How remote working has made me a better designer
Its advantages and disadvantages, and how to get it right.
As designers, and more specifically, digital designers, remote working might not only be feasible but beneficial. Remote working is a growing trend and as a full time designer that works from home, I can see why.
The feasibility of remote working
In the last twenty years technology has taken a centre stage in our lives. It influences our work and it has led to different ways of working. Before the internet, there was no option but for employees to go into an office to do their job. This is still the case as not all jobs can be done remotely (i.e jobs where employees need certain tools/machinery), however, many desk jobs certainly lend themselves to it.
Remote working is possible thanks to many tools that have been developed with exactly that purpose in mind. Slack, Zoom, Whereby, Trello and Abstract (for designers) are only some of the tools that have made remote working not only possible but effective.
The element of trust in remote working
Remote working is not always well received as there is often an element of mistrust from the employers/companies towards the employees. This mistrust often comes from the idea that if employees are not supervised during their working hours, they just won’t do the work that is asked of them.
Some studies show that this idea is not only misguided, but that the opposite happens. Data shows that employees are in fact more engaged when working remotely, which leads to an increase in productivity. According to a report from the analytics company, Gallup, it was those employees that spent 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely that had the most elevated rates of engagement. Many surveys have also backed this up like the one conducted by Connect solutions, which reported that 77% of remote workers (part time and full time) stated that they are more productive when working remotely.
‘Supervised’ work in an office does not mean higher engagement. In fact, I personally know many people with an office based job that waste a good amount of time on tasks unrelated to their job or that engage in almost any distraction. In addition to this, the idea of an employer being able to supervise every hour of your work day is simply unrealistic.
It is also impossible to maintain the same level of high productivity throughout the 7 or 8 hours of a working day. People get tired and distracted, this is inevitable. Doing so in an office or working remotely makes no difference. Personally, the number of distractions I have working from home are way less than the ones I have had when working from an office. This, of course, might vary depending on the individual.
As employers, if you cannot trust your employee to get their work done and you think they’ll be doing something completely different throughout their work day, perhaps, they weren’t the right person for the job to begin with!
The benefits of remote working
Remote working is sometimes perceived as practice solely beneficial for employees. However, remote working has benefits for both sides, the employee and the employer. These are some of its benefits:
Productivity and morale: As touched on above, remote working can allow employees to find a more suitable space to be more efficient and boost their productivity. It can also encourage more motivation and autonomy since employees don’t feel like they are being ‘supervised’. Working remotely has also made me more resourceful as you tend to try to fix problems yourself before you message anyone in the team. Not having a commute, if you work from home, also means that you don’t only save the time of the commute, you also save the energy that it takes to get to work.
An annual survey conducted by FlexJob’s found that 66% of employees think their productivity would increase if working remotely and 52% stated that when they really need to get work done and focus they work from home.
Boosting creativity: Working remotely can lead to less distractions, this means more time to focus on being creative and innovative. In a traditional office environment some of these distractions come in the form of meetings that might not always be essential or useful. These unnecessary meetings have been proven to stifle creativity levels. An infographic published by Hubspot revealed the sometimes, inefficient nature of these meetings. Some of the more surprising data revealed that in the U.S alone, there are 25 million meetings a day, that 37 billion dollars are wasted in unproductive meetings and that a 15% of a company’s time is wasted because of them. In my experience as a remote worker, I don’t think I have ever had an unproductive or unnecessary meeting.
Bigger talent pool: Remote working opens the door for hiring from a more varied and wider candidate pool. This means that potential employees don’t necessarily need to live close to the office and therefore this leads to more choice for the employer.
Cost reduction: Remote working also allows employers to cut down in costs (i.e office space and materials) and invest or spend that money in other areas of the business. For the employee working from home, you also save the travel cost commuting. Not having a commute, also means that you don’t only save the time of the commute, you also save the energy that it takes to get to work.
Improve employee loyalty: Many employees report that working remotely has or would increase their satisfaction with their job. This can lead to improving employee retention.
Environmental impact: Every day millions of people jump on a car, train bus or tube to commute to work. Remote working from home can lead to a considerable reduction in emissions.
Health improvements: When working remotely, employees also have the opportunity to make healthier lifestyle choices. Some of these might be more flexible time to practice physical activity, healthier meals, being able to recover from any health issues at home, etc.
Personalised work environment: Remote working allows employees to create or at least choose their workplace. If you work from home, you might have the chair that you want (perhaps a more ergonomic one) alongside the table that suits you in terms of storage, space, etc. This is closely related to the health improvements outlined in the previous paragraph.
If you work from home like I do, you also have the possibility to do things that might not be an option in an office, like for example, working with music or working while there is a show playing in the background, or both! (this might not be for those of you who like a silent workspace of course).
