk at least once every two hours.
  • Stay social
    We all need human contact. Set up time each day, or at least a few times a week, to get together with friends—or at least get a change of atmosphere.

Tools of the trade

Remote work has exploded alongside the rise of digital collaboration tools. While there is no shortage of tools in the market for enabling remote work, we thought we’d provide a glimpse into the tech stack we use at InVision to remain connected.

  • Slack
    We live and breathe in Slack. It’s our primary communication channel, and the water cooler around which we all congregate.
  • Zoom
    All video conferencing is done through Zoom. It’s a secure, fast, and reliable solution with robust features including polling, breakout rooms, screen share, and more. Tip: Keep your video on! This is an important signal to the room–and yourself–that you’re fully engaged in the conversation at hand. This is less important in large meetings when your participation isn’t required or expected, but still a good general best practice.
  • G Suite
    From simple slide presentations to 100-page long Google Docs, G Suite keeps us productive. We also use Google Drive as our primary cloud storage solution, through which everything is searchable and accessible. Whatever your cloud storage provider, make sure to keep things organized and tidy to make it easier to track down items.
  • InVision
    InVision is an entire platform built to help design teams collaborate remotely and it’s what we use in our own design teams to brainstorm, create, prototype, test, and collaborate with engineering. Freehand is one of our favorite collaboration tools that makes it easy for anyone to jump into an infinite canvas and work together in real-time. We use it for everything from project planning to creative explorations, whiteboarding, design sprints, design reviews, and much more.
  • Confluence
    Confluence by Atlassian serves as a central repository for all sorts of critical internal documentation, from AMAs with the CEO to new product updates. While centralizing knowledge is something every company could benefit from, it’s especially important in a remote environment as there is much less “ambient communication” floating in the air.

Getting the basics in place is an important step to making remote work successful. Teams will need shared tools for video conferencing, messaging, and documentation. Design teams will need extra tooling to accommodate key stages of the design process in a digital environment.

But try not to overthink things. The success of remote work depends primarily on the human relationships we develop. The value of taking the time early to establish shared tools and processes is that it frees teams to focus on the real work: being creative and collaborative.


Over the years, remote work has developed baggage in the form of myths or misconceptions. Some of these have been internalized at a deep level. So before we go deep into specific strategies and best practices, let’s take a moment to dispel some of the most notorious myths out there.

Alison Rand, Senior Director of Design Operations at InVision, speaks to question of productivity in remote teams.

Remote workers are less productive

The most common fear of managers concerning remote work is the fear that it makes teams less productive. But the reality is that all evidence points to the contrary. Research out of Stanford University found that remote employees were on average 13% more productive than office-bound peers, and a study by Google concluded there was “no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions” for remote workers compared to co-located teams.

Creativity can only happen in the same room

Being creative in a remote environment is just as feasible, though it requires more deliberate communication and benefits from a clearly defined process. In an office, lots of creativity “emerges” from teams being in close proximity. In a remote environment, the creative process must be made more explicit. But when this is done, creativity can flourish no matter the distance.

Remote workers are less engaged

Remote workers tend to be happier and stick around longer, largely as a result of better work-life integration. A report by research firm Gallup found that “job flexibility increases engagement” and that “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 to 80% of their time working off-site—or three to four days in a five-day workweek.” This has a cascade of benefits, from employee productivity to reduced attrition.

Working remotely is less personal 

Remote work removes the artificial barrier between work and life. There are few interactions more personal than beaming into a colleague’s home office, living room, or local coffee shop. In our experience, this intimacy tends to foster deep personal relationships between colleagues. While there are obvious benefits to in-person meetups as opposed to virtual ones, we see these as complementary features of remote work—not mutually exclusive ones.

Remote work will hurt my culture

Fully distributed teams can develop cultures just as strong as co-located teams. The difference is that remote work tends to amplify existing cultural problems in ways that may be hidden in an office. Teams lacking psychological safety will further isolate themselves when working remotely. Organizations with rigid hierarchies will find it harder to manage distributed teams. Going remote provides an invaluable opportunity to address these problems and strengthen culture by removing bureaucracy, fostering trust, breaking down silos, and empowering teams.

Culture is so fundamental to keeping teams healthy that it deserves a closer look.

