My experience hiring for and building remote design teams

June 24, 2020

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Greg Beldam is vice president of design at Shogun. He started designing in high school, making gaming websites and Winamp (a media player) skins. Greg polished his graphic design skills in college, and later worked in a variety of remote and in-office positions. For several years, he managed a large team at Shopify, before joining a Shogun, a globally distributed company.

Building a design team can be tough — especially when everyone works remotely across multiple time zones. In this Q&A interview, Greg talks about his experience hiring for and building remote teams, and what companies and potential hires get wrong about remote work and culture.

Greg joined the team in May 2018.

Question: What was your career trajectory like, pre-Shogun?

Answer: After graduating, I worked in a few ad agencies and then became a mobile designer. In 2011, Shopify acquired the consulting company where I worked. I spent almost five years at Shopify, growing the UX team from 10 people to over 100.

I left in 2016 and freelanced for a few years, working with a few small startups along the way. After some time, I wanted to join a product team again. I loved the control freelance gave me over my work and life, but I missed working with similarly minded creatives to push a product into the hands of users and truly make an impact.

I had relocated to somewhere without any tech positions, so I was looking for a remote position. Shogun was a natural fit and the first fully remote company I joined full time.

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Q: So you worked at traditional 9-5s before Shogun?

A: Yes — for way too long.

Up until 2016 I worked mostly in offices. Then, I spent two years freelancing remotely.

I spent three months as Head of Design for a startup prior to joining Shogun and found the open-concept office environment to be pretty distracting and unproductive. After freelancing remotely for startups for a few years, I really fell in love with the remote way of life.

Q: What are some common mistakes companies, especially those that are largely office-centric, make regarding remote workers?

A: A lot of companies tend to build cultures around their office and being in-person — remote workers are an afterthought. Throwing someone on a conference call when 90% of a meeting is in-person doesn’t create an equal playing field. There’s a lot of conversation that happens in person that isn’t relayed to remote employees, and you tend to miss out on a lot as a result.

When you work fully remote, you have a lot more written documentation (Notion is your best friend), a lot more consideration for the people who should be included in conversations and a lot more collaborative, asynchronous-type of events.

Q: What are some difficulties hiring remote design professionals?

A: Design is really hard to do remotely.

Design is collaborative and it’s a drain to not be able to work through a problem quickly and easily with someone you’re physically with. It takes a lot of seniority and self-awareness to be a remote designer.

A lot of people like the idea of remote, but don’t actually perform well doing it. It’s hard to separate those two things during the hiring process. You want to take a risk and hire people that haven’t worked remotely before, but it doesn’t always pay off vs. hiring someone who has a proven track record of working remote.

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Q: What’s a misconception people have about working remotely?

A: People are drawn to working remotely for the wrong reasons a lot of the time. They want to travel, for example. Traveling while working remotely is incredibly hard. It’s not a vacation to work remotely. You need to have clear separation between your office/work and your personal life or you will end up compromising both.

I look for people who have worked remotely before and understand their own productivity — people who can work in short bursts throughout the day. It’s very hard to work 9-5 remotely, especially when you have people spread out over difficult time zones.

Q: Any surprises about running a remote design team?

A: It’s not all Zoom meetings!

Learning to work asynchronously and unblock people quickly over Slack or email can be very powerful. Email in particular, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t have to be a time-suck. Defaulting to scheduling a video call when everyone is available pushes out everyone’s days and delays a solution.

Q: Any tips for designers looking to transition to remote work?

A: Design is one of the hardest roles to do remotely. Design is so collaborative and it’s easy to get jammed. You need to know how to unblock yourself and how you work best.

If you want to show that you’re ready for remote it would be best to show the results of a remote-based project. How did you document your work for others to digest? How did you collaborate to get to an end result?

Having a great, clean minimal office setup doesn’t prove much — just show the work and display the results.

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Q: You mentioned earlier that you relocated to an area without many tech positions. How does where you live affect your work/life balance?

A: I live on acreage in a rural community where my wife and I are building a small homestead farm. Being able to work in bursts where I can spend time working outside when the weather is nicer and work on Shogun projects when I’m feeling creative allows me to be way more productive for both lifestyles.

Q: How does working remotely help you do your best work?

A: Shogun allows me to work when I feel creative and productive. This actually leads to more momentum and impact than a traditional 9-5.

If you’re in an office scenario with a set schedule, you generally feel the pressure to be around during “normal” hours, but those don’t always align with when you’re actually productive. Working remotely allows me to harness my best working times more naturally.

Are you interested in joining our fully remote and globally distributed team? View the open positions at Shogun and apply today!

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