The downside of remote working
Remote working also has its disadvantages and although I prefer it to working from an office, it is only fair to point out what is not so great about it.
Loneliness: Remote working can lead to feeling isolated at times. There will be days when you don’t have many meetings and you don’t see your coworkers or any clients. However, if your employer is aware of this, they might try to encourage frequent get-togethers and one-to-ones so that sense of the bigger picture is not lost. I find that when I have a lot of work I don’t particularly feel that isolation as I am too focused on getting the work done. However, this is completely dependent on each individual.
Difficulty unplugging: Remote working and specifically remote working from home can definitely lead to some difficulty having work/life balance. This might come across as contradictory as some people might think working from home should improve that balance. However, this is not always the case. If you work from home, it can be hard to create that physical distinction between work and home (especially without a separate office room), which can be challenging. This might be why some remote workers choose to work remotely but not from home. They might go to a coworking space, a library or even a coffee shop.
Coworker relationships: Being in the same physical space as your coworkers day in and day out will definitely help towards building stronger relationships with them or even friendships. This is not to say that every person that works in an office is friends with their colleagues or even gets along with them. This can sometimes be up to luck.
How to get remote working right
There are various attitudes that will make remote working feasible and efficient.
Communication is key: For remote working to be efficient, communicating often (and well) is key. This is probably the most important skill to have when working remotely. It is essential to keep everyone updated on where you are and what you are doing. It is key that the rest of your team knows you are present and that you are contributing to the work that needs to get done.
Don’t assume someone knows something or will do a certain task. It is very frustrating when something doesn’t get done because of another person’s assumptions (i.e I assumed that was your responsibility so i didn’t get it done’).
Often we don’t want to bother people, however, in a remote working environment it is necessary to do so! In fact, if the other person takes it as a bother every time you send a message to ask a question or give an update, then, they probably shouldn’t be working remotely.
Asking questions and giving updates will help you make sure the work you are doing is actually necessary and that it won’t be in vain. There is nothing worse than putting effort into a certain task, showing it to your team once you are done and them telling you it wasn’t what they were expecting or needed.
Prioritise communication related tasks: Following on from the point above (that’s how important communication is!), as designers, it’s very easy to get that moment of inspiration and get so sucked into our work that we forget about the world around us. As a remote worker this is something you cannot afford to do (or not for too long anyway). You simply cannot disappear from Slack and your email for 5 hours and leave any enquiries you might have waiting.
This doesn’t mean you cannot be 1 hour without checking your email. However, as soon as you see something come through, try to give a quick reply so the other person knows you are aware of it and you will come back to it. For example, if you are working and a client emails you asking you for something (that you know will take more than 10 minutes), instead of replying after 4 hours, give them a quick reply along the lines of ‘Hi, I will have a look into this and come back to you as soon as I have it’.
Don’t procrastinate: It is easy to procrastinate completing the smaller tasks of your to-do list. In an office environment you might have more reminders but when you work remotely it is uncommon that someone will be reminding you of things. In fact they don’t have to. Something that has helped me a lot in my remote work is making to-do lists throughout the week. I like to make one at the start of each day and I start with the smaller tasks so I can get those out of the way (i.e replying to a quick email or adding a certain event or task to my calendar).
Be a team player and help others: In an office environment we might feel a bit more compelled to do so as we are physically there with our colleagues. However, this is just as important in remote working. Try to highlight things that your coworkers did well or that they helped you with (even if you were the one leading a certain activity). This will not only help them feel needed and recognised for their great work but it will also say a lot about you as a colleague.
The main reason to follow this piece of advice, is that usually, the people that you help will help you back in other areas that you lack in. If instead, there is a feeling of competitiveness, it will be hard for the team to work well together and you will miss out on learning from your coworkers (everyone knows something that you don’t).
Know what works best for you: Remote working is not for everyone. You might be someone that needs the office interactions, you might love to have that physical space that only the company can provide. Some people also like being present in the office so they get to interact more with their manager. The structure that an office based job has might also help keep some people on track in terms of task completion and schedule. Being in an office certainly has advantages and all you have to do is take into account the pros and cons of each way of working and decide which things are or not important to you.
Remote working has personally made me a better designer. I have become way more resourceful, more confident in my own abilities to solve problems and my communication skills have considerably improved. I also focus a lot better and get much more done in less time. That said, I am not opposed to working in an office environment as long as said environment is healthy and boosts my creativity and productivity. After all, it’s all about finding balance. It might be that the best solution for you is a combination of both. At Fruto the whole team works remotely and it works for us and our clients.
A design leader, Carmen teaches UX at The University of Reading and regularly blogs about life as a designer. Carmen holds a BA in Typography and Graphic Communication from The University of Reading.