With global teams spread in different contexts and impossibility to travel, remote collaboration has become a common practice even for service design projects. But how do you handle strategic decisions at distance? How can a team collaborate on synthesising research insights or defining new ideas and scenarios with few overlapping hours? As remote and asynchronous collaborations are increasingly focus on co-creation, it is more difficult to find the right balance and misunderstandings are around the corner.
A good setup can help a team of service designers coordinate and succeed even at distance, we have been giving ourselves some basic rules.
1) An efficient time schedule: turn the usual project plan into a very granular timetable, highlighting teams, time zones, and goals that each team needs to fulfill by the end of each day. By looking at this table, each team member has an overview of what's expected and a clear shared understanding of what needs to be completed by the end of each day and be provided as an input to the remote collaborators.
2) Choosing the right tool: nowadays there are plenty of tools that support synchronous work online. Choose the right set of tools for your team and your project. Make sure that everyone has the right license or the right level of access to the team file. Avoid using tools which are not shared by everyone, as it could fragment the workflow.
3) The importance of versioning: avoid tools that don't support track change, as working together and asynchronously on the same file you want to be sure that everything is reversible. Speaking more generally, the versioning process needs to be “transparent”: everyone should be able to see and track the changes done in the files. This will help increase trust, avoid misunderstandings and help build on each other's work even if not working synchronously.
3) Scheduled sync session: synchronous work sessions are golden and don’t need to be wasted. Send all the material in advance and define an agenda before the meeting to let everyone prepare for it. It might be necessary to foresee a short recap or q&a moment in the beginning just in case there are open points from the previous sessions.
4) Written recap: at the end of each work sprint or work day (if necessary) it’s good to send a written recap to the whole team with the remaining open points and clarify eventual adjustments. The recap shouldn’t be a copy of the edits done in the project files, but it should be used as a lens for other team members to look at the files and understand the progress made.
5) Generally, be nice and patient :). You don’t always know what’s happening on the other side of the screen and async (written) communication might not always be clear or straightforward, especially if you are working within an international team. Use schedule sync sessions also as a way to understand the people you are working with.
Asynchronous collaboration allows international and distributed teams to work together with a lower budget and in a shorter time period. In addition to the benefits related to travel and financial costs, all the team members can work on the same project but with a different timetable, allowing everyone to manage their workload as best as they can without going crazy :)
In terms of tools that can be used for asynchronous collaboration, there is a large variety of options. We noticed that relying on simple tools, such as those in the Google Suite, allowed us to manage the document versions and comments more easily. Emails have been a good tool to send the daily recap and keep track of the project progress, while it shouldn’t be used as a chat or as a way to review the document itselves.
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