“你能聽到我嗎？” “Can you see my screen?” These are some of the typical things you would hear when you join the Design Researcher meetings. We meet online as most of us are based outside Taiwan. Like any other team, remote working is always challenging. It is more so when members come from various geographical locations, embodying diverse cultures, and speaking multiple languages.
Such a description of diversity fits with the profile of the Design Researchers in ASUS Design Centre, which consists of members from the Taipei headquarters and studios in Singapore and Shanghai. Working together has been the norm for us. Furthermore, several team members joined us in the past year, marked a significant but welcome change to the team dynamics. Although things were shaky at the start, we managed to overcome most of the challenges over time.
The distance has not deterred us from collaborating from time to time while supporting our fellow product designers and other ASUS colleagues with our research. Our robust and differentiated user insights have contributed to the conception of ASUS products. With the experience, we share four ways on building a cohesive remote culture.
Supporting each other
Sharing knowledge and providing help when needed is a common understanding among the nine of us. We get together every fortnight to update each other on our current work. Beyond project status, we highlight the relevant findings and seek advice to overcome the challenges that we are facing. We also use this opportunity to inspire each other with current research trends, insights, and resources through individual sharing. The discussions related to the sharing are often insightful and engaging.
“I enjoy the individual sharing, particularly when our colleagues introduce or explain some of the nuances from Taiwanese and Chinese culture,” Brianna from the Singapore team enthusiastically shares. “We may not get these nuances at face value. Their explanation helps us to understand how consumers from these regions feel and think.”
“I enjoy the individual sharing, particularly when our colleagues introduce or explain some of the nuances from Taiwanese and Chinese culture. We may not get these nuances at face value. Their explanation helps us to understand how consumers from these regions feel and think.” – Brianna, Design Researcher from Singapore
Our interactions do not stop when our meeting ends. We approach each other whenever there are issues to be addressed or to seek out a different opinion. The communication apps that we use enables us to instantly connect with our colleagues and easily reach out to them when they need our support. Recently, we worked together to improve the research process. We shared our thoughts on the decisions taken at each research stage. The discussion allowed us to understand each other’s motivations, perspectives, and worldviews.
Although our communication mainly takes place online, there are opportunities for the team in Singapore to have on-site visits to the headquarters. These visits allow us to maintain relationships, build new ones, and help out in any capacity we can. For instance, Sean, a Design Researcher from the Singapore studio, was involved in a pilot user testing while he was there. He reflects, “It was interesting for me to work with our colleagues in person. I learned a lot on their interview techniques from them while I was there.”
Given our various backgrounds and experience, each Design Researcher embodies a unique set of research skills. Some are well-versed in diverse methods of analysis, while others specialize in facilitating workshops. Most of us are experienced in running research projects and frequently communicate our findings to stakeholders. We respect and acknowledge each other’s strengths and give advice to those who need it.
Our teams in Shanghai and Singapore are well-regarded for their knowledge of their respective regions. Singapore’s and Shanghai’s status as regional business hubs serve as a gateway to other locations. These locations are home to several international companies’ Asia-Pacific regional headquarters, which attracts workers from many countries, creating a melting pot of cultures. We take advantage of their locations to participate in multi-country projects on users’ needs and behavior.
I took part in a project that required me to interview users in Indonesia on their perspective on an upcoming laptop design. At the start, it was daunting to communicate because there were several stakeholders involved – from the designers to the engineers and product managers. I talked to them by phone calls, email or instant messages. I also had to coordinate with local recruiters as well. Working face to face with our Taiwanese colleagues while in Indonesia was enjoyable experience. We worked together and subsequently translated the insights obtained from the interviews into design recommendations for our current notebook product line.
Advocating for an inclusive culture
The differences in our cultures was a barrier when we initially started working together. We come from various countries, had different educational levels, and possess unique work experiences. Over time, we are pleasantly surprised to discover some commonalities among us. We learned to focus on the common goals and values and work together to achieve a shared mission of reducing the risk of a new product.
We have built an inclusive culture through our regular communication in meetings. Our locations bring together a plethora of languages. Our Taiwanese and Chinese colleagues converse in Mandarin. In contrast, those in Singapore predominantly speak English. As such, we are aware and are sensitive to our team’s language abilities.
In moments of excitement or intense discussion, our colleagues tend to forget and speak in Mandarin, consequently alienating those who are less conversant. However, they remember and translate the topic for the benefit of the rest.
It is a privilege for us to get access to various tools and supported by a reliable technology infrastructure. As our communication and collaboration take place virtually, we rely on Microsoft Teams for our meeting discussions, updates as well as impromptu chats and calls. SharePoint and Microsoft Office tools support our seamless collaborative workflow and are accessible regardless of the location. To brainstorm for ideas or collaboratively analyze our research findings, we use Miro, a virtual online board.
There are certainly times when technology does not perform to standard. There are occasions when the network had an intermittent connection and hindered our communication during meetings. During such situations, the team in Taipei help to manage the slides during the presentations.
Within the diversity of researchers, we have formed a bond through our shared experiences. The four ways that we had shared above have facilitated a strong culture among us. It has strengthened our communication skills as we become more sensitive to the subtleties of online speech. Working together on projects has also has built a sense of trust and transparency among the team members. As researchers, we are continuously improving our skills in understanding the business and product issues to provide relevant insights. At the same time, the teams in Singapore and Shanghai are appreciative of Taipei’s team role as the bridge between the researchers and key stakeholders.
We were not spared from the impact of COVID-19. We had closed our studios to maintain social distancing at the height of the pandemic. For those who had to work from home, it was a smooth transition as we continued our regular communication. Nevertheless, we are slowly returning to our studios and hope to work together more frequently. As the team matures, we will continue to cultivate better remote research culture and support ADC and ASUS for future projects.