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How to go remote

Categories: Inspiration, Our work, Useful/interesting

Jungfrau mountain in Switzerland. Photo by Peter Alder
Jungfrau, Switzerland – by Peter Alder

Firstly I should clear-up a language thing – we aren't actually, strictly a ‘remote’ team. We all work from our respective homes in and around Birmingham, rather than on a beach in Goa, up a Swiss mountain, or from a Portland coffee shop.

‘Remote’ just seems more immediately understandable than calling it telecommuting which sounds super '80s but is technically correct, or saying we're a ‘distributed team’. Again that’s an accurate description but the phrase isn’t that widely understood – at the moment at least.

So, for the time-being, ‘remote’ is decent shorthand.


Supercool's former HQ – bye-bye!

Having explained the reasons why we were considering ditching the office, how did we make the decision once-and-for-all to do this thing, and then turn a business that’d been based in the same building for nigh-on 13 years into a more lightweight and flexible entity?

Here's how we approached the change – minus the overly-obvious stuff like "we packed-up the office", "we made sure everyone had a chair" etc.

1: Make it a team decision

This was one of the main considerations for us. Work’s a big part of people’s lives, and every Supercooler has an input not only into their specific role, but the work we do as a company, and how we do it.

No longer having a central office would be a big change for everyone, so we discussed the possibility openly and at length – what we thought would work, what’d need to change, the things that worried us …

And right from the start we agreed that if we weren’t all happy with the change, we wouldn’t do it. Simple.

2. Research and plan

We researched as much as humanly possible; which primarily involved reading about the various types of central-office-less working that other companies had already tried-out; the benefits, the potential pitfalls, and the practicalities. (Links to some of these are listed below.)

An added complication in our case was that, alongside potentially ditching the office, we were hiring a new team member. Ruh-roh!

So, as well as trying to find a new person with the right skills, who was the right fit for the team in general, we were looking for someone who was okay – at least in principle – with working from home. We were open about our plans during the recruitment process and, happily, found Naveed who fitted the bill on every count. WIN!

Back to planning – all each of us really needs to do our job is a decent computer and a decent internet connection. But added to this are the nuts-and-bolts that make communicating with each other quick and easy. Most online tools that're useful for remote/distributed teams we’d been using for ages – Slack, Trello, Hangouts etc. – so were already ingrained in day-to-day processes, but other stuff was new and needed setting up.

The most useful thing we put in place fairly early-on was a VOIP phone system. Even if we didn’t end up ditching the office, it made sense to have VOIP rather than a traditional phone line – the same phone number, with a bunch of added functionality, for a lower cost? No brainer.

3: Beta test

We applied some of the same principles we use to run digital projects to going remote, specifically that meant getting the bare bones of what we needed set up quickly – a minimum viable product if you will – and giving it a go.

We ended up doing several week-or-so-long trial runs.

Perhaps it was that we'd all discussed it openly and thoroughly. Perhaps it was the prior planning and preparation. Perhaps it was because we were using most of the tools already, so the change in how we work was actually fairly minimal. Whatever the reasons, the trial runs went brilliantly and – crucially (see point 1) – everyone was up for making it a permanent change.

Farewell cumbersome desktop computers; laptops all round!

4: Be clever with communication

Rather than one big meeting a week, we now all get together in a Google Hangout first thing every morning.

It’s a good chance to catch-up with each other and go over what work needs doing that day – as well as reminding ourselves that we work in a team. This was one of the things all our research suggested was a good idea, and it really is important. I’d go so far as to say it's vital.

During the trial runs Josh found, and got us into using, Appear.in; a mega-simple screen sharing service which we’ve since adopted to talk-through designs. It’s great – so much easier and more efficient than doing the same thing face-to-face, all gathered around a single screen.

And it wasn’t just the screen-sharing; we’re now working together more efficiently in general. I guess having to be more structured about when and how we talk to each other has forced us to make better use of that time. Nice side effect.

Our communication isn’t all about work though.

We've been sure to keep-up the little niceties which are important to human interaction but could easily get cut-out when people aren't actually in the same room.

Tiny things like saying “Hi” and “Bye” every day, and nonsense chat about this and that over Slack – with added emojis/animated gifs, obvs – are a a bit of human interaction and help punctuate the day. It seems to do a similar job to tea breaks IRL.

