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Keeping design teams in sync around the world.

At New Relic, our product design team is distributed across three offices spread across the American west coast and Barcelona. We’re always looking for new ways to work together better across this geological and time zone divide. It’s crucial to our shared user experience vision that designers collaborate frequently, but it’s sometimes difficult to know who to pull in to what conversations or who to keep in the loop on what. Each designer is continuously learning and as the team grew in the last year, relying on word of mouth to share those experiences was breaking down. Plus, we were missing out on the shared team culture that comes with having us all co-located in one office, seeing each other every day.

In short, we needed a way to build a passive awareness of what everyone was doing, without adding too much overhead, new tools, or new process that might disrupt everyone’s work.

Enter something I named “screenshot’o’clock.” It works like this: everyday at 2pm CET and PST the design team gets a Slack notification in our private #screenshot-o-clock channel to share what we’re working on. Everyone takes a moment to screenshot their work, or snap a photo of whatever they’re up to, and share it to the room with a brief description. And… that’s it. It’s an easy concept with a deceptively big impact on our ability to stay connected with each other.

Sharing in-progress design work can be daunting and often requires additional context and storytelling to get the right  kind of feedback. Because of this, #screenshot-o-clock is explicitly not a place for direct design feedback. This is the only hard rule in place, and it’s crucial to protect the open vibe in this channel. Questions or aha moments (and plenty of emoji reactions) are encouraged, but any direct feedback is diverted into other channels, often private threads with whoever shared.

We also share things besides in-progress design work. It’s pretty common to catch a glimpse of someone’s afternoon coffee break, or see whatever meeting they happen to be in. It’s a very open space that’s evolved this year just as much as our team has.

At first this channel felt arbitrary, but it’s grown over time to be a key part of our team culture. Because of #screenshot-o-clock, I know generally what each of our 22 designers is working on, have a sense for how everyone’s weeks wax and wane, and just generally feel more connected to the team. We use this space to share hints of future ideas that we’re really excited about, learn about new tools and methodology from seeing other designers’ processes, and celebrate each other’s hard work.

While this certainly isn’t a replacement for in-person collaboration time with each other, it seems to be a positive part of our distributed team puzzle. There’s something a little magical in a dedicated space to catch hints of what everyone is up to, no strings attached.

It’s been about nine months since this channel started, and seeing how much it’s impacted our process inspired me to write this post. I’m curious to see if this is helpful to other teams, let me know if you try it out!


Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

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