Thoughts

Increased Collaboration during Quarantine: An Interview with Kati Presley

The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to take a good look at their digital services and internal operations. Rocksauce is no exception. Every day we work with companies to guide and cultivate their digital transformation, but we have to apply those same principles to ourselves. With the entire team moving to a work-from-home-life, we’ve had to ask ourselves: are our digital processes efficient? Are our internal communications effective? How can we increase productivity even while we work from a distance?

Rocksauce has officially been working from home since Friday, March 13 and I wanted to check in with how things are running. So I sat down (virtually, of course) with our Head of UX, Kati Presley, to ask her how Rocksauce has been growing and adapting during this time. I was surprised to hear her talk about the creative reinvigoration the team has been experiencing and excited to hear how the work-from-home life has so positively impacted client relationships.

How have operations changed since moving to work from home?

Kati: There’s really been a healthy shakeup in how we operate. Since we’ve all been remote, I think a lot of attention has been made on formalizing processes to work well and efficiently. And with everyone being remote, we all kind of have equal footing in the game. So a lot of voices are coming out of the woodwork that wouldn’t necessarily have been heard before, and it seems a lot more collaborative because of that.

Kati Presley, Head of UX at Rocksauce Studios

There’s a lot more attention to making sure that things are recorded, too. You know, you can’t just walk up to somebody’s desk and say, Hey, can you do this really quick? So when we have discussion or when commentary is made its recorded.

It also means internal deadlines aren’t as fluid anymore. We’re working under a two week sprint and we have clear deadlines within that two week sprint. We’ve been more structured to stick to that.

Why is it more structured to stick to deadlines now than before?

Kati: Because of the distance we’re not able to watch over each production that’s happening in the same way. So it has forced the teams to establish more structure. It has made us more aware of the importance of establishing internal expectations upfront rather than throughout production.

So what I’m hearing is, you can’t control the fact that you’re working from home, but you can control these deadlines and these expectations within your team. It’s putting focus on those specific things because everything else is out of control.

Kati: Yeah. So with that structure, you know, we’ve really developed a great cadence of review meetings, and we’re working with collaborative tools a bit more for note taking and comments for feedback. All these things that we’ve kind of never taken full advantage of because we were seeing each other all the time. And the fact that now there’s a digital footprint on all of these processes and feedback sessions, it’s really helpful to make sure things are not getting lost in time. There’s like a new prosperity for any iterations and conversations we have throughout production.

In person, it’s easier for things to get lost because in the back of your mind, you’d say, Oh, well I’ll just touch base with them again tomorrow in person. I think it’s easy to kind of brush something off a little bit when it’s verbally shared rather than when it’s written down. You know, so now I’m thinking, okay, I can’t check this comment as being resolved until I actually resolve it.

So that highlights changes internally, but does that translate to working with clients as well?

Kati: Yeah so in working with clients, they’re all one team and we’re coming in as outsiders, and its natural to have a kind of division. But now that we’re all coming to the table independently because we’re all working from home, it’s really become even more collaborative than it was before.

It’s kind of like a weight of presence. So if you know, if you’re working in an office with a team and we come in as consultants and say, Okay, here’s what we got, One, two, three, and then we walk away, there’s a high chance that that person sitting next to you can be like, Yeah, but we’re going to do Four, five, and six. Then that just happens without coming back to us.

But now that everybody is remote and all project communication is documented and happening in the same platforms it’s a lot more collaborative with client/production relationships. So then that same person who said, We should do Four, five, and six instead because of xyz, can then hear us say, Well we suggested One, two three because of abc, and then we can all be part of the conversation, regardless of the direction that the client ultimately takes.

Has working from home challenged your team?

Kati: Absolutely and we’ve been challenged in a really good way. You know just as I mentioned before, we weren’t taking full advantage of the tools that we have in our day to day production and by being presented with the new challenges that we have of working remotely — like not being able to sit in the office together with a white board in between us — I think it has given everybody a little reinvigoration. We’re challenged to ask, How can we make this work? And that’s exciting: learning to use tools in different ways, communicating in different ways, and still being able to get creative.

You know, as creatives, it’s easy to get stuck into in the humdrum of a day to day job. And I think whenever new challenges present themselves, for a creative team, it’s always, kind of an exciting moment to see how we push the envelope.

So then in theory, if this goes on too long, coming back together in the office will do the same thing: there’ll be a shake up.

Kati: Yeah, I think that for creative teams in general, you know, nine to five and repeating your day to day all the time isn’t the the best way to get creative juices flowing. So giving new boxes and new constraints to a creative person helps kind of rejuvenate their headspace and forces them to think in a new way.