We also still get together in person; the next meeting conveniently coinciding with Supercool’s 13th birthday \o/

5: Cause zero disruption to clients

Last but by no means least …

From the trial runs – which no clients noticed were happening; schmoooooooth! – to the timing of The Big Move (over the Christmas break), we made it a priority that this change wouldn’t affect clients. No delay in projects. No change to the way people contact us. No change in working hours. Nothing. Nowt. Nada.

I’m really proud we succeeded in making a change that, although a big thing for each of us, hasn’t impacted our client work at all. Not negatively anyway – as I said, if anything we work better together now.

We’d mentioned the potential move to a few clients over the decision-making and planning period but, once we knew the change was definite, we told everyone our plans ahead of the move; explaining our reasons, and of course giving folks the chance to ask questions or raise any concerns. I was quite concerned that people might think Supercool was somehow less professional, or less hard working, or less real without a central office.

I’d been worrying needlessly as the main feedback was “Does this mean you all get to work in your pyjamas?” Ha! In answer to that question – it hasn't happened yet, and the frequent video chats make it unlikely …

But never say never.

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From the early, tentative conversations to actually ditching the office took us about 8 months.

We didn’t rush into it – making sure we knew what we were doing, and that it'd work for us and our clients – but equally, we didn’t dilly-dally once we knew the change was happening.

Nimbleness – one of the benefits of being a lean team.

It remains to be seen if there’ll be any negative feedback about our set-up from potential new clients which, I have to be honest, is a lingering concern for me.

Only time will tell if not having a central office will hold us back, however, I’m optimistic that new clients’ll be likeminded sorts who'll see the benefits of working with a flexible, productive and happy team of designers and developers.

Incidentally, other folks who famously work(ed) from home include:
Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, Benjamin Britten, Barbara Hepworth, and The Queen.

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Resources

Some of our favourite tools and services:

Slack, Trello, Google Hangouts, Dropbox, Appear.in, VOIP (through Dial 9, who’re ace), Tracking Time, Zendesk, Basecamp, Github

Useful links:

2016 – A year in review

Categories: Our work

What ended up being … let’s call it a ‘strange’ year in terms of national and global politics, started off perfectly nicely in the world of digital design.

We launched a newly-Spektrix-integrated website for boutique opera house Longborough Festival Opera, allowing them to sell tickets online for the first time ever.

“We commissioned Supercool to create our new website alongside the integration of a new box office system - we were concerned that as an understaffed and not technically savvy organisation we would soon be out of our depth, but Supercool took our brief and created a website that exceeded our expectations both in terms of design and capability, along with a user-friendly and intuitive CMS.”

We also designed LFO’s beautiful-if-we-do-say-so-ourselves 100-page perfect-bound season programme, giving each production its own distinctive personality – and audience members a lasting keepsake.

"We've created several pieces of print with them and have been impressed by their imaginative design."

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The second iteration of our e-commerce website for haberdashery friends Guthrie & Ghani has a revamped design and a whole bunch of functionality improvements – for both website visitors and administrators.

“The team of web designers and developers at Supercool have done a tremendous job at not only designing and creating a lovely looking site, but also making it work behind the scenes for us.”

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To coincide with their 25th anniversary, we launched a simplified and easy-to-search new website for one of the world’s finest concert halls – Symphony Hall Birmingham – along with its smaller but equally impressive sister venue Town Hall.

The site was put to the test in September with an on-sale for Kraftwerk tickets, which it passed with flying colours; selling-out within about 10 minutes.

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One of our most exciting launches this year was a fashion-led, Tessitura-integrated website for Scotland's national dance company, Scottish Ballet.

The website’s been a big hit not only with Scottish Ballet and their audiences, but with the judges of the Lovie Awards. The site was awarded bronze in the Best Website: Art category of this pan-European contest which 'honours online excellence’. Safe to say that we and Scottish Ballet were pretty chuffed. Go team!

"It has been a real pleasure to work with Supercool on Scottish Ballet’s new website. The process felt like a partnership with enthusiastic people that have flair, technical solutions and cared as much as we did about the final product. Most importantly, we are delighted with the result: an easy to manage and striking website that delivers results (higher engagement, lower bounce rates, and higher conversions)."