Solving for culture with trust and psychological safety

A healthy corporate culture is built on shared values, trust, relationships, and empathy. It’s defined by a common set of values, norms, habits, and characteristics that shape the way we work together.

As Michael Mankins, a partner at Bain & Company and a leader in the firm’s organization practice said, “Culture is the glue that binds an organization together.” And while leadership sets the core values that define the culture, it’s not about just one person, but rather about teams—how they work, communicate, and grow together.

Culture is vital to a business’s overall success. It’s been proven to directly influence things like employee happiness, engagement, retention, recruiting and even the bottom line. In fact, our 2019 Product Design Hiring Report found that 84% of product designers identified a strong internal design culture as the number one most important criteria when evaluating new job opportunities.

Company cultures look different for every company. While unique and nuanced, there are universal characteristics to cultures that promote effective collaboration. Specifically, collaboration thrives in cultures with a high degree of trust and psychological safety.

One famous Google study code-named Project Aristotle found that, above all other factors, psychological safety was the hallmark of high performing teams. Leadership expert and author Simon Sinek famously said: “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

High-trust teams are high performing teams

Regardless of the type of work environment, trust greatly influences a team’s performance and health. A Harvard study compared employees who work at high-trust organizations to those working at low-trust companies and found that employees at high-trust organizations experience:

  • 106% more energy at work
  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 76% more engagement
  • 40% less burnout
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 13% fewer sick days

While fundamental to any relationship, trust is even more important in a remote environment because you must be counted on to do your job, even though no one’s watching. And trust is a two-way street: managers and employees need to be honest with one another about any challenges they are experiencing—work related or personal—that may impact their ability to perform. It’s easy to hide what’s really going on in a remote environment.

“It’s easy to suffer in silence when working remotely,” said Stephen Gates, head design evangelist at InVision. “You have to empower vulnerability in your teams to be honest about what they’re going through, because it’s easy to show up on Zoom for 30 minutes and be really chipper, then turn your camera off and put your head on your desk. So you need to build those relationships.”

But how do you build deep relationships and trust with a team that’s not in the same city, or even the same country, like at InVision, where we have employees in nearly 30 countries?

“Although the outcome is trust, that’s not where you start,” said Richard Banfield, VP of design transformation at InVision. “It’s the result of specific things you must continually work at, such as establishing psychological safety with each member of your team, before trust happens.”

Here are 3 ways to build trust and psychological safety

Be reliable

Reliability is the backbone of trust, especially in a remote environment where teams need to count on one another to do what’s expected of them, in the absence of regular in-person check-ins. In a remote environment, employees are held accountable for the work they produce, not the hours they work.

“Setting expectations and meeting them is a way of creating trust. It’s a flywheel. The more you’re reliable and say you’ll do something, and then do it, the more trust you create and it becomes an expanding circle. You start with a small agreement, then build on it, until you have a bigger repository,” said Banfield. “But it’s important that those agreements are clearly defined by managers so that people know what’s expected of them.”

He added that one way of mapping people’s responsibilities is through OKRs. At InVision, each individual team designs quarterly OKRs that align to the company’s overall strategy and North Star, so that there is no confusion about goals and expectations. These OKRs are transparent and can be shared with anyone in the company, which helps to foster collaboration, productivity, and trust between managers and their teammates. OKRs also help prioritize work and boost morale by ensuring to people that the work they’re doing is valuable and contributing to the company’s overall success.

Research has found that 60% of employees aren’t well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics. Uncertainty about a company’s direction results in chronic stress, undermines teamwork, and reduces trust.

On a microlevel, Banfield said that in a remote environment, it’s important that managers make it clear how and when they want regular progress to be communicated to help people stay committed to their tasks and goals. It might be over Slack on Fridays, during weekly stand-ups, or documented in a Jira board or 1:1 doc.

Be vulnerable

Society has taught us that vulnerability is synonymous with weakness, especially in the workplace. But things are starting to change.

Brené Brown, research professor and bestselling author, believes that every business can benefit from a more courageous company culture and braver leaders who are willing to be vulnerable, which means being honest and transparent in the face of uncertain outcomes. Simply put, it’s admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

“Vulnerability is the new leadership currency. Especially because creativity isn’t 2+2=4,” said Gates. “Create a space to be honest so people know they can trust you. Care beyond the bounds of work or a meeting.”

