Managing A Design Team Remote: Tips And Tricks That Work

by Swati Santani | February 29, 2024 | 5 mins read

Best practices for working remotely for design team

By Swati Santani, VP Design R&D, Design Cafe

Right now working remotely is an accepted routine. But the sudden shift to work from home was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for teams and leaders alike.

Back in March last year, the initial enthusiasm among one and all was high.  Our days were neatly divided into precise time slots and our calendars were peppered with multiple zoom meetings – all this with a unified mission to increase productivity and a sharp focus on the business path ahead.

But everything in life, as we all know, ebbs and flows. This sudden burst of energy was followed by bouts of fatigue. As the days stretched to months and work from home became a daily routine, the uncertainty COVID brought with it took its toll on us. No one knew how long the pandemic would last and whether we would ever see our colleagues face to face again.

As a manager leading a team of designers I had to quickly resort to experiments to keep them motivated, engaged and with their creative juices flowing. Something definitely clicked because my team is now better energised than ever, delivering on point and working virtually has become second nature to all of us.

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Keep The Channels Of Communication Open, Always

However, reaching this point of maturity took a fair amount of effort. Dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic led to emotional highs and lows with all of us. And considering my team comprised mostly millennials, I needed to know when they felt stressed or overwhelmed be it in their personal and professional life. 

This meant communication was key. I  ensured we kept the channels constantly open. As a manager, I made it a point to let my team know that they could reach me or anybody in the company at any point of time should they need a listening ear. We have kept the option of 1×1 calls with managers open and most team members did avail it (at least once, in some cases more)  and found it a good way to clear their mind, vent or just share a good laugh together. All this helped us improve our focus on work.

Set Up A Process For The Day

And as far as work processes went we set up the morning and evening stand ups, starting at 9 a.m to kick start our day nice and early. During the day, we had no choice but to be in constant touch discussing project details and this automatically put us into the habit of connecting three-four times a day. Needless to say we were able to maintain business continuity during the pandemic and kept ourselves extremely busy and disciplined.

Hanging Out On Hangouts

On the flip side, an overdose of Zoom meetings became a bit mind numbing. And so to counter the ‘virtual fatigue’ my team was dealing with, I turned some of those meetings into ‘non work’ calls. And it proved to be an astute decision in hindsight. These fun calls boosted everyone’s morale and energy big time.

So when we were not talking shop, we kept the agenda on our calls open ended. I had employees taking turns to moderate virtual meetings and the results were empowering. If one conducted a skill based workshop, the other held a session to share information on a topic of their interest. Sometimes we just played a game. After all, the power of play is key to one’s life. Since the virtual world has become an integral part of our work and personal lives now using it for team building activities turned out to be a fun thing to do during the work week!

Let Go Of Plans, Spontaneity Is Key

And sometimes it is fun to let go of plans too. Working remotely meant checking in and out at stipulated time or logging in for meetings on a pre scheduled date. However, I soon realised that sometimes it was important to let go of premeditated agendas. The key here was for me to let my team know that it was A-Okay to be spontaneous. Some of our evening check-ins have stretched on, and spontaneously so. We’d often find a team member wanting to share events of his/ her day or venting about domestic troubles. As a team we encouraged these conversations, let them flow and kept ourselves as tight as a pack of wolves.

Celebrate The Small And Big

As part of these conversations, big, small or trivial – the pandemic taught us one important lesson. And that was to celebrate everything – be it small wins or occasions. We realised that celebrating doesn’t necessarily involve partying at a restaurant or a pub. So be it for milestones the team met, to work anniversaries, birthdays, and breakthroughs in projects – we celebrated everything virtually.

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Being distanced but connected in spirit was key to managing a team remote. As a manager, I needed the collective morale of my team to be high. Teams need to talk, share laughter and frustrations and know that we are all in this together now and forever. This is exactly what we did and triumphed!

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Swati Santani

Swati Santani is VP, Design R&D at Design Cafe. She comes with 12+ years of experience in the furniture industry, including 5 years in retail strategy and business operations in both, online and offline retail channels. She has in depth knowledge of the home furniture industry focused on customer insights, market place, competition and product technicalities. With an experience in strategy and design she brings the unique combination of product expertise and business strategy to the table.

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