I’ve been working as a Remote User Experience Consultant for over a year now. I started working remotely in my spare time alongside a full time job in a more traditional office based role.
After finding the remote work really satisfying and also having a craving to see some more of the world I took the plunge in April 2014 and began working as I travel through Central and South America.
Leaving a great full time role was an obvious risk but after experiencing success working remotely I wanted to have a crack at working abroad both for the cultural experience and the chance to ply my trade whilst having a lower cost of living.
I’m currently loving every minute of it and have even found the time (whilst staying on a Coffee finca in Colombia) to launch my new website. As a first blog post I wanted to cover a few of the reasons why Remote UX is working for me.
Don’t you have to be “there”?
There’s a definite feeling within the UX community that you have to be present during the key stages of a project (research, UX design, testing) in order to be effective. I don’t see it that way and I’m sure a growing number of remote professionals agree. Its more about the quality of the individual than their location.
There are common areas that come up again and again when discussing the suitability of Remote work. Here’s just a few:
The key question from prospective clients is generally around communication. Will you be available? How will we keep up to date with progress?
Working remotely I have lost the concept of 9-5. Working across timezones even more so. When you’re working from a beautiful countryside location or a vibrant city making a morning call over coffee at 7am suddenly isn’t an issue.
Obviously there is a benefit in having, for example, a six strong project team all present within one meeting room to discuss a project. However, I know from experience organising such a meeting is every bit as difficult as getting a team of remote workers on a call at the same time.
Another common question from prospective clients covers how and when I’ll keep them updated on my progress. I guess what they’re really thinking is “how do I know you’re doing anything at all?”
I find the best approach to a healthy working relationship and a productive project is sharing ideas from the start. There has to be an understanding there will be revisions, but with this understanding in place a more agile process is hugely beneficial.
The power of Axure lets me share wireframes and other deliverables as I work on them allowing clients to see progress and even comment as I work. This collaboration creates a trusting relationship and increases the speed and quality of a project.
New UX Methods
Group research and testing sessions is an area remote workers find difficult. However, budget restrictions and ever more powerful online tools have made remote user research and testing much more common with remote UX workers already experts in how to use them effectively.
There’s arguments you get more from an audience if you’re right there with them. That may apply to some but personally I find interviews conducted via telephone to be much more useful and fulfilling. I’d put this down to a willingness for participants to be much more open and critical over the phone than in person.
Obviously remote methods provide the opportunity to vastly increase the geographical range of participants. For instance, when carrying out research for a football club with a global fan base, remote methods allowed a worldwide reach rather than only hearing a local view that live workshops provide.
Being a “digital nomad” has so far meant working from locations with a much cheaper standard of living than my UK home. I’ve been able to pass these costs on to clients making my services highly competitive whilst UX rates in general seem to go up and up.
This has had unexpected benefits. For instance, due to the reduced cost of a US based project I’m currently working on the client, who remains keen on live group testing sessions, is flying me out to conduct them. A winning situation all round!
Inspiring locations & personal development
I’ll be honest, I’d expected the image of a sun drenched contractor might put some clients off. That hasn’t been the case at all. In fact its been a great ice breaker for developing new relationships. I like to think I’ve opened a few eyes to the benefits of remote work and I know others are out there creating similar opportunities for me.
I’m also much more productive (and creative) when working from somewhere I want to work. The escape from the four walls of an office has done wonders for me as a person and a UX professional.
Maybe this is a symptom of being freelance rather than specifically a Remote UX worker, but the breadth of opportunities available to me has also really increased. Remote workers are much more accessible to new start-ups and not for profit organisations due to reduced cost and greater flexibility.
As a result I’m learning about problems and opportunities facing organisations around the world and contributing in a small way to help solve them.