Process

Staying connected remotely for the win

May 24, 2021

5 min read

Lily Samimi
Lily Samimi
Design Manager
Staying connected remotely for the win

We’re officially past our one-year mark when OpenTable and many tech companies went full remote to help navigate the coronavirus pandemic. For many of us, it’s felt like 10 years as we’ve each faced personal hardships while balancing the challenges of working remotely. Now more than ever, it’s important for us to have a purpose in our work, to be connected to the people we work with, and to find moments to recharge. 


I’m proud of our design team at OpenTable for rising to the challenge and finding new ways to collaborate and stay connected. We’re a design team of about 30 product designers, brand designers, content strategists, and design leaders spanned across the globe in Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, DC, and London. Here are a few processes and tools we’ve incorporated that helped us tremendously.


Conquering time zones

Meeting across four time zones can be challenging. We want to feel connected with our teammates no matter the distance. And, we also believe no one should work beyond their working hours since work-life balance is especially important when we can’t create physical boundaries between our home and work life. 


To overcome this challenge we only schedule meetings during times our working hours overlap. If it’s not possible to find one time that suits everyone, then we record the meeting so folks who couldn’t make it can watch, and, for regular meetings, we alternate meeting times. 


Above all, we encourage our team members to limit the need for meetings and solve problems asynchronously through Slack, email or Figma whenever possible. For example, we give weekly status updates over email and get quick design feedback over Slack. 


Connecting through food

At OpenTable, we love food, we love dining out, and we love the connections we make through food and culture. The pandemic made it super hard for us to connect over food, but there were a few ways we’ve overcome that. 

Our #quarantinecooking Slack channel is full of mouthwatering pictures of meals that we’ve cooked at home this year. And our #restaurantsduringcovid Slack channel has pictures and stories of our experiences dining with restaurants during the pandemic. 


Our #quarantinecooking Slack channel


We’ve also hosted a few virtual offsites where OpenTable employees volunteered to run activities such as a restaurant/diner trivia game, yoga, meditation, and interactive cooking class. The interactive cooking class was really special as it allowed us to learn new cooking techniques, connect over a meal, and learn about fellow OpenTable coworkers’ backgrounds and cultures. 


Staying grounded with rituals

Now more than ever rituals in our personal and professional lives help us feel more in control and more deeply connected to the work we do. For me, having time in the mornings to sip my coffee and wrap my head around what my goals are for the day and having dedicated time during the week to walk around my neighborhood and take pictures help keep me grounded. At OpenTable, we have a few avenues through which we feel connected to our teammates and the work we do.


 Our design critiques happen three times a week and each crit follows this format:

  1. State the user problem using the design file template
  2. Share business and/or product goals
  3. Ask for the type of feedback you want - visual, UX, user research, etc.
  4. Present your designs in Figma using the design file template
  5. Share the link in Meet chat
  6. Give 10 min for the team to review and provide comments
  7. Play music from a Spotify playlist or Youtube to make it fun :)
  8. Go over each comment (time permitting) and have attendees discuss their comments
  9. Recap feedback to the group 

Following this format makes for a fun and psychologically safe environment for designers to share their work and feedback. And sharing and listening to music has become a form of meditation and a way for us to connect over our music tastes.

Another way we connect is through Designspiration, a bi-monthly 45-minute meeting where one designer chooses a topic, creates a board on Pinterest and then each designer shares ideas and inspirations related to that topic.


Designspiration

Topics we’ve covered include heroes, dream restaurant concept, photography, and nostalgic songs. Before doing this activity, we thought we knew our design team members well but this activity let us see each other in a new light and understand our team members on a more personal level.


To encourage more collaboration across our teams, each month the entire design team shares out what they’ve been working on and each quarter we share this with the exec team. Each designer is asked to put together one slide of one project they’ve worked on and spend a few minutes talking about the problem, the solution, and the business impact.

Design stand-up template


These stand-ups have helped our designers find moments of collaboration and stay in sync across our product design and brand teams. And, having a more direct line of visibility to execs has helped tremendously in showing the impact design has on the business. 


Tools for collaboration 

As we moved into remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, we had to figure out how to collaborate effectively. Let’s be honest, there is nothing like sitting in front of a whiteboard with someone and just letting your hands free with a marker. But we had to make do, and we had to figure out what was the next best thing. 

What has been tremendously helpful for the design team is how collaborative Figma allows us to be in real time.


Our Figma collaboration templates

We’ve created virtual sticky notes of all sizes and colors and collaboration templates for brainstorming, user research synthesis, user story mapping, prioritization exercises, journey mapping, and risk and mitigation exercises. We just started experimenting with FigJam and love how easy it is to use across our teams.

Using FigJam to reimagine the office space


While playing in Figma has been a delight for us designers, we realized we need to meet our partner teams where they were at. Most of our partner teams are very comfortable with Google Slides. So when we’re facilitating workshops where we want our partner teams to be more hands-on we’ll transfer our collaboration templates onto Google Slides to make it easy for everyone to participate. 

Goolge slides collaboration templates



These are just a few ways we’ve embraced working remotely and our processes keep improving as our needs evolve. If you love solving complex problems for some of the most passionate and relatable B2B customers you’ll ever meet and want to work with a close-knit, collaborative team then get in touch.

Credits

Lily Samimi (she/her/hers)
Design Manager

Lily is a design leader by day and foodie and traveler by night. Based in LA, she loves creating and improving on the UX of what it means to be a designer working at OpenTable.