What's it like working for a remote design team?

10 months ago from , Writer, Creator, etc.

With the rise of the #digitalnomad, I'm curious to learn more about how designers are taking advantage of the freedom and how it's impacted their ability to connect with colleagues. Any thoughts from someone who's made the transition to full-time in-office to working from afar? What are some of the challenges that come up? What are the benefits? Does it make you want to branch out and do freelance work full-time? Is it easy to find remote jobs as a designer? So many questions!

14 comments

  • Karen Remsen, 10 months ago (edited 10 months ago )

    I have been working 95-100% remotely since May 2015 and I love it. I've spent most of that time freelancing but transitioned to a full-time job about 4 months ago.

    Previously I worked full-time in an office for 5+ years. Ironically, I find that it has actually improved communication. When I have meetings now with my team (or previously my client) I prepare more thoroughly and outline goals for our discussion and know what I feedback I need have by the end. I have to be a bit of a project/product manager as well in this sense, but that has been only a benefit to my work. Working in an office I often felt I was wasting time with meetings and discussions that were premature or one (or more) person hadn't had time to prepare for.

    I should say I've only experienced working remotely as a sole freelancer or on small teams. I could imagine some problems with bigger organizations.

    The only frustration I have is sometimes technology hampers meetings a bit (bad sound quality, bad video quality, constantly asking, "can you hear me?" :) ). Sometimes I feel a tiny bit out of the loop (my core team or 3-4 people is in the same place) but it just makes me more careful about checking in on what's happening.

    It is also just a better fit for my personality. I describe myself as a social introvert; I'm friendly and I love talking to people and collaborating with them, but I can only think 100% clearly when I have some time to myself. If I worked in an office that reserved the morning for solo, quiet work and the afternoons for meetings, that would have been much better for me :p

    It also allowed me scheduling flexibility I needed when I was having some health struggles in 2015. It's hard to give up that freedom even though I am much better now :)

    I have not had difficulty finding work, but be aware that you have to be active and apply/interview for gigs and jobs a lot as you are entering a global pool of candidates. I worked for Toptal as a freelancer, which helped relieved some strain of hustling for work. Despite some slightly annoying things about how they operate, I had an overall positive experience.

    13 points
  • Mike MulveyMike Mulvey, 10 months ago

    I've been working as a remote designer for the second half of 2016 and it's definitely not for me. I'm setting up 2017 to be very different. I can't speak for all disciplines, but for design I think there's a huge social/collaborative element and I lose that when I work from home.

    It doesn't matter how much Slack/Skype/Google Hangouts you use, it's not the same as sitting down with your team and sketching things with pencil out or tapping someone on the shoulder a few chairs down from you and asking for their opinion on what you're working on.

    If you're a designer and you don't want to work with people in the same room as you, you're in the wrong profession.

    If I were running my own studio I'd be somewhere down the middle: part of the week we work from home, part of the week we work together in the office. As important as the social aspect is to design — and to being a human being ;-) — there's also benefits in going off to a quiet place, by yourself, to crank out work.

    The benefits of working remote? Making your own hours (if you have the self-discipline), hanging out with your dogs, running errands when everyone is working, and not sitting in traffic/no commuting, to name a few.

    8 points
    • Matt SistoMatt Sisto, 10 months ago

      Has your team tried Figma yet? Not as mature or full-featured as Sketch, but for our team so far the real-time collaboration has been an amazing supplement for in-person whiteboard sessions.

      2 points
    • Jrtorrents Dorman , 10 months ago

      "If you're a designer and you don't want to work with people in the same room as you, you're in the wrong profession."

      I agree with most of what you wrote but I don't think this is quite true. There are some brilliant designers who work very alone. Fact that it didn't work well for you doesn't mean it does work for everyone.

      For a personal perspective I think a bit of both could work. There are times when you need to be alone to be creative, there are also times that you need to bounce off ideas with other colleagues to get best results.

      8 points
    • Charlie PrattCharlie Pratt, 10 months ago (edited 10 months ago )

      There are definitely cons, but there are pros, and not just for your own personal life. For me, I find that my productivity is vastly increased as I am a very social person. I enjoy the solitude, and do more, better work. Not everyone is the same.