People don’t start to truly know one another until they let themselves be vulnerable. But how does vulnerability happen in a remote environment? It starts with making it a priority to get to know one another.

During a recent leadership team meeting, Brian Kardon, CMO at InVision, led a “vulnerability” team bonding exercise by asking the group to describe a challenging personal event that resulted in an enduring and meaningful life lesson.

“In order for this exercise to work effectively, there really needs to be an environment of trust and complete confidentiality,” said Kardon. “You’ll find that when people share these kinds of profound personal things with their teammates, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or sickness, people and teams bond in very strong and lasting ways.”

Start with the human

When working remotely, developing empathy for your teammates means appreciating the person on the other side of the screen as a human being.

One of the upsides of working from home is that it automatically creates a kind of intimacy that doesn’t exist in traditional offices. We all know the famous BBC scene of the kid walking in on the interview. Remote means that your work and life are closely integrated, so it’s only natural that aspects of our personal lives—our homes, kids, and pets—are shared with one another (whether we like it or not!). We consider this unique aspect of remote working a great way to get to know one another. If someone’s kid unexpectedly interrupts a meeting and comes into the frame, we want to meet them and even ask them a few questions.

We also make it a point to start with the human, rather than work. For instance, we begin meetings by spending some time catching up with one another on a personal level. We share how our day is going, or what we did over the weekend. This is a great way to engage and connect with people. Some teams also start with a brief online meditation exercise, which helps to clear and focus the mind before work begins.

In a remote environment, it’s important not to neglect the fun, social aspects of work where relationships blossom and cement themselves. Just because you’re not physically located in the same space doesn’t mean you can’t have a beer together after work on Friday. We have virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, and lunches where we make it a point not to talk about work.

Remote requires purposeful communication

Communication is important to any team, but especially on design teams because of the collaborative nature at various phases of design work. And communication is everything for distributed design teams because they’re at a higher risk of becoming disengaged, disconnected, and siloed. Without it, remote work falls apart.

In a remote environment it’s important to over-communicate. However, there’s a fine line between over-communicating and communication overload, which is ultimately paralyzing and bad for productivity.

Eggs versus bacon

Loop in the right people, but not all the people. In a remote environment, it can be tempting to involve more people than are actually needed. This creates the danger of meeting creep and produces a lot of noise. Having too many “Brady Bunch” heads on a Zoom call can make a huddle feel more like an all-hands. Be conscious of not burdening your colleagues with unnecessary communication.

Another good rule of thumb is to consider the age-old “eggs versus bacon” question. A chicken lays eggs, but isn’t as invested in creating breakfast as a pig is—who gives its entire being to making bacon. When inviting people to a remote meeting, consider who is most invested in the work at hand. Try to include all the “bacon-makers,” but consider whether those just “laying eggs” could be better looped in with asynchronous communication such as a Slack or email message.

Move hard conversations to calls

When the message is too complicated or nuanced, don’t be afraid to suggest jumping on an impromptu Zoom call or picking up the phone. If you have to ask four or more clarifying questions by Slack or email, do yourself a favor and talk instead.

A quick five-minute call to ask questions, gain clarity, or provide more info about that wireframe can save you hours of time fixing mistakes down the road.

Structure and clarity

In a remote environment, you also need to be much more structured and scheduled around collaborating and communicating, which ultimately results in a cadence that will help you scale.

“Remote teams with routines and rituals generate consistently positive outcomes. It can be helpful to commit to a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and even an annual schedule of communication activities,” said Banfield. “These standing meetings signal to team members that communication is a priority.”

And because impromptu meetings are less common, remote communication demands that you’re more purposeful and intentional about expressing the goal of a call, the message you’re trying to convey, and what you need from your teammate. It’s a great idea to create a meeting agenda in advance and link it to the calendar invite so that people know the purpose of the meeting and can prepare. Respecting your teammates’ time is also essential. Show up on time for meetings, and when possible, wrap up on time.

To keep the conversation focused during bi-weekly design critiques, our design team uses a very specific set of questions as a framework, including:

  • What’s the goal of the project?
  • What are the constraints you’re working within?
  • What stage is the work at?
  • What kind of feedback are you looking for?

