How Nulab’s product designer collaborates working remotely

As companies hire more remote workers across the world, the need for collaboration tools is greater than ever. Companies like us here at Nulab are on a mission to bring teams together to work efficiently and effectively, no matter what distances separate them.

One of our very own remote workers, Siska Hines, has been with Nulab since early 2016. She regularly collaborates with both our New York and Japan offices across states, countries, time zones, and cultures.

Siska Hines

As a Nulab employee, Hines simultaneously acts as a team member and a remote user. We asked her to share a little more about her story and how she uses Nulab’s apps to collaborate with the rest of the company.

Getting into remote work

Siska Hines started freelancing back in 2008 with various clients. As all (successful) freelancers know, this kind of work requires a lot of self-reliance. But the reward for mastering the art of self-discipline is a lot of freedom.

You pick and choose which clients and projects you want to work on. You set your own schedule and routine. And you challenge yourself to be more creative because the nature of the work you’re doing changes so often.

Freelancing taught Hines the self-discipline and confidence she needed to become a permanent remote worker. Remote work gave her a combination of more stability than freelance work, while still maintaining a lot of freedom freelancing provides.

Since February 2016 she’s been working with Nulab in the US as a Product Designer.

The benefits of working remotely

As with freelancing, remote work allows you a lot of freedom when it comes to where and how you work.

She works from her home office but treats her schedule like any other day at an on-site office. She wakes up at 6 am, gets ready, drops her daughter off at school, and then goes to work.

The only difference is that after she drops off her daughter, she’s going back home to set up camp in her office for the day instead of heading into a shared office space. And she can wear pajamas (if she really wants to).

One of the biggest benefits of being a remote worker is the flexibility it allows her to be there for her daughter. When her daughter comes home from school at the end of the day, Hines gets a few more hugs than she would if she were far away at an on-site office.

The biggest challenges of working remotely

Every job has its benefits and drawbacks. The hardest part of being a remote worker? Staying focused.

Especially if you’re working at home, it’s easy to get distracted with other personal to-dos mere feet from your office door.

How to stay focused

It’s important to set concrete working hours that you abide by each day. Committing to those hours as if you were on-site keeps you motivated and productive when you’re supposed to be.

Using our chat app, Typetalk, Hines also feels more connected to the other teams hard at work, as if she were in the same room. Chatting with the Design team as they work on various projects across our three products keeps her motivated. It’s hard to feel as isolated when you’re interacting with other team members in real-time to get work done.

She also commits to making her home office distraction-free by closing her office door, turning off her TV, silencing her phone, and using the Do Not Disturb feature on Typetalk if she really needs to buckle down for a few hours.

Enhancing your sense of community

When working from her home office starts to feel isolating, Hines will also occasionally go to a coworking space which gives her the chance to meet and connect with other people in similar working situations.

She also dedicates time to stay connected to the design and tech communities by attending meetups and conferences. Not only does this keep her up-to-date on her industry, but it helps keep her hone her expertise as she learns the latest trends and research being done in the field.

Working across time zones and cultures

When working with our Japan offices, collaboration gets even trickier. Not only does our Japan office work almost opposite hours, but we’re forging relationships with people who come from a completely different culture and are often just learning to speak English.

Hines still relies heavily on Typetalk to chat with the team, but she allows a little more time for a response. She also uses our project management app, Backlog, which keeps her daily tasks in order and transparent to the Japan team. She can tag anyone she needs to for questions or comments, and they can assign her tasks if they have any requests.

“Using Nulab apps have helped me to maintain a daily productive workflow,” says Hines. The combination of tools is what makes her remote work possible.

Important lessons

Working remotely has given Hines a unique perspective of Nulab, and it has challenged her to think critically about how to best use and improve our apps to suit remote workers.

Most importantly, Hines says she has learned that “every minute is precious, so I have to take advantage of the time I allocate for both my work and my family life. When you work, you work; when you’re off the clock, you use that time to spend with it with your family.”

Advice to new/prospective remote workers

If there was one piece of advice Hines could give to new/prospective remote workers, it’s to be patient in the beginning. The first few weeks can seem daunting, but with time and dedication, you will succeed.

What does it take to be a remote worker?

Mostly: self-discipline, focus, and the support of your colleagues. They will help keep you accountable and engaged.

Without coworkers who are invested in your success and contribution, it’s hard to stay invested in them. There is a big human factor to being a successful remote worker. Investing in collaboration tools is just a means to facilitate that factor.

On top of using Nulab’s own apps, Hines also enjoys video conferencing when possible. Putting faces to names and connecting more organically from time to time helps solidify her professional relationships.

Tools and resources

“I can’t stress this enough, but having a good and reliable internet connection is imperative when working remotely. Without it, you’ll be twiddling your thumbs or banging your head on the wall because no work can be done,” says Hines.

The second most important thing to have in your arsenal as a remote worker: technology. To do her job properly as a Product Designer, she needs to have powerful laptops, a big 27” screen, a keyboard, a mouse, a Wacom tablet, an iPad, an iPhone, an Android phone, cloud drives, etc. (to name a few).

Who shouldn’t work remotely

While Hines doesn’t think there’s a particular personality type that can or can’t handle working remotely (e.g. introvert/extrovert, Type A/Type B), there is one characteristic all remote workers need and that’s drive.

You’ll struggle with remote work if you don’t take it seriously. You have to respect the freedom you’re given by taking on the responsibility of managing yourself and your time wisely.

How companies can make remote workers feel appreciated

As every company will learn with remote workers, there are certain considerations you have to take in order to ensure that they don’t feel left out or less important than their on-site counterparts.

One of the biggest ways to make remote workers feel included is to ensure that video conferencing is an option for important meetings. When it comes to time zones as far away as Japan, meetings can be recorded, but it’s always better to participate live.

If companies want to hire remote workers, they need to understand that both remote workers and on-site workers may occasionally need to video in after-hours in order to participate in key discussions.

The other thing companies need to be prepared for is the willingness and ability to provide plenty of support and weekly feedback. If no one is communicating with remote workers, they can’t perform to the best of their abilities. It’s too easy for remote workers to become out of touch with progress unless their team and their manager are engaged in keeping them in the loop.

Final Thoughts

Remote work isn’t easy, but it’s not difficult either. You get to work from wherever you want to, but you can easily become your own worst enemy if you’re not careful in managing your time.

In summary, to be a successful remote worker, Hines believes you need to:

  • Set your “working hours” and fully commit to them
  • Have a reliable internet connection
  • Invest in technology
  • Reach out to your colleagues for support
  • Have self-discipline and drive
  • And lastly, use collaboration tools such as Nulab’s apps (Backlog, Cacoo, and Typetalk) to collaborate remotely with your team.

For Siska Hines, “Collaboration is at the heart of Nulab, and we are an excellent example of how a successful collaboration can stretch across time zones, cultures, and countries.”

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