A few weeks ago I ran an in-person design workshop to generate some ideas for a new product feature. As the ideas pinged back and forth, the conversations flowed and post-it notes got posted by the dozen, I thought to myself, blimey I’ve really missed this. I’ve missed the energy, the fluidity, the creativity that comes with everyone being in the same room. I’ve missed the magic of working face-to-face with fellow human beings.
It’s fair to say that since the Covid-19 pandemic, for an awful lot of designers remote working has become the dominate form of working. Sure, for many it might be labelled as ‘hybrid’ working, rather than solely remote working, but 9 times out of 10 this adds up to spending a lot more time working remotely, than face-to-face. I don’t think that this is a good thing for those designers, for design teams, or indeed for design in general.
What was once done face-to-face, is now very often done remotely (sometimes even remotely whilst working from the office!). Remote design workshops; remote design reviews; remote user research sessions; even remote design sprints.
I’ve written before about how design is a team sport, and like all team sports design is best played in-person, rather than through a computer screen. Whilst remote workshops can be effective, they are never as effective as the same workshop would be if carried out face-to-face. Whilst remote design reviews can be effective, they are never as effective as discussing a design with someone across a table. Whilst remote ideation sessions can be effective, they are never as effective as pinging ideas back and forth whilst stood at a white board. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we do these things remotely not because it’s better to do so, but because it’s more convenient. We are trading energy, fluidity, creativity, and naturalness for convenience.
By taking the easy route, we can actually make it harder to do great design work. We impede our work as designers and by doing our work remotely we risk losing some of the magic of design along the way. This is why if you’re a designer I would implore you to always aim for face-to-face working over remote working, to think about how you can spend more of your time working face-to-face, and to encourage your fellow designers to do likewise.
I’m certainly not advocating that we should go back to the old days of always being in the office, but that we should be striking a better balance between working remotely and working face-to-face. In other words, we should value face-to-face working over remote working and should always aim to book face-to-face meetings where possible.
It’s important to aim for quality face-to-face time, rather than just quantity. A good starting point is to have 1 or 2 set days a week when everyone comes into the office, such as every Tuesday and Thursday. This makes it easier to schedule face-to-face working time. If your office can not accommodate everyone working at the same time, then at least aim for teams to co-ordinate face-to-face working time. It’s also important to communicate the collective schedule so that others know when teams and individuals are set to be in the office. For example, be sure to mark out when you will be available for face-to-face working in your calendar.
By working face-to-face more and remotely less, you can be a more effective designer, you can be a more productive designer and unless you have the commute from hell, you will probably be a happier designer as well.