“Asking presenters what kind of specific feedback they’re looking for from the team has been really successful in creating purposeful conversations, rather than just saying, ‘Okay, let’s talk about the project,’” said Caitlin Wagner, product designer at InVision.

Staying in touch with standups

The whole point of standups is to check-in as a team and actually see each other. They’re a way for design leaders to get a quick read of how each team member is doing that day— and any blockers. You can tell a lot from seeing how a person is engaged or withdrawn, and even in the tone of their voice.

Standups can feel like a major challenge in a remote environment. But we’ve found that once you get the hang of it, remote makes for better, more focused standups. All you need are a few ground rules.

Tips for conducting remote standups

Find the right time

Remote teams commonly span several time zones. Ideally, hold your standups at an “overlap” hour where most of the team will be able to participate. It’s important to establish a regular, consistent day and time to check in as a team—and stick to it.

And for those who can’t make it (like teammates in Australia, for example), make sure you have a dedicated notetaker and always record your standup, which you can store in a centralized place and share afterwards.

Never start with work

As we said earlier, to get people engaged and feeling comfortable, don’t dive straight into work. Our design team spends the first 5 to 10 minutes of stand ups just chatting and asking each other how they’re feeling. On Fridays they spend most of the time talking about fun stuff, like someone’s new dog, an interesting article they read, or an art show they’re planning on checking out over the weekend.

“I think it’s important not to lose sight of the human aspect of collaboration, especially when working remote,” said Wagner. “This kind of personal reveal helps create a rapport, build relationships, discover commonalities and create psychological safety.”

The team also plays the rose/bud/thorn/gem game, where everyone’s encouraged to share how they’re feeling both at work and on a personal level.

  • Rose: I’m happy with…
  • Bud: I’m excited about…
  • Thorn: I’m worried about…
  • Gem: I saw this awesome thing…

Have a clear agenda

A clear agenda is critical to conducting a successful standup in any work environment. Our design team uses a Jira board that tracks all the work in progress across the team. The team goes around the “room” with each designer who answers the following questions:

  • What am I working on today/this week?
  • What stage is it at?
  • What is today’s goal with this work?
  • What help could I use from the rest of the group?

There’s frequently time left over at the end of standups, which are used to review smaller pieces of work that can be resolved quickly, plan for the week ahead, or just end early to get some time back.

Find what works for your team

“It’s traditional to have standups every day, but that felt overwhelming for our design team,” said Wagner. So instead the team established a cadence of 30-minute standups on Monday/Wednesday, one hour design critiques on Tuesday/Thursday, and a “happy half hour” on Fridays to talk about decidedly non-work related topics.

“When it comes to planning standups, it’s important to figure out what works best for your individual team,” said Wagner. “Standups don’t have to be every day; you don’t have to follow what everyone else is doing. Different things work for different teams and that’s okay.”

Being inclusive in a remote environment

Inclusivity and diversity are critical to design teams that are responsible for building products that take into consideration the needs, experiences, and preferences of the widest possible group of people.

Designers have a responsibility to challenge the assumption that there is an “average” user or that audiences fit neatly into a set of personas.

“Designers now have a responsibility to understand and design for the needs of individuals with varying cognitive and physical abilities,” said Clark Valberg, InVision’s CEO and co-founder. “In other words, designers have a responsibility to design inclusively.”

But in order for designers to build inclusive designs, they need to work in an environment that’s truly inclusive, too.

Remote working can be especially challenging for people who are naturally introverted (a common characteristic of designers). There’s more of a risk of the few same voices dominating the conversation, which often means good ideas go unheard. In order to get a diverse representation of thoughts, it’s critical to create an inclusive working environment. This starts with establishing psychological safety so that everyone feels like they can contribute and are being heard, which takes some extra effort in a remote environment.

But remote collaboration also benefits from the lack of constraints around geophysical boundaries, making it possible to include a much more diverse set of stakeholders. One of the main reasons Valberg co-founded InVision as a fully remote company (we don’t have any headquarters) was to be able to recruit the best talent in the market, regardless of location. So in that sense, we’re a company without borders.

With colleagues working in 30 different countries around the world, our diverse workforce and their unique perspectives are one of our biggest competitive advantages.

“For years, the majority of the products I helped design were built by teams of people based in New York City. After working at InVision and experiencing what it’s like to design with people all over the world, I would never want to return to designing with a team based in one place,” said Susan Kaplow, VP of brand and content at InVision. “Different points of view, lifestyles, experiences, and backgrounds are so essential in making impactful products.”

