Make your team available so you improve your work, build connections and extend your influence.
One of the practices that our design team has put in place (and was recently expanded to include Product Managers) is holding regular “Office Hours”, where we make ourselves proactively available to the rest of the company. I use “proactively” here to highlight the fact that we go to the heart of the office — the lunchroom, so we’re in a central spot and no one feels like they’re bugging us. When we’re there, we’re visibly open to answer questions, hear feedback or talk through ideas. We have our laptops, but they’re there as conversational aids to show work in progress or walk through an area that someone feels could be improved.
Why we hold “office hours”
Once you get beyond a handful of people, it’s impossible for everyone in a company to be aware of, and contribute to making your product the best it can possibly be. Folks are busy and likely aren’t even aware of what the Designers, Developers or Product Managers are working on. Conversely, it isn’t easy for those teams to stay on top of Customer Support trends, feedback to Account Management teams or reasons that Sales lost a potential customer to a competitor. While there may be some formal processes to help address those issues, there’s nothing like building relationships between all of the people involved to hear about it earlier and more often. When we do connect in a friendly manner, reliably and in real-time, we see real dividends in the short and long term.
Regular, predictable office hours build relationships with colleagues throughout the company, creating trust and widening communication paths. This, in turn, provided you genuinely listen and collaborate, can increase your influence and can shift the company towards a design-driven mindset.
Design is not a solo endeavor. We crave context and challenges to our assumptions if we are to produce something that serves the people who use it. By making ourselves proactively available, we invite others in to help us see the wider picture. We also gain insight into the small changes that we can weave into projects as we go to improve the experience, allowing us to make an impact with little-to-no additional work.
Yes, “everyone has an opinion” on designs, which is a common gripe that usually comes when we get feedback that we aren’t ready for and likely disagree with. Just as often, Designers are frustrated because they learn salient information after our work is done. So, why not actively seek it out early, when we’re ready for it and there’s time for it to make a material impact? (Hint: there’s no reason not to!)
We know we don’t know everything, we spend hours researching solutions, patterns and ideas, so the most valuable thing we can do is to open our work up for others to question and challenge. By asking for feedback, we demonstrate that we value input from non-Designers.
These sessions are by no means a one-way street of feedback. They provide an opportunity for Designers to give back by sharing what they know and the reasons behind our decisions. The people we’re talking with aren’t likely to hear about our rationale, constraints and goals in any other forum. These conversations break down silos and make the case for involving Designers elsewhere in the company, just as we want the rest of the company to help us improve our work.
Office Hours also provide a unique opportunity for people interested in our field to learn more, providing the first step for those who may want to become a Designer down the road. This is critically important for the shy or underrepresented who don’t know where to start.
It’s Easy, So Long as You Schedule It
There really isn’t much work involved. All you need to do is:
- Set up a recurring time — ideally by sending an optional calendar invite to the rest of the office, making sure your team knows their participation is expected, even if no one shows up (they will in time)
- Send a reminder or two — drop a couple of notes in shared communication channels ahead of time, the first a couple of days ahead, the second on the morning of the event (you can likely automate this easily)
- Show up, ready to collaborate — bonus points if you bring treats to share
By scheduling these on a recurring basis (monthly works for us, weekly might be better), it allows the rest of the office the opportunity to block the time to join us, even if only for a few minutes. This is important for people in our Customer Care group, who have to be on the phones at specific times, but have the closest ties to the humans who use our work. Everyone else benefits as they can schedule around it if they want to join.
So, when are you going to set up your office hours?
Photo by JD Hancock