Most of us have transitioned to working from home. Remote work is becoming a norm and we are learning a new way of working. Keeping people engaged during in-person meetings is hard. Leading virtual meetings is even harder.

During virtual meetings, have you experienced a time when you announced an exciting idea or update, then followed by a slow-motion-reaction as everyone else was on... mute? Or you gave a presentation but were unsure of others' interest and if they were paying attention?, etc...

So how to collaborate effectively in a remote creative team?

I have raised this question to different Heads of Design/ Creative. Let’s take a look at their tips and how they manage the transition:

Victor Solares - Head of Experience Design - StarHub

The biggest difficulties for the team have been running remote workshops with stakeholders. The ‘internal’ design team communications have adapted well, as we’re able to still carry on our normal Design team ceremonies like design feedback and planning sessions through platforms like Skype for Business, WebEx and Slack. With remote working, it’s also provided new challenges in how we personally schedule ourselves for work and offline living. I hear many teams are struggling with balance where it may be easy to work longer hours than you typically would in the office. So I allow my team to flex their hours as needed and help them define the space they need to be successful in. 

I also measure my team’s energy levels by using heat checks. Green: Physically here and present, feeling good. Yellow: Physically here, but a lot on my mind / plate. Red: Physically here, mentally not here. Too much going on. I work with them to get them from Yellow or Red to Green. For example, a team member may be feeling Red because they’re trying to move during this COVID situation which presents its own challenges. So I work with them to balance timelines and deliverables. 

Company level, our executive team have done a great job with allowing us to put work aside to have hangouts with other teams and divisions. The Digital Office, where the Experience Design team at StarHub sits, we just started these bi-weekly remote ‘Mad Hatter’ social events where we get together as one big team. Our next one, we will have masterclasses where people can volunteer to teach other people a skill, recipe or whatever. I’ll be teaching how to create a specific cocktail. The important thing, is though we are all working from home, we try to keep and maintain a healthy human connection with our fellow humans who are struggling with their own difficulties in this current situation.

Brian Johnsen - Associate Creative Director

With everyone working from home nowadays it’s important to lay down some rules so you can actually get things done. Though certainly not exhaustive, I’ve found that following these guidelines has helped improve my productivity and manage my general sanity.

Set guidelines on how you are going to be available during the day. 

While setting check-ins are helpful to keep abreast of changing needs during the day, as a creative working on complex text documents there must be periods of time spent away from blinking notifications, especially from Whatsapp. Other than fixed meetings, I will set certain times for checking email and apps and ask to be called if there are urgent demands.

Don’t make assumptions about how others are spending their time.

When managing others in these circumstances it’s important to clarify expectations. Meetings should be planned well in advance when possible. Work schedules and delivery times must be established and agreed upon verbally or in writing daily. Once deadlines are set, let people work. Empowerment is the order of the day and your reports should be given room to get things done.

Set a strict agenda for what needs to be accomplished for online meetings. 

Sending a message on Whatapp for a ‘catchup’ is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it waste people’s time, it’s also often confusing. Just like in the office, set an agenda for meetings and personally write down what should be accomplished with this meeting when is over. This is especially important when presenting work and trying to get approvals from clients and bosses.

Create boundaries for your time and enforce them.

While working from home may at first seem to be liberating, many are now more tethered to the office and their work than ever before. In order to not burn out, and especially for those with families and children, set working hours and stick to them. I know the temptation to think ‘I’ll do this after dinner’, but after dinner is time that can be spent helping your daughter with her homework, or talking to your spouse.

Bonus tip: Enjoy this time, as it is unusual and may become the new normal.

Kévin Boezennec - UX Director, Team Head - Bank of Singapore 

Challenges

The team is new and with the recent COVID situation we inevitably faced challenges in terms of communication and coordination at the beginning nevertheless we did test a few options and selected the one that worked best for us. Testing, iterating, learning is our DNA isn’t it?

Activities

First, we agree on the communication frequency, we have a daily catch up on the design activities where we deep dive into the progress as well as the regular broader team catch up with the innovation team.I want each designer to lead their own project, hence I do not attend every meeting, only the key presentation. Psychological safety is important for the team to feel safe, explore, test on their own without having me micro managing them (that I tend to do…). If there is anything urgent or last minute, then we use messaging apps to quickly get answers. We work for a bank, so the popular online collaboration tools are not always accessible to us due to stringent IT security policy. Not a big deal, we have alternatives, we do have one design prototyping tool that we use the most in our projects to collaborate with our stakeholders and test our designs.

Results

It has been working very well so far, we just spend more time on the phone than usual but didn’t lost efficiency or quality in the project we are working on. We recently got congratulated for our work on the latest innovation digital experience platform so it’s an encouraging proof our remote creative team is collaborating well. 

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/bank-of-singapore_with-most-colleagues-working-from-home-due-activity-6661214946988294144-w-c7 

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As more and more of our interactions happen digitally, we will continue to experience new forms of communication. It's very important to keep remote teams engaged, motivated and build a communication skills set that reflects the demands of our digitally-driven age.

If you have any tips and insights to share, do leave your comments or get in touch with Quyen at qnguyen@welovesalt.com.  

Quyen is a Senior Consultant specialising in creative recruitment with extensive exposure across various industries from creative agency, software development to consultancy.

Typical roles that she recruits for: Designer (UX, UI, Digital, Packaging, Motion,...), Copywriter, Content Writer, Producer, Creative Director, etc....