Encouraging diverse voices in meetings

In a remote environment, team meetings are the main opportunity for people to share their ideas and express their opinions, but if not managed and run properly, this can turn into a problem. It’s the responsibility of managers to create psychological safety and find ways to encourage introverted team members to share their ideas.

“Meetings are the ground zero of isolating experiences. Voices of the minority can be suppressed or marginalized by the majority without an advocate or process to make space for them to be heard,” said Jehad Affoneh, head of design at VMWare, who knows what it feels like to be one of a kind in a meeting room. As a Palestinian living in Palo Alto, he rarely encounters anyone at work from his background.

As a team leader, Jehad works to find ways to bring those who feel isolated into the group, not only to promote inclusion but also to help retain top talent. His best tip for making meetings more inclusive and productive: Give team members more ways to share their ideas than just talking in the “room.”

To help make the change at VMware, Jehad structured his meetings differently: He began to send out an agenda ahead of time and asked everyone in attendance to take a look and make any comments. He found that this created an environment where people felt their opinions were valued and welcomed.

There’s an added bonus in this approach: meetings become more productive. Being clear about what’s going to be discussed and capturing your team’s perspectives ahead of time will make for shorter, more focused, and worthwhile meetings.

“This is not about, ‘let’s have a loud conversation,’” Affoneh said. “This is about ‘I truly want to listen to everybody in the room.’” He also recommends spending the first couple minutes of a meeting setting the context.

Relationships are key

“You still want the same outcome in remote work, which is developing trust, an inclusive environment, and relationships with your colleagues,” said Richard Banfied, VP of design transformation at InVision. “Though in order to achieve those things, you need to get creative.”

The most important way of creating inclusivity is through relationships, which don’t happen naturally if you’re not sharing the same physical space. In a remote environment, you simply need to cultivate relationships with intentionality. Send someone a non-work related Slack message to say hello and ask how they’re doing. At InVision we have a bot on Slack called Donut designed to “encourage trust, collaboration, and good will across your team.” It pairs you with random people and says: “Go get to know each other.” For example, a couple of InVisioners bonded over their family history of Jello salads, sharing recipes like grandma’s lime green jello salad concoction.

Case Study: Pivoting to remote to build inclusivity and connections

Like many companies around the world, InVision had to cancel our annual sales and marketing revenue kickoff meeting (what we call RKO) due to Covid-19. We were less than a week away from 250 InVisioners hopping on flights from 20 countries around the world to convene for the first time at our three-day, million-dollar meeting.

These annual kickoffs are especially important in a remote company because they offer a rare chance to interact in person and build relationships. It was going to be an inspiring three days of training, eating, and epic late-night bonding. We were all preparing and looking forward to it for months.

When the warnings about Covid-19 became more urgent, our team had just a few days to pivot and plan a virtual event instead. While InVision lives and breathes #remotework, we’d never held a multi-day remote conference before and weren’t sure how it would go, especially with such a tight turnaround. How would we possibly keep people engaged for three days of five-hour video presentations? How would we make the event feel inclusive? How could we make up for the lack of IRL (in-real-life) connection?

But based on our employees’ feedback and post-RKO surveys, our virtual RKO was actually the most inspiring, engaging—and cost effective—event yet.

“Team members told us that the virtual experience—versus sitting in a crowd of people in silence in a dark hotel ballroom—allowed them to feel more connected to the content and each other,” said Brian Kardon, CMO at InVision. “And for presenters delivering content from the comfort of their homes, without the nerves of a large stage and big audience—their enthusiasm was infectious.”

Of course, nothing can fully replicate aspects of an in-person experience, but our team designed a bunch of “fun stuff” to make the virtual experience personal, authentic, and inclusive. There was music, costumes, a “Share Your Remote Life” photo slideshow, InVisioner MTV-style “Cribs” videos where people gave tours of their houses, and several rounds of “Guess That Desk!” Team members got dressed up in their finest attire to attend our virtual sales and marketing awards ceremony that would have been a full evening dinner event. And we used the online polling tool Poll Everywhere to make sessions interactive and personal.