      1 point
  • Luboš VolkovLuboš Volkov, 10 months ago (edited 10 months ago )

    6+ years of remote designing and still love it!

    I actually never worked in the office……here is how I started. Once I was sitting in my room at my home office, I was working late night on my side project, and exactly 2AM, random Skype request came in. I accepted the request and call started immediately. I was like what’s going on? On the other end there was founder and CEO of Toptal and he mentioned that he wanna hire me as product designer, I was like well awesome! He was like, btw we are at the Thailand do you wanna come over? I was like when? He was like tomorrow, next day I was taking 12hour long flight to see new team and join 3 weeks long retreat.https://www.toptal.com/remote/the-ultimate-remote-culture

    ……

    ·You have freedom to choose location

    There is no need for you to relocate, you can all the time, choose your own location. If you decide you wanna go to Mexico, you can go, if you will have solid internet connection and all required devices.

    ·Costs

    Working at SF or NYC is awesome. Well it’s awesome on the paper. But when you look at in from other point of view, you are going to found out that costs are just crazy, if you would get $5K at SF you are done, but imagine having $5K at Thailand, or in the middle of the Europe. Remote working allows you to cut down extra costs, and live better life (not all the time).

    ·Time with family

    For me it's really important to produce great, work but also be able to live my life and stay with people who matters to me. Remote working allows me to do that.

    ·Travelling

    Exploring other countries and cultures, helped me alot to understand who I'm designing for, so I try to travel as much as I can.

    ·Lonelines?

    Yes, you can be lonely sometimes, since you don't have a friend in the office and you can't jib jab next to the coffee machine.

    ·No Collaboration?

    Not really, we do have lot of tools, what helps you to collaborate and built better products. It could be as simple as slack, invision or more complex like mural. You and your team needs to find a right way to do it. Ideally combined with well planed team retreat to get a team all together and work together.

    ……

    Lastly, remote working is not for everyone, you really need to be strong individual to be able to work remotely and be awesome at it.

    ……

    My full article about remote working (audio version included). https://medium.com/swlh/remote-work-is-the-future-bc0712f47a90#.16nqz65za .....

    If you have any questions, just hit me on my Instagram or twitter. https://www.instagram.com/lubosvolkov/

    3 points
  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, 10 months ago

    100% remote for me for about 10 years, on site freelance prior to that. I like it a lot. We spend a lot of time chatting via Slack, iMessage etc.

    What are the benefits?

    I love not having to deal with the daily grind of rush hour, and being kept to a strict routine. I love being able to go for a walk to clear my head when needed. I feel like I’m more productive.

    What are some of the challenges that come up?

    Communication. I think different skills are required when you’re not meeting in person. Serendipitous conversations have to be replaced by a constant stream of updates, and more intentional communication.

    3 points
  • Nick TassoneNick Tassone, 10 months ago

    I've worked remotely for the past year and a half, with fairly frequent visits to the rest of the team, most of which is not distributed. It can be challenging at times, especially with the issue of collaboration like Mike mentioned already.

    I think it also really depends on the kind of work you're doing and how many other employees there are. I'm currently the only designer on our team and being remote allows me to get a lot more done. We're all over the map content wise with creating a new brand, designing for marketing, command line, UI for one product so the extra focus that comes with being alone can be very helpful.

    Obviously you take a bit of a hit socially since you're probably working alone or close to it. Having a team that understands the pitfalls of working remotely and being sensitive to that makes things WAY better, so it's better to find somewhere with an accepting culture for distributed working instead of trying to convince them it's gonna be all right.

    3 points
  • John PJohn P, 10 months ago

    Can't imagine having to work with a remote designer, remote devs are painful enough and end up with me having to take 15 minutes out of my day to skype and explain something that would have been <15 seconds in person

    2 points
  • Kyle LKyle L, 10 months ago

    I have been working as a remote employee since 2012, and before that I was an independent freelancer before that.

    There are definitely a lot of pros and cons to consider.

