5 Collaboration Tips for Remote Product Designers

It’s no doubt that COVID has changed the work landscape and product design is no exception to this.

If you’re a designer or are managing a design team and have been wondering how to collaborate more effectively while working remotely, here are five tips to help get you on the right track.

1. Let your coworkers have time to respond.

When designing in an office setting, almost all the people you need to speak to are within walking distance. Need clarification on an important issue you’re working on addressing? Simply walk down a few desks and tap the person you need on the shoulder.

Working in a remote environment isn’t always as simple. From working in different timezones, to overlapping meetings, to “My cat just spilled my coffee on the floor!”, there’s often a lot of context missing while working remotely. Luckily as designers, we aim to be as empathetic as possible, and our coworkers are no exception!

It’s important to leverage that same attitude while communicating when reaching out remotely. Doing so will lead to more productive conversations with fewer distractions and overall better team morale!

2. Use a Brainstorming tool to draw ideas out visually.

Have you ever been in a meeting where there are two people arguing back and forth, only for it to sound like their points are very similar to each other? The way people verbally communicate their ideas can differ quite a bit. This may depend on the context given by the speaker and the way they communicate visually.

In many cases, heading over to a whiteboard with some sticky notes and drawing out the ideas can solve many headaches and redundant conversations. The problem while working remotely, you can’t exactly have multiple people drawing on a whiteboard together. This is where brainstorming tools are effective.

If you’re a designer and you haven’t tried out a brainstorming collaboration tool like FigJam or Miro, this is the perfect opportunity to try it out! Start by inviting the participants in the meeting to write down their thoughts on sticky notes, create rough sketches or flows, and get people on the same page quicker.

3. Start wireframing digitally.

Nothing beats using a pencil and paper to draw out your ideas. Working in the office, you can quickly sketch things out and share them with your coworkers. You can even cut out your sketched wireframes and do paper prototype user tests. Remotely? Not so much.

The lack of physical connection with a computer is challenging. However, the benefits of being able to have all your initial concepts digital-first, makes it much easier to share and work in real-time with your coworkers. Plus, if you’re using a tool such as Figma, you get to prototype it out and share it with user testing participants!

As someone who’s struggled in the past with tools such as Figma, to keep up with my creative thought processes, I thought there could be an easier way. I had worked with the Pegasus Design System team to come up with a visually appealing, yet fast-paced library to draw out low fidelity wireframes in Figma. The result — Pegasus Low Flow. Use this link to get 15% off.

4. Document your workload in detail.

It may seem like common sense that nobody can see exactly what you’re doing working remotely. Sometimes as designers, we get caught up in meetings, ideations, prototypes, and user tests. In these instances, we often take shortcuts on things like documenting our work tasks or even forget to write down what we’re doing at all!

The problem is that when we do, our coworkers and managers don’t know what we’re working on. This can lead to coworkers working on similar or the same tasks that we’re working on. With this happening management might assume there’s not enough workload! Not only that, but not tracking work means that you’re not getting recognition for all your efforts.

Working with management or PMs, make sure you have clear, drawn-out acceptance criteria, business goals, and project descriptions for your tasks in tools such as JIRA. This way everyone is aware of the effort of the task that you’re working on, as well as you being able to have clear and measurable results from it. Taking the time to document the scope of all the tasks you’re working on helps give your work the recognition it deserves.

5. Make time for team bonding.

One of the biggest downsides to working remotely is not having a physical connection to coworkers. Working remotely makes things such as impromptu chats, working events, and happy hours much more difficult.

It’s just as important as anything else to make sure you’re having that out-of-work connection with your coworkers. Organizing events such as virtual happy hours, non-work-related team workshops, or simply just chatting about the weekend in a virtual meeting can help dramatically for team morale and work culture.

As designers, we can leverage our tools and empathy to be effective at working remotely. Remember, just because you’ve only met with someone remotely doesn’t mean they’re not a real person!

About the Author

Dylan Parks is a designer for Pegasus, as well as a Product Designer II working on the Design Systems team at Coursera. He’s passionate about helping the designer community by offering tutorials, products, and insights around product design and design systems

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