How I Built a Design Team in Remote Work Environment as a First Designer

Hello, this is Hosaka of AI inside design team, and the Chief Experience Officer of the company.

As I briefly mentioned in my previous introduction article, our AI inside design team was established in May 2020. Thus, we have expanded to a team of nine members in about just one year (including outsourcing and part-time employees as of July 2021.)

It was around fall of 2019 when I officially joined AI inside. I joined as the first designer and ran the design business by myself for about six months, but it was impossible to handle everything by just myself. So, I started recruiting members, and (the long-awaited!) three new members joined us at the same time in May 2020.

However, May 2020 was right in the midst of the state of emergency in Japan due to COVID-19. Due to this, AI inside was shifting to remote work, and the team’s establishment also had to be done remotely.

So in this article, I’d like to share some of the initiatives we made for team-building and what I paid attention to when we set up our design team from scratch in a completely remote situation.

Goal to aim for team building

As a goal, I had aimed for mutual understanding of the members, which is not just about their work but also their private lives.

Mutual understanding means that we can understand each other’s differences in thinking, strengths, and weaknesses, which increases our mobility as a team by helping each other, cooperating, and sharing tasks.

The following diagram is what I imagined for the formation of mutual understanding.

(I’ve referenced from this Japanese article that the representative from my previous job wrote)

This diagram shows that bringing the real you (not the stereotyped you) into the company will lead to true diversity.

I believe that mutual understanding and recognition of diversity, diverse ideas, and opinions are the basis for fostering mutual understanding and so-called psychological safety.

With this in mind, I implemented the following initiatives.

1.Provide onboarding with care

Image of the onboarding documents at that time

When a new member joined, I paid attention to conduct “onboarding” with care, mainly since we worked remotely. To be more specific, in a remote environment where it is difficult to see team members’ faces and have casual conversations with them, I tried to communicate with them to help them get used to the company and the work as quickly as possible.

I actually have a failed experience with recruitment. I hired a designer at a different start-up company I used to work for, but that person resigned in less than one week. I think there were many factors to it, but I now feel that the lack of “onboarding support” may have had some impact.

The reason I felt there was a lack of onboarding support is that I was in the same situation. I had just changed my job from an enterprise company and started working for this start-up company, and didn’t know my way around at all. The only thought I had for this newly hired employee was to have him catch up on work on his own, so onboarding had been a secondary concern for me.

From this experience, and since three new members joined in a remote environment, I made up my mind to prepare well enough for their onboarding.

The following are the specific onboarding measures that I took.

  1. Sharing of generic knowledge — Explain in detail in an internal Wiki about the work that I have done in the past, tools I’ve used, relevant departments, materials to look at, and what to do once you join
  2. On the first day of employment, I provided a thorough orientation on the latest information about the products, organization, and how to work in this company further on
  3. Having close discussion how to communicate with the team during orientation and implemented the members’ ideas to further involve communication in the team (we decided to hold a morning meeting every day)
  4. Having short 1 on 1 sessions daily to clear up questions and unclarified issues

We shared the internal wiki of (1) and the onboarding documents of (2) outside the design team and contributed to the onboarding process for other units.
Also, through (3) and (4), we have increased the number of simple contacts and fostered an atmosphere for better communication in a remote work environment.

2. “Language exchange sessions” born spontaneously

As mentioned in the onboarding measure (3) above, the team has held morning meetings every day since the three new members joined. They give reports on their work and share information and sometimes ask questions to deepen their understanding of each other’s work.

About three weeks after our design team was established, our members, each from the Kansai* region in Japan or London, exchanged Slack messages to “teach me English” or “teach me Kansai Dialect.” This led to the idea of having “language exchange sessions,” and we decided to have them every morning.

*Kansai: South-western half of Japan

For example, when we saw the word “proactive” in an internal document, we discussed the difference between the Japanese and English words for “proactive.”
We also discussed the meaning of the word “Elastic” used in the name of our product’s optional service “Elastic Sorter,” the meaning of the Japanese word “itcho-kami” (even people from the Kanto* region didn’t know this,) and other words that came up in our work and daily conversations.

We went through most of our questions on language, so we rarely hold these sessions now. Still, I was thrilled to see that new projects were born through such natural communication, as I had set the goal of “deepening mutual understanding.”

*Kanto: Eastern half of Japan

3. “Design Team Friday,” an event to deepen our mutual understanding

“Design Team Friday” is an event held every Friday at 17:30 (currently at 17:00,) which is close to the end of the workday, and we each decide on a theme and present something to the team.

Since the members are from entirely different backgrounds, the event was designed to be a place where they can casually present their experiences, specialties, knowledge, and recent thoughts to deepen mutual understanding.

So far, we’ve covered the following topics. (I’ve tried to keep the topics related to design and UX as much as possible)

- Past projects that you are passionate about
- Talk about your favorite design
- Good experience you had recently
- Recommended travel destinations that are easily accessible from Tokyo
- What is your favorite physical object and why?
- Sharing of portfolio

It’s a bit of a challenge for the presenter to prepare, but the listeners get to know new aspects of the presenters and gain a better understanding of the members. At the same time, the content of each presentation is very interesting. We’re continuing with this even after one year of establishing the design team, and I feel that it’s inspiring creativity for us.

Summary

These are the three initiatives that I, who joined the company as the first designer, kept in mind when building a design team in a completely remote environment and took during the team’s launch. I believe that deepening the mutual understanding of the team will strengthen the team’s mobility, which drives the company.

I hope this information is of some use to those who are starting up their teams remotely!

AI inside Linked In account:
https://www.linkedin.com/company/aiinside

Contact for Recruitment :
AI inside Inc.(https://inside.ai/en/career/)
People Relations Unit E-mail:hr@inside.ai

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This is the official account of AI inside Inc.

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AI inside Inc.

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This is the official account of AI inside Inc.

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