This Re­mote De­sign Com­pany Uses Slack Bots To Recre­ate The Hu­man Ex­pe­ri­ence

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY IRIS LE­UNG, FORBES CON­TRIB­U­TOR

For some com­pa­nies, punch­ing the clock is con­sid­ered a relic of the past, and these busi­nesses get that goalo­ri­ented work and re­sults are far more im­por­tant than the num­ber of hours worked. So they al­low their peo­ple to work when­ever and wher­ever they feel the most pro­duc­tive.

Tech­nol­ogy is the sin­gle great­est en­abler of the lo­ca­tion-in­de­pen­dent work­ing life as it is the foun­da­tion for pro­cesses and tools that help with re­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion. It al­lows com­pa­nies to craft a cul­ture where peo­ple work when they feel the most en­er­gized and creative, where go­ing into an of­fice is com­pletely op­tional.

And then there are those com­pa­nies that have taken it one step fur­ther by elim­i­nat­ing the need for an of­fice al­to­gether. Hanno, a prod­uct de­sign

team spread across Europe and Asia, grew into a fully-dis­trib­uted team as it started out with the build­ing blocks for re­mote work.

Started with one co-founder in Eng­land and the other in Rus­sia, Hanno scaled up as a re­mote com­pany or­gan­i­cally by bring­ing on board UX de­sign­ers that were all com­fort­able with asyn­chro­nous work. While there wasn’t the ini­tial plan to cre­ate a re­mote com­pany, as the co-founders had been col­lab­o­rat­ing re­motely for two years, there was never re­ally a need to have an of­fice.

Pro­duc­tiv­ity is a clear pri­or­ity for all busi­nesses, but should it trump the re­mote worker’s need for hu­man in­ter­ac­tion? Af­ter all, two of the big­gest prob­lems cited by re­mote work­ers is that they of­ten feel iso­lated, or have a lack of trust for their col­leagues. This is be­cause it’s sim­ply dif­fi­cult to trust peo­ple that you don’t have per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with.

“When you’re work­ing re­motely, it’s easy to for­get that peo­ple aren’t just there to ex­e­cute tasks. That they’re peo­ple with lives, with ups and downs, and they’re just hu­man be­ings. So I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to recre­ate that hu­man as­pect in our team,” said Laïla von Al­vensleben, a UX de­signer with Hanno.

Von Al­vensleben is re­ally pas­sion­ate about the fu­ture of work, and even wrote her mas­ter’s the­sis on how com­pa­nies can ap­ply de­sign think­ing to re­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion.

In or­der to “hu­man­ize” their re­mote team­mates, Hanno has cre­ated a Slack bot called Oskar that per­sis­tently prompts peo­ple to share how they feel twice a day. Ev­ery week, Oskar graphs re­sponses into a pub­lic mood map so the en­tire team can gauge the team’s well-be­ing as a whole.

“At the end of the week, we get a mood sum­mary or mood digest and have a vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion, like a graph, to see peo­ple’s moods go­ing up and down. It’s great to see the team’s mood as a whole. I think all of this is help­ful to make the team more hu­man, more re­lat­able,” she said.

The in­ter­est­ing thing about Hanno’s Oskar, that von Al­vensleben points out, is that peo­ple are more likely to be hon­est about their feel­ing when prompted by a ro­bot, than if they were asked by a col­league. Turns out, Hanno re­lies on a com­puter to help its re­mote work­ers re­late bet­ter to each other, which is em­blem­atic of our con­flicted re­la­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy.

“A lot of prob­lems that re­mote teams have is iso­la­tion. It’s great that be­ing re­mote al­lows you the flex­i­bil­ity to work from wher­ever and when­ever you want. But the other side of the coin is that you’re com­pletely on your own, whether you’re work­ing from home or at a cowork­ing space,” she said.

Ad­dress­ing the is­sue with trust, von Al­vensleben of­fers a work­around which is to over com­mu­ni­cate. While in-per­son con­nec­tions can rely on non­ver­bal cues, it is es­sen­tial to pro­vide more color and con­text when it comes to re­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“You have to be re­ally trans­par­ent, oth­er­wise, you will have a lack of trust. A lack of trust is the big­gest ob­sta­cle for a suc­cess­ful re­mote team. So if you can have tools and pro­cesses set up to help build that trust, to show that you’re com­mit­ted and the re­sults and out­comes of your work, it then be­comes a habit,” she said.

Hanno’s story can serve to de­bunk the myths sur­round­ing the fu­ture of work that other busi­nesses con­sid­er­ing run­ning fully-re­mote teams should take note of. While tech tools and pro­cesses can boost pro­duc­tiv­ity and al­low for asyn­chro­nous col­lab­o­ra­tion, it’s also im­por­tant to lever­age the same tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate a re­lat­able and hu­man work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all re­mote work­ers.

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