    1. Not all remote teams are built the same. Just like there are different dynamics and cultures for in person jobs the same goes for a remote job.

    Places that have a remote culture or fully distributed team will be much more pleasant to work for. If everyone has to overcome the same communication barriers than your team has a better chance of coming together to set up a process that works for you. If you are one of the only remote teammates than your pain may not be felt across the board. The saying "out of site, out of mind" is very true if your team is in the office and you are not. Important decisions can be made over the "water cooler" or at lunch. When you are on a fully remote team you will feel more involved.

    1. Being intentional about communication and process is a must. For centrally located positions it is a lot easier to get spur of the moment feedback. As a remote employee tools like invision make life so much easier.

    2. Timezones can be a pain. The idea of a digital nomad is great but a lot of remote jobs still require overlap hours. The ability to hop on a call with a teammate to talk through something is huge. Async and threaded communication over slack and project management software is great but sometimes there is no replacement for hopping on a call. The other thing that may present challenges is if you are looking to work weird hours that don't align with the company you may have trouble finding some jobs.

    3. It can get lonely, I realized I didn't like working from home all day. I now go to a coworking space, where my friends work. If you are not introverted this may be a good option for you.

    4. If you are not good at communicating than remote life can be hard.

    5. In person meetups are so helpful. I have worked at places that I never met my coworkers face to face, I have also worked at companies that value retreats and meetups. Having in person interaction with people really helps.

    6. It can be challenging to level up or get promoted in some remote teams...

    All and all freedom and flexibility are awesome. I live in an area where the job market is not good for the kind of work that I want to do so this helps. But being remote is not perfect. I think a lot of people idealize it, there are definite cons and it can be very hard, it is definitely not for everyone. My wife and I are actually planning on moving to an area that there are more in-office jobs. I am happy not but I don't want to be a remote employee forever.

    Best of luck.

    2 points
  • Mircea IurcuMircea Iurcu, 10 months ago

    ”It depends...”

    Worked at the same time both remote part-time and full time on-site for couple of years. Regarding the remote position, I was the designer for a software company, usually for new projects and/or sometimes support for ongoing projects, it was an outsourcing company. For me it was a very nice setup, we had Slack/Skype/Redmine/Facebook for communication and most of the times I was the sole designer for the project.

    For me the whole work process could differ based on the project, but usually I was attending all the initial meetings, then while working on the designs I would send work in progress both to developers and project manager/client, to have their feedback (Invision works pretty awesome for this part and helped me a lot, comments, user flows, etc). Once the design is approved by everyone I would share the sources with developers and just supervise their work.

    I also supervised two other designers, juniors at that time, tried to give them as much feedback as I could and tried to help them learn from my mistakes. A thing that was for me hard when collaborating with them was on designing specific things (the design for a landing page form/a particular icon or illustration), sometime I would just do myself all the stuff, rather than ask them to help me. I understood later that this was my mistake, so I would suggest if you work with other designers, first of all, it is better to have a style guide / design system and share often work in progress stuff, especially initial designs, like wireframes, concepts and rough mockups to ensure consistency and early feedback.

    2 points
  • Mitch Malone, 10 months ago

    I just finished my first year working remotely.

    Benefits - More time with family - Living where you want to live is awesome - Fewer distractions

    Challenges - Video conferencing software can fail. I find Screenhero and Slack's call feature to be way better than Google Hangouts, Zoom, or any other video conf service out there. But it you can't use it all the time (i.e., for user testing) - Whiteboarding is tough. Although I just started using a service called realtimeboard.com that makes it a lot easier. Looks very promising. - There might be a perception of others that you can't do everything you want to do as a remote worker. You'll have to put in some effort to change this perception.

    Stray Thoughts - If your communication is solid to start, it's easy to transition.

    1 point
  • Derrick GriggDerrick Grigg, 10 months ago

    I have worked remotely for just over 10 years and have probably reached a point where I couldn't work in an office environment now. I love having my own hours, the ability to go a full day with zero interruptions. It's not for everyone but for some people it can work well. I do make a point of having other social outlets since I have essential none during work hours.

    1 point