In the end, the positives of hosting a virtual event outweighed the negatives of not getting together in real life. We’re leveraging the lessons learned from our virtual RKO to transition our upcoming events to virtual platforms.

“Our team worked for months to plan every detail of RKO. When the decision was made to pivot to virtual, we had just a few days to execute. We’d never done a multi-day, 250-attendee remote conference before and were extremely nervous,” said Katie Baker, senior program manager at InVision, who led the planning of RKO. “But in the end, virtual RKO was amazing—attendee engagement was high, presenters’ energy was palpable, and we were able to be more efficient and effective with content delivery than we ever thought possible. It showed our strength as an agile remote company and it brought us all together in a way that none of us could have expected.”

Filtering signal through the noise (Slack and Email ≠ Communication)

In a remote environment, it’s only natural that everyone relies heavily on text-based communication. And while technology has helped mitigate many of the legacy communication challenges of working remote, endless Slack channels, threads and email chains undoubtedly create a lot of noise.

Being clear and concise when communicating is critical, but so is selecting the right tool to communicate your message, which should depend on the circumstance. For example, InVision’s CEO and co-founder Clark Valberg says, “If the conversation is emotional, move it to Zoom where you can have a ‘face-to-face’ chat and quickly get to the heart of the matter.”

Here are some of our best practices for effective, remote communication:

General tips

  • Don’t make assumptions. If something isn’t clear—ask.
  • Thoughtfully over-communicate and get comfortable with being more forward.
    • Ask for what you need and note when you need it.
    • Be specific with regard to the desired outcome and the time by which you need it. This sets you and the person you’re communicating with up for success.
  • Start by believing in positive intent, as both a giver and receiver of information.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch methods in the middle of a conversation. Do what’s right to make sure your message is appropriately delivered to your audience.

Video conferencing tips

  • When chatting over video, it’s harder to convey and receive non-verbal communication cues. This is why having your video on (when you can), making eye contact with your camera, and using hand gestures while using video conferencing software is so important. Pay attention to your own body language so you don’t send the wrong message. For example, arms crossed may make people think that you’re angry or defensive. Instead, try sitting up straight to convey that you’re engaged and paying attention, and smile and appear calm so that people feel comfortable when communicating with you.
  • Use visual communication to support your written communication. We are a Slack-heavy culture at InVision, but we also use emojis and gifs frequently to make up for some of the non-verbal communication that’s lost in a written message. Get your gif game on!
  • Highly-sensitive laptop microphones pick up background noise and keystrokes on video conference calls. Do everyone a favor and use a headset when in public places, and mute your audio before typing.
  • Light the front of your head, not the back! If your lighting is behind you, people will only see a silhouette.
  • It’s a good idea to keep your space (at least the part that’s in the camera frame 😉) neat and clean. While it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, you may want to “curate” your backdrop a bit to reflect your personality, such as by hanging some cool artwork or positioning yourself in front of your book collection. Your space reflects you and if you’re talking to customers, you represent your company.

Messaging tips (G Chat, Teams, Slack, etc.)

  • Keep your status up-to-date to let your teammates know when you’re available in real time or will respond later.
  • Most messages are answered within a day unless you’re out of the office (which should be noted in your status 😉).
  • Emojis and gifs are communication, too. You’ll commonly see emojis used in lieu of a response like:
    • 👀 for “taking a look”
    • 👍for “got it” or “understood”
    • 🎉or 👏 for “congratulations”
  • Be transparent. Not sure if you should send a message to one or two people, or your full team? If you’re questioning it, send it to everyone who may need the info.
  • Replying in a group DM or channel? Use a thread. This makes it easy to follow the conversation, keeps the main message space clean, and is more easily searched later.

Email tips

  • Start with a greeting and end with a salutation when sending an initial email. This is less important when replying.
  • Be thoughtful about using Reply to all.
  • Get organized with folders and rules.
  • Reply in a timely manner—this is usually within a week, depending on the subject matter.

In conclusion

Mastering the art of working remotely is the future, but now that we’re faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, it has also been an immediate necessity for most companies and their teams, many of whom have had to make the transition overnight.

At InVision, we believe that design makes everything possible. And from our experience, we also believe that remote working makes everything possible—whether that’s a 250-person three-day virtual kickoff meeting, or high-performing, cross-functional design teams collaborating across the world.

