We partnered with the London and Berlin design lab communities and Foolproof Agency, hosting a webinar, bringing two talks highlighting the best advice on keeping collaboration and culture thriving in remote environments.

Leonie Brewin, Head of Design at Novoda and Tim Loo, Director of Strategy at Foolproof, share insight into how inclusive remote working practises can shape how teams and companies collaborate, perform and interact - and why this is so important to success.

During the webinar, questions for Leonie and Tim poured in which we couldn’t get to due to time constraints. In this blog, Tim and Leonie answer your questions on remote collaboration and culture.

Do you have any suggestions for remote collaboration to accommodate for time differences?

Leonie: If you’re using Google calendar, you can head into your general settings and set your working hours so that when colleagues are scheduling meetings, they can find the most convenient time for everyone. I’d also recommend being open and clear with your availability - if a meeting is arranged outside of your working hours, don’t be afraid to let them know and politely decline, suggest a new time or if it works for you, shift your working schedule for that day.

Tim: Being respectfully firm is key to cross timezone working. Respectful in that we must be sensitive to the time zone differences and potential working context for pulling people into sessions early or late in the day and firm in being able to say no.

Often the goodwill and politeness of colleagues which is important to make working sessions happen at short notice can feed resentment of being the one that is expected to compromise and sacrifice too often. Planning and retrospectives can ensure this pressure doesn’t build up over time.

Leonie: I would advise setting up a comfortable working environment in a distraction-free environment. Establish a regular daily schedule for you and your team to stay connected whilst allowing for focussed work time. Take regular breaks (and allow yourself to feel comfortable with that), using the ‘away’ status in your chat tool to keep your team informed. Nurture reflection and continuous improvement with regular team retrospectives. Be a champion of online collaboration & transparency - share notes and outcomes from meetings and working sessions to keep everyone in the loop.

What tools do you use for workshops, especially to encourage brainstorming?

Leonie: At Novoda, we primarily use Miro for brainstorming sessions. We start by giving some background, posing a powerful question and encouraging people to write down any idea that comes to mind before sharing and reflecting with the group.

Going back to the topic of Design Sprints, especially the remote sprints… What is one tip that you would give for running the Storyboarding session more efficiently?

Leonie: We haven’t yet ran a Design Sprint fully remotely but in this situation, I would ask participants to collaborate using the drawing tool on Miro.

I have a question for both Leonie and Tim; this remote working effort has really shown that we can do most without the need of an office. How should we redefine the purpose of an office - if it is not for desk space / what would the future office look like?

Tim: We have a hypothesis at the moment that our offices are cultural and community assets to the business. We’re looking hard at what the purpose of office space is in the future but it seems clear that it being the home of lots of rows of desks for people to sit at probably isn’t it.

We’ll be experimenting with how our offices will need to be and how it works to support the social fabric and sense of community we get from being together.

Leonie: Great question! We have recently been exploring this at Novoda - even before the pandemic. We asked Novodans what they like about having an office space - and the answer was clear: Socialising and collaboration. So now, we are searching for a space that has more flexible co-working spaces to allow for flexibility, space to socialise and enjoy time together and space to host workshops, consumer research and community events.

I love the Miro idea where people drew pictures of animals in 20 secs. Do you have any other ideas?

Leonie: That’s a quick and simple one and lots of fun. We’ve also had a lot of fun with Drawception where each participant draws something from a prompt and the others in the group have to guess what it is!

So Tim, you like guitar, photography, books ordered by colour, nirvana; how important is the backdrop for social engagement? :)

Tim: That’s funny you noticed that. I’m extremely lucky to have a dedicated working space in my house and that it contains things that reflect my interests and make me happy  (ie. it’s a dumping ground for my personal stuff). Sometimes it’s a nice conversation starter - I’m very nosy in looking at the shelves and books of people I work with!

It seems difficult to get representatives of the client, business, design and development into a remote design sprint. Do you have experience bringing in clients also?

Leonie: Novoda works in constant collaboration with our clients so thankfully, this hasn’t been a problem for us when running design sprints. If you’re having trouble to get people involved when working in distributed locations, I would suggest touching base with them and considering how you might adapt the approach to best suit the participants that could bring the most value.

What's your top tips for not getting distracted during calls and workshops?

Leonie: Turn off your chat tool. I turn off Slack whenever I have a meeting or workshop (and ask others to do the same) so I can stay focussed, be respectful to people I’m collaborating with and get the most value out of the session.

The majority of industry leaders are empathising with remote working and finding ways to create an effective culture with minimum impact on productivity. My question to Tim is, has this outbreak forced Foolproof to rethink its vision, mission and strategy? Or are you sticking to the same roadmap but with a different approach?

Tim: Foolproof’s vision has been, for many years, to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. Our strategy is to be the experience strategy and design partner to some of the world’s biggest brands with global reach. We think that to do that we need to collaborate with clients where they are, drive value through customer centred product strategy and design & deliver digital experiences efficiency through multi shore teams. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need to be able to deliver this. It’s a very challenging business environment at the moment but we believe our global nature of our group creates the possibility to extend our reach with clients and colleagues in different countries and location locations make this an exciting time.

There you have it, answers to the questions we didn’t find the time to discuss during the Q&A. If you missed the webinar and would like to watch it it can be found here. Enjoy yourselves and keep striving to improve your remote working practices.