And a good lesson learned from that is how can we present those challenges and those shakeups without a pandemic? How can we make sure that the office and the day to day workspaces are dynamic enough to keep presenting positive challenges to the team?

So are you finding that the quality of the work has improved or is simply different?

Kati: It’s really just different. We’re seeing solutions come out that I know wouldn’t have been the same in our previous working environment. I feel like because of the new headspace that we’re all in, we’re allowing new and unexpected ideas to kind of forge.

What are you finding the most valuable platforms and tools to use right now?

Kati: Figma for sure. We actually moved over to Figma as a design tool a few months before moving to work from home, and honestly, if we had not done that, we would have been in a really bad spot right now. The tool we were using before was just very glitchy when it came to collaboration and we had to figure out a lot of workarounds because of it. So it’s been really, really nice that we had adjusted to Figma and are all comfortable with it now that we’re all remote.

And Jira, too. In the past we had kind reserved Jira for dev but now we are integrating our design workload into Jira as well. It’s the same thing again: we needed a more formalized way of keeping track of tasks and resources because we weren’t all siting in the same room together. So Jira has been super helpful.

So it sounds like work from home life has had a really positive impact overall, is that right?

Kati: Absolutely, I feel like in many of my one-on-one conversations with my team, it’s been echoed, Hey, in a way I feel like I’m even more in collaboration mode even though we’re separated. We have a really good workflow together and it’s easy to jump in and out of Google Meet. Sometimes we’ll just be in a Google Meet working, working separately but there together, and then someone might just say, Hey, I’m going to hop over to work on this other screen now. So as a creative team, we’ve kind of grown tighter through this.

Rocksauce has great core values that define the company culture: Happiness, Honesty, Empathy, Loyalty, and Passion. Do any of those core values really stand out during this time?

Kati: I think empathy for sure is a big one. That is a big part of our company culture. We’ve had to increase emotional check-ins a little bit through this, which is a good thing. And it’s another one of those things where we’re asking, How can we keep this going when we’re not in the face of a pandemic?

When we have our weekly check-ins and our one-on-ones, we’re very vocal about how we’re feeling. And if you’re feeling weird or scared about what’s going on, we’re very vocal about that. We’ve been able to incorporate that into our company culture more so than before because emotions are so heightened that its becoming less taboo to address that in a professional manner.

So, on that same note, it’s the same with kids and meetings or any personal needs coming first. You know, having to drop off from work because you need to take care of your children or having an elder that you’re concerned about. We’ve really just been able to say, Hey I’m really concerned about my grandfather and his situation and to hear that It’s okay, take your time, do whatever you need to do – I think that’s been huge.

And then the second one is passion. Again, it’s pulled out a passion from us to be able to thrive in the new environment and really rethink how to make the things we love even better.

And how do you envision transitioning back to the regular office setting?

Kati: I mean it’s weird to think about. And it’s weird to me right now that this is normal to me now. Like it’s weird that, with the state of the world, I reached a state of normalcy around it. And I don’t know how okay I am with that. But it is what it is.

So I think in transitioning back, we’ll be even more appreciative of the in-person collaboration and the magic that kind of happens when you’re all in the same room together thinking of creative ideas.

But I also think we might start questioning “normal” things more. Like maybe not being super strict about that meeting that has to happen, and asking instead, Is it the most important thing? You know, we can make things work the way we need them to work in our lives because we have a lot of technology at our disposal.

So for you, personally speaking, what are some of your favorite things about working from home?

Kati: I actually have a really great home office set up, and I know I’m very fortunate to have that space dedicated to my work. But I get to look out a beautiful window, with a tree right outside of it where this blue bird lives. And this bird has become like one of my best friends; I love him.

And, of course, I get to spend more time with my son, which is sometimes difficult, but it’s also this gift that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, this time with him and my husband. So that’s been something that I’ve continued to be grateful for as well.

Besides that, I think just being at home more, we’re trying a lot of new recipes. We’ve subscribed to a produce delivery service so we’re getting fresh vegetables every week.

Plus, you know, just a lot of the pause and focus on home and centering ourselves at home has been a beautiful reminder to me of the simple things.

Do you have any last thoughts or advice for these time of the coronavirus pandemic?

Kati: Yeah, I would say: don’t look at solving things for the way that they were, but try to think about how they could be. So rather than, than trying to fill the gaping holes that have been created because of this pandemic, think about creating new space for new practices to solve the problem.

If you have big problems that need solving, Rocksauce is here to help you reshape and create new practices to find the best solutions. Give us a call 866.981.6847 or send us a message. At Rocksauce, we want to help you find the best solutions to your biggest problems.

Next Article: How work from home can be productive

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