However, there’s no denying that transitioning to remote work is a huge change and it’s natural at first to feel anxious and worried about how things are actually going to work. To get it right, you need to be willing to try new approaches, fail, and continually iterate—slowly building that new remote work muscle—until you find what works best for you and your team.

We hope the tips and insights we’ve shared here will help you get started, and see remote not as a blocker to doing great design work, but as an opportunity to innovate and improve the way you communicate, collaborate, and build relationships with your team—ultimately bridging the gaps and bringing everyone closer together—despite the physical distance.

Key takeaways

  1. To build a strong remote work culture, you need to start by establishing trust and psychological safety with your teammates—the hallmarks of high performing teams.
  2. Without effective communication, remote work falls apart. Over-communicating is our rule of thumb, but avoid creating too much noise by practicing intentional and purposeful communication. And choosing the right tool to communicate is as important as the message itself.
  3. Standups are a vital ritual of any design team. By establishing a few ground rules and experimenting with what works for your team, remote can lead to better, more focused standups.

Creating an inclusive environment is one of the biggest challenges of remote work.
By developing new processes, such as how meetings are run, you can create an environment where everyone feels like they can contribute and are being heard.

About the Authors

Ben Goldman
Director of InVision Films

Ben Goldman is a full stack creative who began his career as a producer at MTV before transitioning to hi-tech by co-founding the local news startup Blockfeed. He later joined InVision as a content strategist, and now works as the Director of InVision Films, writing and producing original documentaries at the intersection of design, technology and business. In addition to his professional work, Goldman is also a social justice entrepreneur and co-founder of the organization Superheroes Anonymous which inspires communities around the world to engage in creative community service. Combined, his work has been featured in dozens of top news outlets including the New York Times, CNN, TechCrunch, MSNBC, Wired, and others.

Currently listening to: Mystic Familiar by Dan Deacon; The Epic by Kamasi Washington; DSVII by MS83; Koyaanisqatsi (Original Soundtrack) by Philip Glass; Shea EP by Daniel Koestner

Currently inspired by: My local city councilman Justin Brannan who’s stepped up in a time of need to organize donations and disseminate truth in my local community. 

Cultural thing I’m lovin’: Revisiting the 2019 game Death Stranding, by Hideo Kojima, whose bizarre world of self-isolating humans connected only by delivery workers now seems all too close-to-home.

Greg Storey
Senior Enterprise Experience Director

Greg Storey is a design leader with many hats. He has earned a unique perspective of design services and leadership, having started a studio that made the Inc 5000, led a hundred designers through IBM Design’s onboarding incubator program, and assisted in the development of the USAA’s Chief Design Office. He recently joined InVision for a range of roles. Greg lives in the Pacific Northwest with his amazing wife and occasionally writes at his site Airbag Industries.

Currently listening to: Amon Tobin, Beck, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Hælos, Massive Attack, Portishead, Röyksopp, Sneaker Pimps, Tame Impala, Unkle, Wild Nothing, Wolf Alice, and Yes.

Currently inspired by: I am inspired by the men, women, they who are working tirelessly to save lives around the world. Also inspired by the folks who are keeping our core services online. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cultural thing I’m lovin’: I enjoy hearing stories of parents spending more time with their children right now along with the mass home-schooling! I hope this turns into broader support for our education system in the future.

Abby Sinnott
Managing editor, InVision

Abby Sinnott is a managing editor at InVision, where she tells the stories of exceptional design teams collaborating around the world. She has worked remotely as a writer and editor contributing to numerous publications for over a decade, and considers the freedom remote offers a true creative and lifestyle advantage. A fiction writer at heart, she’s hard at work on her second novel in her spare time. A New York native, Abby has lived in California, Spain and London, England, where she currently resides with her two daughters.

Currently listening to: I’ve recently started a new ritual of immersing myself in one poem at the end of each day, read by Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama on the Poetry Unbound podcast.

Currently inspired by: The round-the-clock dedication of the people who work for the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) and are risking their own lives every day, every minute to save the lives of others.

Cultural thing I’m lovin’: This might be cheating, but as a way to “elevate” my Netflix binge watching, I’ve limited the movies and programs I watch to those produced in different languages, such as the highly recommended Swedish-Syrian Netflix TV series Caliphate. It’s a great way to transport myself to another world while confined to my own small house in London!