How to collaborate more effectively while working remote

Illustration by Dmitry Nikulnikov

Enjoy a conversation with Feb Sansaneeyakiat, Head of Design at HackerOne and mentor at Coaching Through Crisis program. HackerOne has a handful of offices around the world. They have two main product offices, one in San Francisco and another one in the Netherlands. Feb is based in San Francisco and half of her team is in the Netherlands. She's been working with the Netherlands team remotely for over three years now. 

Below she shares strategies on how to collaborate more effectively in a remote environment as well as principles for setting clear guidance for remote communication.

Feb welcome to our interview series! Tell us a bit about your background story and design experience?

I've been in the design industry for 10+ years now. I started off in graphic design and then transitioned over to web and now product design. I’ve worked in different design industries from agencies working on consumer goods, to small startups and mid/large startups working on enterprise and SAAS products.

Currently, I’m leading the design team at HackerOne. We have four product designers, two freelancers and one user research.

What are some of the strategies you've implemented for collaborating effectively in a remote environment?

Share clear goals and expectations.

In meetings, share agenda and material ahead of time. This is not just for remote environments, but can be applied to all effective collaboration. Working remotely with different time zones is already a challenge. We want to be mindful of everyone’s time. Sharing materials ahead of time allows everyone to come prepared with questions and comments as well as know what to expect during that meeting.

Over communicate.

Not being in the same office, sometimes you miss out on a lot of things you don’t see or your team may not see. Don’t make assumptions that they know certain things you know. Over communication is always appreciated, as long as the message is helpful and open to feedback and discussion.

Open feedback is the most crucial aspect of effective collaboration.

The first step is to get all the stakeholders in the same place to collaborate and avoid having one-off side discussions. Make sure to create a comfortable space for everyone to provide feedback and allow time for everyone to voice their opinions.

How do you set guidelines for team communication for more effective remote collaboration?

I found a couple of things that work for us to be effective while remote.

Set clear goals.

Setting clear goals and aligning on expectations on each project help us stay on track and communicate effectively during discussions.

Get comfortable with calling someone on Slack or starting a video call spontaneously.

I hear of a lot of people who used to work in the office struggling with the idea that they can’t just walk over to someone’s desk or turn around and ask questions anymore. We make sure that it’s okay for anyone to call other people in the team if they have questions or need to have a discussion. Sometimes we will start a video room for anyone to join and just be on the call for hours. People might have questions and discussion, but sometimes it’s just everyone doing their work, just like sitting in the office.

Dedicate a project or team specific Slack channel for everyone to collaborate async.

And making sure all notes are documented and shared. Action items are clear and documented, and progress is tracked where everyone can see and follow along.

Schedule weekly project updates with stakeholders, whether sync or async.

Similar to squad or engineering stand ups, this is a time for each stakeholder or lead to share the status, progress and potential challenges of the project.

How do you structure your regular 1-1 meetings to ensure you’re communicating effectively with your team?


My 1:1s are usually not about reviewing design work. It’s the time for my team to express any thoughts, concerns, feelings they have that might affect their day-to-day. I make sure that this is their time, and this is a safe space for them to discuss anything they feel comfortable with. At the same, if there are matters that I would like to discuss with the team, I make sure to bring it up during a 1:1 and sometimes restate it in Slack. Similar to the way we approach broader collaboration, I also share the topic I would like to discuss ahead of time so they are not surprised and we can use the time to discuss effectively.

The most important thing for my 1:1 is to continue building trust with my team. I get to know them and at the same time, I let them get to know me. They can ask any questions they want whether it’s about my day, what I’m struggling with or anything related to the company or leadership. To be able to build trust, we have to be transparent with each other and also be vulnerable.

We’ve tried a few textbook prompts like, “what is your challenge this week” or “what are the things bothering you”. I’ve found that these types of questions don’t work with my team—it felt too structured. It depends on the relationship you have with your team. I’m lucky enough that I have a team that feels very comfortable coming to me if they have problems or want to discuss something. It goes back to building trust with the team, making sure they know you are there for them.

How do you run your design critiques/ review meetings process remote? What are some lessons learned?

Sync weekly.

Each designer brings their work or topic they would like to discuss each week and presents. We have about 15-20 mins to discuss each topic. Since we’ve always been a remote team, it’s what we’ve done since the beginning.

The design review doesn’t only happen during the live sync time.

We also have a design review slack channel where we continuously post designs for feedback. Because of different time zones, we rely on async everyday to see what others are working on and getting feedback from each other. Stakeholders are also in that channel so we are also sharing and getting constant feedback from them.

Share often and share early.

In reviews and on Slack, we share everything from a research document, discovery document, interview questions, to pencil sketches and prototypes. We invite PMs, engineers and stakeholders to the design review, involving them early in the process to get them aligned with our ideas.

Contributors
Feb Sansaneeyakiat
Head of Product Design, HackerOne
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