Jeff Gothelf recently spoke through an UIE webinar about how to design with teams working remotely. Here’s my notes.

Viewpoints on working remotely

  • Yahoo CEO made headlines with pushing everyone to start coming into the office rather than working remotely.
    • She felt there were two separate cultures (here and there).
    • In her mind, the split caused break downs in communication and collaboration
    • Best Buy recently changed their work requirements from remote to in office.
    • Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, “It makes people work together, understand each other, and strive to build community when they work together.”
    • Automatic allows people to work wherever whenever and feels that’s the best approach.
      • From their inception they have always had a here culture where people worked remotely.
      • They bring them in for a month into their office and work together and build relationship then allow them to go home and work from there. So they build up an SOW for the person to work on when they go home.
      • 37 Signals CEO wrote a book on the topic because they were such advocates for remote working.
        • “We’ve found that those that work remotely trust their employees more and when trusted more employees work better.” – Jason Fried, 37 Signals
        • One employee (Jeff Gothelf use to commute with) felt like she was tied to IM and that lack of trust caused her to not be loyal to the company and to move on faster than she might have had she been trusted.


Survey Results:

  • 43% designers, 36% developers, 11% PM’s
  • 100% work with remote colleagues
  • 55% would do it again (work with remote colleagues)
  • Pain points:
  1. Lack of communication… They felt left out of decisions. They didn’t know each other as well so there was a sense of awkwardness towards providing critique on each other’s work
  2. Slow progress. They felt like people moved slowed because they were distributed.
  3. No team building or connectedness. Without a shared experience or ever meeting in person, they couldn’t bond together. For many people, they would really like to have more of this.
  4. Collaboration
  5. Language and cultural barriers with people in other countries. One way to change this is go walk a mile in your colleague’s shoes. See what it’s like to have a 9pm call in Singapore to meet with the east coast.


Agile teams work best co-located but many teams do not work in that manner so it’s a question of developing the right tools to make the team successful.

Things need to be written down as quickly as possible (learning’s, etc) from meetings otherwise it gets lost.

Over communicate initially and allay any concerns as a new remote worker


Tactics to help:

  • Video Conferencing is incredibly powerful.
    • People get to see work environments, body language, facial expressions, etc… It’s incredibly helpful for remote teams to connect with each other and it’s heavily under utilized. For example in Southern India, there’s a head gesture people use that looks like they are saying no to everything when in fact they are saying “ok got it”.
    • Use Google hangout every day for meetings so people can see how people are responding to things and connect with them. Create a virtual presence. We had someone who works from home and their was a monitor on their desk and you could hear them and see them working away at their desk. After a while it felt like they were really there everyday. You could always just walk up to them and talk with them.
    • Antibot is a virtual bot that allows you to wander around the office as if you are there.
    • Structure times to work closely together online to collaborate ideas and thoughts. When doing face to face times make sure to party and have social times so people can connect and get to know each other. Make sure to hire the right people. The person must be a good communicator. Look for evidence of prior responsibility and increasing responsibility. Make sure they are active and initiate things.
    • Make sure you use a good agile project management software. Trolo… is a good example. Make sure people are signed in.
    • Shared servers and folders. Make it as easy as possible for people to share work
    • Some sort of IM or text based communication tool. Hipcheck? Rooms for each discipline, project, shared interests, etc. There’s also a “screw around” room where people can goof off.
    • Get teams to sketch together. “Google draw is one I’ve found most effective.” You can add it to a Google hangout. Everyone can sketch and see what others are doing. (And it’s free!)
    • Virtual happy hours! Bring back the water cooler aspect of team building.
    • Share with teams user research videos (or conversations with executives or whatever) to show them how things went. It helps people feel like they are part of the conversation.
    • Start a wall of inspiration: Sketches, design ideas, etc. Put up a private pinterest to share ideas, designs, insights, etc to create conversations with people around the project.

Other tools:

  • Squiggle – Video conferencing and screen sharing tool that’s just closed it’s 2nd round of funding
  • Screenhero.com –
  • Join.me – browser based screen sharing

There’s a trend to hirer from the Midwest (designers and engineers especially) to be hired “in” Silicon Valley as there is a dearth of talent in the valley.  They are paying SV salaries but allowing people to work from home. So many people are living in the Midwest and getting paid SV salaries.


Build empathy:

  • Take time to get a sense of how the others are feeling. Those with the office should work from home for a day to get empathy for the employee working from home. Connect together in person as much as possible so people can really get to know each other and get a sense of the different work spaces.
  • Remember to break for lag in video conferencing. Just because you have heard it and said it doesn’t mean the others on the other end have.
  • Make sure you are understood with people in remote countries speaking another language. Make sure to pronounce your words clearly and slow down your speech.


Starting out:

  • Start with and maximize the free tools to start out. If they no longer work for you and your needs look for the next tool that does.
  • Using Google draw can be done with tablets and pens, mouse’s, or shapes
  • Speek is a great tool to replace the polycom. I was looking beyond the phone.

For more information on designing with remote teams, you can visit Jeff’s blog post.
You can visit UIE to learn more about their webinars and other events.