Design focused pandemic habits to recycle for a more productive 2021



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In March 2020, the workforces of pretty much every major city in the world found themselves working from home. The shift from workplace to home office was as swift as it was sharp – there was hardly any time to prepare for what would become the globe’s greatest remote working experiment.

Here at Cogent, we’ve been transitioning to a ‘remote-first’ culture for a while, with some of our most senior team members working from homes across different states of the country. However, our beloved office (The Treehouse) is still the home to some of the best parts of Cogent; it’s where we invite our clients to see exactly how we do things, and it’s a space that our people genuinely enjoy working from. 

Dan (pictured on the left) works remotely from his home in sunny Queensland, a short 2,800-ish kms from the Cogent office in Melbourne. 

As we start to transition out of this remote work experiment  having had nearly a full 12 months of results to investigate, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves which Design focused pandemic habits should we take with us into the new year, and which should we leave in 2020?

To answer, we’ve collated some of the top tips from our Design team with the hope that these insights will smooth our collective transition to a new ‘COVID normal’.

Psst…if you’re looking for some quality data on how remote work has impacted product teams across Australia and New Zealand then head here for our recently published report.

Recording meetings – Matt, Design Principal 

It turns out that recording meetings is useful for a number of reasons:

  1. Knowledge-capture and recall. The number of in-person meetings I’ve been in in my career where, 4 weeks later, we’re all trying to recall what was said. Memories are inherently terrible but by recording meetings, and watching them in double-speed, we’re quickly able to scan conversations and find the answers we need to ensure we’re making the right decisions as we progress a product.
  2. Asynchronous on-boarding. In Lean Product Design, context is king. With recorded meetings, it’s easy to point new people to key meetings so they can get up to speed and become a really productive member of the team really quickly.
  3. Personal development. Professional sportspeople do this ALL THE TIME, and every phone support call ever asks whether this is OK to be recorded for ‘quality and training purposes.’ But, with a distributed team, recorded meetings offer participants and mentors to ‘play the tape back’ and analyse the way participants interact with one another. When analysed from a place of care, this way of coaching means that individuals can get really clear and timely feedback which is always critical if anyone wants to improve.

One remote, all remote – Kath, Lead Designer

Remote sucks when everyone isn’t remote. When two or more people are gathered in a room, and someone dials in remotely (see 2019), the conversational centre of gravity lies squarely where most people are gathered. This has led to exclusion of remote parties, and sometimes, even plain forgetting that someone else is there.

In 2021, if one person is remote, we’ll all be remote. It means that all participants can participate equally (with good facilitation, of course) and is less likely to contribute to feelings of exclusion. It alleviates the challenges of not having everyone’s voices heard equally for critical decisions and problems that the team is trying to solve.

Set it up to knock it down – Rebecca, Designer

It’s a no brainer (and maybe it’s just here at Cogent) but setting up remote meetings helped us create clearer purpose and agendas for meetings and, more importantly, stick to them. This, paired with a designated facilitator for each and every meeting, simply makes remote meetings run more smoothly. There’s something about the structure of digital scheduling and the poor design of remote meeting tools that means that people are more mindful of others’ time, and it allowed for spaces of deep work in-between. What does that look like in 2021? We don’t know – it’s been so long since we’ve had an in-person meeting but we’re working to make sure the structural habits we’ve built up, stick.

Say hi, and wave goodbye – Will, Senior Designer

Remote can be lonely if you don’t know your co-workers (as if often the case in consulting), but social time is incredibly important. Since lockdown, Cogent has scheduled social time through things like random coffee chats, trivia, board game evenings, the list goes on. In a world that blends remote and co-located work, being aware of how much social time people are getting will be crucial to making sure that all team members feel exactly that, part of the team.

Write. Things. Down – Ben, Lead Designer

We use a combination of quick daily Slack updates, and experimenting with longer ‘diary’ updates in Notion, I really love this approach because:

  1. a) Writing your thoughts down for others to read is a good way of clearly articulating what’s in your head, which is important because we probably have more time in our own heads these days
  2. b) It’s a great way of keeping distributed team members and stakeholders in the loop as to where we’re at with each piece of work … and a good chance to get feedback asynchronously. You might say it’s over-communicating – but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Finding common ground – Alex, Senior Designer

In the absence of the rich experience of meeting someone face-to-face, building rapport with a new team has never been more important. Setting aside time to show a little vulnerability (e.g. I’m a new Dad!) often reveals others in the ‘room’ who are either going through or about to go through similar experiences. It makes those small-talk conversations become something much more meaningful.

See more pandemic habits to recycle from our Engineering and Product teams. 

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