A common worry for people venturing into a remote workplace is organization: how do managers align their teams and how do team members know what their objectives are in a remote environment?
We thought it might be interesting to hear from both sides of the Donux team: management and design. How does management handle projects and what is it like in the design team to meet objectives while working remotely?
Today we’ll be chatting to Marco and Yasmine from the design team, as well as the founders of Donux, Giustino and Giuseppe, who manage everything.
Let’s start with the design team: how do you know what to work on and what your deadlines are?
Marco: We work in weekly sprints and each week we have goals to achieve. Sometimes the deadlines are meetings, other times we have a goal to complete during the week.
The main tool we use to organize our work is Notion. We built a board where we can check our goals, open new ones and close completed ones. This helps us communicate to everyone on the team what we are working on and what state the objective is currently in (not started, in progress or complete).
Yasmine: We also use meetings to communicate to the team as a whole. At the end of each week, the objectives for the following week are set based on what has been done during the week and on the deadlines set by the client.
At the beginning of the week I take a moment to check the priority of the objectives and I organize my work accordingly, taking into account the meetings set and above all the amount of work that needs to be done.
Here’s a question specifically for management: how do you organize projects to ensure your designers get the information they need?
Giustino: We use mainly two types of tools:
- written notes and documents, that allow us to comment and collaborate over the outcomes and initiatives that arise from them,
- video notes (Loom et similar), for when the content is too visual to be useful in written form.
Giuseppe: We don’t believe in self-imposed deadlines (due to the iterative nature of design it doesn’t make a lot of sense). Instead, we view every week as a deadline.
We took this idea from Agile Software Development. We “ship” (in the design sense of the word) something valuable every week. This always trumps big deadlines with a fixed scope because you always have progress.
Giustino: A critical piece to make this work is having the client’s agreement about this way of working. Because we work as consultants, we are not in a position to instill this culture into an external team or organization. For this reason, it’s essential that the client/decision maker that works with us is onboard with our methodology.
Giuseppe: Once we agree with the client that this approach is the right way of working, we try to map out all the outcomes we want to achieve. We prioritize this list, always with the client, and this becomes the input for our design team’s weekly work: a list of prioritized outcomes that follow an overarching roadmap.
Giustino: As they say: “Hire people smarter than you and let them do their job”. So that’s what we do! We want the team to be empowered to set their own schedules and work around their lives, not the opposite.
The next question is for everyone: are there any problems that arise with this style of working and how do you handle issues when they occur?
Yasmine: Of course, there is always the possibility that something will pop up at the last moment… 😬 This can happen for several reasons: unforeseen events, the need to support other projects, etc.
In these cases, I first meet with the rest of the team to understand how to optimize our time and solve any problems. In some cases we need extra support and other colleagues may become involved in meeting the deadline. Teamwork is essential for the success of the job!
Marco: Teamwork and communication is really important. The biggest problem I see is when our objectives depend on getting feedback from other people, internally or externally from Donux. This problem becomes bigger when we are in different time zones.
The solution is to ask in advance for the feedback we need and be clear in doing so, using the tools we have (for example, Loom) that allow us to explain verbally and/or visually what we need to know.
Giustino: I think another key point involved with communication issues is that dumping your mind isn’t always easy, especially in written form. Often it’s difficult because there are lots of moving parts to consider as well as context to convey.
This type of writing takes time and can be uncomfortable. Combine this with our weekly rhythm and it can push us back into the old way of doing things (namely having meetings with lots of talking instead of working asynchronously).
Giuseppe: At times this happens and that’s ok but there should be a balance, though. Sometimes overcoming the discomfort that writing or recording our progress makes us feel is more important than having a synchronous conversation. I feel that as a team, we are always reflecting and trying to improve on this. It was one of the key issues that pushed us into trying a solution like Loom, which is now a company favorite!
And the final question is also for everyone: is there anything you’d like to change or think could be improved moving forward in terms of how things are organized?
Yasmine: No, it seems to me that there is a very precise organization and that everything is calibrated in the right way. Surely over time I will have more responsibilities, which will be challenging in terms of managing more projects and dealing with more people, but it is part of the path and I look forward to the challenge!
Marco: I think there is still a lot of room for improvement with our internal communication. For example, optimizing meetings, being clearer and more timely in communication, and becoming an even more asynchronous company.
Giustino: Our main goal is to allow the team and everyone working with Donux to model their work around their life and not the other way around.
Once you have a disciplined async approach, two things happen: 1, there’s more room for deep work, allowing us to be less interrupted and more productive in less time. And 2, the output quality arise, even because there’s more time to to R&D and improve the way we work and our processes.
I do agree that we can always improve as a team. It’s part of the challenge and we need to do our best to optimise everyone’s time.
Thanks everyone! It’s always lovely to hear from you and learn more about what it’s really like working in a remote-first company.