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So, what's next?

In 2017 we’re looking forward to launching new websites for: a small-but-perfectly-formed theatre, a rural touring company, a Frank Matcham-designed opera house, and a renowned jazz venue – as well as new branding and websites for a passionate and pragmatic arts consultancy, and “the collective voice for culture in Birmingham”.

We’re also sponsoring the next Family Arts Conference, so look out for more about that early next year.

Speaking of which, here’s an early New Year’s Resolution – MOAR BLOG POSTS!!11!!1! We’ll see how that goes, eh …

In the meantime, warmest winter wishes and all the best for 2017 – from Supercool.


via GIPHY

Supercool’s Dozen

Categories: Our work, Silly

12

Today is a milestone in Supercool’s history – it’s our 12th anniversary. (That’s 144 months. 626 weeks. 4,380 days.)

Supercool started life during the UN’s designated ‘Year of Rice’; two weeks before Facebook and three months before Gmail launched. Hmmm, they’re perhaps not great examples for our egos. Although we’ve (intentionally, of course) not spent our time becoming a world-dominating corporate force, we have had the pleasure of working on an ever-increasing number of fun, challenging and exciting projects. And we get to work with some fantastic people too, so we really couldn’t ask for more.

Thank you to all our ace clients – from WMS, who’ve been with us since the beginning, to the most recent addition to the Supercool fold, Longborough Festival Opera – for choosing to work with us over the past 12 years.

To mark the occasion, here’s a song all about 12, courtesy of Sesame Street …

2015 – A year in review

Categories: Our work

All I want for Christmas is

All we want for Christmas, in work-related terms, is for 2016 to be not dissimilar to 2015.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have added some fantastic new clients to our portfolio this year – from as far north as Aberdeenshire right down to West Sussex on the south coast – as well as continuing to work with lots of old friends.

Our 2015 started with a bright and colourful splash – the launch of an all-new vintage-inspired fashion brand and website for Lee & Lawrie, as well as an incredibly well-received re-brand, season campaign style and new website for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

CBSO branding, print design and website

In the spring we welcomed a new member of the team – Josh (Ainsworth). Which means we now have two Joshes – The Joshi? Both of whom also have surnames beginning with ‘A’. And both of whom are developers. Meaning no little confusion in the office at times. Hmmm. We’ve plumped for Josh 1 and Josh 2 for the time being as Backend-Josh and Frontend-Josh just didn’t sound quite right …

In the summer we worked on some ace projects – including websites for Stratford Circus arts centre in East London, author and knitting designer extraordinaire Sarah Hazell, and architects Sjölander da Cruz.

Stratford Circus, Sarah Hazell and Sjölander Da Cruz

James and I also found time to attend the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference which was held in Brum; I wrote a series of blog posts about some of the talks, including a fairly popular one about 'sweary spaces and loyal fans'.

One of our biggest achievements this year was launching three complex and very different websites within a matter of days of each other – Chichester Festival Theatre, Sound (Scotland’s festival of new music) and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Chichester Festival Theatre, sound and Birmingham Royal Ballet

It just shows what a small team can get done … though, for the sake of our nerves/sanity, we’re unlikely to repeat this time-defying feat anytime soon.

Early autumn saw us kick-off a new website project with our most scenically-located client – Longborough Festival Opera; a boutique country house opera with stunning views of the glorious Cotswolds. (And their productions are nothing to sniff at either.)

Their all-new Spektrix-integrated website will be launching soon, but in the meantime here’s a sneaky peek:

Longborough Festival Opera website sneaky peek

As if all that excitement wasn’t enough, in mid-November Josh (1) and his wife welcomed a new baby daughter. Awww, a Supercool baby!

So, what’s in store for Supercool in 2016?

Amongst other things … a refreshed website for our friends Guthrie & Ghani, the second stage of our work with Chichester Festival Theatre, and brand new websites for one of the UK’s finest concert halls and a national ballet company.

It looks like 2016 will be another busy year, so here’s to a relaxing festive break!

Warmest winter wishes, and all the best for 2016 – from Supercool.